Archive for the 'uncategorized' Category

forgot the best part

…which is what we did on Labor Day afternoon. We all schlepped down to Noisebridge, where the girls did a circuit hacking class with Mitch Altman. Liz and Milo were there and Jamey and Rowan came too, and then Danny showed up. Danny and I curled up in the library writing. Every now and then Claire or Jules or Jeremy would come and give me a hug.

Claire made an LED lamp that changes colour. The frequency increases if you put your hand near it – it has an infrared sensor. Julia made a name tag with her name spelled out in LEDs. She soldered it all herself.

I love Noisebridge for being so close to us and so full of light, and for having a library, and for running this class deliberately to be at a family-friendly time, and for being a place where all my friends hang out, and for having as its motto “Be excellent to each other.”

i hunted down the hunt

IMG_20111125_113607.jpg by yatima
IMG_20111125_113607.jpg, a photo by yatima on Flickr.

Now the hunter has become the hunted!

the autobiography of bertrand russell

So far ahead of his time. On institutional corruption:

While I was an undergraduate, I had regarded all these men merely as figures of fun, but when I became a Fellow and attended college meetings, I began to find that they were serious forces of evil. When the Junior Dean, a clergyman who raped his little daughter and became paralysed with syphilis, had to be got rid of in consequence, the Master went out of his way to state at College Meeting that those of us who did not attend chapel regularly had no idea how excellent this worthy’s sermons had been.

I hear Penn State is good at some kind of sportsball. And Australian journalists are currently apologizing for yet another abuser because he wrote with great sensitivity about cricket. ALL RIGHT THEN. Here is Russell on Keynes:

…it seems to be to be owing to him that Britain has not suffered from large-scale unemployment in recent years. I would go further and say that if his theories had been adopted by financial authorities throughout the world the great depression would not have occurred. There are still many people in America who regard depressions as acts of God. I think Keynes proved that the responsibility for those occurrences does not rest with Providence.

I tweeted parts of that second quote through my work account, and an apparently-Randroid work contact pointed out that many books disagree, notably Friedman and Schwartz in their A Monetary History of the United States. Esprit d’escalier: I should have replied that I regard the current recession as an act of those who regard Friedman as God.

In the same tweet I called Russell Edwardian Cambridge’s Skud. Skud raised a virtual eyebrow, but I stand by it: I meant the lucid prose style and the ability to, for example, shed light on a bitter political struggle by examining a version control system.

bebe the circus queen the cat

Basement cat by yatima
Basement cat, a photo by yatima on Flickr.

life on mars

My last trip to Vegas was miserable, because my narrative about it was “Introvert in Introvert Hell,” which, while true, was not useful. This time I have decided to try “Introvert Who Is Capable Of Perkiness In A Higher Cause, Or For Work,” and in pursuit of this I am determinedly pretending that Vegas is a poorly-terraformed Mars (as Jeremy points out, they did it in the fifties, with nukes; these days they wouldn’t be allowed.)

The Martians (Vegans?) have been making me laugh. I had a particularly good cab driver:

“In town for a conference?”



“Yep. I have the look, do I?”


I’m sure he meant that I look exactly like he imagines Lisbeth Salander: see attached.

Lisbeth by yatima
Lisbeth, a photo by yatima on Flickr.

The woman who checked me in was also a hoot:

“What brings you to Las Vegas?”


“Oh! No pleasure at all?”

“Not really. I live in San Francisco.”

“Oh! I see!”

Big smiles all round. She was very sweet, and my life support pod is modern and comfortable and immaculate and surprisingly easy on the eye. I hung all my Calvin Klein dresses and power suits on coathangers, and I am hardened for two days of meetings. Yes! I can totally do this! Only 58 hours till I get back to San Francisco!

what is the awesomest thing you ever saw?

DSC_7453 by Goop on the lens
DSC_7453, a photo by Goop on the lens on Flickr.

Sorry. I win.

a necessarily incomplete list of things that enthrall me right now

The Manhattan Project
Area 51
Lockheed’s Skunk Works
The SR-71 Blackbird stealth bomber
Aurignacian cave painting
French archaeology
The urbanization of China
John Maynard Keynes
Cambridge Spies
The history of thalidomide
Delia Derbyshire
The plays of Alan Bennett
The plays of Michael Frayn
Tony Judt’s Postwar

I guess the linking theme is the long 20th Century. The cave paintings are older, obviously, but they were properly *noticed* at the end of the 19thC and have been fetishized ever since.

