October 30, 2008


Barack Obama Bread from the Feel Good Bakery, Alameda, CA

Obama bread, the very latest in comfort food from the guys at the Feel Good Bakery just across the bridge in Alameda's Marketplace. Yes, I just had to buy a loaf (this one's about a foot (30cm) across); they sell out early in the day, with Obama outselling McCain something like nine to one (big surprise there).

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October 24, 2008

Guerrilla Gigging

Some friends of mine playing as That Man Fantastic, live on the street in Oakland's Grandlake district. No, I'm none of the people in the video — I'm behind the camera (and in the edit suite), as always.

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October 22, 2008

Helter Skelter (By Any Means Necessary)

It's difficult to convey to outsiders just how paranoid, oppressed, and alienated you can feel during an election like this in this God-washed country, a place where Belief often breeds a breezy contempt for thoughtfulness or fact, where brightly-polished lies are the much-traded currency of an artificial economy of fear, where semi-official campaign robocallers slime your voicemail with racist or borderline lunatic conspiracy theories viciously demonizing people who, you quickly realise, are stand-ins for yourself, where TV spots attack you and your beliefs every few minutes with a sustained seething haze of brazen smears and deniable innuendo (all done with a polite authoritative tone), where your mail box is soiled day after day by anonymous coded attack mailers full of cowardly insinuations or outright lies, where every second email is a naked appeal to put thought and reason aside and take up arms (real or not) to defeat some enemy or other… all that and a third term still seems a distinct possibility (the real local and personal tragedy will be Proposition 8 passing).

It's easy to say the electorate gets the election it deserves, but what did the rest of us do to deserve this way of choosing a president?

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October 18, 2008

Gods Of Little Dreams

"Pegana has gods of dust, of silence, and of 'little dreams and fancies', but no gods or goddesses of the harvest, of war, or of love — pretty much the core curriculum for heathen deities." — Laura Miller on the Fantastical Writings of Lord Dunsany, in an old New Yorker.

A refreshing universe of gods — a god for each of the inexplicable things beyond human control, ceding the important things — harvest, war, etc. — to human agency. Which is as it should be. (Too often we describe as "inhuman" exactly that behaviour that most marks us as human beings — war, murder, rape, torture, etc.; too often "act of god" is a euphemism for human negligence).

(C.f. Herodotus's "[Hesiod and Homer] were the poets who composed for the Hellenes the theogony, assigned to the gods their epithets, defined their particular honors and skills, and described what they look like." (2.53 in Purvis's recent translation, ed. Strassler) — that nicely-inverted echo of Adam naming the animals in Genesis…).

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October 12, 2008

What A Difference A Month Makes…

I had lunch with a bunch of techie friends and colleagues in Silicon Valley late last week; as usual with these things, none of us was US-born, and I was the only native English speaker (and, for that matter, the only white boy (or girl)) in the group. A fairly diverse set of people, in the way of the Valley, and (given the middle-class Indian, Asian, and African immigrant experience), a fairly conservative bunch as well (more so than me, especially). What amazed me was that everyone in that group supported Obama; no one could manage a good word for McCain (and some went a lot further than that, with some serious scorn for McCain and his more rabid supporters). Almost no one there could imagine McCain as an enlightened and effective president; everything in this discussion revolved around "character" (rather than identity), and about seriousness, credibility, and believability — Obama has it all, if you listen to this bunch (even if many of us believe it won't make much short-term difference just how good the new president will be). I was astonished: even four weeks ago this lunch would have had a very different tone to it.

But then none of us at that lunch lives in "America"; we live in the Bay Area, a very different place. All of us have founded or helped found startups or businesses (successful or otherwise), but for all the financial conservatism that tends to go along with that, most us around the table are pretty comfortable with things like gay marriage, socialised medicine, or government-led anti-global warming initiatives.

In other words, we're not typical. Nobody out there beyond the Valley cares less what we think. And in any case, it fundamentally just doesn't matter how we vote: we nearly all live in some of the most Obama-centric electorates in the nation. And what scares us isn't what scares the US populace as a whole Out There: stupid scare stories about Obama's supposed connections to aging domestic terrorists don't scare us nearly as much as the feeling that out there beyond the bubble, the US has lost the plot completely, that the US populace just doesn't understand what's hit it (or what it hit itself with again and again over the past decade or so). What scared us most at that lunch was the idea that the US electorate as a whole might actually fall — again — for all the same sort of idiotic scaremongering that produced the real problems in the first place. What scares us is the still-prevailing attitude Out There that things will just go back to the way they used to be and everything will be OK again without anyone having to make any sort of real sacrifices or changes to their lives. Now that's scary.

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October 09, 2008


For years we Estuary locals have thought it mildly funny to refer to our neighbourhood as being "on the Oakland Riviera" (well, there's water there, isn't there?). And then a few days ago a new local restaurant put up a sign in front of its parking lot with the catchphrase "On The Oakland Riviera". OK, the owner's being a little ironic, but then the first uses of "The Jingletown Arts District" were ironic, too, and look where that got us….

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October 04, 2008

Waiting For Rain

Another early first rain, even earlier than the previous earliest I can remember, the first rain at all in at least six months. Big news: it topped the local broadcast TV news last night with dramatic scrolling "Stormwatch" graphics and even beat out the Bailout for the first five minutes. As always, there was no storm, just some light overnight rain; but we need every bit we can get, and self-absorption tends to be its own reward. Early first rains here tend to be harbingers of dry years; we shall see….

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October 03, 2008

Nucular Winter

I was pretty much permanently wiped out financially by the last US recession (the dot.com bust, which indirectly destroyed several businesses I was part of and damn near bankrupted me as an individual); but for most of the people around me who weathered that whole time without too many problems or down years, it all probably seemed (and seems) a curiously distant sort of experience (even as it was happening), a time that seems easy to understand (all that dot.com bullshit! Even though that had little to do with the recession itself…) at the same time as being a little mysterious in the way it actually affected life. People (like me) just quietly dropped out of sight or disappeared without trace (or at least without making too much of a fuss); most people seemed incurious, unconcerned; few people seemed personally much affected, at least directly. Many who didn't go under then still seem to have no real idea what it was like or what happened to many of us.

It all feels a lot closer and more urgent this time around, but there's still definitely that air of unreality and distance. I don't know, but I guess that it'll start hitting a lot harder for most of us in three to six months' time, maybe further down the line — and the effects are going to be much (much) longer-term and deep-seated. Many of us will be paying for this for the rest of our lives, one way or another, but the winter's going to be long and cold, that's for sure.

But who to blame? The populists are already figuratively putting the administration, the bureaucrats, and the Wall Streeters up against the wall, but W was reelected twice in popular bursts of belligerent nationalism and anti-intellectualism, and after eight years of doing exactly what he said he'd do, the results have been predictable, a definitive end to the American Century. Fire the people, maybe.

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October 01, 2008

The Attack Of The Annoying Blog Memes…

I've been implicitly challenged by The Aviatrix (a person I've met in real life) on one of my other blogs to list three things I've done that I think none of my readers will have done, but I'd rather do it here pseudonymously, so here goes:
  • I've piloted a plane upside down over California (both plane and I were upside down in controlled flight, and this wasn't a momentary aberration, it went on for quite some time);

  • I've been run over by an airplane (yes, really; but the details aren't as interesting as the precis makes it sound; at least one of my semi-regular readers saw the pathetic aftermath the same day);

  • I've been interviewed at some length by the BBC. What on earth could the BBC possibly turn to me for as a source of inspiration or authority? I'll leave that as a poorly-kept secret…

So there, is all I'll say. I've done my blogistic duty…


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