Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On the publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the rise of literacy during the Industrial Revolution

A Facebook friend posted an old link from The Economist magazine on Mary Shelley whose birthday it was. She prefaced it with "When Frankenstein was published only 10% of people could READ and WRITE, /there is a big historical tell."
The Economist,  August 30, 2016 · The author of “Frankenstein”—who was born on August 30th 1797—was marked out from the beginning. As a child, Mary Shelley was intensely interesting to intellectuals for being the creation of an anarchist political philosopher, William Godwin, and a feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, who died—like Dr Frankenstein?— in giving life.  Mary Shelley: complex and unpredictable, a woman of hidden fires. The poet was born on this day in 1797 The Economist 
The 10% literacy rate figure grated upon what I knew of 18th and 19th c. England. So I said: That's not entirely true. It is estimated that literacy was about 12% worldwide. And how would anyone ever be able to figure that out? It's some scholar's guesstimate.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017



Rather than living in a Confederacy of Dunces,
it seems as if we are living in a nation of idiots
with a jester-in-chief & there's no consolation prize.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

My morning resting bitch face

In my nicest morning (I'm not awake) resting bitch face, I explained to a neighbor who had blocked the driveway to the garages with her car without leaving a note, that my partner didn't know it was her car, and so, had to park the car way down the hill, as it's a cleaning day.

As I was explaining the situation, (I was sweeping the steps) and not gratuitously grinning at her at the same time, she snarled, and called me a bitch. And when I laughed it off, while still sweeping the steps, it made her madder yet.

Apparently I am also a troll. And I haven't even had my second cuppa tea yet. Now, the resting bitch face is the real deal. And the steps and driveway are really, really clean! LOL. The thing is, I was actually very restrained (for me). She has no idea of what I'm capable of....heh. I tend to avoid conflict. Until I don't. Then I'm all in. Next time, I'll just be my usual snarlly self. Save the bother.

She was spoiling for a fight. She's always been rude to me whenever I say hi, so I no longer interact. She actually said I was messing with the wrong woman. I said Likewise, I'm sure. 

I believe self-righteous indignation is the mantle she's wearing. I needed to step out of the verbal circle sooner, even though she was the aggressor. I think she wasn't expecting me to talk back. Now that makes me laugh!

And ultimately it has to do with the fact that I don't readily engage in the rules of superficial social etiquette. Yeah, and I don't do small talk well on a good day....  At least not before my third cuppa. She's never liked me, which doesn't help matters. Because she's been rude in the past, I often act like she's not there—but I do mutter under my breath....

We're 10 cottages sharing the same driveway, but she doesn't have a garage, so her parking in the driveway to avoid a cleaning ticket, I get. But not the rudeness. She thought I was rude. So it was a preemptive strike on her part. But I could care less. Which made her madder yet, hence the taunts. As if name-calling actually worked.

I didn't say anything denigrating, or hostile, not even once. I just refused to engage in her rules. And yes, I do talk to myself, I mutter under my breath...which drove her nuts. Apparently she didn't get the message that I was born under a sarcastic sign. I'm not a fire dragon for nothing. It's a good thing she's not the thought police. Or she would've really gotten a real earful.

Must be the post eclipse-alistic blues, or there are far too many planets in retrograde.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Bread & Roses certificate of appreciation

I worked for Bread & Roses at the end of the 1970s through the early 1980s; I've been singing in the holiday chorus for nearly a decade, and I sometimes volunteer at the booth at the Kate Wolf Festival. This is the first time I've ever received a certificate of appreciation. Wow! Thrilled. Tickled, even. Ironic, also, in that I was the resident in-house calligrapher for Mimi Fariña, and times have evolved since then. Now a Mac can mimic calligraphy. My calligraphy teacher was a student of Lloyd Reynolds. Another odd note: Steve Jobs attended Lloyd Reynolds' calligraphy classes at Reed, which impressed him so much, that it became the design face of Macs, ushering in the desktop revolution. Full circle.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Gettin' jiggy with 23andme

