“People whom fate and their sin-mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. . . . This surprises us when the persons concerned are thieves bragging about their dexterity, prostitutes vaunting their depravity, or murders boasting of their cruelty. But it surprises us only because the circle, the atmosphere, in which these people live, is limited, and chiefly because we are outside it. Can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth-robbery, when commanders of armies pride themselves on their victories-murder, and when those in high places vaunt their power-violence? That we do not see the perversion in the views of life held by these people, is only because the circle formed by them is larger and we ourselves belong to it.” (Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy, trans. Louise Maude)

New Readers:

Please start reading with my first post "A Cup of Coffee". Originally posted on March 19, the archival date changed when I made corrections on May 13, which is the date under which you can find it now.

I'll learn to manage this all more smoothly someday, but at present I have at most only an hour online each day (that thanks to the San Francisco Public Library system, without which I would be lost).

Sunday, December 7, 2014


My sister MW once told me that when we were teenagers she had walked in on me while I was masturbating in my bedroom.  Her mention of the incident some twenty years after it had occurred shocked me twice:  once because I felt, even twenty years later, exposed and ashamed, and twice because I had absolutely no memory of it having happened.  One would think that such an emotionally charged moment would be burnt into one's memory, but no:  in that place is only oblivion.

Much of our identity consists of the story we tell ourselves about our past.  The story is built of two types of materials.  One type of material is the memory of particular events, of our actions and reactions and the consequences thereof.  The other type of material of comes to us from family lore and the memories of others: it is a collection of traits which we share with our forbearers and which we believe we have inherited from them.

To learn that I had no memory of an event that must have shaken me deeply -- I can imagine the combination of humiliating shame and painful surprise -- throws doubt on the things that I do remember.  If I have forgotten that, what else happened that I do not remember?  And given that uncertainty, how can I rely on the story that I have constructed about who I am?  How can I possibly know myself?

I puzzle over this instance of forgetting.  I can understand why one would forget having done something which one regrets, something foolish or cruel, but in this case I was innocent.  (I do not think masturbation to be a moral failing or to be harmful in any other way.)  If anyone's behavior could be judged wrong in this case it would be my sister's opening the door of my bedroom and entering without warning or any consideration for my privacy.  Yet she remembers, and I do not.

I have in the years since her revelation come to think that I have a faint, shadowy memory of the event, but I cannot be sure whether I remember it or only remember having been told about it.

So how can I begin to tell the story of the past six or seven years of my life, the story of my involvement with MRM and the havoc he caused me, with any confidence?

MRM would not, I believe, feel any such compunction in telling the story of those years.  He would gauge what kind of story would be most likely to get his audience to do what he wanted them to do, and he would construct his story with a few somewhat modified actual events and with a few completely fictional elements, i.e. lies, thrown in.  He would avoid making things up out of whole cloth, since they could be easily found out and also because they would be harder for him to remember if he should find it necessary to repeat his story later.  He would alter things only slightly to serve his purpose.  And he would avoid using too many details, since doing so would be a sure sign of falsehood, the fear of not being believed leading the amateur liar most often into over-compensating by piling on details meant to convince.  No, MRM would lie masterfully.

I know that he would operate in this way because he once bragged to me about his skill at lying and explained these principles -- and others -- with pride.


I hated P.E. class.  It was the only part of the school day that filled me with dread.  I felt -- I was -- hopelessly awkward and uncoordinated.  I was always the last person picked for any team.  I would stand in that line trying not to look at anyone, keeping my eyes down on the gray macadam of the basketball court or the struggling little blades of grass on the playing field.  Then I would be out in right field, counting the seconds up to sixty and then the minutes that remained in the period.  I prayed that the ball not come to me, please God don't let it come this way, and when it did I felt sick to my stomach as I tried to pretend to be trying to catch it.  I ended up having to run after it as it rolled away on the grass and, once I had picked it up, throwing it ineptly in the general direction of the pitcher and the basemen, watching it never actually fly directly toward any one of them and seeing it always -- like so many of my efforts -- fall short.