More specifically I seem to be picking at something about the way our tools transform and deform us. The limits of our imagination and the unintended consequences of ideology. Also: hope.

in other news

I have been having epic rides on Omni and thinky rides on Archie and funny, challenging rides on Oliver, who is new and a bit of a clown and perfect for me. Oliver is a dapple grey with huge dark circles on his shoulders and haunches and mysterious white spiderwebs on his forearms and hocks. Archie likes hugs. Omni is my sweetie. All these horses. I walk around the stables cleaning tack and rolling up polo wraps in a sort of daze of happiness, like a kid in a candy shop.

brother and niece

They are gone and I am bereft. They are among the least high maintenance of all the people to whom I am related, so there is not much narrative to impart, because all we were was happy. We looked at interesting and pretty things. We laughed. We ate delicious food.

They have promised to come back.

perfect day

IMG_20110424_192159.jpg by yatima
IMG_20110424_192159.jpg, a photo by yatima on Flickr.

claire writes a poem for her friend rohini

Obedient, Your
Nice and
Infinitely lovely!


We had a tiny earthquake. And saw a swarm of bees.

bebe likes them better than she likes me

Al and Kelly are miffed that I haven’t mentioned them in my blog yet. So! Al and Kelly are here, and it is lovely. Al is my brother so close in age we are practically twins, and Kelly is my sister’s kickass daughter.

We’ve eaten at Samovar and Angkor Borei and Tacqueria Cancun and Spicy Bite and Noeteca and Tuba and Pancho Villa and In and Out Burger, and had coffee at Ritual and Nervous Dog and cocktails at the Royal Cuckoo, to the point where Kelly finally said “Don’t you ever eat at home?” So Jeremy made lamb chops and cheese pie tonight, which was delicious. We’ve thrift shopped and been to House of Air and Crissy Field and Talbot’s Toyland and Robogames and the Lego Store. I want to show them all of San Francisco all at once. I am a little manic when it comes to hostessing. They escaped with my car and saw the redwoods and Berkeley.

They’re lovely guests, easy-going and ever willing to be pleased. When I took Alain out for drinkies with my girlfriends, they all declared him charming and delightful. When I pointed out a mass of aloe vera, Al and I said, in unison, “‘Allo, Vera.” We walked past Mitchell’s late at night with the fog rolling in, and Kelly said “Are all those people in line for ice cream? At this time of night? In the cold?” And I said that they were and she said: “That is awesome.”

It is. It is.

notes from a sleepover

you should have warned me that Julia gets, uh, rather *excited* on chocolate!
she is in the front room yelling, “fight like a man Dre”
and “YAY DRE!!!”
she’s on the purple chair jumping up and down.
and screaming!
it’s pretty funny.
Not sure she’ll ever fall asleep. ever. for her whole life!
I’ll let you know how this all turns out.

you’re not missing anything

Sadness is not making me a nicer person.

first day of kinder

Actually three weeks ago but Jeremy only just uploaded it.


Originally uploaded by Goop on the lens

milo’s song

Tyrannosaurus Rex!
He was the king!
But then he had a breast.

Has to run and hide!
Because if we don’t
We’ll all get died.

Oh, no! A meteor!
Oh, no! A leaf-eator!

Milo: I think that I will never ever write another song.

Me: Because this one is so perfect?

Milo: Yes.

can’t believe i am resorting to “five things make a post”

Item the first: When I fell off Bella I landed on the point of my hip. I was kinda stiff for a few days but mostly okay, and even had a riding lesson in the midst of it; but then I had an evening lesson with Dez and Dez was eeeeville; no-stirrups, trot over a crossbar and canter out from it evil. I could not do it. I can half-ass most things on a horse, but this felt like there was a pointy bit of metal jammed into my hip joint, so I had to opt out. Mehness, and likewise mehitude! I was actively limping all weekend, which suhuhuhucked, because that weekend we went to China Camp with the camping gang, who are all great fun and who love to hike. My hip was so hurty Saturday night that it took me forever to get to sleep, even in our lovely tent under the lovely trees.

Lucky J and I had dug some old Burning Man camping armchairs outta the attic, because I jammed myself into one of those Sunday morning and read books for a couple of hours while the able-bodied – including, humiliatingly, my four-year-old – circumnavigated Turtle Back Hill. This was follow-the-sun sloth, because I had to keep dragging my chair into new sunbeams in the woods at our campsite. Eventually the chair had little tracks behind it, as do rocks on Racetrack Playa. Anyway, enough rest and being lazy and I started to get the circulation back in my toes, and on Tuesday night I had a decentish ride on Omni, the big handsome black off-the-track Thoroughbred I have been riding lately.

Omni is item the second. He’s way dumber than lovely Bella but he’s brave and strong and gentle and wouldn’t harm a fly. He reminds me a little bit of Scottie in that you talk to him through his cadence, lengthening and shortening the rhythm of his stride. But Scottie was a big chicken, and Omni’s not afraid of anything. I am, you’ll be relieved to hear, not getting attached to him at all; when I secretly think of him as Black Beauty I am merely being ironic. The other day, when the message I was passing along the reins to him was “I love you, I love you, I love you,” was an inexplicable error for which the management apologizes; the relevant brain centres have been summarily fired.