On DNA testing and the idea racial "purity", it seems that many of the alt-right folks have some bones to pick with DNA genetic sequencers upon finding, shall we say, alt-white in their family trees. Call it family weeds and grafts on the old family tree. Or alt-right vs. alt-white in the family tree. Gettin' jiggy with 23andme.
...if you traffic in alt-right circles, proving your ‘whiteness’ is essential. ...members of the movement are using genetic testing to “prove their whiteness” to win bragging rights within the movement and establish their place in the American white elite. —23andMe: Alt-right mistaken, DNA tests can’t ‘prove their whiteness’
White nationalists are flocking to genetic ancestry tests to prove their superior whiteness so they can be bona-fide -toting members of the big-daddy white supremacist racist organization, Stormfront, that promulgates racial hatred. But some Alt-rightists don’t like what they find. So they keep retesting or reinterpreting the findings until they get the results they want. One way of coping with extra family tree branches is to reject all genetic ancestry testing with the mirror test:
(“When you look in the mirror, do you see a Jew? If not, you’re good”) were better tests of racial purity, some suggested. Others offered up conspiracies about DNA testing companies led by Jews: “I think 23andMe might be a covert operation to get DNA the Jews could then use to create bio-weapons for use against us.” —When White Nationalists Get DNA Tests That Reveal African Ancestry
But my personal favorite is this one:
“Sweetheart, you have a little black in you,” the talk show host Trisha Goddard told Craig Cobb. But that didn’t stop him from redoing the test with a different company, trying to alter or parse the data until it matched his racist worldview." —White nationalists are flocking to genetic ancestry tests. Some don’t like what they find
The Irish, and the Italians were once considered to be alt-white and denied citizenship based upon race and religion. Add Portuguese, Poles, Spanish and Greeks to that list. (Or any Catholic, or Jewish immigrant group.) 

But what's most frightening is how the accuracy of the DNA test results are are explained away with a distorted white-nationalist interpretation of history. "For example, the mixing of DNA in a region would be explained by the heroic conquest of Vikings. Or a white female ancestor was raped by an African man." (White Nationalists) Call it alt-history After the election of Trump, the ultra right-wing white supremacists are crawling out of the woodwork and they are swarming. Where will they land next?

Oh, how the world burns.
from a FB post, rev. 8/19

Monday, August 14, 2017


He said: I will break
you. Too late, I am shattered
well beyond repair.

But I'm the willow
resilient stems weeping
on the farthest shore.

I spend the morning
writing of Paul's last concert.
We knew all the words.

Now I've none at all
Summer fog filled with useless
tears, laden with anguish.

His apology
like spitting in the ocean.
Sky mirrors my thoughts.

White bridge, a life-line
shrouded shore of no return.
Barricaded heart.

An act of selfless
preservation, or fear?
Run from the enemy.

Who says: I will break
you, expecting no resistance?
The picket line crossed.

I have no words left.
No tears to soften the heart,
this final trespass.


Friday, August 11, 2017


Classmate Steve Tristano in Oregon 1952-2015

We were in 2nd grade, Mrs Burge had left the room,
Lennie's son, Steve Tristano climbed up
onto the piano bench to bang out a boogie woogie,
we were all rocking out—until she returned.
Busted. Instead of praising him, she raged
and let out an anachronic scream
that ripped open the fabric of the universe.
The planets cowered as Steve took the brunt of her anger.
In that way, we knew jazz was bad, very bad.
A siren call, a farewell to arms. An addiction.
And with that, Steve slipped off his moorings a bit—
the descent into darkness had begun.


Tristano & Son (Amie Street)
Sutton & Tristano

Defiant Fruitcakes

Filed under "Lost Desserts" Hundred-Year-Old Antarctic Fruitcake Found in 'Excellent Condition Conservators with Antarctic Heritage Trust have uncovered a perfectly preserved fruitcake that dates back to Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova expedition, which began in 1910.
A curious headline made me think of my Victorian grandmother who made fruitcake, or steamed pudding, every fall for Christmas gifts. It did seem like they would keep forever. I guess that Hundred-Year-Old Antarctic Fruitcake Found in 'Excellent Condition is proof enough.

