Archive for August, 2018

This week’s  journey started out when Sausalito poet Paul LeClerc and I got to talking during a break in the jazz one Friday evening at the No Name Bar. As noted in my July 8 posting, he recommended I read Joseph Mitchell’s 1938 book Joe Gould’s Secret, so I did. Not surprisingly, the author’s style turned out to be extremely engaging, for Mitchell was a longtime writer for The New Yorker. Much of the book had already appeared in that magazine. Whenever that had happened, Gould received some much-desired publicity.

— Poet Paul LeClerc (in white hat) at the No Name Bar

As I wrote last time, Gould was an unemployable eccentric who frequented the dive bars of New York City. Sometimes he called himself Professor Seagull. He claimed he’d learned the language of seagulls and had translated various poems into “seagull language.” He survived on donations of money, food, and clothing.

To justify his having no job and no money, Gould told people he was busy writing “the longest book in the history of the world.” He called it An Oral History of Our Time and was constantly recording in composition books conversations he was overhearing. The “secret” was that there was no such book, only a bunch of his notebooks, as Mitchell (below right) would discover. Gould was eventually hospitalized with a variety of physical and mental problems and died with people still looking for a copy of his Oral History.

— Los Angeles Times illustration

The story fascinated a college student named Jill Lepore (left), and one semester she joined the hunt for Gould’s missing Oral History as part of a thesis. Her paper became the genesis of her 2015 book titled Joe Gould’s Teeth. With its 77 pages of footnotes, it’s probably better researched then any other book I’ve read. Appropriately, Lepore, now 52, has become a professor of American History at Harvard as well as a staff writer for The New Yorker.

Lepore depicts Gould in far less flattering terms than Mitchell did. “Joe Gould was a toothless mad man who slept in the street,” Lepore writes, also noting that he sometimes “bunked in flophouses.” She also describes Gould’s obsession with sculptor Augusta Savage and his behavior toward her after she rejected his marriage proposal. Gould became so distraught he had to be hospitalized, and upon his release, he began stalking her.

This gets us to a stunning revelation that explains the title Joe Gould’s Teeth. Gould over time was admitted to several psychiatric hospitals, and “it was likely at Central Islip [hospital in New York] that Gould (above) lost his teeth,” Lepore concludes. “‘The first thing they did with all patients was take out all their teeth,’ wrote the psychiatrist Muriel Gardiner recalling her residency at a mental hospital in New Jersey at the time. This was on the theory, she explained, ‘that mental illness of any sort was always the result of a physical infection.'”

Lepore subsequently notes: “In New Jersey, Gardiner found the care of patients in the state mental hospital appalling. What most distressed her was the removal of their teeth. ‘I read their charts,’ she later said, ‘and some of them literally had had teeth, tonsils, appendix, uterus, every organ that you can live without removed for no apparent reason except they were schizophrenic…. None of them had ever got better.'”

That medical quackery explains the title Joe Gould’s Teeth. Oddly enough, Lepore merely refers to it only twice briefly and well before the conclusion. It’s almost as if that cruelty were incidental to her account and not the focus of the book’s title. But since Lepore writes for The New Yorker, I won’t second-guess her style.

Paul Manafort (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

I first heard the news from gleeful friends whom I ran into downtown around noon. This morning, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was convicted of eight felonies. The corruption charges should mean he will now spend the rest of his life in prison — unless Trump pardons him. That could happen. After Manafort’s verdicts were announced, Trump made a point of calling the crook “a good man” and calling his conviction “a disgrace.”

Equally significant, Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen in another courtroom pled guilty to eight felonies, including tax fraud, false statements to a bank, and campaign finance violations on behalf of Trump. Cohen, you’ll recall, is the bag man who paid off porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal before the 2016 election to keep quiet about Trump’s exta-marital affairs with them. Cohen has apparently now agreed to provide information to help the Justice Department’s investigation of the President’s repeated wrongdoing.

Cohen wasn’t the only one singing. A dark-eyed junco on my deck sang when he began eating his supper.