Item the third is maps. One reason I adore China Camp is because it is surrounded by wetlands, so that the map of it always reminds me of the awesome map in Arthur Ransome’s Secret Water:

What made it even awesomer this time was reading Secret Water to Claire. We’ve been having a revival of Swallows & Amazons fever ever since Liz moved into a houseboat and Danny bought Daisy. I see that Liz has been doing some cartography of her own.

Item the Fourth: glory but I have been having a brilliant run of books lately. I can especially recommend The Little Stranger and The Haunting of Hill House, two basically perfect Gothic horror stories; The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters, which succeeded in making me even more upset about the DPRK, which is quite a feat; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the first book of popular science to reduce me to incoherent sobs three times – it encompasses the whole spectrum of what I think of as My America, from Wired to The Wire; everything by Peter Hessler, whose books are an excellent complement to that awesome Yellow Gorges documentary we saw, Up the Yangtze; The Marketplace of Ideas, which I think lingered in the back of my mind all through this Cambridge jaunt until I had the first glimmering, a couple of weeks ago, of insight into the way the Oxbridge experience was intentionally watered-down and exported throughout the English-speaking world, so that what I was given was not a classical education in that sense but a colonial simulacrum of one, the University of Sydney as a branch of the Scouts or Pony Club – not a new insight at the intellectual level (sidere mens eadem mutato, after all) but actually *felt* this time around, and now having to be processed; and on an entirely different note, a novel that has stayed with me ever since I read it much earlier this year, Michelle Huneven’s remarkable Blame.

Blame got me interested in AA, which turns out to have been heavily influenced by William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience, a copy of which is also on my nightstand waiting to be read, which is not altogether surprising as both the Huneven and the James were recommendations from Jessa Crispin, whose taste is sometimes enigmatic but never dull. Oh! I am so very fond of books, and of the San Francisco Public Library, and I am so lucky to have them.

Item the Fifth: I want to tell you about two awesome things that Claire said; forgive me. On the second-last morning in London we took McKenze out for a large and stodgy English breakfast. McKenze was amused at having overheard Julia describe her as “bossy”; we laughed, and asked the children whether McKenze was bossy or nice. Julia stubbornly stuck to “bossy”, but Claire said with what was to me quite surprising judiciousness: “bossy and nice.”

Later she came up with an idea for an art project for this year’s Balsa Man. I said that this year we could stay back from the fire, so she wouldn’t have to be scared about getting burned, and she said something that absolutely floored me:

“I wasn’t scared I would get burned. I was scared for some of the other people, who were being silly.”

She’s only seven. She was six when this happened, and she got in such a right state about it that I had assumed for a year without even thinking about it that she was terrified on her own behalf. I’d no idea she had such complex modelling of and empathy for complete strangers in place already. Some days I think maybe I am doing a few things right. But really I can’t take much credit for her remarkable and complicated self; it is, after all, her self.

I guess I did have a lot to say, and didn’t need the artificial constraint of Five Things Make A Post after all! Let me go back and rewrite the segues! Nah, bugrit. You know I love you, right?

a chimpanzee manifesto

Fred Clark, as ever, cuts to the heart of a recent debate between the Krugman/Delong alliance and Everybody Else. Krugman and Delong say we should spend government money to help the 10% of Americans who can’t find work, find work. The Grown Ups say we can’t do this obviously compassionate and necessary thing, because Bad Things Would Happen. The Bad Things are cloaked in jargon or, more commonly, left unspecified. Hands are waved. Arguments like this one really, really tweak my always-trigger-happy class resentment like woah. It’s becoming increasingly hard for me to see conservative ideology – and, indeed, much of modern capitalism – as anything other than a figleaf protecting the brass balls of the superrich.

We’re chimpanzees. We confabulate madly to justify decisions already made before we knew we had made them. We’re engrossed in power and dominance games. The White House press room is a great example (oh, Helen Thomas, no.) Those reporters cannot come out and write the obvious, necessary things – the things Fred Clark, for example, writes – because they fear they will lose Access to Important People, and their chimpanzee balls and ovaries shrivel at the prospect. Judith Miller could not simply point out that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and that his (secular) Ba’ath party had no connection whatever with the (religious) al Qaeda and that Congress was being very thoroughly lied to in the lead-up to the Iraq War. Those of us who did point these things out until we were blue in the face – and I claim no special insight here, there were ten million of us on the streets that Saturday – weren’t listened to, of course, because we had no Access. You had to be at least that deluded to ride that ride. Chimpanzees that fell in line with the dominant narrative of the day got plum embedded assignments and Halliburton contracts and, what was it? Nine billion US dollars in cash, in steel containers, “lost” somewhere in Iraq? Yeah. Everyone was lying, but it is in the nature of chimpanzees to go along to get along.

