Thursday, August 6, 2009

Jennie Dusheck on healthcare reform: What is the point of a private option?

The beautiful biology textbook co-authored by Jennie, Asking About Life

I just posted my first Daily Kos diary. The impetus was to get a wider readership for an email my friend Jennie Dusheck sent around about the public option debate and our country's unfortunate (by this I mean pathological, lethal and evil) attachment to industrial control over health insurance.

Give it a read, make some comments and circulate further. It's not clear that the good guys are winning this one.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Finish him!

Episode 4 of the BBC's
I, Claudius miniseries shows Livia making an appearance backstage at the Coliseum to give the gladiators a little pep talk. She paid good money for these games and she expects a real fight, no more faking it with pig bladders filled with blood, etc. Then, in the royal box, just as Claudius faints at the sight of Livia getting what she paid for, we hear her cry out to one of the gladiators, "Finish him!"

I had two Livia moments this week, one courtesy of Frank Rich and the other from Anthony Lane. Rich's column in the Times, shredding Sonia Sotomayor's Republicans critics, can't really be excerpted, because like most of his stuff it derives its effect from the piling on of example after example of right-wing idiocy. By the end, you find it hard to believe there are even 40 Republicans in the Senate, or that these will last more than another election cycle or two - but then you remember Karl Rove crowing about the permanent Republican majority he was creating and you are inspired to reflect on the perils of overconfidence.

Anthony Lane's evisceration of Brüno in the July 20th New Yorker ("Mein Camp") is similarly difficult to quote, and just as devastating. The closing graf could stand alone:
“Brüno” ends appallingly, with a musical montage of Sting, Bono, Elton John, and other well-meaners assisting mein Host in a sing-along. Here’s the deal, apparently: if celebrities aren’t famous enough for your liking (Ron Paul, Paula Abdul), or seem insufficiently schooled in irony, you make vicious sport of them, but if they’re A-listers, insanely keen to be in on the joke, they can join your congregation. Would Baron Cohen dare to adopt a fresh disguise and trap Sting in some outlandish folly, or is he now too close a friend? To scour the world for little people you can taunt, and then pal up with the hip and rich: that is not an advisable path for any comic to pursue, let alone one as sharp and mercurial as Baron Cohen. All his genius, at present, is going into publicity, and, in the buildup to this film’s release, he has not put a foot wrong—or, in the case of Eminem, a buttock. But the work itself turns out to be flat and foolish, bereft of Borat’s good cheer: wholly unsuitable for children, yet propelled by a nagging puerility that will appeal only to those in the vortex of puberty, or to adults who have failed to progress beyond it. Call it, at best, a gaudy celebration of free speech, though be advised: before my screening, I had to sign a form requiring me “not to blog, Twitter or Facebook thoughts about the film before 6th July 2009.” A guy pulls down his pants and bares his soul, and we are forbidden to have thoughts? What is this, the Anschluss?
Both these columns put me into fits of schadenfreude, which is by definition mixed with some pity: how can the viruses responsible for these lesions on our culture and politics show their faces after press like this? As someone who intends to make his own share of marks on the world, and hopes they will be reviewed, I search for lessons: never to be that terrible is one, and two, if I am, and I get called on it, to take solace in the knowledge that somebody somewhere is really enjoying my bad reviews.

Fodder for the critics - in one paragraph I got two things wrong: it's Episode 3 of I, Claudius, and it's Livilla - played by Patricia Quinn (Magenta to you Rocky Horror fans) - who cries "Finish him!"

This fact-check brought to you by YouTube, where I verified that Livia's speech to the gladiators is the bitchiest thing that's ever been on TV. Check it out - the whole episode (not to mention series) is worth watching but the speech itself is from 2:56 to 5:04 here:

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

lay off the court!

A few years after I graduated from Lowell High School in San Francisco, student activists organized a campaign against the school mascot - the Lowell Indian. They argued that the mascot and its papier maché squaw costume (above) which was trotted out at rallies and games was a racist piece of shit, and a student-body vote was organized. My majority-minority alma mater (whites made up something like a fifth to a quarter of 2700 students) elected to keep its racist piece of shit. At this point the superintendent stepped in and said it's very nice that you had your vote, but your mascot and your squaw are history anyway. Thanks for voting. 

