Monday, March 24, 2008

Hibernation Ends Tonight

The A's play their "opener" in Japan tonight at 3 am. Being the grandma-in-training that I am, I will not be staying up to hear Joe Blanton pitch. I will, however, be coming out of baseball-winter-hibernation. Although the A's promise to be atrocious this year and .500 seems a stretch (a longggg stretch), I'm a fan till the end.

GO A'S!

Bring Your Own Big Wheel 2008

Easter Sunday is not just for party dresses. This Sunday was also the Eighth (8th) Annual "Bring Your Own Big Wheel" event, usually held on Lombard Street, but this year held on the actual windiest street in San Francisco. Big Wheels, for those who don't remember (or weren't boys so never experienced them) are plastic children's toys that mimic cars so kids can "drive" them around:

"Bring Your Own Big Wheel" (aka BYOBW) is an event where adults get to act like children, only more so. I mean, really, children should probably not ride Big Wheels down windy streets, with or without helmets. However, the organizers of this event have realized that adults do not have enough fun, and that adults SHOULD ride Big Wheels (and trash cans, and tricycles, and little red wagons, and plastic skateboards, etc) down windy streets. The official website invited us to come to Vermont Street to see the excitement, and the injuries. Make sure to check out the past medical reports.

I just could not miss this event. I'm so glad I didn't- it was fun just watching. I hung out at the bottom of the hill and watched 2 or 3 runs down. The first run, apparently the riders all left at the same time because a pack of riders came by woosh all together. After they all hit bottom, they started back up the hill: one BW rider told me that the goal was to keep going down until their bodies (or their rigs) couldn't take it any more. So up and down the hill they went. It really was an Only In San Francisco event. See you there next year! The rest of my pictures can be seen as a fancy Slideshow or with captions.

I also highly recommend watching one or more of these youtube vids:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kG20z9WGVWM (helmet cam!)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRmEyTjXLNY (fancy editing, with music!)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyCQBmi5Krg (many crashes)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Khaled Hosseini: A Thousand Splendid Suns

Once again reading out of order (rhetorical question: will themacinator ever return to the order she once knew?) I picked up a book I've been looking forward to: Khaled Hosseini's "A Thousand Splendid Suns". One would think that I would know by know that best-selling books that are mega-hits among people not known as readers are not going to be awesome books. Well, what can I say? I'm a perpetual optimist, I guess. "Splendid Suns" was not exactly a disappointment, but it was not exactly a masterpiece, either. I'm in no rush to go pick up "Kite Runner," the book that really made Hosseini famous.

"Splendid Suns" tells the story of women in Afghanistan from the mid '70s to the early '00s through the lives of two women, Mariam and Laila, who I imagine we are supposed to believe are "average." The book would be a whole lot better and more convincing if it didn't try to encompass every important event in Afghanistan in 30 years and every possible outcome for women in nearly every ethnic group in every possible family situation during this time. Who knew that two women could be so representative? Amazing! The writing is prosaic, and the women convincing (even when the plot is not) and their lives are touching. I admit it, I even felt some wet eyes near the end. The men in the story are not nearly as convincing, and are pretty shallowly portrayed as straw men- demons, heroes, scholars- easy to peg from their first appearance.

The book is worth its weight to flush out the day-to-day lives of the people I have been reading about in non-fiction portrayals of these tumultuous and fairly awful years in Afghanistan. War is real, Hosseini reminds the reader, and Mariam, Laila, and their families are (token) people who give us glimpses into it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Vladimir Nabokov: The Defense

Nabokov's "The Defense" was generously given to me recently to broaden my reading horizons. Some might say that I already have fairly large and eclectic tastes when it comes to books, but it is true that one of the areas that I am particularly short in is Russian classics. I don't know why this is- I don't steer clear of them as a general rule- but my best guess is that most people read this type of literature and either learn to love it or hate it in high school and college. I went to less traditional schools who filled my brain with more exotic soon-to-be classics like Cisneros, Lourde, Silko, etc. Basically, dead white men were out, anything else was in. The only "classic" I remember reading was "Lord of the Flies" and I hated that book so much that I will never revisit it.

