Archive for June, 2009

The Poetry of the Wall Street Journal

June 30, 2009

While walking down the street this afternoon I saw a Wall Street Journal headline that made me do a double-take:

Evil’ Madoff Gets 150 Years for Epic Fraud

At first glance, the quotes around the word evil made it seem as though the Wall Street Journal was mocking the idea that Madoff is evil. I read a little bit of the article and discovered that they were quoting the judge’s description of Madoff. But maybe there was an element of mockery—if only unconscious. Describing the man’s fraud as epic does seem a little admiring. Considering the source, I can’t rule it out.

More on the Sick Parrot

June 29, 2009

Here’s a photo of the juvenile Cherry-headed Conure (Red-masked Parakeet) that a neighbor brought me a couple of days ago.

Juvenile with Baylisascaris procyonis

Juvenile with Baylisascaris procyonis

His head is hanging because he can’t hold it up. He has a round worm, Baylisascaris procyonis, that is commonly found in raccoon feces. The worm gets into the spinal column and brain. Humans can pick it up, too. (It’s one of the reasons that I opposed the public feeding of the flock. For more information on this, click here.) I’m told that Baylisascaris procyonis is well-known problem at zoos. My guess is that they’re drinking from pools of water on rooftops (a common drinking source for the flock) that raccoons have been into. If you saw the film The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, this is the same problem that afflicted Tupelo. I’m skeptical that this bird will survive. He’s bright-eyed and alert, however. I’ve already got my hands full with two other members of the flock; so if anyone would like to take care of this bird, please e-mail me at mark(dot)bittner(at)earthlink(dot)net.

The Wild Parrots

June 28, 2009

The wild parrot flock has been coming after my attention lately. A few days ago, I had to go through some of my old photos of the birds. As I studied the photos, I felt a real rush of affection for my old friends. This hasn’t happened in a while. When I started my involvement with the flock, it was a magical experience for me—almost like a fairy tale. But once I had to go out on the road to present the book and film, I lost much of that spirit. That’s inevitable when you find yourself answering the same questions day after day, year after year. And I don’t feed them anymore. I had a special affection for the bird I called Dogen. Seeing her photos again and remembering what she was like was particularly moving for me. She was the one bird with whom I had a friendship that was mutual.

So, I’d been thinking about the flock a lot when a neighbor showed up at my door yesterday with one of the birds. It’s a juvenile afflicted with the round worm that’s been such a problem over the years. He’s clear-eyed, but he can’t hold his head up. He can’t drink, so I have to squirt water down his throat. They don’t often last long when they’re this bad. We’ll see. I’ll try to get a photo up in a day or two.

Conservative and Liberal

June 17, 2009

I regard the way that most people use the words “conservative” and “liberal” as distortions of the language. Conservative and liberal are not states of being; they are modes. It doesn’t make any sense to say that someone is a liberal or a conservative. Liberal and conservative have more to do with energy. There are times when you can be liberal with your energy, and there are times when you have to be conservative with it. But you can’t be one way all the time. Nevertheless, we are trying to describe particular ideas when we use the two words as nouns, even if they have little to do with what the words actually mean. Conservative has generally referred to a person who clings to tradition or one who is cautious with money. But in today’s political arguments, it more often means someone who sees the rights of the individual as superior to those of the community.

In a healthy society—and in my opinion there are few, if any, these days—there is a balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of the community. We really are all in this together, and to insist that one or the other is more important is to be an extremist. One of the symptoms of extremism is that one sees everything in terms of a great struggle between Good and Evil. During the Cold War, the two extremist philosophies of Marxism and Laissez-Faire Capitalism (today’s “conservatives”) went after the other’s jugular. The Marxists were just as convinced of the righteousness of their cause as the Capitalists were of theirs. I think it self-evident that it is extremism itself—doesn’t matter what kind—that leads to evil.

Now that the commies are gone, Conservatives tend to see Liberals as the Great Enemy. Linguistically speaking, conservative and liberal are opposites. But politically speaking, they’re merely sloppy tags and don’t actually represent two ideas in strict opposition to one another.

So what’s a liberal? In current, between-the-lines usage, I think of “a liberal” as someone who sees the need for balance between the individual and the community, who is nearer the objective philosophical center, but feels the rage of the right wing and is somewhat timid about standing up for the balance that they know is necessary. Liberals, then, aren’t really left of center—at least not to the left of the center of truth. They’re a wee bit too far right.

