Sunday, April 03, 2005

Better get ready, peaceniks

Opponents of the US invasion of Iraq better brace themselves, for it's beginning to look like it's going to be demonstrated that they are wrong---not about the prudence of the invasion or the case the government made for its necessity---but about both the morality and the practicality of defeating the insurgency. The US and its Iraqi allies in that civil war seem to be gradually getting the upper hand on the murderous insurgency. Those of us who hope the US is successful in Iraq---evidently a minority here in Progressive Land---have an unexpected ally in Ian McEwan, the English novelist. In the March 28 New York Observer, McEwan shared his thoughts with Adam Begley:

The occupation was a mess. An administration that never really believed in the power of the state was in a position of having to invent a state halfway around the world...I was sort of heartened by the elections. One of the most distasteful aspects of some corners of the left here---and I'm told it's true in the states, too---is that they are cheering on the insurgency. They would rather that democracy in Iraq fail than that Bush succeed, which is either deeply cynical or amazingly parochial politics. I don't give a toss about what happens to Bush's reputation, but I do care that there should be stability in Iraq. I want him to succeed.

Well put, and, yes, there are a lot of progressives in this country that hope the US fails in Iraq. If only for the welfare of the long-suffering Iraqi people, we should hope that the despicable insurgency is defeated. Still, McEwan has no illusions about the president's intellectual acumen: "When he talks, I have to remind myself that just because he's saying it doesn't mean it isn't true."

Granted that the president is no intellectual and that he seems almost chronically in over his head. But since when have intellectuals had a monopoly on the truth? Since never. In any event, it looks like President Bush is right and almost everyone else---including the sainted Noam Chomsky---is wrong about the Middle East: The occupation of Iraq, which, while much more difficult and costly than expected, is beginning to gain traction with the Iraqi people, as they inch their way toward a functional democracy. And the democracy bug seems to be catching in the Middle East: Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Palestinians have all moved in that direction in recent months. Historically, who is going to get credit for this? The annoying, smirking rube from Texas, the born-again Christian and right-wing president.

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The Chronicle and skinflint journalism

It must seem like a win-win deal for the SF Chronicle's editors: Recycle old columns by regular contributors, save some money, and you get more or less readable copy. More or less is the operative phrase here, since not even the columns of Herb Caen, master of three-dot journalism, hold up very well on repetition. Caen's daily columns often captured and expressed a moment in the life of the city perfectly, but they lose a lot with the passage of time. Ditto for Jon Carroll's retreads we're now faced with while he takes one of his vacations. This morning we even had a Lowell Cohn column---dubbed a "Chronicle Classic"---from 1985. Even worse, it was a whimsical sports column plunked down, oddly, in the middle of this mornings pink section. This is lazy editorial work, even if it does save the paper some money. In a city where so many claim to be writers, why not try out some fresh talent?


Sylvester and the Cockettes

DVD cover

While I'm in nostalgia mode, I'll deal with a newspaper clipping that's been cluttering up my desk since last month. On March 10 in the SF Chronicle, Joel Selvin reviewed a biography of Sylvester, star of what he called "the pansexual post-hippie troupe, the Cockettes." In 1970, a friend of a friend was a member of the Cockettes, and I got backstage before one of their shows at the old Palace Theater in North Beach. 

It was the only time I saw Sylvester perform, and it was unforgettable: he came out in full drag and sang a stirring rendition of the Mickey Mouse Club song to a large, appreciative audience. The show also featured the classic blue movie, Betty Blowjob, which was also well-received.

The Palace Theater was owned by a Chinese family, and, sure enough, several generations of the family, including children and old folks, were standing behind the last row of seats, eating popcorn and taking in the free show, a magic moment in the history of multiculturalism.

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HANC at 45

Congratulations to the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council on its 45th anniversary. (They couldn't wait for 50?) Their stylish anniversary handout asks the question, "45 Years of HANC: Is the Haight-Ashbury Any Different? You Decide." Yes, of course, the Haight is a much better place than it would be without HANC. The handout reminds us of the battles HANC has fought for the neighborhood: the anti-freeway battle, the struggle to rein in an imperial UC Med Center, the wonderful remodeling of Kezar Stadium (where, as a jogger, I now do my laps), the indispensable recycling center, keeping chain stores out of the Haight, etc.

Though not much given to nostalgia---the present is usually more interesting than the past---I enjoyed the old photos of the neighborhood in the handout. The 1957 picture of Kezar during a 49er game looks like the 1957 playoff game against the Detroit Lions. I was there that day as a 15-year-old. (Alas, the Niners collapsed in the second half and lost the game.) I was also in the Haight during the Summer of Love in 1967, living up on Frederick St. and working at a garment factory south of Market. "100,000 young people migrate to the Haight seeking peace, love, drugs, music, a new consciousness and new lifestyles," says the HANC handout. Yes, indeed. I didn't have much luck in the love department, but the music and the drugs were great. My political opponents might maintain that my consciousness remains unexpanded, psychedelics notwithstanding, and my "lifestyle"---hideous word!---is, as always, working class.

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