Anyway, this was a classic worth revisiting, or visiting in my case. I've discussed my hesitancy to read in translation before, but this edition of "The Defense" was beautifully done. I think part of the reason it worked so well is that Nabokov himself was involved in the translation. The discussions of language in the book don't come across as stilted, and the book, which is so much about the writing (long, Faulkner-esque paragraphs), flows like a first language. The characters are poignantly drawn with minimal dialogue. Nabokov's style is almost too magical for me- back and forth and skipping around in a way that makes sense to the confused protagonist and to Nabokov himself, but can leave the reader feeling jerked about. However, it fits perfectly with the theme of chess: the main character, Luzhin, is a chess player (to put it mildly) and sees his whole life as a game of chess. Peripheral characters/pieces are introduced then fall to the side only to become relevant again as Luzhin charts his position and his ultimate defense against the world. The bits about complex chess games are (of course) over my head, but it doesn't really matter: Luzhin's complete and utter dependency on the game is the key to "The Defense."

I would not have picked this book for myself, but am glad that I read it. In fact, it was quite hard to put down. I will seek out "Lolita" next.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Would You Like to Buy a Puppy?

I took a lovely day trip to Healdsburg with the boys on Sunday. This was a day where we were not going to think about work, at all. The problem is, work follows you, whether you like it or not. At least, it follows me.

We walked Mac all around the square and we bumped into a few dogs. Mostly, we kept seeing the same people with a tiny long haired dachsund on a leash and two merle dachsund puppies in their arms. We were browsing a bookstore (Mac sound asleep on the floor) when a man came in carrying one of these puppies and asked loudly to everyone present (there weren't many of us) if we'd like to buy a puppy.

I. Just. Couldn't. Resist.

themacinator: "Why are you selling them?"
man with puppy: "Because we have 8 dogs at home, not counting their mom and dad."
themacinator: "Oh. Are you going to spay and neuter them now?"
man with puppy: "No, why would we do that? We'll have another litter after this."
themacinator: "Maybe because you're having to sell them on the street?"
man with puppy: "Is there another way to do it? Do you want to buy one?"
themacinator: "Yes, prescreened homes, you know? No, I don't want to buy one. I have a dog here who would eat him (point to Mac) and I'm an animal welfare professional (not exactly what I said- details have been changed to protect my anonymity). I'm probably the wrong person to talk to."
man with puppy: "I guess you are. Anyone want to buy a puppy?"

At this point, our conversation ended. I was left shaking my head, and a bookstore browser next to me expressed some disgust to me: "That guy should be ashamed." We agreed, discussed how bizarre and disgusting it was to peddle puppies in the street, and the browser paid and left. As I continued to browse, however, the puppy seller continued to peddle his puppy at the entrance to the bookstore. People gathered around and I learned that the puppies were for sale at $500 for a male and $600 for a female (let the cycle continue!) and people were seriously discussing buying one from him. The man's wife and son were also selling puppies in the town square. I was left feeling more than a little weirded out.

In the wake of all those dogs being seized from Arizona and the publicity surrounding it, you would think people would have some sense. I guess I am an eternal optimist.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Artichokes

I have always wondered who decided to eat these things. I mean, really, do they look edible to you?



And the plant is no more inviting:

IMG_5448

For the rest of my artichoke pictures, check the ubiquitous flickr.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Graffito: Michael Walsh

I feel like I hit the jackpot: I wandered into Dog Eared Books the other day and almost had to hire a shopping cart to wander back out again. They had an entire shelf of graffiti books. I have never seen anything like that, and I have been looking for a long time. I decided which ones to buy based on the following criteria: were they used? (many were), did I own them? (some I did, most I did not) and could I afford them? (some of them- graff books are priced like art books, which is a subject for ironical discussion at a further date). Anyway, I left with five awesome books.

The first one I picked up yesterday- Michael Walsh's "Graffito." I think I may have read this book before, but due to my inept memory, I didn't remember a page of it. Even if I had, I feel like a whole car reference is appropriate here: I was smiling end-to-end. First off, the book was clearly researched in the Bay Area- most of the artists quoted are from SF, Oakland, Berkeley, etc, which of course makes a local girl happy. Even better, many of the pictures are from these local artists, and that makes a local graff hunter even happier! Many of them are before my graff hunting days, but some of the artists were still throwing up some awesome work when I started chasing (Twist comes to mind) so it just warmed my heart and got me all into my newly rediscovered hobby to read this book.

