Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

Posting has been light because I have had a painful deadline on a paying project for the last 10 days, and next Monday I am going to join a Federal bureaucracy for three to four months, so that might cramp my style a bit too. We shall see.

In the meantime, here are some shots from 2007's New Years Day on San Francisco's Ocean Beach.

Hope your new year is bright and beautiful.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

The Contemporary Jewish Museum in downtown San Francisco opened its doors on Christmas Day to the public with an offer of free admission to the year-old building, which prompted a huge line that snaked across the large stone plaza in front of the museum.

The $47.5 million building consists of the brick facade of a 19th Century electrical substation designed by Willis Polk that was somehow integrated with two dark, torqued cubes on their sides by starchitect of the moment Daniel Libeskind.

From the outside, the design looks rather fun, but inside it's something of a disaster, with most of the space devoted to a large lobby and sloping walls that feel more claustrophobic than liberating, not to mention impractical for displaying art. In its ugliness and uselessness, the building's only competitor in awful new San Francisco architecture is probably the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender What-Have-You Center that opened on upper Market Street in 2002.

The security at the entrance was also extremely invasive, though the guards were for the most part a jolly crew.

We were given a timed entry sticker for a Maurice Sendak exhibit that was scheduled for two hours after our arrival, but there was no way we were going to wait that long, so we didn't see any "Where The Wild Things Are" sketches. We probably never will, since this is not a building that's high on the list for a return visit.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Buddha Baby

The Asian Art Museum is filled with Buddhas from a variety of cultures, traditions and eras.

My Buddhist friend Heidi in Santa Barbara shares her birthday with that other famous spiritual teacher, Jesus...

...and in honor of the occasion we found a small statue of the Baby Buddha's first Holy Steps.

May peace and good will prevail...

...on Heidi's holy day...

...and good wishes to her and humanity on surviving another year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

SF City Hall Christmas Lights Gone Berserk

San Francisco's City Hall has been lit up green and red for Christmas this year.

At certain points, it looks like odd Chinoiserie as if designed for a delirious production of Puccini's "Turandot."

From other angles... looks a bit like Satan's Lair.

For the first time ever, the insanely expensive, high-tech, solar-roofed, bizarrely lit new Muni bus shelter on the corner of Van Ness and Grove actually looked like it belonged in the neighborhood.

From this time onwards, it shall be known as the Christmas Shelter.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Twilight of The Upper Crust

Right next to this year's Civic Center Christmas Tree with its expensive, new, white LED lights (click here for a story by Rachel Gordon)...

...Patrick Dougherty's sapling sculpture, "The Upper Crust," is more than holding its own.

With the sycamore trees pruned back to their Winter Solstice nubs...

...the sculptures are once again standing out in bold relief.

It will be sad when they are taken down in February...

...because after a year, they feel a part of the neighborhood.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Two Iraq War Movies: The Hurt Locker vs. Avatar

By coincidence, I saw "The Hurt Locker" and "Avatar" in the same 24-hour-hour period and the differences were instructive. "The Hurt Locker" stars Jeremy Renner (above) as an American demolition expert in 2004 Iraq for whom war has become an exhilharating drug, and his performance is the kind that creates movie stars.

Though the movie is intelligent and brilliantly directed by Kathryn Bigelow, it's also an Iraq War movie that The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times can love. Politics don't ever into it, and the point-of-view is completely and artistically through the very subjective eyes of three American soldiers. The Iraqis remain The Inscrutable Others throughout, and most of them want to kill our heroes for reasons that remain completely unexplained.

"Avatar," James Cameron's sci-fi follow-up to "Titanic," turns out to be not only the most expensive movie ever made up to this moment, but also one of the most matter-of-fact in its hatred of American imperialism. The baddies who want to rape the planet of Pandora for an oil stand-in called Unobtainium aren't even a global, mixed lot. They're the current corporate/military mindset of America and the movie doesn't make any bones about it.

The Pandora art direction was a bit too Laguna Beach hippie-dippie for me at times, where everything was filled with mystical light, and I was expecting whales and dolphins to be leaping through the air at any moment. That didn't matter, though, because the alternative universe is loads of fun to wander through, particularly in 3D, and the theme of the blending of races and cultures was handled beautifully. Best of all was the ending (SPOILER ALERT!). Instead of never-ending war, which is where "The Hurt Locker" leaves us, the ten-foot tall People of Pandora escort the remaining American imperialists into their spaceships with instructions not to return. I pray the same happens soon for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

City Hall Christmas 2: David Campos Hosts a Party

Later that Wednesday, San Francisco Supervisor David Campos (below) hosted a holiday party out of his City Hall office...

that featured extraordinarily good homemade Mexican food...

...and political junkies of all sorts, from current officeholders like Supervisor Eric Mar (above center)... observers like Hope Johnson...

...and people running for office next year such as Steve Ngo...

...and longtime local gay activist Michael Goldstein for the Community College Board.

Scott Wiener, one of the candidates for next year's District 8 election, always reminds me of that famous Diane Arbus photo, "Jewish Giant," except that he's better looking.

I introduced Theresa Sparks, the recently appointed President of the Human Rights Commission, and a candidate for Supervisor in District Six, to Michael Nava (below), the only candidate I actually care about next year.

He's running for an empty Superior Court Judge seat, and he's an artist with a wise soul. I can't think of a better combination.

City Hall Christmas 1: Bake Off

The "holiday" tree decorated with origami peace cranes is gracing the second floor of San Francisco City Hall again...

...and down the hall on Wednesday afternoon there was the Third Annual Board of Supervisors Holiday Treat Throwdown...

...where a trio of celebrity judges awarded prizes for most creative, most festive, and most delicious (click here for Heather Knight's wrap-up at SFGate).

One of the judges, Beth Spotswood (above), feared that the desserts would somehow be politically correct and awful, but she was overwhelmed by the level of baking craft displayed. "Some of these could be served at the top restaurants in town."

Board President David Chiu eventually received a trophy for Most Creative, with his replica of City Hall complete with gingerbread people representing the supes and the mayor. Congratulations to all.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Ascension of Lady Gaga

For inexplicable reasons, the fact that a new pop star calling herself Lady Gaga has appeared out of nowhere to sell out two shows... the large, ugly Bill Graham Auditorium in the Civic Center on Sunday and Monday cheers me no end.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mexicanos y La Virgen de Guadalupe

It's odd how little coverage of any sort the parade from the Mission to the St. Mary's Cathedral on Saturday received.

I'm assuming St. Mary Maytag was the destination of the huge procession but am not actually sure.

I stumbled into the group on the way to breakfast and pulled out a camera which occasioned a few seriously scary looks from some of the male participants.

The women all seemed to understand that I was harmless and loved the Virgin of Guadalupe, along with every story associated with her myth.

American Catholic culture right now is disgusting and reactionary, fighting ugly political battles over health care, gays, and abortion that are all about the church's power to pontificate on those subjects even though they are demonstrably on the wrong side of Jesus' conception of love.

As despicable as the Church is with its current Nazi pope and horrible politics, I must admit that the mixture of Mexican Indios and Catholicism is one of the most potent cultural blends in the history of the world.

It is a culture waiting to be unleashed and discovered.