Saturday, November 29, 2008

Elevations About Town

If you see something beautiful don't cling to it, if you something horrible don't cling to it, the Buddhists suggest...

A deep sleep washed up on the shore of the afternoon. Jean Richie is on the radio with Fiona already, I'm reminded where Richard and Mimi Farina got their dulcimer song style. My breakfast is boiled milk to which I add cooked brown basmati rice and raisins, some honey. A recent close-out score of Fior di miele organic forest honey from Italy brings it to another level.
It's almost 70 degrees out so by my second cup of coffee I part with the music to sit on the deck outdoors. This is a ritual that involves a cut-glass plate with my medicinal cookie for this Saturday and a china cup of coffee. The cookie is delightful: a gingery pumpkin cookie with cranberries. The girl at the dispensary mentioned that it was quite potent--and yet so delicious.
Sunshine prevailed in clear skies, nothing much happened, I contemplated the slow motion shift in consciousness. Then by overlooking the parking lot on the West side of the building, I could observe a succession of children in amusing routines with their parents. Three little boys herded to a van, one finds a glasses case, that sort of thing-- the delight of children giving life to the quiet scene in front of the vast wall of red ivy on Stiles hall. They must have cranked up the Nutcracker at Zellerbach already. The children remind me of the little birds hopping around up here on the deck yesterday; "uccellini" I called them--like the composer. It means "little birds."

The Campanile bell rings four and I want to wander, to see more people and events. So it's over to the Durant post office to mail back "The Naked Spur." It's a frontier noir with Jimmy Stewart and Robert Ryan, a worthy story of how the hard-boiled West was won. The black guys begging in front are more insistent than they used to be. Bitter salutations of "merry christmas." I am not exactly one of the food courtiers or the shoppers barely spending around here today, a distinction sometimes lost on spare-changers. But I understand that prolonged hardship can make people bitter toward anyone who doesn't provide help immediately.

I next pass the big wooden, art brute-esque crucifix. Life-sized, it's attached to a little used Anglican church building. It's across the street from the always-busy Top Dog, where someone got shot dead in broadest daylight a year or so ago. Not to imply that my mood was anything but splendid.
Continuing up Durant I turned into the back gate of the Berkeley Art museum. At nearly 5 PM the doors were locked and I could but glimpse a few photo blow-ups inside. However, as I came up through the sculpture garden, the large plate glass wall gave me a good look. The bright lights were still on a big installation piece I could see close-up with more remote views of other works. It was all Mah Jong! a big show of Chinese contemporary art and frankly it all looked junky to me. The installation work had crude plaster effigies looking like props at a protest, situated in the middle of piles of international newspapers, some in bundles. One of the plaster busts seemed to be of Clinton--how risky. Hundreds of toy airplanes hung over the whole thing, creating an effect spoiled by other stupid toys --a small plush alligator--hanging with them. It was the kind of go-crazy with toys in a loose uninspired environment that was commonplace in the US 25 years ago.
Just making it out of the Bancroft gate before it was locked, I walked round to view the scene from the area of front doors. There you are greeted by a grinning, larger-than-life, fun-house cartoon Chinaman statue standing on the floor by the desk. In a gallery right behind it you see a large wall work of another Chinese face also grinning dementedly. Regardless of the artists' original intentions, what works like these mean in this context is rather difficult to miss. In an institution where white students have been replaced as both the majority and the dominant influence by students of predominantly Chinese extraction, the art works appear to wear the impudent grin of a poor sport who has finally won the game.

The cookie worked its magic as I continued uphill, my circulation rushing. A recent virus had left me somewhat diminished in vigor and, by College avenue, in need of a rest. I noticed some rustic benches in a little landscape in front of a tony restaurant on the corner. A waiter inside watched me come up and sit down without any apparent annoyance. Slightly overwhelmed for a moment, I caught my breath while looking the place over.
The building was in the Berkeley-as-Disneyland style, a style that conjures castles and Renaissances faires, fantasy structures for the endless childhood of scholars. This one has a shapely slate roof and I slowly became fascinated looking up over it at a tall beech tree, yellow leaves of autumn always moving in the light wind. I experienced what I take to be the state of being described by the Buddhist word sunyatta or suchness. My contemplation verged on becoming. As I leaned my head back a little more to look up at the blue sky a gleaming red jet leaving a red vapor trail crossed my mind.

