“Worlds of Decay, Renewal Merge Unexpectedly”: Elegy for a City, San Francisco

  • Like a lot of people, I have mixed feelings about a walk in the city these days. The Sunday before, my companion and I had walked the streets of Washington, D.C. and marveled at how clean they were. On returning back home, it was clear how much of San Francisco was a mess, particularly downtown with its crowds of lost souls roaming filthy streets. — from Carl Nolte’s column, Native Son, in the San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, 18 March 2018

Don’t ever try to walk (alone) from the Asian Art Museum to Powell. Don’t. Even if it’s broad daylight, you will be accosted by xxx panhandlers, and some will be quite aggressive. Just saying. That stretch of San Francisco feels like Detroit. Or like a Third World city. The decay is absolutely heartbreaking.

Self tried it once, last year. Every few steps, someone said something to her. Like running a gauntlet. Don’t reach for your wallet, don’t hesitate. Keep your earbuds in place. Keep walking.

If that’s what it’s like in the daytime, can you imagine what it’s like at night? Downtown San Francisco is not a woman-friendly city.

(And on the streets, there are Teslas. And Jaguars)

Stay tuned.

Florida: Where Lightning Strikes

Self is still digging deep through her pile of stuff, languishing since 2015. Which is why the article about Trump that she reads this morning, in The New York Review of Books (September 2015) is so scary. Because it sounds exactly like right now. And Trump wasn’t even President yet.

If nothing else, the article, written by Michael Tomasky, shows that Trump did not suddenly sneak up on America like a Stealth bomber. His base was quietly building (like the ratings for his show, The Apprentice) for at least a decade.

An excerpt:

Is Trump not the logical culmination of where Republican politics have been headed for many years now, going back to the Clinton and Bush presidencies, but especially during the presidency of Barack Obama? Two qualities more than any others have driven conservatism in our time. The first is cultural and racial resentment, felt by the mostly older and very white population the GOP increasingly represents — resentment against a fast-changing, more openly sexual America, as well as against dark-skinned immigrants, and White House occupants, and gay people and political correctness and the “moocher class” and all the rest. The second is what we might call spectacle — the unrelenting push toward a rhetorical style ever more gladiatorial and ever more outraged (and outrageous), driven initially by talk-radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and now reproduced on websites, podcasts, and Twitter feeds too numerous to mention.

Self thinks that the reason the GOP and conservative pundits lash out at the survivors of the Florida School Shooting is: here are a group of kids challenging them on their turf: the media.

Dinesh D’Souza (who, when last self checked, was an adult, with a bestselling book yet) ridicules the Florida students who broke into tears when Congress refused to revive a bill that would ban assault rifles. Because D’Souza himself is a master manipulator of the media, but it took him decades to get there. And suddenly, almost overnight, the kids are everywhere: on the web, in our news, on television.

Which proves self’s point: In the last few decades, the GOP has become nothing more than a party of shills. Their power is the media, not the implementation of actual policy issues.

And in a party like that, of course the biggest shill of all would win his party’s nomination.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


#amreading: “The Daggers of Jorge Luis Borges”

From The New York Review of Books, 9 January 2014, a review by Michael Greenberg of Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature, edited by Martin Arias and Martin Hadis, and translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver (New Directions):

  • Throughout his life, Jorge Luis Borges was engaged in a dialogue with violence. Speaking to an interviewer about his childhood in what was then the outlying barrio of Palermo, in Buenos Aires, he said, “To call a man, or to think of him, as a coward — that was the last thing . . . the kind of thing he couldn’t stand.” According to his biographer, Edwin Williamson, Borges’s father handed him a dagger when he was a boy, with instructions to overcome his poor eyesight and “generally defeated” demeanor and let the boys who were bullying him know that he was a man.



#amreading: The New York Review of Books on Oliver Sacks (21 May 2015)

You will notice, dear blog reader, that all the magazines self has been quoting this week are three years old. That is because 2015 is the last year she had much leisure time. She thinks it’s a very good sign that she saved all these past issues of New York Review of Books. Like she knew, she’d be getting back to them one day. Even if that day was three years later.

Moving on.

Oliver Sacks is no longer with us. Nevertheless, his ouevre remains. Jerome Groopman, in his review of Oliver Sacks’s memoir On the Move: A Life, quotes Sacks’s description of himself:

of “vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions.” A talented student drew a contrast with Ivan Ilyich, who was passionless and shaped his behavior to strictly conform to others’ expectations. Tolstoy judged Ilyich’s life as “most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.”

