July 10th, 2006

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Checking in -

I enjoy the articles on religion in the Chronicle.  The one today is on voodoo or voudo.  I found it  fascinating to read, and it gives insights, also, into New Orleans.

Check it out:   http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2006/07/10/findrelig.DTL

I read the book review in the Chronicle, and T. C. Boyle's new book, Talk Talk, sounds incredible.  He also wrote The Tortilla Curtain, which I continue to recommend.  Also, The Banquet Bug by Geling Yan sounds intriguing.

I am surprised when I  open to the page with the Chronicle Best Sellers.  In the past, I would have known and possibly read all of the interesting ones, but, today, it is like hieroglyphics to me.   I know three of the books of thirty.  Where have I been?   I feel myself emerging from a dark forest into light.  I touch the grass, and fondle the light, and reach now again to touch the words in books. 

Amazingly, Jane and I were discussing the value of  words this morning.  We were reviewing February 28 when she was at the Search Engine Conference, where the price of a word is mighty.  I wasn't into words back then.  I just wanted to feel what I was feeling,  without any concern for or awareness of the story.  No wonder I lost my touchstone of books, but now, I read the book review and check in with Amazon, and I think I'm coming back to those pages, those fragrant gifts, like leaves,  from trees.  
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Inspiring Soccer News!!

Who would have imagined the round ball of soccer could have such a wonderfully positive and cheerful effect.

Petra sends me this from Germany.

"So now, the world championship in soccer is over, we were world champions of the hearts and fans, as newspaper entitle us. We made third, but what is more important is the impact this event had on us Germans and the people visiting our country. The slogan was: to be visiting with friends and that's what it was... I'm very proud that we were able to be that open and hearty to all those foreign fans, enthusiasm is overboarding at the moment."

July 5, 2006 Print | Send this article | Feedback


Germany's New Attitude

By Marc Young in Berlin

Germany's World Cup dream might be over, but that doesn't mean the tournament won't have a lasting effect on the country. The soccer spectacle has already altered the way the world sees the Germans and even how the Germans see themselves.

Germany's coach Jürgen Klinsmann has helped inspire the country.
Germany's coach Jürgen Klinsmann has helped inspire the country.
Germany's team might not have made it into the final, but the country is clearly a better place for hosting the 2006 World Cup. Long considered a dour and gray nation of moaners, Germany has shown the world -- and itself -- that maybe it's not so bad after all.

The soccer tournament has unleashed a torrent of feel-good vibes from Hamburg to Munich that has stunned the locals probably even more than all the foreign visitors from around the globe. Germans -- long shy about expressing positive attitudes toward their country in light of their difficult history -- have experienced three weeks of unabashed fun and pride decked out in the national colors black, red and gold.

The Germans are positive. The Germans are friendly. The Germans have hosted an unforgettable World Cup. How can this be? For years, commentators both at home and abroad have derided the Germans for their pessimism and often glum or crabby manner. A sudden transformation brought on by the sunny, California-style optimism of German national soccer team coach Jürgen Klinsmann?

To be sure, Germans have reveled in the wave of enthusiasm that has accompanied the unexpectedly strong showing of Klinsmann's young and confident squad. But now that the team has been tossed out by Italy, will the wave break and roll back leaving Teutons with a World Cup- sized hangover?

Not right away at least. Two ladies working in a Berlin supermarket on Wednesday were so extremely friendly and nice that one gets the impression Germans are as happy to have shed their old image as they are about the World Cup.

Besides, much of what has seemed so surprising over the last three weeks is less some dramatic transformation than simply a new perspective on things. Germany was always full of friendly and optimistic people like Klinsmann -- it's just that they were often drowned out by all the complainers and pessimists.. The World Cup hasn't changed the foundations of the country, but it has changed the balance within it.

Not such a bad place after all

Just as Germany was never as bad a place as many foreigners thought, it was certainly much nicer than many Germans were willing to admit. Yes, there are problems, serious ones. The economy might be doing okay at the moment, but far too many people remain jobless. And Chancellor Angela Merkel's so-called grand coalition appears more willing to simply milk taxpayers than undertake real reforms that would overhaul the country's bloated welfare system or creaky healthcare.

Still, Germany remains a very comfortable place to live. And much of the new attitude unleashed during the World Cup simply seems to be people realizing this.

And Germans aren't the only ones. The black, red and gold flag fest has been a boon for the country's integration of its citizens with immigrant backgrounds. Many Turks and Arabs flew the German colors at their shops or on their cars.. A small gesture perhaps, but an important one to both those Germans concerned about integration and those immigrants acknowledging that this is their home too.

This outpouring of good-natured patriotism is only logical: if the Germans are more willing to express their affection for the good aspects of their own country, then so too will others.

