Archive for February, 2011

The Age of Revolution once referred to the years from 1775 to 1848 when absolutist monarchies were forcibly replaced by republics or constitutionalist states. These upheavals included the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, and revolutions throughout Latin America.

After World War II, a second Age of Revolution occurred in Africa as colonies freed themselves from their European masters. Most of these revolts were in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

Twenty-six wild turkeys two weeks ago marched for food in Point Reyes Station.

Now a third Age of Revolution is sweeping the world. It all began last month when street protesters in Tunisia toppled the 23-year regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. That, of course, helped inspire street protests which earlier this month led to the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after a 29-year rule. An estimated 365 protesters had been killed by the time he left office.

Immediately protesters in Yemen demanded that President Ali Abdullah Saleh resign after 32 years in office. Saleh has said he won’t seek reelection in 2013, but protesters want him out now. Nine protesters have been killed so far.

Street protests also spread to Bahrain where seven people have been killed in demonstrations against the prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al Khalifa, over economic problems in the island kingdom.

Other street protests in the region are occurring in Libya (1,000 or more protesters killed), Morocco (five killed), Algeria (two killed), Kuwait (some reportedly tortured), and Jordan (eight injured).

Elsewhere street protests have been cropping up against authoritarian regimes in China, Russia, and…. Wisconsin?

A fox on my deck last week looking for bread.

The street protesters in Wisconsin, who are upset with their anti-union governor, Republican Scott Walker, are reminiscent of women strikers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a century ago. Their demands back then? “We want bread and roses too.”

Nor is the fox alone in its desire for more bread, along with roses. Three raccoons showed up tonight to join in the demonstration.

Even a possum waddled onto my deck to take part.

The fox, the raccoons, and the possum all want bread but prefer peanuts. By offering them a few goobers, I was able to convince them to pose with a rose for these portraits.

No doubt authoritarian potentates from Vladimir Putin to Moammar Khadafy to Gov. Walker wish their problems could be solved for peanuts. But they can’t, which is why they find common people around the globe to be revolting.

In the last couple of weeks, I have received two emails from women who survived crises where they live. One incident in particular could have easily had a far worse outcome.

The youngest stepdaughter from my last marriage, Shaili, who will turn 18 next month, lives in Guatemala. Her location sometimes worries me even though her home is in a good neighborhood of the capital, Guatemala City.

Unfortunately, the country has become so dangerous for women and girls — an average of two are murdered each day — that the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco last year ruled immigration judges must consider that fact when deciding whether to grant asylum to Guatemalan women. The country’s murder rate is 3.5 times the rate in violence-plagued Mexico, The New York Times reported last July.

Shaili reading by my woodstove two years ago.

On Feb. 3, Shaili wrote me, “I usually don’t walk in the streets near my house anymore, but yesterday afternoon seemed like a pretty day. I decided to leave my cell phone in the house — just in case. I went to my friend Alvaro’s house and spent the whole afternoon there.

“We were walking back to my house at about 6:20 p.m., so it was getting pretty dark. Alvaro never lets me walk home alone. Anyway, during our way to my house, I had many ‘bad feelings’ when seeing some people, a particular car etc. Something just didn’t feel right.

“I was very close to my house when an all-black car pulled over, and two men came out. The car quickly left, and when I saw the look on the men’s faces, I knew they were going to try to mug me, which was precisely what happened.

“The two men walked over to us and showed us their guns. They told us to give them everything we owned. Luckily, as I said, I was having a bad feeling that day, so I had put my money inside my underwear. I told the guy that I didn’t have anything.

“He heard a jingle in my pocket and asked, ‘Are you SURE you don’t have anything?’ I took four quetzales [the equivalent of 50 cents] out and said, ‘Would you like four quetzales?’ I couldn’t help sounding a bit mocking, just so he would feel stupid. He said no.

“Then the other guy told Alvaro and me to head back towards where we came from. I refused to do that, of course, because I refused to walk in the direction that I knew they were going. I was just so terrified at that moment that I didn’t think. So I said, ‘No, I live here!’

“This was so stupid of me, but the good thing is that I never really specified where I lived, but they now know I live close by. Anyway, they let me go, so I ran until I got to my house. I had never felt as scared. My legs were trembling.

“When I ran straight to my house, I accidentally forgot about Alvaro, but then I turned around, and he had already crossed the street to the other side, so I yelled for him to come, and he did.

“Alvaro’s cap got stolen, and it had sentimental value to him, but he wasn’t as affected as I was because it had happened to him before. For me, it was new and just very scary.

“I cried a lot after that because I was scared. Nothing really happened to me, and nothing of mine got stolen, but still I just hate to think I actually came face to face with two men who are exactly the reason why Guatemala is in such a disgusting situation.