I had mixed feelings about this, as I do about yesterday's decision by the California Supreme Court upholding Prop. 8. The Lowell Indian was a nasty embarrassment and I was glad to see it go. On the other hand, what kind of democracy - or even student exercise in democracy - was this? Elections, as they say, have consequences, or ought to, and if they don't it winds up smacking of a inelegantly dressed up exercise in Soviet democracy. There's a separate question of whether California - where you need a two-thirds vote to raise a tax but can revoke state-constitutional rights by 50-plus-one - ought to be voting on people's rights at all, but once the court allowed the initiative to go on the ballot I really can't see how they could invalidate the results. 

So I'm not happy with all the abuse that's being hurled at the court right now; it's the same court whose praises we were singing last year. We handed them six pounds of homophobic shit in a five-pound bag and this is the result. 

The disaster came in November. When James and I received what he is now calling our "limited-edition marriage" in June 2008 (i.e. it's still valid though no more same-sex marriages can be performed), we did not accept gifts except checks made out to fight Prop. 8. Many people gave and gave generously, but the following response (by someone who gave) captured a feeling that was widespread on the left after a promising Field poll showed us way ahead and it's in large part responsible for our current situation: Prop 8 "won't pass, so don't worry.  I think people have grown up."

Fifty-two percent of the California electorate had not, by November, grown up. The President of the United States has not grown up! We have the hard work of education and persuasion ahead of us, and railing against the court isn't going to do a whole lot toward getting it done. 

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Momblog: Momslide!

Results are in
from the United Educators of San Francisco internal election and Linda Festa Plack (a.k.a. Mom) has been resoundingly returned to the office of Executive Vice President for what, the third time? Hey, Mom, ever heard of this thing called retirement? Country house, book clubs, Israeli grandchildren--no. The voters have spoken and 61 percent of them have said no book club, at least not for another three years, and 61 percent is even better than this guy managed:

Actually more impressive than the margin of victory is the electioneering propaganda. After I read this, I might have even voted for these guys.

Mom, Dennis--congratulations and keep up the good work.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Paris Day 3 - storm the Bastille

When my mother emailed me that I should stay away from the Gaza demonstrations, I couldn't quite tell how much of her concern was for my safety and how much was for my judeo-geopolitical soul. I replied that I had given myself a political pass on the Gaza situation, as I have generally on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, reasoning that my innate sympathy for the oppressed is in enough conflict with my sympathy for my Israeli sister and her six children, across the street from whom a Hezbollah rocket exploded a house two and a half short years ago, that no amount of study, debate, and moral agonizing is going to lead me to a tenable position. When it comes to all but the most obvious points (settlers), I am that creature I detest in much less consequential matters - a man without a political opinion. I am crippled by ambivalence, which is not the same thing as indifference. I think of the people crammed into Gaza whose children are being cut in half by Israeli bombs and I feel I must join the angry throngs. I think of how I would feel if Hamas rockets were landing across the street from my sister and her kids - which they don't by virtue of distance, not lack of desire - or if Mexican rockets were landing across the street from my family in California, and the overwhelming force with which I would demand that my government respond - and I cannot protest. I'm reminded of Wordsworth shorting out on the subject of French Revolution after visiting Paris:
Thus I fared,
Dragging all passions, notions, shapes of faith,
Like culprits of the bar, suspiciously
Calling the mind to establish in plain day
Her titles and her honours, now believing,
Now disbelieving, endlessly perplexed
With impulse, motive, right and wrong, the ground
Of moral obligation—what the rule,
And what the sanction—till, demanding proof,
And seeking it in every thing, I lost
All feeling of conviction, and, in fine,
Sick, wearied out with contrarieties,
Yielded up moral questions in despair,
And for my future studies, as the sole
Employment of the inquiring faculty,
Turned towards mathematics, and their clear
And solid evidence.
(The Prelude of 1805, Book 10, 894-910)
Don't worry - I'm not so far gone that I'm going to resort to math. After finishing one project that delved substantially into the intersection of spiritual ecstasy and physical violence, I'm working on much more benign territory these days and so work is a thorough enough escape from the events of the day. (I confine math to vague anxiety about what a 3-euro liter of orange juice really costs.)