Of course, there will be challenges both private and public that will make it difficult for some Germans to stick to their newfound positive ethos. But the naysayers no longer have the upper hand here. Many optimists will not cede the country back to the moaners so easily. And that, in many respects, is a greater gift from Klinsmann and his team than winning the World Cup ever could be.

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A day in the city -

A lesson in American history riding the 14 Mission bus
The stories start in Africa, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala -- and that special place of the deeply troubled

Elaine Elinson

Sunday, July 9, 2006


Every morning I walk down Bernal hill to catch the 14 Mission going to downtown San Francisco. As I step up the rubber-treaded stairs and flash my Muni pass at the driver, I await my lesson in U.S. history. And in sociology, global economics, race relations, immigration, psychology and fashion.

Today, when the bus lurches to a halt at my stop, it is crowded with passengers. Neatly dressed African American women with sensible nurses' shoes coming off the night shift at the Jewish Home for the Aged. Chinese elders in padded jackets and Filipina grandmas with pink plastic shopping bags overflowing with greens from the Pacific Market. Some passengers are reading the sports section of The Chronicle, some the Chinese-language World Journal; others carry well-thumbed small black Bibles in Spanish.

At Mission and Cesar Chavez streets, the day laborers board. They joke with each other in accents from the eastern Salvadoran provinces of Usulutan and Santa Ana. Heading for construction sites downtown, they wear heavy boots and paint-stained overalls. Even if there are seats left, they courteously continue to stand, arguing about futbol, wages and life in the United States.

At 26th Street, a gaggle of fifth-graders clad in the navy blue sweaters and pleated plaid skirts of St. Elizabeth's clamor on, excited about their field trip to the Exploratorium or the Aquarium. Their names are neatly printed on white plastic-coated cards and pinned on to their jackets. Vietnamese girls with long black hair tied with neon-colored scrunchies carrying Hello Kitty lunch boxes. Nguyen Pham, Jeannie Leung and Thuy Monica Phat. Their African American classmates wear 49ers jackets over starched white shirts and pressed blue serge pants. Eric Jackson's plastic glasses keep slipping down his nose as he reads his Tron comic book. His seatmate, Kenyatta Sanders, short legs dangling over the vinyl bus seat, peers over Eric's shoulder. "Oh man," the boys point at some explosion or daring feat in the comic, "Looka that!" they shout, oblivious to the elderly Filipina manang beside them, thumbing a prayer book with a haloed Jesus on the cover.

Latina girls in lacy socks and patent leather shoes, Lucinda Contreras and Maria Lopez, sit together and point out the window at the merchants hanging up pastel dresses under the awnings. Their parents came here from Mexico, El Salvador or Guatemala. They study new math and physical education and take field trips to all the museums in the city. Maybe one had an aunt that was turned back at the border and is stuck in a maquiladora in Tijuana. Their mothers send money home to brothers and sisters in Michoacan, Tegucigalpa or a village in the mountains of San Miguel.

At 24th Street, a crowd piles on at the BART station. "Move to the back, to the back," shouts the patient driver, a heavy-set African American woman with long braids and magenta nails. A trio of homeless vets board, heading for the VA hospital. Grizzled, with long stringy hair, they carry bedrolls and take up too much space with their bony knees and smell of the streets. Their outfits -- greasy dungarees and cheap quilted parkas -- are accented with the colors of our different wars: the mustard and green camouflage caps of Vietnam and the black, white and gray vests from Desert Storm. Bottles of Thunderbird barely concealed in paper bags jut out of their jacket pockets; their clothes reek of stale cigarette smoke. They take care not to bump into the little kids on a field trip.

They've crossed paths before, these vets and these children. In Vietnam, El Salvador, Honduras. The bus lurches at a changing light and a shaky vet bumps into a startled young woman in a business suit. He shouts obscenities in slurry voice at the driver. The kids stare wide-eyed, then turn back to their comics, their Game Boys and their whispers.

The Department of Social Services Mental Health Unit is at Duboce, so all along the way clients heading there -- scared, dreaming, frantic and fighting off demons -- climb on the bus, showing a disabled person's pass to the driver, and take a seat up front or thrash wildly through the crowd, depending on the day, their mood and particular madness.

A woman in a red corduroy jacket, grimy sneakers and no socks, screeches to an imaginary companion. "William, why do you say that? Answer me, William. Why? Why does William say that? Oh, William," she lowers her voice to a deep, seductive gurgle, "I heard you, I heard what you said."

A few people look around for William, and seeing no one, glance at the woman in red corduroy, then back to their newspapers or out the steamy windows at the Mission Street signs for tacos, 99 Cent stores and multilingual chiropractors.

Another woman rocks back and forth in the front seat, and volunteers to help the driver. "You got a transfer?" she asks in a monotone, her shiny black hair swinging over her face as she sways. "Did you pay? Transfer? Fare? Transfer? Your fare?"