Secondly, this book struck an "intellectual" nerve, too. What? Intellectual discussions of graffiti? Yes. You read that right. The book is divided up into four sections and purports to be a "history" of graff. I wouldn't go that far- if you're looking for that, you need to go elsewhere, but if you're looking for some interesting sociological perspectives on graffiti, this is it. The four sections include the introduction- Walsh's take on the who, what, and why, with some awesome sociological analysis, "The Graffiti Phenomenon"- a continuation of this analysis with discussion with above-mentioned local artists and some insights into what it actually feels like to get out there and paint, the "War on Graffiti" with articles from "the other side" and many conversations with "the Man" and other people involved in fighting the fight to clean up the street, and lastly, some pictures by the artists (and others) who are the book.

Well, I was hooked from page one. I mean, graffiti AND Foucault and discussion of religion on one page? The opener to the Intro is "Graffiti as Ritual Transgression" and my religious scholar side was hooked, line and sinker. I'll let Walsh speak for himself:

"Many of the graffiti writers I interviewed for this documentary were liminal personalities who viewed society from social and psychological thresholds of normative consciousness and social order. They see themselves as 'revolutionaries' outside the established art 'market' of the gallery system and the utilitarian values of capitalist social order. They understand the surreal dream-like images of their art as ideological statements and symbolic transformative instruments for initiating social change." (4)


"The targets of graffiti, the 'public' and private buildings, are symbols of the social body and capitalist identity. Graffiti writers knowingly and willingly 'tag' the most sacred 'things of the normative value hierarchy; the more scared the symbol and taboo, the more 'attractive' and empowering the transgressive ritual act. The recent initiation of more severe laws and penalties for graffiti, and the millions of dollars spent on graffiti abatement, has initiated an equal and opposite surge of graffiti energy." (8)


Read this book, if you're interested in sociology, art, taboos, anything. It's short, it's provocative, it's powerful. It's beautiful.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Mama's Boys

Mac and Mole have a strange relationship. They are both mama's boys, but very different.



Mac: "Weird, I think there's something on my foot."

Mole: "Why do you do this to me, Mom? Please, make the evil stepbrother go away."

Mac: "Oh, I recognize him! We've been walking with him for an hour! Wait, he was in the car with me before that!"

Mole: "Mom, my "brother" is looking this way. Pick me up, PLEASE! It was bad enough we lived with him eons ago."

Mac: "Mom, I know I know him from somewhere. Can you help me out?"

Mole: "Dude, I'm warning you now, don't look at me..."

Mac: "Mom, I'm kind of scared. He's looking at me. I think that's the evil eye. I am not good at dog language... I'm not supposed to be scared of little dogs. But this one... he scares me."

Mole: "You're stupid. Mom, get me away from him, I'm losing braincells just thinking about him."

Mac: "Mom, he called me stupid. Can I get up now?"

Mole: "Mom, his head is bigger than my body, and his brain is smaller than one of my turds. Can I get up now? You must be crazy if you think I was going to pose with him."



Mac: "I forgot what we're doing here. I'll just pant. And look the other way. Maybe he'll forget about me. I already forgot what we were talking about."

Denis Johnson: Tree of Smoke

I love Denis Johnson. A million years ago I read "Already Dead" and although I can't remember what it was about or why I liked it, I am sure it is one of my favorite books. I promptly read everything I could find by Denis Johnson and was totally pumped to see that he had a new book out. So pumped that I bought a used copy of the hardback version, since I couldn't even wait for it to come out in paperback. I suggest that everyone else wait for the paperback, or borrow my copy.

Basically, this is a very complicated book about some dudes in the CIA and their family, some American dudes in the Army and their family, and some dudes in Vietnam and their family. The plot weaves around the men's (and one woman's, but not her families') lives and experience in the Philippines, the US, and Vietnam. It's often confusing, though not overly so, and sometimes dramatic. Unfortunately, some of the dramatic ploys are used two or more times, so they lose some of their excitement: Is one dude going to kill another dude? The suspense is killing me! Oh wait, it killed me the first time, but this time... not so much. Also, there is a lot of talk of double agents, but the breakdown of this particular mystery comes way too late in the book- the plot building didn't really need to take 400 pages. Six hundred pages of historical/war fiction is a lot.