When the nights began to draw in, my grandmother would haul out the dried fruit she had stockpiled in the closet, usually three types of raisins, including tiny tart currants, and golden sultanas; sometimes she had dried figs, prunes, or Medjool dates; candied ginger, and the prerequisite jars of preserved glacéed fruit—a mixture of citrus, citron (candied melon peel) and candied cherries. (She used to make glacéed fruit from scratch—I remember helping her make candied orange rinds.) She'd gather kidney suet for the lard. And a bottle of port.

We'd crack pecans and walnuts from 25-pound bags, tossing the buggy ones in the fire along with the shells. They'd sizzle and hiss like snakes as we gazed into the fire while she told me stories.

In Ireland, Valencia oranges were a special Christmas gift. They arrived from Spain wrapped in foil, and were cherished right down to the rind. Dried raisins and nuts were hard to come by, and spices were a luxury few could afford, so women hoarded the ingredients, when they could get them, for that special steamed Christmas pudding or wedding cake. In Ireland, wedding cakes are traditionally fruitcakes: a symbol of wealth and abundance.

The key ingredients of the fruitcake were part of a curious family history. They were foot soldiers marching in an act of defiance against unjust land laws. During the 1920s, Asians and Indians, ineligible for US citizenship, couldn't own farmland in California. This made my Irish grandfather angry, so he bought farmland in Fresno for his friend Jahn Singh, and held the land title to circumvent the unjust alien land laws. 

Every autumn Jahn Singh remembered our family with bushels of fruits and nuts.  My grandmother would receive crates of oranges, raisins, pecans and walnuts as payment for the Fresno farmland that my grandfather had bought for Jahn. 

When the anti-Japanese California Alien Land Laws of 1913, and of 1920, also known as the Webb-Haney Act, were repealed in the 1950s, my grandfather turned the land title over to Jahn Singh. 
The law prohibited "aliens ineligible for citizenship " from owning agricultural land or possessing long-term leases over it. It affected the Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Korean immigrant farmers in California....The California Alien Land Law of 1920 continued the 1913 law filling many of its loopholes... the leasing of land for a period of three years or less was no longer allowed; owning of stock in companies that acquired agricultural land was forbidden; and guardians or agents of ineligible aliens were required to submit an annual report on their activities. —Wiki
Something ancient was evoked as my grandmother assembled the ingredients. Making fruitcake was a many day affair, from making the candied fruit, to shelling the nuts, and soaking the dried fruit.

My grandmother soaked the dried fruit overnight in port, or rum. Next morning, she sifted the flour with baking soda, and a litany of spices (equal parts cinnamon, ginger, and a scant measurement of nutmeg, allspice, clove and mace) to coat the dried fruit and nutmeats. Then she doused the dry mixture with a mixture of creamed butter, eggs, brown sugar and molasses. During Prohibition, bootleg whiskey was used to soak the dried fruit if a bottle port couldn't be finagled from the church stores.

My grandmother mixed the ingredients up with her large knotted hands in vast ceramic vats, standing over them like a field marshall. The round, and half round cake pans were already well greased and the bottoms lined with oiled brown paper bags.

She filled the cake pans to the brim (fruitcake doesn't rise), tamping them down on the table with soft thuds to dislodge any air bubbles. Then she placed the cakes in three tiers on tall racks inside the vast aluminum canning pot half-filled with water. The canning pot was a modern day version of the cauldron. It double-trouble, boiled and bubbled. 

The fruitcakes were steamed atop the stove for several hours, they were never baked in the oven. The stem vent atop the canning pot lid, with its three roller latches, chattered a little song and dance into the evening hours as I drew pictures with my finger on the steamy kitchen windows dripping with condensation. By the way, fruitcake, a steamed pudding, is a medieval dish, pretty much unchanged across the centuries. 

Once the fruitcakes (or steamed pudding) had cooled overnight, there was a bathing ritual (in whiskey) a swaddling ritual (wrapped in thin muslin or in cheesecloth) and a cloaking ritual (in tinfoil), before they were placed in their air-tight Christmas tins. They needed to be carefully tended during the first few months, dressed and bathed every few days until they ripened. She kept a few extra fruitcakes on hand to ripen, as fruitcake was deemed best when it was left to ripen (or ferment) at least 3 months, to a year, or longer. A union of space and time.