But even pleasant work, and my soaring Parisian aerie, require escape and so this afternoon I took a walk and of course ran right into the Gaza protest on its seething course between Place de la République and the Bastille. All the conflicting emotions described above surged amid the angry, mostly Arab and north African crowd holding pictures of bloodied Palestinian children, chanting against Israel, against America, against Sarkozy. I walked with the mob for a while until a sense of profound disloyalty - treason, really - pushed me away.

My destination had been the Bastille and I arrived by a different route along with the heart of the protest, here seen from the steps of the opera house:


I hadn't yet run into the march when I stumbled upon this glove and broken bottle within a few feet of each other on the banks of the Canal St. Martin.

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

2008: Annus ambivalence

January 5 New Yorker cover Among so many other embarrassments that go with the territory of being me, I discovered a new one at holiday parties this year - having had such a kick-ass year when everyone around me was losing their health, boyfriends, homes, jobs, retirements, shirts, etc. I had my share of year-end mortifications and am far deeper into penury than most people I know, but 2008 in sum was truly an annus mirabilis both creatively (OH MY GOD, Cal Performances, Southern Circuit, St. Bart's, Grace Cathedral, Jacaranda-LA, Stephen Pelton Dance Theater, Orchestra Hall-Minneapolis, the three Chicago screenings and Christopher Taylor's shattering performance of the Vingt Regards, Library of Congress and the Betts Stradivarius, the rest of the fall tour, an unexpected anthology publication), politically (Obama, the George Bush sewage plant) and personally (married, again!). I was so convinced I was going to blog about other highlights, specifically three ecstatic gatherings of the Radical Faeries (July above Cazadero, September in Tennessee, December at Cell Space), the annual Trannyshack Reno boozestravaganza, and a bizarrely fun 20th high-school reunion, that I never did it, and now I add embarrassment to procrastination in deciding not to - 2008 provided a literal embarrassment of riches. As George Dusheck used to say, if I had blood I'd be blushing.

Still, false modesty has it limits and I have to close out 2008 with two new pieces of great press and one piece of news I haven't blogged about. Alex Ross, a longtime friend of Apparition of the Eternal Church, made a lovely mention of the film in his Jan 5th Carter-Messiaen essay in The New Yorker. And Chicago Sun-Times critic Andrew Patner included the film in his year-ender on the best of the Chicago music scene with one of my favorite quotes in the film's whole press packet, calling it "Paul Festa’s knock-out Messiaen-on-acid documentary."

For the record, nobody in the film was on acid at the time of the interview and Messiaen never tried it. At least as far as I know.

The news is that in less than a week I depart for a three-month filmmaking residency in Paris at the Centre des Recollets, on the banks of the Canal St. Martin, right by the Gare de l'Est. James will join me for a couple of weeks when the residency is through -
so if you know anyone who wants to swap an apartment pretty much anywhere in Europe for a darling Mission/Noe flat just over the hill from Dolores Park March 24 to April 7, hook us up!
Then I leave for Israel, or what's left of it, for two weeks with my sister and her six kids, one of whom was born since my last visit in June 2007. Then I return to Tennessee for the spring gathering of the Radical Faeries, and after two weeks there I stop overnight in Oberlin, OH, where my film will close out the conservatory's six-month Messiaen centenary celebration May 5th.

I have mixed feelings about the upcoming tour. Obviously I'm thrilled with every destination and opportunity and reunion, but four months is a serious slice of the year to spend away from loved ones, especially one just diagnosed with a terminal illness and another who has proved incapable of responding to video chat even when his snout is pressed up against the computer monitor. James is midway through a job search that will most likely result in our leaving San Francisco at some point in the summer - which means that my time remaining in my hometown can probably be counted in weeks or months at the most. I haven't decided whether the three months of creative seclusion (such as it will be in the heart of Paris) will result in my becoming a dedicated blogger or an even flakier one - for the answer to this question, check this space.

