Thursday, December 18, 2014

Parallel Universe, Christian style

'Tis the season, and some Christians are once again complaining about the war on Christmas, which mainly seems to consists of people saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. Never mind that the word holidays is a variant of holy days: they see blasphemy in it.

Well, people, suck it up. Some of us choose to make a greeting that honors all the winter holiday celebrants, not just you. Some of us are observing Hanukkah. Some of us are observing Yule. Some of us are observing Christmas. Some of us are observing other winter holidays, or maybe some combination of all of them. They are all related. They are all cousins with the same ancestry back through the ages. Everyone is worthy of having their holiday honored, not just Christians.

By insisting on using only Merry Christmas, Christians are demanding that we ignore all other winter holidays except theirs. I really didn't get the full impact of this arrogance until I spiraled out of Christianity about 13 years ago. It was not until I was not a Christian that I noticed the complete inundation with Christmas paraphernalia, the obsession with the holiday and the almost hysterical insistence on honoring Christmas and only Christmas. Try and find Hanukkah decorations or gift wrap. If you go to Michaels or some other craft store, you will find little, if any, representation of anything but Christmas in the decorations section. No Hanukkah crafts items for kids, very little blue and silver anything. I did find a blue Hanukkah teddy bear and a plush draydel in a pet supply store whose manager was Jewish.

The thing is, Christmas, Hanukkah and Yule are all festivals celebrating the return of the light as days get longer and we have more daylight. Jesus is really not the reason for the season as Christians are so fond of reminding us -- the winter solstice is. December 25 was already a Pagan holiday honoring the birth of the sun, and it was simply convenient to adopt the date -- and much of the story that went with it. According to some scholars, Jesus was born in the spring or summer because no one would make people travel for a census in the dead of winter, and because shepherds would not have been out watching their flocks in December. Various dates have been suggested by various ancients as March 28 (Clement) or November 18 or "a Wednesday" (Hippolytus). Some scholars think it was in the fall. We really don't know, but we can be very sure it wasn't December 25.

So, people, quit being jerks about it. I don't really think it's WJWD, if you know what I mean. Just enjoy your winter holiday and honor your guy by spreading a little peace on earth instead.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Parallel Universe, southwest style

We did a great disservice to the peoples who lived here before we came. We took that we their lands and drove the survivors of our genocide onto reservations. In exchange, we granted them those parcels of land, usually undesirable to the settlers, as sovereign nations. The United States Congress signed treaties and promised to honor them.

Yeah, right.

On December 4, the house of representatives passed the Defense appropriations bill, and thanks to John McCain, there is a little piece tacked onto it that neatly gives 2400 acres of San Carlos Apache sacred tribal lands to an Australian/English copper mining company. That piece of land will be sealed off to tribal use. 

Here is what the tribal chairman has to say about it: 

Since time immemorial people have gone there. That’s part of our ancestral homeland. We’ve had dancers in that area forever – sunrise dancers – and coming-of-age ceremonies for our young girls that become women. They’ll seal that off. They’ll seal us off from the acorn grounds, and the medicinal plants in the area, and our prayer areas.”
~ Terry Rambler, chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe
Imagine that was your church property, only this is more so because the entire area is considered holy. The land itself holy and the tribe's spirituality derives from the land. Imagine the government coming in and taking a chunk of your ability to worship God, or pray, or do the rituals of your faith. Not only that, to take away access to your sources of healing, your herbs and medicines. Imagine the government doing that in order to give it to a foreign company who was only interested in destroying it for profit. Wrecking the ecology. Stripping the sacred mountains, laying them flat. Imagine how that feels to a people who cherish the land and find it holy, who find God to inhabit it. 
Imagine that, then go sign this petition to the government. Please.

photo: the San Carlos reservation

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Parallel Universe

"Something's happening here -- what is is ain't exactly clear. There's a man with a gun over there telling me I got to beware... it's time we stop, children, what's that sound, everybody look what's going down..."-- For What It's Worth, Stephen Stills

"White cop shoots unarmed black teenager..." happens every single day. There seems to be an epidemic of near-genocidal police violence against black youth. I have heard people of all races say "If they didn't talk back, it wouldn't happen." Since when is a teenager talking back to authority a capital offense? Or even unusual? 

One of the developmental tasks of teenagers is to separate from the adults and become independent. Kids do this with varying degrees of effectiveness. Sometimes they are pretty cool about it and just ease into it. Sometimes they wrench themselves away with near violence and disrupt the life of the family or the community. It would be wonderful it they could just grow up gently and get on with their lives, but that's often not how it happens. They rebel. It's what they do. They're programmed for it. They talk back. They act out. It's part of the process. They grow up and get on with their lives. 