“I had trouble sleeping the nights after that because I kept on dreaming about it,” Shaili later told me. “Now I feel much better. I’m just very paranoid right now. As always, I am being very cautious when leaving the house, and I definitely won’t ever walk here again.”

Second story: A Jan. 25 posting on this blog concerning Facebook prompted a Feb. 9 email from Sheila Castelli, formerly of Point Reyes Station and now living in Taos, New Mexico.

“I saw this post on the Taos Police Department Facebook page,” she wrote, “and chuckled and thought of your blog post. ‘Crews are at Wal Mart,'” the police noted, “‘and will follow you home to get you lit up. Let everyone know.’

“Here is the context. We in Taos County are coming to the end of a non-natural disaster,” Sheila (at right) wrote.

“Since last Thursday [Jan. 20] there has been no natural gas here. The gas supply was intentionally shut off by New Mexico Gas as a preemptive move to save the gas supply in other parts of the state.

“Temperatures here at night have been well below zero.”

The Feb. 10 Taos News explained, “Early last week, El Paso Natural Gas — the company that oversees one of the pipelines from the Permian Basin for New Mexico Gas Company — said it was stockpiling as much gas as it could in anticipation of the frigid weather….

“When it became apparent that the gas supply was dwindling, New Mexico Gas Company said it advised large consumers like the Questa mine and Los Alamos National Labs to cut back gas usage. Other major gas users across the state were also asked to reduce operations. But it wasn’t enough.

“With almost no warning, the gas was disconnected in 14 communities across the state….

“It wasn’t just a matter of pipeline physics. At some point, a decision was made to shut the valve serving rural communities. In an emailed statement to The Taos News, New Mexico Gas Company said it had to move fast when deciding who would be cut off.

“‘The decision to shut off the gas line valve to Española, Taos, Questa, Red River and other northern New Mexico towns was made quickly because the actual valves were in areas accessible and were able to be shut down quickly.'”

Sheila wrote, “I heard of the gas outage on the radio here, and I also heard they were opening a Red Cross shelter. As I have trained as a shelter manager, I called and offered my services. Trinidad, the Red Cross head here, was overjoyed as Taos had never opened a shelter here before.

“So I have been at the shelter since then. I dragged myself home yesterday.

“All the gas meters had to be shut off until the lines were re-pressurized, then all homes visited and [pilot lights] re-lit.

“The National Guard have been here in full force, along with plumbers from all over the country, and they were very perplexed with Taos’ crazy roads and streets. They thought they had been to every home, but it appeared that only 54 percent were back with gas.

“They just couldn’t find a lot of these homes, so they were at Wal Mart, and people were supposed to go grab a crew and lead them to their homes.

“Luckily I don’t use natural gas, so I was fine, but I attended to many freezing folks coming into the shelter. I met lots of new people from the mayor to the homeless and spent several hours playing cards with Taos policemen.”

Sheila wrote that helping others at the shelter was “good therapy for me,” and Shaili wrote that her frightening experience “taught me a good lesson: whenever I have a gut feeling or some kind of intuition, I need to trust it.”

Neither of them expected she’d have to cope with a crisis, but both came away stronger for having done so.

Valentine’s Day will be Monday, and here are some thoughts for the occasion. The first is from Kaiser Permanente, which sent out a mass mailing this week noting that dark chocolate is good for your heart and that “some say it even mimics the feeling of being in love.”

While on the topic of hearts, here is my annual Valentine’s Day greeting from a flock of Canada geese flying over Inverness Ridge, as seen from my deck.

Romantically inclined gentlemen have traditionally given their ladies  flowers for Valentine’s Day. Here Mrs. Raccoon, who works part time at Flower Power in Point Reyes Station, shows off a particularly nice bouquet.

How men respond to feminine beauty is to some degree, of course, a matter of culture, as we could see when an attractive young woman dropped what she was carrying during the G8 countries’ summit in Canada last June.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was too preoccupied with his own appearance to notice, and President Barack Obama remained all business while French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi admired her comely derrière.

By now Valentine’s Day is often associated with greeting cards called Valentines, which are typically printed with saccharin
messages or a bit of doggerel: “The rose is red./ The violet’s blue./ The honey’s sweet,/ and so are you.”

The origin of that line, by the way, can be found 420 years ago in Edmund Spenser’s poem The Faerie Queen: “She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,/ And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.”

By the early 1800s, Valentine’s cards were being assembled in factories, and with the development of modern printing in the years that followed, printed messages replaced handwritten notes. The woman holding this large, pink Valentine was photographed about 1910.