Here are some photos from the year, in no particular order, to fill in where blogging failed:

Trannyshack Reno - Auburn pitstop - Metal Patricia

Auburn, with Space

In Tempe with organist Kimberly Marshall and music critic Alex Ross (above) after Alex and I spoke on an ASU Messiaen panel with composer Bill Bolcom (below)

With Miranda Barry and Charlotte Sheedy after the DC premiere of my film on Halloween at the Library of Congress's Pickford Theatre

Self-portrait on a Frank Lloyd Wright carpet (Grady Gammage Memorial Auditorium, Tempe, AZ)

With Wolfie Silver-Fang at the November Faeposium in San Francisco, where she apparently won some sort of Oscar for her performance

Eisa Davis onscreen, accompanied by ASU student organist, Gammage Auditorium, Nov. 11th

Last Trannyshack at the Stud, August 19th - Heklina yuks it up with Bevan Dufty

After Eisa's Passing Strange Broadway opening, with her mom Fania and Manoel Felciano

With James, listening to toasts at our wedding reception in June. My cousin Lynn Rothman is behind us.

Six men stood around while the sole woman in the group fixed a flat on that nasty road above Cazadero.

Enough film coiled up at the Library of Congress archive to circle the earth

Justin Bond responds to Messiaen in St. James Cathedral in Chicago, October 8th

I made rubbery ravioli for my mom's birthday party. Party theme: 67 is the new 50.

Pianist Jerry Lowenthal, after New York rehearsals for our DC concert, shown here with his Liszt and Wagner manuscripts

Minneapolis's stylish and vast Orchestra Hall before the Minnesota premiere there of Apparition of the Eternal Church

One of a few high-school reunions this year - this one at Medjool, with the lovely and talented Ocean Berg

Another Reno bus photo - the fashion show, which I lost despite three arduous days of crash-dieting

Easter Sunday in Auburn

In the kitchen on Navarro Ridge with Arty, iii and James

Above Cazadero: Chris, iii and Arty

Chris climbs out of the water...

...and plays with fire

At the Passing Strange party - Marian Seldes reads aloud the Times rave review

"Saint Paul" etched into the Washington National Cathedral with my birth year

Fall gathering with Christopher and Sister Mish

Jewish Christmas party with Sister Dana and high school classmate Daria Pennington

Rehearsal for Heklina's final number at the Trannyshack Kiss-Off Party

Ziggy with the yellow plums at Buena Vista Park that I would turn into a souffle for Heklina's farewell dinner

Photo by pool wizard Bob Byrne of me in front of a house in Dubuque, IA

Bob and an unidentified sister. It's really quite amazing to me how much of my year was spent in churches and with nuns.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

US to Sarah Palin

I got the idea for this Sarah Palin poster about a week ago (click on image for larger one). This morning, email popped into my box about the Palin Political Poster Project. With 48 hours to prepare for the next leg of the film tour, I had no business designing this poster - but as John McCain likes to say, country first.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Election 2008: Signs of life detected in Obama camp

When I read the news that McCain couldn't tell a reporter how many houses he & Cindy owned, I thought, if Obama can't win with this one, he deserves to lose.

Before I could post that snarky thought, I found this:

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

George W. Bush Sewage Treatment Plant - signature submission, media coverage

Presidential Memorial Commission founder Brian McConnell, PMC historian Paul Festa and San Francisco Department of Elections Campaign Services Manager Rachel Gosiengfiao as the PMC submits 12,000 signatures (photo credit: Associated Press)

I woke at dawn Monday so I could get into town in time to videotape the submission to the San Francisco Dept. of Elections of about 12,000 signatures in support of the Presidential Memorial Commission's ballot initiative to change the name of the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant to the George W. Bush Sewage Treatment Plant.

The submission brought a flurry of press coverage, including a BBC story that ran with the AP photo above, the AP's own story, and coverage from San Francisco to Tehran to Cape Town.

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

San Francisco voters: Yes on Prop. A!

Thanks to this guy, I had to buy my own paper and pencil in 3rd grade.

I was in third grade when California voters approved Prop. 13, which slashed property taxes and sent California's public schools from national eminence down to the very bottom. Prop. 13 is still on the books, and so it falls to municipalities to try to improve public education.

This in from Vice President Plack:
Please email everyone you know in SF who votes and ask them to vote yes on Prop A. We are very close to the margin between victory and defeat. Every vote counts. This will be a low turn out election. You can help get us over the top.
The initiative will impose a modest parcel tax on property owners in San Francisco to aid teachers, for whom living in our superultraexpensive city is a serious challenge.