So, upward, I continued my climb. To the Piedmont crosswalk where a huge silver truck was slinking by. I crossed over to reach the little balcony spot where the view of the Golden Gate is best. Not only was someone already there in the sweet spot, but the huge dumb truck, driven by a huge black guy who was involved in a personal call on his cell phone, pulled up and stopped just short of the view. Nevertheless the view remained, with room for all.
A profound wine-color pervaded the sunset over the bridge, the Bay shown steel blue the atmosphere contained in it like a moire mirror. In this translucent sky two bright beacons hung together ahead of the stars--Jupiter and Venus, at an angle to make them seem close together to the eye. Moreover, in this same Western firmament lowered the big bright hoop of a moon, looking like a carved-out coin with just a ridge left to it. Cosmic coins at varying distances in the imagination dropping into a glass of burgundy held by the Gate.
I stood there and then sat on an outdoor bench for quite some time. People coming and going would catch the view and stand in wonderment for all of a second before hurrying on. Next, I shoved-off along Piedmont to walk along a local civil war battlefield--the old Oak Grove.
It is today a shocking debacle to one once familiar with that formerly peaceful and benign arbor. With the exception of a few marginal decorative trees, it is now a clear-cut. Stubble and rubble surround a tower of chain link fencing wrapped in big plastic sheeting printed with the emblems and likenesses of Cal's football warriors.
The Oak Grove cemetery is the name of the location where my father is buried back in my hometown in Massachusetts. My associations with the phrase are now doubly sad.
Massive barbed wire fencing surrounds this new emptiness all the way to the iconic bear sculpture at the far end of the phantom grove. All that would be needed now to compound this cruelty, would be for the funding to build the advanced sports training facility to fall apart. But naturally there are always funds for things war-like in our late-Romanesque empire.
Yet I go undaunted. I sneaked a leak near the bear monument and moved on, through the Michael and Alice Cronk gate and down precipitous stairs into campus. Various framing of the planets and moon caught my eye as I meandered downhill and lingered a while at the Campanile plaza. An Indian family at the view spot, digging the sunset and the moon, were elated when I pointed out the planets to them. Then an old couple came up to ask which planet was which from the guy whom they heard "knows about planets."

In the early darkness of late November, fondly retracing old lines of behavior, I headed indoors for something warm by the reading lamp. Music on the radio became a catalyst to further explorations in my inner life.

(This column was written and edited with the aid and enhancement of having consumed a prescription cookie and two cups of coffee.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Gift From God

How I love to walk over to my Patients Care Collective and stock up on high quality cannabis to help with pain and infirmity and increase enjoyment of life...

In May of 2005 I walked down a block to a Durant avenue building I had passed a thousand times before. It's a white-painted red-brick building on the corner of Ellsworth and it houses the offices of Dr. Frank, a general practice physician. He had also been a pioneer in recommending marijuana to some patients. He did this only after undertaking studies in the clinical application of cannabis for people with serious illness. He and another Berkeley doctor who has since passed away, were the first in California to make such recommendations. This was in the face of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency threat to revoke licenses of any doctor who so followed the will of the people to enable ill people to access this efficacious and harmless herbal medicine.
I had been diagnosed with chronic illness approximately six months prior and I was in transformation from my old unhealthy behavior into a new way of life. I had long been accustomed to regular light use of marijuana. In countless ways have I felt its benefits.
The only unintended side effect I can think of is a restless or insomniac mood following on from sudden unavailability.
The two most widely-known and unarguable propensities of one who ingests this plants active ingredient are appetite and enjoyment of food, and a tendency to sleep deeply and soundly after its use. Nutrition and sleep are the two fundamental ways the body heals and endures, what benefits to person, what a disaster when either is disturbed or lacking for any length of time.
The inclination toward dreaminess, toward over-imaginativeness--I say, so what? Not your cup of tea? Fine but deny or ridicule others this beneficent state. he experience is not like many people's memories of it from college--smoking in groups and acting somewhat silly. When you are older it is more like, you feel better and life is more interesting.
I see endless cupidity in the media concerning how many issues are reported. Many people who disagree with prevailing philosophies of so called vital national interest are usually characterized as extreme outsiders in blatant ideological biased language. The "far left" is one term often used. Another such cliche that one sees even in a paper such as the Onion that endorses stoner movies and music, that runs many cannabis-related ads and so forth, is "pot-addled" for anyone who has ingested any amount of marijuana. This is the very regrettable stereotype that people who should and do know much better gleefully perpetuate that allows the willfully ignorant to corn-plaster their lack of conscience for the many people who are persecuted, fleeced and jailed for possession of a bountiful and beneficial plant. For me the image popularized by Cheech and Chong is as unwanted a legacy as the ones popularized by Amos and Andy.

Reputedly, in the wake of Dr Frank and others like him who took substantial risk in first recommending cannabis, some doctors have arrived who are less strict about a patient's need. That has never been the case when I go to see him for a yearly examination. On my first visit, a careful examination of my medical records, was followed by a physical exam, and in-depth conversation that lasted for 45 minutes--unlike the usual 10 to 15 minutes my regular clinic visits generally last--I left with a letter from him recommending medical marijuana for my condition. This signed, dated and stamped document legally entitled me to purchase, possess, or grow marijuana for my personal use for the following year.

