“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).

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Sin City

I have of late been wrestling with the Noon Day Demon.  It’s not so much his strength that tires me as it is his wily moves, letting up from a terrifying hold, just enough to allow you some breath and the illusion of getting free, then twisting around and coming at you again from another and unexpected angle, making you ready – almost ready – to cry “Uncle” and throw in the towel.  I keep grappling with him though.  I demand that he tell me his name.  Can you imagine the power that would come from knowing his name, having him in command, invoking or dismissing him at will? 

One thing I know for sure: his name ain’t “Uncle”, and I keep pushing back.


Why is it that people most enjoy the posts that I think are well-enough done but slight?  I have been a writer long enough to know that the ease with which they come, writing themselves effortlessly, is evidence of their virtue.  Being most directly the product of my muse and not of my over-wrought mind, these posts are most true.  But for me the posts on which I have worked hardest to carve the representation of my thoughts in the jelly-like stone of language are dearest.  I take pride (O! that deadly sin) in that which is born of my effort.


The day before the day before yesterday was Labor Day.  I had been thinking for the previous few weeks about the curse that the evil old God Yahweh piled on Adam and Eve after they had had the temerity to behave in the ways He had made them to behave.  He cursed Eve with pain in childbirth, which is called “labor.”  He cursed Adam with earning his bread by the sweat of his brow, which is called “labor.”

I mentioned this fact to a young couple who got into my cab at Pier 39 and asked me to drive them to their home in the Sunset.  We then found ourselves in a rapidly unfolding conversation about Labor Day, about the exploitation of the working person in this country these days, and ultimately about Henry George, “the Philosopher of San Francisco.”  As they were getting out of the cab, I also made a plug for this blog, something I do whenever I have a good conversation with passengers.  I hope some of them are reading this.

The young man teaches history at City College.  That fact gave me – gives me – hope.  He said that he give great prominence to Henry George.  Having discovered George entirely on my own in that little bookstore in New Hampshire, I doubted that anyone paid much attention to him these days.  Now I know that at least in this city, his work continues.


In “The Seven Deadly Sins,” the sin the heroine(s) experience in San Francisco is envy.  What do you suppose Brecht and Weill find in this town to envy?  The surrounding beauty of the land and sea?  The mild weather?  The riches of the earth in the local food?  The riches from under the earth in gold and silver?  The riches of a cosmopolitan mix of cultures from all over the globe that dates back to the first days of the city’s eruption out of the sand hills in the 1850s?

No.  In San Francisco one is envious

            Of those who pass their time at their ease and in comfort
            Those too proud to be bought
            Of those whose wrath is kindled by injustice
            Those who act upon their impulses happily
            Lovers true to their loved ones
            And those who take what they need without shame.*

Henry George could not, I believe, have found fault with a single line.

[For more on “The Seven Deadly Sins of the Petite Bourgeois”, Brecht and Weill’s final collaboration, which was originally produced as a “Sung Ballet” at the Paris Opera and choreographed by George Balanchine, see this Wikipedia article.]