Lynn and I scatter birdseed on the deck railings a couple of times a day for all the jays, doves, crows, towhees, juncos, sparrows, finches, chickadees, quail and more that stop by on a regular basis.

A scrub jay drops by Mitchell cabin for his dinner. Like the junco, he is for me a symbol of a tranquil world away from national politics.

Meanwhile, a roof rat helps himself to the birds’ seed and the birds’ bath. 

The junco is a bit wary of the rat but doesn’t stop pecking up seed.

Dining on the deck along with the birds and rats, are raccoons. They too avail themselves of the birds’ bath. And like some birds, they don’t hesitate to bathe in the water they’re drinking.

Even without the general schadenfreude over the Trump team’s starting to get its comeuppance, my home and animal friends would have seemed especially cheerful today.

 

Responding to the President’s ranting, American newspapers, big and small, this week are editorializing in defense of a free and unfettered press. I’ve read several editorials, but I’m particularly impressed by the words of a weekly newspaper in a red state, The Yankton County (South Dakota) Observer.

It should be noted that South Dakota’s politics are hardly Berkeley’s. Republican Donald Trump carried South Dakota in 2016 with 61.5 percent of the vote. He won in Yankton County, with 58.8 percent of the vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 34.3 percent. Libertarian Gary Johnson picked up the remaining 6.9 percent.

The ranting President, Donald Trump

“President Trump would have you believe the media’s role is to serve him,” observed an editorial in The Observer. “Criticism of his words and deeds are reframed as unpatriotic attacks on America. He calls the press ‘the enemy of the American people’ because they are counting his mounting pile of lies. There is a long and hateful history to labeling groups as ‘enemies of the people.’ Stalin, Hitler, and Mao all used those words….

“[America’s] founding fathers did not always like their newspaper coverage, but they knew a free press was democracy’s best defense. They enshrined that ideal as one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment.”

Thomas Jefferson

America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, was the principal author of the US Constitution. “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government,” he subsequently wrote, “I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Trump, for his part, has talked of suing his critics and challenging several networks’ FCC licenses. (He apparently wasn’t aware the FCC doesn’t license networks.)

Unfortunately, as the editorial from South Dakota noted, “our 45th president answers coverage of his easily disproven stream of lies by smearing the press for spreading ‘fake news.’ Trump’s lifelong love for false witness is catching on. Elected officials at all levels see his success with the ‘fake news’ deflection technique. Many have weaponized it for their own purposes.”

Having spent 35 years working at five newspapers, large and small, I have seen reporters risk their lives to get the facts. And in the relatively few cases where they got something of significance wrong, they corrected it. The bulk of the American press knows it’s their duty to keep the record straight. When Trump in one of his rants calls journalists “enemies of the American people,” and says that they’re “disgusting” and “scum,” it smells to me like his colon is backed up right into his mouth, and he’s relieving himself orally.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (Reuters photo)

Meanwhile across the seas in Turkey, Trump’s doppelgänger, President Tayyip Erdogan, is using the same sophistries to rationalize repressing the free flow of information. In part because of Erdogan’s policies, the Turkish economy is in a shambles. The value of Turkey’s lira currency is collapsing, and inflation is soaring. The mainstream Turkish press, however, is too compromised and intimidated to fully analyze the problem, so the Turkish public have begun discussing among themselves — via social media — whether there will be currency controls. Erdogan wants everyone to shut up.

“There are economic terrorists on social media,” Erdogan recently declared. “They are truly a network of treason,” Reuters quoted him as saying. “We will not give them the time of day… We will make those spreading speculations pay the necessary price.”

Turkey’s interior ministry has reported identifying “346 social media accounts carrying posts about the exchange rate that it said created a negative perception of the economy. It said it would take legal measures against them but did not say what these would be,” Reuters added. “Separately, the Istanbul and Ankara prosecutor’s offices launched investigations into individuals suspected of being involved in actions that threaten Turkey’s economic security.”