Fruitcake (aka figgy pudding) was never eaten fresh from the steamer. The flavors needed time to mellow and meld into a rich marriage of spiced goodness. Months, years, even. She had a few fruitcake that were ancient. Not 100 years old, but old enough. The time-defying secret was in the ritual bathing in booze. Fruitcakes were unwrapped to receive an annual anniversary bath of booze to preserve them, then rewrapped, placed in tins, and stored in dark cupboards. And later, the back of the refrigerator.

Whenever unexpected guests came over, she'd bring out thin slices of the dense, boozy, nut-studded fruitcake, along with the pot of Irish tea and whiskey. The thin fruitcake slices were like a rich mosaic of stained glass panes on the shining plates, Sadly, they wouldn't touch the fruitcake, perhaps thinking it was the commercial American version, a baked sawdust hockey-puck affair, studded with plastic candied citron and day-glo cherries, so she eventually quit making it. And I never thought to ask her for the recipe.

How did the fruitcake, something once so opulent, and made with love, become such a hated symbol of the holidays? The substitution of facsimile ingredients: rancid nuts, inferior dried fruit, and the prerequisite jars of commercial glacéed fluorescent fruit that swept the market during the 60s and 70s, directly led to the fruitcake's fall from grace. The honeymoon was over. Americans said, Let's call the whole thing off. Another tradition bit the dust. And the very word was beggared and denigrated to an insult of insanity: She's a real fruitcake.

It must've made my grandmother sad to let go of such a venerable tradition, to let die a family labor of love that was passed down the generations from her mother, and her mother's mother, in Ireland. A family heirloom. I still collect the fruitcake tins, though I haven't made a fruitcake, ever. None of my cousins would dream of making fruitcake today, My mother was not domestic, and all my aunts are gone now... no one left to carry on the tradition.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Mill Valley's Unknown Museum and the Gluers Junk Art Movement

Embedded in my hitchhiking blog post, was a small story on the Unknown Museum, time for its own post, something i've been resisting for years—then I found the old photos. This is still very much in progress... Also, I found some slides I took and I scanned them. I'll need to add them in. But you can visit the gallery I made on my Facebook page Nico Morris was able to ID most of the work.
In 1969, on the long coattails of the Summer of Love, at the age of 22, eccentric LA artist Mickey McGowan moved to Sausalito with nothing more than the proverbial shirt on his back. Penniless, he shared a studio with a friend, Rat Soup, at the Sausalito Art Center for $80 a month. 

"A lot of us had our first shows there, myself with my drawings. Rat Soup with his sculpture." To make ends meet, he slept in his car, or sometimes in the studio, and worked at the Trident kitchen for chickenfeed. "Every night Miles would stroll in and Janis, or Crosby, the mainstays of the place." (Marin Nostalgia). My mom, who was working at the Trident, between theater performances, said even Perry Como used to drop in. And of course, the Limelighters All, were in situ.

McGowan, taught himself to make shoes, called himself the Apple Cobbler, and set up a funky little shop in downtown Mill Valley in 1973, and soon was court shoemaker to the rockstars (Grateful Dead, the Doobie Brothers, The Tubes, Journey), artists, and fashionistas. His wild hand-stitched leather boots and quirky one-of-a-kind brocade boots festooned with doll heads and toy tanks were in high demand. 

Mickey also made non-functional art shoes. (Combat Boot Stepping Out Shoes in World Culture, on exhibit at SFO International Terminal until Nov. 12, 2017.) Mickey was a Marin City flea market regular, often seen collecting kitsch for his art shoes and assemblage art. The small accumulations of ephemera and knick-knacks decorating the shop corners soon became a monstrous collection threatening to engulf the shop.

Around 1974, McGowan, in need of larger digs, moved into an old 
radiator shop at 35 Corte Madera Ave., at the corner of Lovell, across from City Hall, in Mill Valley to house what later was dubbed "the world's largest private collection of pop cultural artifacts" (Paul Liberatore). He also took over Ted’s Richfield gas station next door. Mickey shared his low-rent garage-atilier ($200 a month) with a motley collective of psychedelic-era glue artists, and the Unknown Museum was born.