No Hurry, No Goal

June 17, 2009

I used to be a bicycling fanatic, but that passed years ago, and I’ve never quite gotten the spirit back. Yesterday, I decided to ride up Mt. Tamalpais. I’ve already been up the mountain once this year, but yesterday I was feeling sluggish right from the start. Just one of those days. I wasn’t enjoying the ride, and I decided that the only way I could make it bearable was to adopt the mantra of “There is no hurry and there is no goal.” I rode at a relaxed, slow pace and even stopped to look at the sights (something I don’t often do when I’m “working out”).  My rule was if at any point I felt like turning back, even if I was only 100 yards from the summit, then, by golly, that’s what I’d do. Whenever I found myself wondering if I could make it to the top, I’d remind myself of my mantra and return to riding easy. And it worked; I was enjoying the ride.

At a rest stop, I saw a mileage sign and realized that I was closer to the summit than I thought. It was starting to get a little late, so when I got back on the bike I decided to go for it. I put my head down and increased my speed. But a half mile later I felt like complete crap. I remembered my rule then, turned around, and coasted back to the bottom. No regrets, Coyote!

Everything Changes

June 13, 2009

In 1954, local artist Peter Macchiarini put together the first Upper Grant Street Fair. In those days there was a high concentration of arts and crafts people in North Beach, and they needed an outlet for their work. A street fair seemed like a good way for the artists both to display their work and to celebrate the kind of work they did. It was a genuinely local affair. The fair was so popular that it became an annual event. Other neighborhoods in San Francisco took up the idea, and in later years, so did other cities.

While they haven’t disappeared from North Beach entirely, arts and crafts are not nearly what they used to be. The fair is bigger than ever, though. But it’s a travesty of the original vision. It has nothing to do with the neighborhood anymore. It’s a traveling circus that lands on top of the community once a year and attracts large numbers of people who wander the streets getting wasted on alcohol and acting belligerent. The fair is about money now. It’s the annual moneymaker for a local businesswoman who pays mere lip service to the arts.

So today was the first day of this year’s edition. I was complaining about the fair to a local who mostly agreed with my assessment of it, but added, “well, everything changes.” I often hear this line when people are talking about something good that has turned to shit. But it’s a bad characterization of the truth that “everything changes.” Everything must change through the course of time, but that doesn’t mean that everything is obliged to go in a bad direction. “Everything changes” is not equivalent to “everything deteriorates.”

Today’s News

June 11, 2009

This morning I was listening to the “news” on the radio. It was one of the regular corporate news stations. The two local anchors were interviewing a reporter from the Los Angeles Times about the upcoming Iranian elections. While discussing the possibility that Ahmadinejad might actually lose, one of the local anchors wondered if it might not be better if Ahmadinejad won the election since that might make it easier to create an international force against Iran. It was treated as a serious question.

I used to know an American who spoke Russian and had spent time in the Soviet Union. He told me that one big difference between the US and the USSR was that most Russians knew they were being propagandized, but few Americans realized that they were being propagandized, too.

The Best Economy

June 6, 2009

I find the current arguments about capitalism and socialism tiresome. Both systems are blind to their effects and therefore dangerous. Today’s economic machinery demands constant attention, constant labor, constant learning of new skills. The worst part all the devotion of time and energy to maintenance is that it diverts us from our true task in life.

Existence is a Great Riddle. What is existence? What does it exist in? If you think about it too hard and in the wrong way, it can drive you insane. But we are not to take it for granted. It’s vital that we understand the Great Riddle.  Many people consider this a purely scientific question. But science can never come to grips with it because, despite appearances, the Universe is not fundamentally a material “thing.” The riddle is a spiritual issue. Happily, its resolution cannot be found in dogma, churches, or books. The only place we can find that answer is inside ourselves. This is an ancient belief—ancient because it’s true.

During the time that we are suspended between the twin poles of life and death, we’re supposed to try to understand what we’re doing here. To me, the best economy is one that enables human beings to provide for their essential needs while at the same time allowing us the freedom to explore and to appreciate reality. People say, “So, what’s your plan?” I don’t think it needs to be systematized in advance. The best way is to work in a direction that has integrity and to let things come into being as the need arises, organically and on-the-fly. It requires that we be intelligent, courageous, and just. Why shouldn’t we be that way?