Which is why self is sharing this photo (taken at the San Carlos Auto Pride carwash):


Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

More from Joan Acocella on Martin Luther (The New Yorker, 30 October 2017)

Still reading the Joan Acocella essay from a month and a half ago. It’s a great essay which somehow also manages to call up Freddie Krueger and his origin story (but self will not mention that here, as it’s getting close to Christmas).

In addition to fascinating examples of Luther’s ripe way with speech, it brings up Luther’s anti-Semitism (which was not uncommon at the time).

Acocella on the Jews: “Luther despised them dementedly, ecstatically.”

Then follows many scatological references. Also, this:

  • “what makes Luther’s anti-Semitism most disturbing is not its extremity (which, by sounding so crazy, diminishes its power)”

which recalls the present day (calling 45 “mental” thereby diminishing him — which does our country no favors because, after all, 45 is a dangerous guy, and probably NOT crazy)

Martin Luther lived to “an old age”: 62. But “the years were not kind to him . . . He spent days and weeks in pamphlet wars over matters that, today, have to be patiently explained to us, they seem so remote.”

This is sad!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


Quote of the Day: Joan Acocella on Rescuing Luther’s Bibles From a 2004 Fire

The book historian Stephan Fussel, in the explanatory paperback that accompanies the two-volume facsimile, reports that in 2004, when a fire swept through the Duchess Anna Amalia Library, in Weimar, where this copy was housed, it was “rescued, undamaged, with not a second to lose, thanks to the courageous intervention of library director Dr. Michael Knoche.” I hope that Dr. Knoche himself ran out with the two volumes in his arms. I don’t know what the price of a calf is these days, but the price of this facsimile is sixty dollars.

The New Yorker, 30 October 2017

Martin Luther: Importance

Excerpts from The Hammer: How Martin Luther Changed the World, by New Yorker critic-at-large Joan Acocella (The New Yorker, 30 October 2017)

The crucial text is his Bible: the New Testament, translated from the original Greek and published in 1523, followed by the Old Testament, in 1534, translated from the Hebrew. Had he not created Protestantism, this book would be the culminating achievement of Luther’s life.

*     *     *

Luther very consciously sought a fresh, vigorous idiom. For his Bible’s vocabulary, he said, “we must ask the mother in the home, the children on the street,” and, like other writers with such aims — William Blake, for example — he ended up with something songlike. He loved alliteration — Der Herr ist mein Hirte (“The Lord is my shepherd”); Dein Stecken und Stab (“thy rod and thy staff”) — and he loved repetition and forceful rhythms.

*     *     *

The books also featured a hundred and twenty-eight woodcut illustrations, all by one artist from the Cranach workshop, known to us only as Master MS.

*     *     *

The three-thousand copy first edition of the New Testament, though it was not cheap (it cost about as much as a calf), sold out immediately.

Also Reading: Evan Osnos in The New Yorker, 8 May 2017

Many scholars believe that the most plausible bases for a Trump impeachment are corruption and abuse of power. Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law School professor who specializes in constitutional studies, argues that, even without evidence of an indictable crime, the Administration’s pattern of seemingly trivial uses of public office for private gain “can add up to an impeachable offense.” Last week, after the State Department took down an official Web page that showcased Trump’s private, for-profit club, Mar-a-Lago, Feldman told me, “A systematic pattern shown through data points would count as grounds for impeachment.”

And self is nowhere near the end of this article. It’s taken her days just to get this far.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

#amreading Evan Osnos’s New Yorker Article, “Endgame: What would it take to cut short Trump’s Presidency?”

Self hopes dear blog readers appreciate that she is giving up precious time she could have spent writing her most kick-ass story to date (pagophilics, a Captain, a woman, an alien invasion launched from the Bering Sea) to continue reading the Evan Osnos article (in the 8 May 2017 issue of The New Yorker):

Trump has embraced strategies that normally boost popularity, such as military action. In April, some pundits were quick to applaud him for launching a cruise-missile attack on a Syrian airbase, and for threatening to attack North Korea. In interviews, Trump marvelled at the forces at his disposal, like a man wandering into undiscovered rooms of his house. (“It’s so incredible. It’s brilliant.”)


The White House recently stopped releasing visitors’ logs, limiting the public’s ability to know who is meeting with the President and his staff.

This is indeed a very enthralling piece, dear blog readers. Self can’t wait to read how it ends.

Stay tuned.

#amreading: “Endgames” by Evan Osnos (The New Yorker, 8 May 2017)

  • By this point in George W. Bush’s term, Bush had travelled to twenty-three states and a foreign country. Trump has visited just nine states and has never stayed the night. He inhabits a closed world that one adviser recently described as ‘Fortress Trump.’

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