There I am, standing in right field or shifting from foot to foot while I pretended to guard a basketball player or never looking at teammates who had the ball so that they would never choose to throw it to me.  If some fool called my name, and the ball shot straight at me from his chest and arms, I always failed to catch it, or if I did, I could neither hold on to it or dribble it or pass it without seeing it fall into the hands of the opposing team.

It is 6:30 in the morning as I write, the end of a long night driving a cab, and I realize as I tell you these memories that I have not looked at them in detail ever before now.  I have referred to them obliquely in conversation with other men who I know had similar childhood experiences, but I have never taken the time to get this close to that shy and embarrassed little boy until now.

His memory makes me very sad.


I played right field because the ball is seldom hit there.  So despite my anxiety anticipatory to every swing, I did, on the whole, have little to do while standing out there.  My imagination was free then, and I would daydream about having magic powers, like the ones my favorite hero, Superman, had.  I devoured each issue of the Superman comic books when they appeared on the rack at Sam's Market.  I recall the smell of those pages now, as I write these words.  And as I lay in bed, waking from a dream or perhaps beginning to dream before having fully fallen asleep, I saw myself swooping upward, actually flying, as I caught a high fly ball to right field.  With all the desperation of my clumsy, ball-fumbling shame, I wanted to fly.  The ever-unsatisfied yearning hurt.

That right-fielder's aching heart may go a long way to explaining my lifelong interest in the occult, in mysteries both spiritual and scientific, and my insistence on rejecting simple, material, mechanical, measurable accounts of phenomena.  I have a hard time accepting the obvious explanation of anything as a complete understanding of it. Ironically, my attitude is both skeptical and credulous:  I always doubt "facts" and am always willing to believe conjectures and appearances.

I had a neighbor in the Tenderloin who used to complain about tiny bugs that were all around him and attacked him ceaselessly, jumping and crawling and biting him.  Sometimes when we were talking, they would attack him, and though I never saw or felt them myself, I never doubted him.  From what I could tell, everyone else with whom he interacted -- medical personnel, social workers, friends and acquaintances -- told him that there were no bugs and that he was crazy.  Instead, I instinctively sympathized with his plight.  I told him that the bugs sounded awful, and I asked him how he dealt with them.  Though we don't see each other very often now, we have remained friends, and I have noticed in the past year that the bugs have deserted him entirely.  What has not been lost is the easy and open conversation and friendship that we share.


Throughout my youth we spent summer vacations at Lake Tahoe.  By "summer vacation" I mean the weeks that my father had off from work.  I had the entire three month period that school was out of session as my summer vacation, but we had our summer vacation, when the whole family packed up and left home in Walnut Creek to reside temporarily in a different house.  When I was very young, that house was a small trailer that hitched to the back of the station wagon and served as our home in one of the California State Parks along the western side of "the lake" as Tahoe was called by my parents and their circle of friends, just as Hawaii was called "the islands."  I was still young -- maybe five or six -- when my father started renting a cabin on the shore of the lake from one of the secretaries in his office.  By the time I was eleven or twelve, my parents had bought a house on the same street as the secretary's cabin, and we now had "a place at the lake".  By then my father's vacation time had stretched to four weeks, and we spent the entire month of August there.

Lake Tahoe was as yet unpolluted.  Indeed, our drinking water came directly from the lake through a pipe that stretched a hundred feet or more under the pristine water and pulled that water directly into our faucets.  The lake was icy cold; the days burnt with the summer sun pouring through the thin air of a mile-high elevation.  Later I would learn to appreciate lying in the hot sun until I was almost panting from the heat and then diving into the shock of frigid water, coming up gasping for air.

But when I was very young, say seven and eight and nine, I spent my days at the lake reading in my little attic room, the sunlight reflecting off the water and up through the tiny dormer window, its shifting in arcs flying around the ceiling.  I remember the chill air, the heat of the sun, the ink and newsprint smell of the comic books and the endless yearning to be Superman.  Think of it!  What relief!  What enormous burden of weakness and failure would be lifted!  Even if I remained disguised as myself, and without any higher social standing or public pride, I would have the satisfaction, the confidence, of my secret powers.  I would no longer feel ashamed in my self.