Mickey had teamed up with other like-minded junk artists, later dubbed “gluers” or glue-artists, Larkspur artist Dickens "44" Bascom, Larry Fuente, and David Best at the Sausalito Art Center. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A reflection on Women & Technology: James Damore's Google Manifiasco

It seems yet another Facebook post got the better of me (but not bested me), and my comments have manifestoed and manifestered into fodder for a blog post of sorts.

Wow! When I read Google engineer James Damore's Google manifesto argued that biological differences make women less apt to perform in the tech industry, I saw red. Biology has nothing to do with a lack of women in technology. Why it's a hot issue is because Damore's so-called 'manifesto" advances patently incorrect assumptions about harmful gender stereotypes. 

I have several relatives who are/were forefront in the field of technology. A cousin, key mathematician on the Manhattan Project, an aunt who did programming for IBM back in the early 1960s, cousins who work/ed for Apple, Pixar, Dropbox, etc. I happen to fix (or rebuild) the computers, and problem-solve all the software issues in our household, and for family and friends too. Not my male partner.

So, I'm quite sure competent women in the technology field are not an anomaly, nor the only reason why they're in the industry is solely because of equality, or affirmative action, as Damore suggests in his ten-page Alt-rightish manifesto. Alas it's couched with a request to open up dialogue—after taking potshots at women in general. The reason for the low numbers of women in the technology workplace is about discrimination at the grassroots level.

And for the record, among the first to create a computer program, to create a compiler, and create object-oriented programming were women. (See my list below).

BTW, I'm taking some flack over on Facebook from a few men for daring to counter their perceived male enclave, and swim with their sharktank mentality. One asshat had the audacity to ask me to stop posting on my own FB thread, thinking that I couldn't possibly a) have read said manifesto, and b) didn't understand or comprehend what it said.

I object to Damore's use of absurd clichéd gendered stereotypes to support his argument that enough women aren't in the technology field.Biology is not the reason why there are fewer women in the technology field. Discrimination is. 

KQED News, SF Gate, and Tech Insider paraphrased, but did not publish the memo, which you can read on Gizmodo, along with prefaces and an interesting epigram. What was more enlightening was a post from Yonatan Zunger, former senior Google employee: 
"So it seems that someone has seen fit to publish an internal manifesto about gender and our “ideological echo chamber.” I think it’s important that we make a couple of points clear.
(1) Despite speaking very authoritatively, the author does not appear to understand gender.
(2) Perhaps more interestingly, the author does not appear to understand engineering.
(3) And most seriously, the author does not appear to understand the consequences of what he wrote, either for others or himself.

It’s true that women are socialized to be better at paying attention to people’s emotional needs and so on — this is something that makes them better engineers, not worse ones. ...
And this is addressed specifically to the author of this manifesto.

What you just did was incredibly stupid and harmful. You just put out a manifesto inside the company arguing that some large fraction of your colleagues are at root not good enough to do their jobs, and that they’re only being kept in their jobs because of some political ideas.  Read the entire rebuttal at Medium.
(With much thanks to BizTech Insider's excellent article: Mothers of Technology: 10 Women Who Invented and Innovated in Tech)