A vet whose matted sandy hair matches his khaki jacket stumbles onto the bus and spots a transfer on the floor. "This must be my lucky day," he shouts as he waves it triumphantly above his head.

"Did you pay your fare? Transfer?" the rocking woman intones as he passes by her seat.

"Sure did," he grins a toothless smile, "got it right here!"

"Sixteenth Street," the driver calls out patiently. "BART, 22 Fillmore."

We are in the middle of the swiftly modernizing Valencia Street corridor. Young women with chic black helmets of hair, dark maroon lipstick, large eyeglasses and pleated miniskirts board with their boyfriends in tight leather jackets and Doc Martins. They're heading for the cyber workshops South of Market, balancing Fendi briefcases, copies of MacWorld and large lattes in paper cups. They chat about the Up and Down Club, stock options and how hard it is to buy a house in the city. They ignore the here-and-now drama around them, the prayers in Tagalog, girls gossiping in Spanish and the random shouts from vets who didn't make it all the way back.

What do the maroon lipsticks know of their fellow passengers? Of the ones who traveled here on crowded boats from refugee camps in Thailand and Hong Kong? Of the ones who fled from massacres in El Mozote and Rio Negro. Refugees from hunger in Honduras and the Philippines. Of the vets who shipped out at 19, muscular and energetic, proud of their country and proud of the uniforms they now roll up for pillows on the sidewalks in front of Mission Street taquerias.

"Van Ness," our driver calls out. "City Hall, 47 Fisherman's Wharf, Caltrain." She waves to a driver going back up Mission Street.

It's my stop. I climb down after the gaggle of children who line up behind their teachers, heading for the main library. On the way out, the swaying woman asks, "Transfer? Did you pay your fare?"

Elaine Elinson is the co-author of a history of civil liberties in California that is scheduled to be published by Heyday Books next year. Contact us at insight@sfchronicle.com.

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Letter to the Editor -

Peter Browning's Letter to the Editor is published in the Chronicle yesterday.  It stays with me, because it reinforces the continuing Republican takeover of language.

I give you the middle two paragraphs of his letter.  He is speaking of the phrase "cut and run" which is all over the media as an attack on those who want a policy to disentangle us from the violence and disgrace of Iraq.

    ""Cut and run" originated in the days of sailing ships.  It meant to get under way in an emergency by cutting the anchor chain and running before the wind.  In the instance of square-rigged ships, it also meant to cut the lines holding the furled sails, whereupon the sails would unfurl of their own weight and the ship could sail at once."

    ""Cut and run" has nothing whatsoever to do with cowardice, surrender or defeatism.  It is, in fact, the intelligent thing to do when in dire straits.  The captain who cuts and runs has a chance of saving his ship.  The stubborn, rigid captain, who stands upon the bridge and defies the elements, will find his ship driven upon the rocks - and destroyed."

Thank you to Peter Browning for this explanation.  Let's hope the attacked politicians will now jump in, and cut the ropes, re-spin the storm, and run with intelligent response.  
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What we know -

 The Political Benefits of Terror
    By Jason Leopold
    t r u t h o u t | Perspective

    Monday 10 July 2006

    With the battle for the House and Senate heating up, the White House has once again resorted to its old tactic - instilling fear in the American public - in hopes of regaining control of both Houses of Congress come November.

    A peek into the memory hole shows that during the past few election seasons, the Bush administration has made a habit of issuing warnings about imminent terrorist threats in an attempt to shore up the president's sagging poll numbers.

    On Memorial Day weekend in 2004, during the contentious presidential campaign between Bush and the Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry, right through mid-June, Bush's approval ratings yo-yoed because of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the spike in American military casualties the US suffered in Iraq. By mid-June, 51% of Americans disapproved of the way Bush was handling the war in Iraq, up about four points from May, according to polling results from Zogby, Gallup and Pew.

    Then, seemingly out of nowhere, on May 26, former Attorney General John Ashcroft held a press conference warning the public that al-Qaeda "wants to hit America hard."

    Ashcroft didn't release specific information because he didn't have any. He said that somewhere in this country seven al-Qaeda operatives were planning an attack. That's hardly information that warrants a press conference. His announcement didn't even elevate a change in the color-coded terrorist alert system that was once used. In fact, it was all a smokescreen to change the news cycle. It worked. Bush's numbers went back up soon after Ashcroft's press conference.

    The Wall Street Journal reported a couple of days later that the Department of Homeland Security had found that the information that prompted Ashcroft's dire warnings of an attack on American soil "had been known for some time" and "was not new or specific enough to merit an announcement or other action."

    Ashcroft cried wolf on a half-dozen other occasions too, including Independence Day and Christmas 2003 and right before the Super Bowl. Those alleged terrorist threats identified banks, shopping malls, power plants and stadiums, obvious targets for a militant group that wants to rack up a high number of casualties, but the evidence to support the threats either didn't exist or came from unreliable sources.