I do it too, God knows, the most corporate and compromised person in any of my personal circles. I have baby chimpanzees and an eye on the prize and I want some of that river of lost cash so my kids can go to good colleges (for-profit institutions engaged in the sale of privilege) and thus obtain precious precious Access. I listen and retell stories in my own bit of the great chimpanzee collective confabulation, our great work, our oral Wikipedia, the first draft of a bullshit history that is itself trying to defend the victors from their victims. I try to tell the good, useful software from the cynical rip-off, smart decent CEOs from sleazy embezzlers. I try to inject a laudably Fred-like note of clarity and sanity into the proceedings. But I can’t unchimp myself, can’t not want to be liked and accepted, can’t not want to keep what I have and maybe get some more for the kids. So, moral weakling that I am, I have to pay attention to where I am slipping, to the gross things I let myself off so lightly for (I fly too much, I eat meat, I drive a car, I speak politely to bankers.) I see the master narrative working away at my weak spots, singing its siren songs, tempting me.

Jan has a stack of newspapers – the arts and culture sections of the FT and the Times – and try as I might to simply read them as if I were chatting to Grant about books, I can’t separate the cheerful gossipy absorbed enthusiast’s conversation about stories from the dreary vuvuzuela of Capitalism Victorious. I can’t see the World Cup or Wimbledon as anything but huge cynical spectacles arranged to distract people from the fact that we are ruled by thieves. This is, of course, my own fault thanks to my massive ignorance and lack of engagement with sport – I do see that football and tennis can be beautiful – but I also see their utility to a malign elite. Say one urban black kid in a million gets to be a college basketball or football star, gets to be rich (and have his brain pounded to jelly, in the case of football); the others might just shut the fuck up, toe the line like good beta and gamma and delta chimpanzees in case the magical hand in the sky – the A&R guy, the reality TV audition, the lottery, the Dragon’s Den – comes down and chooses them next time. Bread and circuses. Retirees in Reno and Vegas feeding their Social Security through slot machines, and voting Republican in case they hit the jackpot.

God forgive me, I do find this intensely interesting. A huge part of what makes Hilary Mantel sing on the page – and Patrick O’Brien too, come to that, and Vikram Seth and Jane Austen – is the acute ear for these negotiations and confrontations, the lie told so often it starts to sound true, the master narrative nudged towards Reformation or Revolution by daily repetition and recapitulation (hahahaha, see what I did there?) I saw this in my Master’s thesis too, reading the mid-nineteenth-century Irish journalists who wrote The Nation when there was no nation, who created The United Irishman when Ireland was not united. Those men – John Mitchel, Charles Gavan Duffy, William Smith O’Brien – wrote the Republic of Ireland into being. A thing has to be thought before it stops being unthinkable.

This is what we are going to have to do. We have to dream up a good world for our grandchildren (it took the Young Irelanders seventy-odd years, it will take us at least that long.) We have to dream up sustainable and carbon-neutral societies, civil rights, human rights, equity for the poor world. We have to tear down the walls that keep the poor people out, because a walled garden whose only function is to exclude is not paradise. It is a fortress and a prison. (McKenze was a child when the Berlin wall came down; last night I tried to explain to her what it was like for us, growing up in the Cold War, thinking that the world would probably end in nuclear war before we were thirty, then finding in the space of six months that all our atlases had become obsolete. I said, it was as if Palestinians and Israelis were hugging in the streets. As if the two Koreas were reunited.)

Because Fred is right. The unemployed people are not an economic problem; they are our friends. The people in the poor world are our brothers and sisters. The Foxconn suicides, the war in Congo are embedded in this MacBook on which I write; my whole lovely happy life is predicated on exploitation and poverty. It’s not okay. Activism has to become a habit with me, prosaic, wonkish activism: pressure on Apple and other manufacturers to examine their supply chains; pressure on Arizona and the federal government to reform immigration and education, and to create jobs and provide more opportunities for working-class kids than the military or a football concussion; pressure on the press corps to stop telling so many transparent and idiotic lies. We can’t make a paradise on earth, we can’t extricate ourselves from accommodations that are also deals with the devil, we can’t ever make things perfect or pure because to do so is to build walls that keep people out. And also because we are chimpanzees and weak. We can’t, in fact, win – this is the long defeat, life ends in death. But we can be on the right side, sticking up for the truth and against bullies. We can say the things *we* want to have happen until they drown out the idiocies of macroeconomics and neoconservatism, and become the new Overton Window. It’s not just about walking away from Omelas; it’s about going back with an EMT team, breaking the kid out of that cage and sending her to college.


Our flat this time is a different address but the same management company, and they use the same rather pungent bathroom cleaner. So every time I walk into the bathroom I am vividly reminded – of being in the bathroom in Cambridge, which is where I am.