The French philosopher Voltaire in the 18th century might have been envisioning a President Erdogan or a President Trump when he warned: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

 

 

Inverness Park’s Richard Blair and his wife Kathleen Goodwin have a new book, which consists of top-notch photography documenting life in San Francisco from the 1960s to the present. Although a couple of Richard’s subjects are well known, the quality of his photography makes each come alive in new ways.

Much of what makes Richard’s photography great is his combination of timing and perspective. Here’s the Transamerica Pyramid as seen through a tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Golden Gate Bridge as seen looking up from Fort Point on the San Francisco shore.

A variety of artists painted the murals inside Coit Tower during 1934 as part of a public work project.

Most of Coit Tower’s murals can be seen on the main floor, but, as Richard notes, “A rarely seen section on the second floor, where space is tight, can be viewed as part of a tour.”

An exotic, jungle-like elevated walkway at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

A highlight of a drive through Golden Gate Park is the elegant San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers on John F. Kennedy Drive.

Hippie days recalled — A pyrotechnic display last year illuminated the conservatory during a 50th anniversary celebration of the Summer of Love. During that summer back in 1967, “music was in the park with the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane providing the soundtrack,” Richard writes. “We were stoned on pot or acid, and life was good (if the Vietnam War didn’t get you).”

Party time in Mission Dolores Park — “The largest concentration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGTQ) people in the world lives in San Francisco,” Richard notes. “Their freedom is a wonderful thing that everyone can enjoy, whether they are gay or straight.

“LGBTQ people are a major contributor to the city’s economy. Because of San Francisco’s tolerance we are getting a lot of the world’s talent!”

A dancer at Carnaval San Francisco. Photo by Kathleen Goodwin.

As it happens, all the other photos in this posting are by Richard Blair although his wife Kathleen Goodwin also shot some of the notable images in San Francisco, City of Love, including this one.

Marian and Vivian Brown were identical twins born in 1927 who grew up to be frequently pictured in the press and on television sporting identical snappy outfits and coiffed hair. They accompanied each other everywhere and would often eat dinner at one of the front tables in Uncle Vito’s restaurant near the top of Nob Hill. Marian died in January 2013, and Vivian died 22 months later.

An old man heads across the street in Chinatown.

San Francisco, City of Love does an impressive job of documenting the city’s fascinating people and special places. The book is starting to be available in bookstores, and at Toby’s Feed Barn, and can also be ordered from <http://blairgoodwin.com/BlairGoodwin/SF__City of__Lovehtml/>. 96 pages, $9.95

 

California’s wildfires reached the Tomales Bay area this Wednesday. The first of two was a small fire near Highway 1 in Olema. The fire, which was started by a tree falling onto power lines, broke out around 4 a.m. Thanks to a quick response from county firefighters, Bolinas volunteer firefighters, and Inverness volunteer firefighters, the fire was limited to about 100 square feet, but more than 2,000 homes and businesses at the head of the bay were temporarily blacked out. Most got their power back over the next few hours, but a few were without electricity for up to 11 hours.

An air tanker drops fire retardant on a line of flames.

The second fire was on Black Mountain west of Platform Bridge, and it was far larger.

The wildfire was first reported at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday. Five air tankers, two helicopters, an air-attack plane, three bulldozers and 100 firefighters from the county, the City of Novato, Ross Valley, Bolinas, Inverness, Nicasio, Skywalker Ranch, and Novato responded. They were able to limit its spread to approximately 50 acres, the Marin County Fire Department reported.

Firefighters worked through Wednesday night, and on Thursday morning they reported 80 percent containment. At 3 p.m., they announced full containment.

The fire began beside the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road west of Platform Bridge and the Farm Stand. Fueled by dry grass, the fire raced up a ridge to the top of Black Mountain where firefighters stopped its advance. No structures were damaged. No people were harmed or needed to evacuate although one herd of horses was evacuated as a precautionary measure. The Point Reyes-Petaluma Road was closed at Platform Bridge and at Highway 1 until Thursday morning.

 

The air tankers’ repeated dropping of fire retardant left Black Mountain looking as if an artist had taken a paintbrush to it. Photo by Linda Sturdivant