If it's a white kid, especially an affluent one, it's written off as "He's just letting off steam." If it's a black kid, especially a poor one, he can easily wind up lying dead in the street with his killer exclaiming, "He was like a demon!" The difference, beyond skin color, I think, is fear. 

There is nothing so dangerous as an armed man who is frightened, especially one with a little authority. That's why the good police departments screen for psychological fitness. A scared and nervous cop is a tragedy waiting to happen. 

I think that's what happened in Ferguson. A scared cop shot an unarmed if unruly kid because he was afraid he might get punched. What the grand jury did about it was unbelievable. It came to light afterward that they had been given the wrong instructions and were told only that the cop thought he was in danger was enough justification to use deadly force -- they left out that it had to be backed up with credible evidence of immediate, life-threatening danger. 

That was horrific, but just weeks later, another grand jury failed to indict an officer we all saw use unnecessary force and a chokehold, which was forbidden by the NYPD, on an unarmed man who was complying with police directions. There were about 5 officers present. That policeman's life was not in danger. His action caused the man's death and left his six children fatherless. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, yet the grand jury still failed to indict. A man who filmed the incident said the jury didn't even listen to him -- talking among themselves and eating lunch, not paying attention at all. The man had simply been selling a couple of loose cigarettes on the street -- so far as anyone can tell, not a death penalty offense; neither is being a smartass teenager. Neither is walking home from the store with Skittles and a cold drink. All those people are dead. So is a 12 year old child who had a toy gun in a park. So is a young unarmed man shot in a dark stairwell in Phoenix Arizona by a scared rookie. What those people all have in common is that they were black and the officers or citizens who killed them were not. 

Racism is rampant in the United States, though the Supreme Court justices think all is well. Racism is deadly in the United States, though comfortable white people prefer to turn a blind eye to it. We see it in the unreasoned hatred of our president, which crosses over into sedition, yet is ignored.  

We need to face it directly. We need to talk openly about it. We need to confront it and eliminate it. It is toxic and it is killing our children. It is also killing our country. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Rosh Hashanah Ramblings

The season is upon us. The High Holidays... I have been pondering that this morning. I have mixed feelings about the High Holidays because they are an irrational piece of a normally rational faith. I understand the purpose or self-examen and Teshuvah, of taking inventory of our lives and returning to a place more in line with our beliefs, but not the story that goes with it. I love the rituals but the whole premise that God is judging us and deciding if we get inscribed in the book to live and prosper for another year is contrary to everything I understand about God and Judaism. It makes no sense.

It does make sense of the Vulcan saying, "Live long and prosper!" accompanied by the split-fingered Jewish Priestly Blessing sign.  Both Leonard Nimoy and William Shattner are Jewish, and Nimoy made that up.

But Rosh HaShanah: "may you be inscribed in the book for a good year" is the standard greeting, usually shortened to l'shana tovah -- a good year. The image of a man with a long white beard seated on a cloud, writing in a huge and ancient tome comes to mind immediately. This is NOT a Jewish image. The God of Judaism has no gender, has no image attached, and has a never-spoken name which means "being" or "existence" or "living." The clash of these two ideas gets me every year about this time. We sing "Avinu Malkenu" -- our father, our king, but the letter shin on our mezuzahs stands for El Shaddai, the God with Breasts, a strong female image. (fundamentalist Christians have translated this into a bellicose male image, God Almighty) The spirit of God among us is the Shekinah, another female presence. Jewish identity is matrilineal, passed from the mother to her offspring. yet whether we live or die this year is consigned to a masculine king with a big book. Not buyin' it.

Another season of struggling with this stuff. I don't believe a word of the seasonal imagery.  It simply won't go in there and make any sense. I'll eat apples dipped in honey to make sure the year ahead is sweet, and bake a sweet raisin challah in the shape of a beehive. I'll probably show up at the synagogue a few times during the 10 days this takes to pass. Who wants to miss chanting "Ashamnu..." with accompanying breast beating, or singing Rock of Ages (NOT the same as the Christian version)... or hearing the wonderful choir at the only time of year we have one? Or dumping your sins out of your pockets (in the form of breadcrumbs) and casting them onto a running stream? Or best of all, hearing the raucous squawk of the shofar, the long wails and the staccato bursts... Yeah, that part I get. Just not the part about a man with a long white beard dipping a pen in ink and writing my fate, to live for another year or die trying.

Here is a jazz guitar version of Maoz Tzur -- Rock of Ages by guitarist Alex Bershadsky. Enjoy! L'Shana Tovah!