Next, I followed what I thought was the route as planned and went next to downtown Oakland to obtain an ID card. I had read that a few blocks that had just come to be called Oaksterdam in honor of the city that has led the world in normalization of marijuana use by adults-- Amsterdam. Downtown Oakland can be daunting to an infrequent visitor on a bland day--let alone that day as I conducted such heady business. A few street cats were around, inevitably drawn to any action spot with any potential for them no doubt. Without much bother I obtained a Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative card at the address I had been given by the doctor's receptionist. There was a solicitous headshop concern out front and a rather more taciturn office scene around back where you were photographed and laminated. I saw others delighted by their felicitous fate--some middle-aged, some quite young. If some were not really seriously ill, it matters not in the larger picture--there's no harm in its use--but it did make me wonder how long the forces of repression can be held off if they can make that case effectively.
I think anyone over the age of 16 healthy or not should be able to enjoy marijuana if they so desire.
Recent studies have proven that young folks who smoked pot in high school had better grades and better social adjustment, rather the opposite results that the bugaboos would have you swallow. Smart young people tend to love marijuana--hence the indelible association it has with college education. And as everyone has seen countless times young stoned people love to socialize-- passing the smoking vessel about and laughing, listening to music together, munching food together, kissing on and on.
Sure troubled loners and others who may be seeking self-obliteration in intoxication made add marijuana to their menu, but marijuana alone is the slowest boat to oblivion that there is. The fastest and most widely destructive vehicles are meanwhile available at every convenience store, it seems--tobacco and alcohol. You can get a tank of gas at the same time.

The Oaksterdam trip seemed to be geared to funnel you into their dispensary around the corner--I think it was in that great blue tile Art Deco building that I recall as a florist shop. I am certain that it is not an unrewarding place to buy leafy materials now either--but I beat it back toward Berkeley. When I do transact, I usually buy enough stash to last a while and, for my thinking, neither cash nor stash mix well with public transportation in jolly old Oakland.
I had in fact seen a one-time ad in a San Francisco alternative newspaper for a place boasting eighty varieties of high quality buds all priced at a mere $40 per eighth ounce. At long last, a legal, dependable supply of affordable high-quality herb, in my lifetime: it appeared a dream had come to pass. I had taped the clipping in my address book at the time. This was where I was determined I would investigate the next day--the fabulous and storied treasury of herbs, The Green Cross, already glowing.

The tale told by this column will continue soon.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ode to Joy

Election night erupted in joy and relief on Bancroft way, my colleague Joe was over at my pad to witness history...

When I look into Barack Hussein Obama's face I see no evil there. I regard the Republican party, on the other hand, as a conspiracy of traitors with an agenda of unbridled white-collar criminality. Their enablers, the Democrats, are guilty by association. The Republicans bulldoze throguh tax cuts for the wealthy; the Democrats make a show of resistance but then, wealthy themselves, ultimately benefit from the cuts. Bad cop, nice cop comes to mind.
The last president to talk about the environmental crises and the unsustainable way of life that necessitated radical changes in society was a Democrat--Jimmy Carter. (Of course a more recent vice-president did so as well, even making it the horse he now rides in on.) The obvious truth of Carter's statements was vehemently denied by demagogic cynics, many of them elected to office but in the employ of the same poisonous industries who endlessly profit from the degraded status quo. Without questioning their short-sighted selfish motives, the American public was having none of this "lowered expectation" stuff. Apparently one would have to pry their SUVs, big screen TVs, disposable consumables, wasteful bad diet, large heated rooms, and inexhaustible electronics from their cold dead hands before one could expect any substantial change. Maybe slapping a "Save the Planet" bumper sticker next to your exhaust pipe would help.

The most ruthless of these cynical politicians were the Neo-cons, arch-Zionists all. They were able to seize power in 2001, after an election was stolen by the new total surveillance society's insidious machines. Money and vicious reprisals enabled the plutocracy to demand utter fidelity from the moral voids they puppet-mastered into office. Then the core villains who had grabbed the reins of moral turpitude green-lighted the attack that took place 11 September 2001. They had turned their backs on the warning signs and silenced any Paul Revere-types who might "fuck with their hustle" in Louis Armstrong's immortal phrase.
This administration immediately put into motion long-standing plans to invade and occupy Iraq. They bullied any and all into their march to war. Accompanying this was their scam to gut the constitution and to make the president into a dictator. Couple this with a steady massive transfer of the public wealth into the hands of the wealthy, removal of all public protection regulation through new laws or neglect of the old ones. At the same time they threw fuel on cynical wedge issues whereby the populace was pitted against itself over personal religious and reproductive matters and by means of atavistic racial resentment.