I remember a night in Yosemite Valley during a family vacation when we all stayed in tent cabins in Camp Curry.  I was in my late twenties or my thirties.  Specifically, I remember doing a Tarot reading for my sister, MW.  I asked her to begin by thinking of a question that she should not tell me.  I then began laying out the cards and describing the circumstances that gave rise to the question.  This was the method by which I always began a reading:  if what I said did not seem applicable to the querent, I would stop.  I would know that I was not at that time able to give a valid reading.

I do not know what year it was.  I feel fairly sure that my sister's second son was on the verge of adolescence.  I do not remember whether her third son had as yet been born, but I believe so.  She may have been holding him on her lap as I worked the cards.  If so, the year was about 1987 or 1988.  I do remember that when the reading ended, she told me that her question had been about her second son's health.  He had been experiencing seizures and she wanted to know how serious they were and whether more difficult problems might develop from them.

My method with the Tarot begins with a ritualized shuffling of the cards.  They are divided into four piles on the basis of which I describe the question as one of four different types.  If the querent agrees, I proceed to lay out the cards in a way that selects a limited number of them and places then in a sequence.  Sometimes there are lots of cards in the sequence; sometimes only two or three.  I look at the sequence of cards and try to tell a story made up of the figures and actions portrayed in the cards.  I like to compare what I do to reading a comic book in a foreign language.  With no clue what the text says is going on, you try to discern the story by reading only the pictures.

Some of the cards seem to me to represent people; some to represent actions or events; and some to represent forces or spiritual and psychological attitudes.  When some particularly negative or even threatening image appears, I usually try to ameliorate the sense of it by taking it as symbolic of spiritual or psychological processes.  On this particular occasion, I remember turning up the card for Death.  I dwelt on the symbolic sense of the card as indicating a process of change and renewal.  I had no idea, of course, that my sister's question was one regarding the future for her son, specifically whether the seizures he was experiencing were the symptoms of a serious and perhaps life-threatening problem.  I have still not mastered the truth of that card, of Death.  I shy away from its meaning and fudge any reading in which it comes up.

As you can see, this memory is like a shard from a broken piece of pottery.  I vividly remember the presence of that card and my difficulty in speaking forthrightly about it.  The context -- what year it was, who was present, etc. -- is vague.  So little of this memory is clear that I might not have remembered even the bit that I do, except that within another year or two my sister's son died -- not the second son who had been having the seizures, but the third son, who was or was not seated in my sister's lap at the time of the reading.

This is the same sister, MW, who remembered walking in on me.  In the thirty years since her son died, I have never had the courage to ask her whether she remembers that Tarot reading.


During the fifteen years that I lived on the east coast, I made a point of telephoning my parents every Sunday afternoon.  The regularity of the schedule meant that we could talk to each other without the annoyance of calling to find no one home, leaving messages, and playing "phone tag" over a number of days, pushing the weekly conversation into the following week.  Although answering machines had come into use, the things we had to say to one another could not be reduced to a few words on a tape hissing with background noise, and even if they could, we would end up only talking at each other in little bursts, like armies firing at each another from trenches hidden in the blackness of a moonless night. 

Conversation is not onanistic.  One speaks, the other or others reply, the one responds to the reply, or one or the other corrects something said earlier, and the collaboration gives rise to living communication, the essence of our common humanity.

I remember being struck, in the early and mid-eighties, by the startling similarity of my parents' lives with my own.  They were in their seventies, and I in my thirties.  Yet we seemed almost to be contemporaries in that the events we talked about each week frequently and persistently included funerals.  My parents' cohort, the friends and neighbors with whom they had grown up, survived the Great Depression and World War, raised children, and grown old, were dying off.  And my cohort, the energetic and ambitious and creative homosexuals of the east and west coasts, were dying of AIDS.