There must be something trippy about this time of year. If you’ve never experienced an acid trip, the following kenesthetic hallucination will give you an idea of what it’s like.

Here’s what to do: click on the link at the end of this posting, then “click me to get trippy,” then stare at the center of the screen for a full 30 seconds, then look at your hand holding the mouse without moving it away from the mouse. You’ll be amazed at the result: Happy Valentine’s Day!

This blog periodically carries postings consisting of clippings from my file labeled “Quotes Worth Saving.” The idea for the file originated with the late San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, who once wrote that he kept a file of items he could use on slow days.

Prompting this latest installment was a Jan. 26 Matier and Ross column in The Chronicle: “After a three-week trial — at a cost we can only imagine — a San Francisco jury has determined that a 47-year-old Cotati man was not, in fact, masturbating when he was moving his hands inside his pants as he stood on a Tenderloin corner looking at a 10-year-old girl.

“Jurors instead decided that the accused — who has no history of crimes against children — had been trying to retrieve his heroin, which had fallen down his pants. Since he wasn’t facing drug charges, the defendant walked.”

Lest you think this could only happen to a man in San Francisco, here’s an item from  the police blotter of The Lewisboro (N.Y.) Ledger, as quoted in the May 26, 2008, New Yorker: “Sex offense reported at the Cross River Plaza in Cross River.

“A driver complained to police that a woman was touching herself in a car. Police spoke to the woman, who said that she had just been listening to the Beatles before shopping.”

It could have been tragic. The Gulf News in Dubai reported on Dec. 12, 2008, “Actor Daniel Hoevels accidentally slit his neck onstage after he mistook a real knife for a prop at the Burgtheater in Austria.

“Hoevels… was supposed to be using a knife blunted for use onstage, but the knife had been switched with a sharp one for the show on Saturday night.

“Vienna police said Thursday they were investigating ‘bodily injury caused by negligence.’ The theater company said the original prop knife was damaged and that instructions to blunt the replacement and been ‘carelessly’ disregarded.

“Hoevels received stitches for his injury at a hospital and was back on stage… the next day.”

A headline in the July 18, 2010, Chronicle, rather than the accompanying story seemed to be the real news: “Hamas Bans Water Pipes.” My God, I wondered, will power lines be the next public utility Hamas prohibits? In fact, it turned out that Hamas in imposing conservative Islam on Gaza had banned the smoking of Arabic hookahs (known as shisha) in public.

Was the word really supposed to be gratuitously, meaning done in an uncalled-for manner (e.g. gratuitously violent movies)? Or gratefully, meaning done with gratitude? Whatever the case, a reader last Sunday could sense a poignant story behind the following classified ad.

From Personals in the Jan. 30 Chronicle: “Does anyone remember EX-PFC USMC Oak Knoll-Menlo Park? Any response gratuitously accepted. (Highly & introspective, sensitive, neurotic). Mail response to: 1390 Market St. #1820, SFCA 94102.”

Gallery owner Claudia Chapline (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

An apt aphorism quoted in a Dec. 10, 1992, news release from the Claudia Chapline Gallery in Stinson Beach: “If you have no troubles, buy a goat.”

I’d think the answer would be self-evident. From Dear Abby on Dec. 29, 2010: “My husband travels a lot — three to four days a week. Sometimes when he’s intoxicated and we’re having sex, he acts as if he doesn’t know who I am.

“I asked him once, ‘Are you married?’ He said, ‘No…’ Another time I asked, ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ and he said, ‘No, but you’re fine…’ The next day he has no idea he said any of this. Should I be worried?”

Grim news from the Palmetto State in the Oct. 10, 2009, Chronicle: “Officials say an alligator bit off part of a golfer’s arm as he leaned over to pick up his ball at a private South Carolina course.

The man, who is in his 70s, was retrieving his ball from a pond when the 10-foot alligator bit him at Ocean Creek Golf Course in Beaufort County.

“His golf partners were able to free him. Wildlife workers killed the alligator and retrieved the arm in the hope it might be reattached.”

Law enforcement run amok? The Associated Press reported on Oct. 9, 2008: “Police in Newark, Ohio, have arrested a 15-year-old girl on juvenile child pornography charges for allegedly sending nude cell-phone photos of herself to classmates.

“The girl was arrested Friday and held over the weekend. Her defense filed denials in court Monday. Police did not identify the girl by name, and prosecutors promised a statement with details later Wednesday. Authorities were also considering charges for students who received the photos.”

We’ll end with a sentimental report from the Aug. 19, 2008, Chronicle: “A lost humpback whale calf has bonded with a yacht it seems to think is its mother, Australian media reported. The calf was first sighted Sunday in waters off north Sydney, and on Monday tried to suckle from a yacht, which it would not leave.”