Among the first to create a computer program, to create a compiler, and create object-oriented programming were women (in no particular order):
  • Ada Lovelace invented the world’s first computer algorithm. Lovelace was hired by Charles Babbage in 1843, to document his never-to-be-realized “computer,” the Analytical Engine, intended to count Bernoulli numbers. 
"Many persons who are not conversant with mathematical studies imagine that because the business of [Babbage’s Analytical Engine] is to give its results in numerical notation, the nature of its processes must consequently be arithmetical and numerical, rather than algebraical and analytical. This is an error. The engine can arrange and combine its numerical quantities exactly as if they were letters or any other general symbols; and in fact it might bring out its results in algebraical notation, were provisions made accordingly,” —Ada Lovelace
  • Dr. Erna Hoover invented a telephony switching computer program that kept phone lines functioning under stressful loads. Her 1971 patent for telephony technology was one of the first software patents ever issued. She developed on her idea while in the hospital after the birth of her second daughter. 
  • Common Business-Oriented Language, based on the FLOW-MATIC language, was invented by Grandma COBOL, Grace Hopper. Hopper was the first person to create a compiler for a programming language and one of the first programmers of the Mark I computer in 1949. The programmers of the ENIAC computer, were six women mathematicians; Marlyn Meltzer, Betty Holberton, Kathleen Antonelli, Ruth Teitelbaum, Jean Bartik, and Frances Spence. Adele Goldstine was one of the teachers and trainers of the six original programmers of the ENIAC computer in 1944. Hopper also popularized the term "debugging" from a moth fowling up the works. 
  • During WWII, Hedy Lamarr and composer George Antheil developed an Allied torpedo anti-jamming radio guidance system which utilized a spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology to defeat tampering by the Axis powers. The US Navy did not adopt the technology until the 1960s, but the principles were incorporated into Bluetooth technology, and legacy versions of CDMA and Wi-Fi.
  • Margaret Heafield Hamilton was Director of the Software Engineering Division of MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, which developed on-board flight software for the Apollo space program. In 1986, she founded Hamilton Technologies, Inc. The Universal Systems Language was based on her paradigm of Development Before the Fact (DBTF) for systems and software design.
  • Adele Goldberg was one of seven programmers that developed Smalltalk in the 1970s, one of the first object-oriented programming languages, and the base of today's current graphic user interface. Smalltalk was utilized by Apple to launch Lisa in 1983, and Macintosh in 1984. Windows 1.0 was launched in 1985. 
  • IT trailblazer Barbara Liskov of MIT, invented CLU, a programming language that was the foundation for object-oriented programming; Argus, a programming language, an extension of CLU, that supports distributed programs; and Thor, an object-oriented database system. Which led to the invention of Mac OS X, Objective-C, Visual Basic.NET and Java. 
  • Another object-oriented language, Simula 67, was created by Kristen Nygaard and Ole-Johan Dahl of the Norwegian Computing Center in Oslo. 
  • In 1985 Radia Perlman developed Ethernet technology. Her Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) made it possible to build massive networks by creating an innovative mesh network of layer-2 bridges—by disabling the links not part of that tree. This had a significant impact on network switches, thus making Perlman the Mother of the Internet. She has done extensive and innovative research, in the field of encryption and networking. 
  • Mary Lou Jepsen co-founded and served as chief technology officer of MicroDisplay in 1995, and created the small display screen. She also headed the display division at Intel, until she co-founded One Laptop Per Child. She invented the X O, the lowest-power, and lowest cost green notebooks ever made. She is the the founder of Pixel Qi. 
  • Meg Whitman is President and CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise. 
  • Then there's Marissa Mayer, Google’s first female engineer. Mayer, who stepped down as President and CEO of Yahoo! when it was sold to Verizon, was Google’s first female engineer. She led product management and engineering for Google Maps, Local Search, Google Earth, Street View and Latitude. Her user interface designs and product vision placed Google at the forefront as the leading web, mobile, and search engine company. 
“The number one most important thing we can do to increase the number of women in tech is to show a multiplicity of different role models," Mayer said in article for The Huffington Post. “The stereotype of that very complete and rigid picture of what being a computer scientist means really hurts people's understanding and ability to identify with the role and say, ‘Yes, this is something I can be in and want to be in.’”

Yeah, please mansplain to me again Mr. Damore, or is it Mr. Want (I am entitled to) Damn More, why women don't belong in technology because of "biological differences." You got your 15 minutes of fame. The Alt-right is rolling out the Breitbart carpet.

Women in Computing
Mothers of Technology: 10 Women Who Invented and Innovated in Tech
Google Fires Engineer Who Wrote Memo Questioning Women in Tech
Contra Grant On Exaggerated Differences
Fired Google engineer who wrote controversial memo sues tech firm
Google engineer James Damore, fired over gender memo, sues company

Friday, August 4, 2017


My mom had a Burmese-Abyssinian cat,
called Cantinflas, after an old friend,
who was fascinated by water.
He lounged in the tub, a dark comma,
and watch us with jade eyes.
He'd serenade us with a rough song.
Or take a dip when we were bathing.
The toilet, the tub, and the kitchen sink
were his stage.