I remember in particular one white-knuckled cab ride down the old West Side Highway from the Upper West Side to Chelsea during which I thought not only that all six of us (including the driver) crammed into this little tin can barreling down the length of Manhattan island, bouncing through potholes and sliding from lane to lane were about to die but also that, if we survived, the rest of my life would be the same thing anyway, over and over and over.  The future I saw for myself was one of attending funerals, sometimes as many as three or four a weekend, as the years stretched into a lifetime.

Of all that I saw and felt through the two decades of the scourge, I now find myself most affected by the realization that I am the only one who remembers so many things:  six good looking men drifting through the Delaware Water Gap in an inflated rubber boat, with a fully stocked bar in coolers and ravishing delicacies in baskets (with the requisite plates, flatware, and stemware) laughing uncontrollably at nothing because of the excellent LSD we had taken, being suddenly swamped and driven to frantic efforts to reach the river's banks as an unexpected rainstorm dumped its flood upon us, scrambling onto the bank and pulling the overturned boat up so that we could all huddle under it for protection from the deluge, and looking at one another only to see that the elegant David somehow still held his lighted cigarette in one hand and his unspilled vodka and tonic in the other.  Our whoops and howls of laughter, the great pleasure of our camaraderie, persists now only in me, in my mortal flesh.  We six are together here still, but within only one of us.  All perish with me.

My first lover, TS, the medieval scholar, talked about the oldest piece of written English that we have.  It is an account of a battle known as "The Survivor's Lament", and it appears in the middle of "Beowulf".

The hero has defeated the monster Grendel who had been attacking Anglo-Saxon settlements and devouring livestock. Everyone is enjoying the huge banquet served in honor of Beowulf. But among all the carousing warriors and civilians sits an elderly man who does not join in the revelry and instead speaks solemnly about a battle decades before in which he fought and which he and his people lost.  So in the middle of an heroic epic, at the moment of victory and salvation,  the voice of defeat and of suffering brings the celebration to a halt with the reminder of failure and of the inevitable loss of everything.  The old warrior ends his recollection of lost youth and lost glory and beloved friendsalso lost -- heroes all -- with a line that has haunted me throughout my adult life:

"And I alone am escaped to tell thee."

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Brief and Important Video

What puzzles me most is The City's support for ride share companies and its clear intent to run traditional taxi companies out of business. The only explanation apparent to me is that the city government has been bought. I wonder how many spouses/partners/children or other relatives of local politicians have been given jobs at Uber.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Money in Politics

I am not the first to note that our country has the finest congress that money can buy.

I have heard many people whom I respect and admire complain of “the corrupting influence of money” on our politics.  I used to make the same complaint myself.  The huge amounts of money spent by individual campaigns, by the parties, and by other groups and organizations, along with the largess afforded politicians by lobbyists, all seem to mean that our government responds primarily to the needs and desires of the rich.  

I have recently, however, come to doubt the premise that our government is being corrupted.

The idea of corruption implies that something innocent (or, if not innocent, at least something virtuous) existed at one time and that this good thing has been or is being spoiled.  In the case of the government of the United States, complaining about corruption suggests that our Federal institutions were established to ensure equality among all citizens in their relations with the state. The fact that the wealthy have a greater say in how the country is run than do ordinary folks is therefore called corruption.  But I see no evidence in our history or in the constitution itself to suggest that things were ever different or ever meant to be different. The Founding Fathers clearly believed that government was properly the business of wealthy men.

Indeed, what is government for if not to function as a mechanism for the protection of property?   I think that most Americans would agree that government should set and enforce the rules governing economic interactions but that it should not meddle with our familial and our social interactions.

Government establishes weights and measures and issues currency.  For example,  it is often said that “possession is 90% of the law,” which means that 90% of our laws are devoted to defining who possesses what.  Disagreement over ownership has led to violent conflict throughout history,  and we want these thingsto be strictly controlled.  

But Americans also believe that government should have little to say about most social interactions.  We are free to love whom we choose, hate whom we choose, and play cards with whomever we wish, and we can worship the god of our choice.