I was so excited about this book. I think for a non-Denis Johnson book, it would have been excellent. For a Denis Johnson book, I was disappointed. On the other hand, if it wasn't a Denis Johnson book, I probably wouldn't have picked it up. Although this blog would make it seem otherwise, I *do* read about other things besides war. And some of the gritty details Johnson lays out about Vietnam and the life of a psy-Ops operator are worth the trouble.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Maps- More Nostalgia

I know that sometimes I blather on about how things change, how things should stay the same, yadaya, but it really is something I think about. The cliche about how change is the only constant is so true.

Anyway, I get lost a lot. It's sort of a given that if I drive somewhere even remotely new-to-me, I will get lost. This is especially true if I have a passenger in the car. Driving with me is always an experience. Which leads me to think about maps, as I need them a lot. In the olden days, like, you know, 10+ years ago, when I learned to drive, I would plan my route by asking for directions ahead of time from someone who lived or worked at my destination, or someone who had been there. They would think about which route they took most commonly, and I would write down these directions and follow them to the best of my ability as reading and driving is not easy to do and apparently when I read while I drive, I become dyslexic (I'm not dyslexic at any other time) so I would frequently end up lost. The other option is that I would look at a map and plan a route and follow that. Sometimes I would also end up lost and end up pulling over and either consulting a map or a handy stranger in a gas station or some other convenient direction-seeking place.

On the other hand, when I drive now, if it's a destination with a person, I'll occasionally ask for directions. More often, I'll ask for the address and "mapquest it". Apparently, to "mapquest" or to "google" something are verbs now, defined as "to type an address into a mapping program on the computer and to come up with driving directions." These directions also come complete with a map, and a route that should take you from Point A to Point B. In theory. But since these directions do not come complete with a human, or a real map with other streets, there is no way to know if you're really going to end up at Point B. For example, it is clear to me on this map that there are about 800 ways to get to that little green arrow. However, if I entered the address of that little green arrow into a mapping program on my computer, I would be given one and only one route, and once I printed this out, I would feel in some inexplicable way committed to this route. I would also be depending on this route to be correct. Yesterday I followed a google map to a very clearly incorrect destination. Somehow my brain was in a smart mode yesterday, and I found my destination- frequently this is not the case. I also used a "real" map yesterday to find a different location. It was quite pleasant to be able to choose my own route.

And because I'm so behind the times, I don't even know what it feels like to drive with a GPS giving you directions as you go. I'm not looking forward to it.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Beer

Drinking is best done with friends. Mac recently noticed that his sister Pocket shares his taste in beer. He asked me to tell her they should get together soon and split a six pack.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Hobbies and Cemeteries Revisited

I reported shamefully long ago that Mac got a beautifully blingy new collar. Yesterday, in the quest to pursue a hobby, Mac and I returned to the cemetery for a photoshoot. It wouldn't be appropriate for us to honor the dead and our hobby in just any old clothes, so Mac got all spruced up in said collar:



It just has to be said- that dog is DAMN cute, and he looks sort of out of control amazing in pink. I can't count on my dear readers to stroke his ego, so I'll take care of it. And in case you were looking for another shot of him, here it is:



The cuteness is almost overwhelming, and the dog is sleeping right here next to me! I will try not to fall out of my chair. Anyway, this post is not just an "ode to Mac"- I do try to title my blogs appropriately- it is an update on my photos and my hobby. We had a great time out shooting pictures and I'm going to pick some new destinations for Monday and Tuesday. It's good to be getting out, and one day I'll actually begin to learn all the amazing things my camera can do for me as I'm basically using it as a point and shoot right now. The camera is definitely smarter than me! This is definitely my favorite shot:



and this is my second: (how bizarre to have a grave marker as a happily sleeping little girl! I have a couple of other angles of this girl, but I have to work on them some more in PhotoShop, another thing I'm learning about, as a hobby).



The rest of yesterday's pictures can be found on flickr.