    In the summer of 2004, former Homeland Security director Tom Ridge announced that terrorists wanted to blow up the Citicorp building in Manhattan's financial district, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC, and the Prudential Building in Newark, NJ. The threat seemed more real, more imminent because, for the first time, specific information emerged. But the so-called threat smacked of election season politics, and evidence surfaced months later proving Ridge's announcement was based on information that came from suspect sources.

    Now word comes that federal law enforcement officials thwarted three attacks in Chicago and New York City by so-called homegrown Islamic fundamentalists. The warnings are intended to convince the public that only Republicans can deal with terrorism and if voters consider casting a vote for a Democrat it's tantamount to putting your own safety at risk.

    Don't buy it. The latest threats aren't real. The data doesn't lie.

    It just so happens that nearly every terrorist warning that has been issued since 2003 came at a time when Bush's approval ratings lagged and when bad news was coming out of the war in Iraq. Go to pollingreport.com and then check the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department web sites and you'll see how the terrorist warnings were issued at the same time Bush started to fall behind in the polls.

    The Australian newspaper The Age ran a Reuters story that quoted unnamed senior US officials as saying that the constant flow of terrorist warnings since March 2003 "may also just be a ploy to shore up the president's job approval ratings or divert attention from the increasingly unpopular Iraq campaign."

    A few weeks before the Democratic National Convention, the New Republic ran a story alleging that senior Pakistani intelligence officials were pressured by members of the Bush administration to make arrests of so-called high-value terrorists during the Democratic National Convention in an attempt to boost Bush's standing in the polls during a time when John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, would have likely received a bounce in percentage points for his campaign.

    The July 7, 2004, article, "July Surprise," said a Pakistani official was told by a White House aide "that it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July" - the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

    At the end of the Democratic National Convention in July 2004, a Newsweek poll showed Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry leading Bush in the polls 52% to 44%. Less than a week later, Ridge, Bush's former Homeland Security chief, announced that al-Qaeda planned to blow up targets in New York, New Jersey and Washington, DC.

    That event actually occurred on July 29 when Reuters reported that an unidentified US official confirmed that Pakistan had arrested "a senior al-Qaeda member wanted by the United States in connection with the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in East Africa," all of which lends credibility to the idea that the White House would do whatever it had to do to make sure Bush was re-elected.

    Jason Leopold spent two years covering California's electricity crisis as Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires. Jason has spent the last year cultivating sources close to the CIA leak investigation, and is a regular contributor to Truthout. He is the author of the new book NEWS JUNKIE. Visit www.newsjunkiebook.com for a preview.
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Today -


Stay with the soft pieces of light and life today, the place where the pillow waits for the strength of a head.   Be the sweet spot on the racket, inspiring the ball to fly through the air like a hawk.  Sit, like pollen,  on the anthers of stamens.


                        on the wings of birds

                                                as they herd

                         what foams

                            in the tide.


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Poem -



You stand a watermelon on the table.
In a flash of blade the melon
zips into slices of red moons.

You take one and your mouth
slides on it like playing a harmonica,
red juice dribbling through your fingers.

Under your green dress, a pond
is rippling while black seeds
are sliding on the plate like tadpoles.

from Jianqing Zheng's The Landscape of Mind, Slapering Hol Press

Jianqing Zheng is associate professor and Chair of the Department of English and Foreign Languages, Mississippi Valley State University. He is a member of The University Press of Mississippi Board of Directors and editor of Valley Voices: A Literary Review.


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Today -

I rustled through errands today, determined to stay cheerful, and smile through it all, and I find it challenging to deal with traffic and the array of goods, which, amazingly, are often not what I need.  One thing I was looking for was a replacement brush for my Sonicare toothbrush but they were out of it at Walgreens and Longs, so I just ordered it on-line.  Steve orders almost everything on-line now and I see why.  It is easy and hassle-free.

I am reading a wonderful book, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.  It is another must-read, and while reading it, I swear I will live completely serene.  I kept the book in mind today and did pretty well, and, I would say I could have done better, and that is judgment, and not what I want.  : )

I'm enjoying the day, and circling in ripples of joy and play. 

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Evening -

I'm waiting for the moon rise tonight as I read that global warming will affect the production of grapes, which means the wine industry in California.  Now, that it is affecting something important, we may see some response.  

I also read in the Magazine of the National Parks Conservation Association that the Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve sometimes produce dunesong.  There is a hit recording you are supposed to be access, but the web-site is closed.   You can visit, and if conditions are right, a cloudless sky, and a windless day,   you can slide down a sand dune's face and possibly make a tidal wave of noise.   The vibrations are the key.

Tonight, I plan to dream of singing sand dunes, and a moon strumming the waves.