Since governments exist to set and enforce rules governing economic relations, and since in this country, those relations are mediated through the exchange of money, the U.S. government’s reason for being is to make and enforce the rules governing interactions that involve money.  After all, our constitution explicitly denies to government the right to regulate most other social interactions, such as speech, assembly, religious affiliations, etc. So what else would the government be for? 

Our government was instituted by people who had money, and never in our history have the people who have money instituted a government that would take it away from them.  The Founding Fathers clearly intended the government to be an exclusive club:  their “democracy” was means-tested, and only those who had a penis and a certain amount of land could vote.

I find it hard to believe that they did not intend money to influence politics.

Shannon Alley

I discovered this alley, which connects O'Farrell to Geary between Taylor and Jones, while walking in the Tenderloin early one morning during my dark days.  I later returned to take pictures and here, on Veteran's Day, I share them with you.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Blog Posts as Email

A couple of months ago I noticed that Google had stopped sending my posts as email to those of you who signed up for the service.  I kept writing and kept posting in the hope that you would check the site from time to time.
Now,  it seems that Google has fixed the problem and is sending my posts to you as email again. Please keep reading as there are probably many posts that you have missed.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Law and The Profits

Rules of Life #4 :  Willingness to Break the Law is both a Tactical and a Strategic Advantage

Anyone who has courted investors, whether raising capital to start a new venture or soliciting investment in an ongoing enterprise knows that one of the most fundamental considerations as to the value of a business is whether there are "Barriers to Entry" which will effectively prevent or at least limit competition.

The shibboleth of the law is such a barrier.  For example, no business could be easier than selling illegal drugs.  Buyers will seek out the seller, pay any price, and return  again and again no matter what the quality of the product.  No advertising, no promotional effort, and no quality control are necessary.  The only thing that allows the seller to command high mark-ups, often in excess of 100% to 150%, the only thing limiting competition, that is, is the law.  Most people are too afraid of the consequences of getting caught to follow such a career.  Those too timid to break the law can only sit on the sidelines and watch with envy as the courageous rake in fortunes without any serious effort or skill.

Similarly, anyone with a two-bit piece of software developed for a smart phone can take on an entire existing industry which is itself bound by laws and regulatory bodies, capture their business, ruin them, and condemn their workforce to unemployment:  governments, whether municipal, state, or federal, refuse to enforce the law against new companies that use mobile phones connected to the internet to effect transactions formerly effected in person, by correspondence, or by telephone.  Shortly after I began my career as a stockbroker in Manhattan, businesses began using a new technology, "fax machines" to send documents over telephone lines, rather than sending them physically through the mail.  For a while we were forbidden to accept a fax in lieu of a signed document; then we could accept a fax and act on it as long as we were assured that an original was to follow by mail immediately.  Finally laws were amended to allow us to accept a faxed document as if it were an original.

Such coy legalities are ancient history now.  New companies blithely violate all manner of laws and are allowed to proceed by acquiescence on the part of government.  Today I heard on the BBC an interview with a man who has started a business transferring funds among countries all over the world, completely circumventing existing financial institutions by charging money against one mobile phone and crediting it to another.  If you thought the "mortgage meltdown" of 2008 brought the international banking system close to catastrophic failure, wait until money moves freely around the world without paying any fees.

No business or industry is immune to this threat of outlaw internet raiders.  It began, so far as I know, a couple of decades ago when Napster destroyed the recording industry.  How quaint that its founder had to face trial and eventually punishment for violating copyright and other rights belonging to an artist.  Nowadays piracy, theft, corruption, and all manner of lawlessness are de rigueur for any young entrepreneur.

Don't be a sap:  if you want to succeed, turn to crime.   After all, why be a man when you can be a success?*

After all, with enough money, you can easily get away with murder -- just ask O.J.

*  I have seen this rhetorical question attributed to Bertold Brecht, but cannot cite a specific source.  Note that the word for man in German is "mensch" and that it denotes not just a gender but a noble sense of righteousness and honor as well.  That sense, though largely lost from the English word, survives in such phrases as "be a man about it" or more currently, "Man up!"

