Saturday, August 26, 2017

The First Amendment & Starbucks

In honor of my deeply felt hesitation over a no-brainer. *

(I wrote this 11 years ago. I feel more strongly today and so I'm reposting it.)


My local Starbucks is a small shop. For those with a few minutes to sit and sip their coffee, there are only 15 seats. I love to sit and read.

But a few months ago, the same three people always seemed to arrive just before I got there, and took up the letters of Paul in very insistent, self-assured voices: here’s what the Greek really says in this passage of his letter to the Romans. The three became 4 and then 5. The noise level of their conversation rose as they read, translated, discussed, and even sometimes voiced a slight objection. They also took my favorite chair in the corner, and sectioned off the comfortable corner for their dialectic.

At the time, ironically, I was rereading one of my college professor’s books on religious culture in the first century of the Common Era: First Century Judaism in Crisis by Jacob Neusner. He introduced me to the towering figure of Yohanan ben Zakkai, and the flowering of rabbinic Judaism after the destruction of the second Temple. This was a great place to get another perspective on Paul, or Rabbi Saul. And as it turns out, the latest unpacking of Paul's letters, reveals a rather unyielding portrait of the apostle who had a nasty rivalry with the disciples who knew the Jesus who lived and preached his gospel, the Paul who pulled the message of Jesus out of the confines of the Temple in Jerusalem and introduced it to a far-flung audience in the Greco-Roman world, perhaps even setting up his soap box in the coffee houses of Corinth and Rome!

After about a month of trying to be as tolerant as I could of Paul’s disciples, responding politely to their overtures and kind hellos, pondering the extent of the First Amendment, I had had enough. I asked for the manager and complained. She said that it was a very difficult and sensitive situation but that I was not alone and she would see what could be done. (Nothing was done, but that is another issue. I am not the only chicken).

I could have just stayed away. I could have just cut short my malicious thoughts about the evangelical highjacking of the Jesus record. I could have stopped my inner commentary about the idiocy of their suppositions. I might not have been vocal to almost everyone about the inappropriate use of a coffee shop - what are church halls for anyway? – when out of the offenders’ ear shot. But I did not. I just complained, not quite anonymously, but quietly when their backs were turned.


Perhaps just this post is again some confirmation of my guilt at having breached someone’s First Amendment rights.


Nah, I don’t need to hard on myself. They may have the right to speak, but I have the right not to be forced to listen.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Music, Genius & Surprise

Music, Genius & Surprise
December 2nd, 2007



I wanted to show the Garapons that we have some culture in San Francisco with a trip to Davies Hall and a concert by the San Francisco Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas. MTT never disappoints. When we bought the tickets, I found out that MTT was not on the podium. Disappointment.

Let’s go anyway. Wednesday was the only night
Jean and Marie-Christine had for un spectacle musical!

As we sat down, I began to read the program; by the time the musicians had taken their places, I knew that we had really lucked out.



There are some moments in life that astonish, that knock your socks off. This was one. With music, somehow, it seems that your body can respond if properly tuned, even if words fail. You just sit, stirrings arise from deep inside, and then sometimes are followed by a completely different set of feelings. It is like a journey. Then the last cords sound, and there is applause. The culture tells the body to respond. The emotions choose the decibel level.






















I have often wondered what it must have been like to hear young Mozart play. Despite the fact that he was promoted by his father as a kind of musical sideshow to make lots of money, not much different from the parents of any child actors today in Hollywood, or some very famous personalities from the more recent past, such Judy Garland whose experience was not entirely happy, I still have impression that Mozart loved music. A person could not compose Don Giovanni or the Magic Flute under duress or carrying mental scares.


No question that he was a genius born into the world with such extraordinary gifts that you might think that they come from the angels. And still he had to have some kind of training.

Listening to the remarkable Lise de la Salle play Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto, questions like these flooded my mind, that is after the last astonishing bars had faded. She was born in 1988, began playing at 4, was at the Paris Conservatory by age eleven, and to my ear, at age 19 has the grace and command of an Arthur Rubinstein at the end of his career. Clearly she is a musical genius of the highest order, and it is also clear that she loves the piano. Here is a link to the program notes about Lise.