Think about what all those same-sex couples in Massachusetts and San Francisco are doing on their honeymoons! After all isn't that morally worse than bombing civilians, imprisonment without trial, or torture? The Israel lobby wants us to add a war with Iran to our things-to-do list? Well, didn't Ahmadinejad say he wanted to destroy the State of Israel which is only the fouth greatest military power in the world. Does the US not owe the Israelis a debt that cannot be payed? After the State of Israel has done so much for us, by inventing all that surveillance technology like lethal smart fencing, and by providing experts to do things run airports like Logan in Boston! Graciously they have accepted mere billions every year from the US and are our greatest partner in the endless struggle against "Islamo-fascism" in the "War on 'Terror.'" After all! A parade of experts appeared ant-like across the broadcast waves of America to agree with this sound assessment of our national interest. And if a hurricane hits your town or your city's bridge is collapsing, well the government had other spending priorities.

So into this hellish dystopia, came a calm, thoughtful mulatto politician in his mid-forties. Tall thin and attractive, he was a freshman senator from Illinois. He had given a speech prior to his election, and stated that, while he did not oppose all war, he strongly opposed a dumb war like this. To paraphrase the old saying, no one ever got elected by over-estimating the intelligence of the American people--but, God is merciful, fortunately Barack Obama did not.

I didn't vote in this historic election, but I considered it. In the end it was apparent that it would be a big turn-out on a long ballot--too much trouble just to vote for Ralph Nader again. In 1992 I voted for the Democrat against Bush the first, since then it's been Nader with a previous abstention from voting in 2004. I just saw Nader in one of the rare moments in this campaign when he was allowed to speak on television. He addressed the "bail-out" calling it the vast transfer of the public wealth to the privately wealthy, which is of course all this administration has ever done. This was W.'s parting shot. I agreed with every word he said. How could I then vote for Obama whom I agree with 10% of the time, when I agree with Nader 90% of the time? However I certainly would have if I thought Barack needed my vote to win.

Way back in 1980, I went to some trouble in order to vote for Carter's re-election. On the way home, and still before the polls closed, I learned from a voice on the BART intercom that he had conceded. It was not a pleasant experience at all. But I, in turn, did not mind hearing this Tuesday night as I put away the dinner dishes at barely 8 o'clock, that the GOP contender-- "that one"-- had thrown in the bloody towel.
Joey Know was over and we had lifted some big bottles of Kilt Lifter, a Scottish-style ale from Marin that lives up to its name. I had also rolled and we had puffed one of my one Club paper shorties rolling a blend of several varietals of high quality medicine.
I just started to whistle as loud as I could when from every direction in the neighborhood a mass vocalization of utter relief and joy just welled-up and louder and louder. I threw open all my big old-fashioned windows and unplugged the TV. We cheered along with every person in the vicinity. Instantly, Bancroft way and this end of Telegraph avenue were closed to traffic as the streets not only filled but over-flowed. More and more people came running uphill from downtown where a rally had started but was being absorbed in this direction..
The continuous cheering, and whistling, and shouts of "O-BA-MA" continued to build, higher and higher, and it didn't subside for more than an hour. The feeling in the air was an electric zeitgeist, a spirit of deliverance from presiding evil and dread.

As I whistled and yelled out of my bathroom window, my reading glasses flew out of my pocket. We wasted a minutes outside looking for them before deciding it could wait-- we had to join the flow. The exhilaration just kept growing as crowds kept coming up the street.There was a center to it, half the way up to Telegraph, but it appeared to just be the bee-hive effect occurring among the predominantly student-aged crowd--it was just pure vibing and swarming. I heard someone shout "We're sick of those fucking Republicans!" But it wasn't a political rally as much as spontaneous expression of emotion. Joking on my doorstep, I held up my finger and said in a weak voice, "But McCain had some good ideas..." Everyone who looked twice to see if I was putting them on laughed either way.

It may be too much hope. It may be something fleeting, bound to fall. And it may contain some hysteria, but perhaps that can be understood. It was happening just down the street from John Yoo's office at UC's Boalt Hall law school. It was Yoo who argued so forcefully for torture and dictatorship, let us not forget. UC still uses his name in their fund-raising as an important White House connection. The end to this cruel and despotic rule was an instinctive democratic wish fulfilled.

What can Obama can accomplish, given the nakba (disaster) he's being handed? I trust him not to disgrace us and, to to the extent he is able, to protect us from the depredation of the rapacious dinosaurs of end times capitalism. That deeds create destiny, it is to me completely inarguable. To the extent that a nation can be said to have a collective karma, the election of an African-American to its highest office is good for America's karma. It is as well a healing for the whole wide world.