In a nutshell (from the Prop A site) -
Proposition A is a $198 annual tax per parcel. The funds raised will be primarily for teacher recruitment, retention and training. In addition, Proposition A will help our schools upgrade and replace old technologies.
Note that we need a two-thirds majority for this one to pass. Please make sure to vote on Tuesday, June 3rd, vote yes on A, and make sure you spread the word to other San Francisco voters how important this is.

San Francisco students, teachers, and Vice President Plack thank you.

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco

I am happy to report a new bullet point on my resume. I am now the official historian of the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco, whose inaugural goal is to get the following initiative on San Francisco's November ballot, and pass it:
"Should the City and County of San Francisco rename the Oceanside Wastewater Treatment Facility the George W. Bush Sewage Plant?"
As historian, my primary responsibility is preparing a documentary on the endeavor. On Friday, I got footage of Chicken John discussing our project with Fox News Radio. Chicken, a former mayoral and supervisorial candidate, is no spring, um, no babe in the woods, but nevertheless he seemed taken aback by the treatment he received from the right-wing Fox motormouths. T. Wayne Pickering, whose brainchild this is, thought the interview went as well as could be expected. In any case, right wing radio is the least of our worries - only humorless liberals could stop this movement.

Don't miss our first public meeting:

Wednesday, Apr 9, 2008, 6:00 PM
Zeitgeist - 199 Valencia St

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Friday, November 9, 2007

San Francisco Bay oil spill--how to help

I wept when I read the news about the fuel spill, 58,000 gallons into San Francisco Bay, which has threatened hundreds of thousands of birds, closed our beaches and reached the Farallon Islands and the Sonoma County line.

I wanted to know if there was any way to volunteer or donate to help in the clean-up. Here's what I've found so far:

I sent these guys $100, far more than fiscal responsibility dictates in my case. But they do great work and will be on this case for years.

--Coastal Commission (

--San Francisco Oiled Wildlife Care & Education Center (

The volunteer numbers for these groups are consistently busy, but keep trying...

--Let your elected officials know you're pissed.

This accident was preventable, and, as the Chronicle reports, the response was inexcusably slow.

Democrat Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said in a statement that she was "very troubled by the Coast Guard's delay in delivering accurate information to the public and the city of San Francisco. ... Many questions remain as to why it took an entire day to determine the gravity of this spill."

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom promised that the city would take legal action against whoever is responsible for the spill and expressed irritation that his office, like many, learned the true scope of the spill after 9 p.m.


State Pilot Commission records show that Capt. John Cota, who was in charge of navigating the Cosco Busan when it hit the bridge, has been involved in a number of ship-handling incidents and was reprimanded last year for errors in judgment when he ran a ship aground near Antioch.

Cota, 59, is a master mariner, and veteran of 26 years as a ship pilot. He was involved in four "incidents" over the past 14 years and on several other occasions was "counseled" for perceived mistakes in ship handling.

The Chronicle broke out a separate story on this guy's spotty record.

Contact California's US senators and Gov. Schwarzenegger and tell them we need tighter restrictions on fuel vessels, the companies running them and the people operating them, that come in and out of San Francisco Bay.

Contact Mayor Newsom and let him know you support his efforts to bring the perpetrators of this tragedy to justice and to do whatever is in his power to prevent this from happening again.

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Majority in US support civil unions

I stumbled on this new Washington Post/ABC News poll while researching a question for the novel. The poll has a lot of interesting results in addition to the record number of Americans supporting civil unions (55 percent), for instance that men and women support legal abortion in equal numbers.

Odd that this poll didn't get any media--I can't even find it on

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What's with Republicans gay-bashing Edwards?

First Ann Coulter's inner foulness got the better of her and she called Edwards a fag. Now Huckabee is calling him a pussy:
“We've had a Congress that has spent money like Edwards at a beauty shop,” Mr. Huckabee said to roars of laughter at the allusion to Mr. Edwards’s paying $400 for a haircut. (Terror Attack Scenario Exposes Deep Differences Among G.O.P. Hopefuls -- May 16, 2007 -- New York Times)
When Bill Clinton got nailed for his pricey haircuts ten years ago, nobody used the word "beauty shop," to the best of my recollection. The way the Republicans are harping on this Edwards-is-a-homo theme you'd think they were actually afraid of him.