And what a performance it was. To give a hint of her command of the powerful Russian feeling, the emotions of those opening lines, I found a short video of Mme de la Salle playing the amazing Toccata in D minor Op.11 of Prokofiev.

A spectacular evening. Applause please!

Toute la Mémoire du Monde

Toute la Mémoire du Monde pics


















































































California disasters--earthquakes, fires, and technology

California disasters--earthquakes, fires, and technology
december 1st., 2007

Why would any sane person want to live in as unstable a place where the ground shakes and fires rage?

In California our natural disasters are of mammoth proportions and part of the flow of life. Everyone knows about 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. It was the largest natural disaster in US history in terms of material loss and the destruction of what we humans construct, only recently surpassed by hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans.

When my friends Jean and Marie-Christine Garapon flew into the firestorms that began burning across Southern California at the end of October 2007, more than a half a million people were evacuated, the largest forced evacuation in California history. I know several people who were living out of their cars in parking lots of relatively safe areas while the fire crews fought blazes that had been deliberately set. Another friend, a professional mental health worker, helped take care of a man in a locked facility who set blazes in the southern California hills, and got off on watching his fires rage while he masturbated. The human species includes aberrant behavior, and that is not going to change any time soon.


San Francisco Bay, originally uploaded by arawak812.

Here is the San Francisco Bay as seen from the top of Mt. Tamalpais. You can see the city at the end of the peninsula center right. The reason that people want to live here--and pay an enormous amount of money to do it--is the absolutely astonishing beauty of the place. The San Andres fault lies a few miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge, usually in the fog. What lies hidden is the most dangerous.


Jean, Marie-Christine and I rolled across the Golden Gate Bridge to the northern vista point, but we were tourists, and the fog rolled in. Grâce à Google, here is the north tower of the Bridge that we almost saw.




We saw the top of the tower from time to time. Maire-Christine kept trying to time a shot to get as much as she could on her camera. Put together, they might form a somewhat complete view.



QM2 @ GGB, originally uploaded by Sutanto


This picture of the underside of the Bridge was taken from Ft. Point on the San Francisco side, without fog and with the QE 2. When finished in 1937, our bridge was a marvel, by far the longest suspension span in the United States. In the opinion of most San Franciscans, it is still the most beautiful suspension bridge in the world.

Just after Jean and Marie-Christine left, there was another man-made disaster, an oil spill that polluted the bay from one of the hundreds on cargo ships that sail under the bay each year. It is a far less pretty sight than the QE 2.


Cosco Busan (detail), originally uploaded by lens flare.


This is the gash in the Cosco Busan from which 58,000 gallons (almost 220,000 litres) of oil spilled into the San Francisco Bay.

San Franciscans know Greek tragedy, and public outcry. The senior senator from California, our former mayor Diane Feinstein, came roaring into town demanding explanations, brandishing the firebrand of blame. People were fired, the current mayor was criticized for taking a three day Hawaiian girl friend holiday while the slick spread unchecked, the press couldn’t understand why the Coast Guard couldn’t gauge the size of the disaster for 12 hours, the public asked why their offer to help wash the oil from dying birds was rebuffed. All good questions that we’ll ask over and over since human error is not going to disappear and we will continue to insist on living here.

But it was an accident. There are, I suppose, philosophical questions about whether we have stretched our capacity for oversight and control beyond our abilities to live in an ethical and sustainable way. But for the moment, we’ll just clean the shores as best we can, wash as many birds as we can, and nail the persons responsible for the cost of clean up. Then can get back to our lives of enjoying the wonders of California.

Marie-Christine emailed me after our visit: “Was there an oil spill on the bay after we left?” I too can hardly believe how recklessly we treat the earth.

Next I will answer the burning question: what makes San Francisco a place that the French would love!