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Mayor of Money

San Francisco has a long and rich history of corruption, and the current administration, that of Ed Lee, is no exception. The machinery of city government is up for sale -- or rather, has been sold to the highest bidder.  If I thought that being a San Franciscan should be a matter of pride, I would be outraged at the hypocrisy and the venality of His Honor and those who benefit from his patronage.  But a city as deeply avaricious, as superficially self-absorbed, and as blithely ignorant as San Francisco does not even have enough of a moral foundation to make it worth calling the city out on its multitude of sins against the woman, the man.

The Mayor at the time of the Great Earthquake in 1906, Eugene Schmidt, was a paragon of greed and graft.  My favorite example of his leadership is his selling of "French Restaurant licenses", which allowed the holder to operate a brothel unmolested by the SFPD.  The more things change, the more they remain the same.


Mayor Ed Lee's panegyric on the "Sharing Economy" is rhetorical nonsense.

The "Sharing Economy" is anything but.

Remember learning to share with others?  You probably don't, as I don't, because that lesson is one of the earliest we are taught.  You don't remember toilet training either.  They both happen so early in life that we have no concrete memory of learning those lessons.  Parents and teachers, however, know that both lessons are crucial to the development of human beings as social animals.  And sharing in particular is fundamental to the most basic virtues humans profess.  You might say that all morality begins with sharing.

Sharing is not trading.  If I have a peanut butter sandwich in my lunch box and trade half of it for your cupcake, we are not sharing.  If I give you half of my sandwich because you have no lunch at all, then I am sharing my sandwich with you.

If you are homeless, and I let you sleep on my couch, I am sharing my home with you.  If I sublet my apartment or a room in my house to you through Airbnb, we are not sharing.

If I rent my car and myself as driver to you through Lyft, Uber, or Sidecar, we are not sharing.

The "sharing economy" so eagerly abetted by our corrupt city government has nothing to do with kindness, charity, generosity, or hospitality.  The business leaders and their lackeys, such as the Mayor, try to wrap their activities in the mantle of those ancient virtues, but their business is not the sharing of things at all:  their business is the monetization of things.

Airbnb hosts and Uber drivers are not sharing anything.  They are making money off their assets -- a car, a room, or even their time.

No politician concerned with the people of his community would champion the ability of some people to earn a return on their assets over the opportunity for other people -- people who might have no assets -- to find work or housing.  Our city officials clearly do not care about people:  they care about money, which they call "the economy" and which they credit with "creating jobs." According to their mythology, the assets of the rich "trickle down" to the poor through the mechanism of "job creation."  You might say that this "Job Creationism" has about as much validity as that other kind of "Creationism."  The problems with this false logic are manifold, but I want to be very clear about one.

Capital does not "create jobs."  Money is not necessary for people to work.  In fact, it is labor, people working, which creates capital.

This truth is obvious to anyone who knows what has happened in this country since the "Reagan* Revolution." The increased concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people, Reagan's goal and legacy, has not created jobs.  The idea that the rich invest in companies that create new jobs has been decisively disproved in a real-world experiment that has ripped American society apart and is leading to social tensions that may well erupt in violence.  It is in this atmosphere that we live today.

The living San Francisco will either rise up against the powers that be, as it did in 1934, or, having already been drained of so much of its life blood by the exodus to Oakland, Richmond, and beyond, it will die.  In place of the Grand Old Dame, of the Paris of the Pacific, of Baghdad by the Bay, will stand a very wealthy gated community, at whose gates tolls are charged to cross bridges into a jumble of towering architectural monstrosities, the soulless hive of worker bees tending to the bloated queens of capital.  That shadow city, the hulking ghost of the city that was will stand, that is, until the next big shake.

I used to say that "Willie Brown is not Mayor of San Francisco:  he is Mayor of Real Estate."

Ed Lee is not Mayor of San Francisco:  he is Mayor of Money.

*Actually, the old hack actor does not deserve to have his name attached to such a wrenching change in policy since all he did was shill for the business interests and wealthy individuals who wanted to Thatcherize America.