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Last of the Carville Houses

When the 1906 earthquake hit San Francisco, there were about five separate companies with cable car lines in San Francisco. The quake tore up many of the lines, both the tracks and slots. By 1906, electric trolleys had become more practical and certainly cheaper than replacing cable car slots and the mechanical apparatus it took to keep them running, so when it came time to rebuild the city's transportation system, the cable cars were only kept on the steepest routes. The cars that had run through the more flat neighborhoods, like Market Street Railway's Castro line, were replaced by trolleys. That left a lot of surplus rolling stock, which was hauled out to the sand dunes in the outer Richmond district and put up for sale: $10 without seats, $15 with seats included. This was a quick solution for a lot of people left homeless by the quake and subsequent fire, and so San Francisco's Carville sprang to life in the dunes at Ocean Beach. 

Minnie Collins, a notary public with an office near Union Square, had been living with her mother-in-law since she and her husband Everett were married. An enterprising woman who saw a chance to have a home of her own, Minnie bought three of the Castro cars and had them hauled out to a piece of property she had purchased about half a mile south of the Cliff House -- about 6 lots as they exist today. She had the cars joined side by side, with two of them opened up to make a double wide space. These were big cable cars, solid oak, 30 feet long and 8 feet wide, not like the little ones that run on Powell and Hyde today. The living room cars had been "convertible cars" with crosswise seating and sides that could be removed in the warmer months. That made it easy to join two together to make a wide room. Minnie had benches built along the outer wall, with storage space under the seats. You can still see the fittings for the cross-wise seats inside the benches. She kept the original windows and even the clerestories, and the original lighting fixtures, though she had them electrified, with their elaborate hand-blown glass covers. You can see the tops of the cable cars under the conventional roof if you look into the attic. 

Around 1977, Richard Jackman, a telephone company tech and railroad buff, had heard there were still Carville houses out in the Sunset district, and he began driving around, looking for them. The fates were with him -- not only did he find one, it was for sale. He bought it on the spot. Perfect!

He began hanging out at the local pub, a sort of living room for the neighborhood run by a motherly but flamboyant woman named Pearl and her husband Jack. There was New Orleans jazz there with Bert Bales on the piano on the weekends, and my ex husband, Bob Marchesi, a really good jazz bass player, was working in the band. Richard loved that band and became a regular. 

One warm afternoon I had been out walking on the beach with friends and we decided to take the streetcar home. It was Sunday so the cars only ran once an hour. We had just missed one, so we stopped in for a drink at the bar next to the car stop while we waited for the next one to come. The band was paying and we loved the atmosphere. Pearl, the owner, had known my father, who was also in the bar business, many years before. We hit it off immediately. The place was so homey and comfortable and the music was so great, I decided I would return the next week.

Next time, I ran into an old friend, Marilyn McGwynn, wife of the drummer in the band,. We had not seen each other for years and we were happy to reconnect. Musicians' wives have a bond of sisterhood. She introduced me to a new friend of hers, a really nice man named Richard Jackman, who had a cable car house just down the street. We all went to see it and I had the eeriest feeling when I was in the kitchen -- a sudden sense that I was going to live in that house. A certainty. It made no sense to me. I was not looking for a husband -- I was really happy being single, working as a nurse, having wonderful time and more or less living my dream. Sure, I was on my own with five kids, but I had been handling that well for about 6 years. Not a problem. I loved my single life! 

That was in April 1978, I think. The wedding was on October 31. My intuition had been dead on, and so we went to live in the cable car house. 

When the city built the Upper Great Highway along the beach, Minnie Collins lost her ocean view, so she simply had the house jacked up and built another story beneath the cars. It was rented out as a flat, but became the perfect second floor for kid's bedrooms and a sort of family room for us.  

It turned out to be the last vestige of Carville still standing. Though we sold the house in 1990, 1632 Great Highway is still standing today, so far as I know: the last of the Carville houses.  

This is a view of half of the dining area, which was in the part where the cable grip would have been. Looking out the open window, you can see where the headlamp had been. 

This is looking toward the front of the large open room, showing the benches along the side. 
The ironwork on the windows is intact, and that is the original glass. The clerestories are above. That big white chair just fit into the niche between the benches that Minnie had made to fit her small piano. 

I excavated the original number, hidden under 7 layers of paint, which identified this as a Castro car. I did the same for the living room cars. The bedroom/bathroom/kitchen were in this car, which still had the pocket doors intact, as you can see. In an article about the house in SF Gate, the author said an "expert" identified this as a horsecar. Wrong! It is a cable car and not a horsecar at all. Sorry about the oil stain on the photo.  

Our old Morris chair fit in very well. Note the bench behind it, which we used to store LPs.