Meat Parade Memories

August 4, 2009

“Great idea,” I said to my friend John when he proposed that we enter a meat-themed float in the “How Berkeley Can You be?” parade and cover it with meat-grilling, meat-gnawing, cigarette-smoking freaks dressed in leather and fur, spewing clouds of charcoal smoke, under a banner reading PETA: People Eatin’ Them Animals. “Great idea, except we might get killed. Those peace-loving Berzerkeley moms will rip us to pieces.

“We need our own protest marchers,” I suggested. “We’ll field our own counter-demonstration.” And thus was born the VegetAryan movement, a brave cadre of brown-shirted, jack-Birkenstocked, sign-waving, slogan-chanting thugs, violently opposed to all things carnivorous and willing to disrupt the “meat people” by any means necessary.

Thanks to the efforts of DocumentAryan Puzzling Evidence, we can now enjoy the thrills and (grease) spills of this epic confrontation and its sequel (“Meat People II: Straight to Video”), in which we returned to the streets of Berkeley the following year with more meat, more fur, more cigarettes thrown to children, more pig heads on stakes, more Read the rest of this entry »

White House Beer Summit

August 1, 2009

abc_obama_gates_rowley_090723_mnIn one of the biggest non-stories of the year, President Obama met yesterday with the principals in the soon-to-be-forgotten but currently-notorious, racially-charged, violently overblown incident up in Cambridge, in which a black Harvard professor was arrested for disorderly conduct after allegedly breaking into his own home after a trip abroad, and not reacting well when the police were called in. Our usually well-spoken Chief Executive, remarking that the police had acted “stupidly” in the affair, found himself promptly tasting shoe leather, and hastily invited Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley to the White House to discuss the matter “over a beer,” and perhaps turn bad PR into good PR by creating a “teaching moment” for the Nation. In other words: desperate spin control.

The resulting “Beer Summit,” covered in exhaustively shallow detail by the national media, was frought with symbolism, intentional and otherwise. As a so-called Beer Expert, I feel the need to step in as an analyst, and help you decipher the Story behind the story.  Because while the event may have been nothing more than a feel-good photo-op, the beer selections of the participants say a lot about race and class in this country, and the perceptions of our perceptions about race and class.  So let’s take a look at exactly which beers were called in to grace the nation’s highest picnic table on that fateful afternoon…

President Obama’s beer choice: Bud Light. The message: “I don’t really like beer, but I don’t want to come off as an elitist, wine-drinking douche, so I’ll order the best-known brand in America and hope I poll as a regular Joe, albeit watching his weight.”  The sub-subtext: “I’m still paying for that ‘guns-and-religion’ comment in the PA primary, and  I’m going to need Joe Sixpack on my side to get Health Care passed.”’s review of Bud Light: C (mediocre).

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Ghosts of Old New Almaden

July 15, 2009
Petra and Pascal Michel, my grea-great-grandparents from Sonora

The Michels, my great-great-grandparents

While I’m hardly a genealogy nut, I do consider myself the keeper of the keys when it comes to family history, and I try to keep opening old doors whenever I get the chance. One research trip that’s been on my list for way too long is a trip down to the New Almaden Mining Museum south of San Jose. According to my mom, her great-grandfather Pascal Michel worked there in the 1850s as a mining engineer, and I’ve always wanted to check the payroll records and get the full story. A few years back I phoned the museum and they confirmed that they had tons of records dating back to the early days, but they told me I’d have to come down and do the research myself – and only on a Saturday or Sunday.

Weekends are tough for me, since I usually work – but finally the planets lined up and I had the time, so I hit the road for the 90-minute drive down to the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. On the way down, munching a chorizo burrito and blasting Los Cenzontles to get me in the mood, I reflected on what I knew about Pascal Michel. A French Mexican, he was either born in or emigrated to Sonora, where he married Petra Murillo, an eductated girl from a good family in Hermosillo.  Mining was the family business, and he plied the trade in Sonora for some time before heading north. According to the stories, he and Petra started a family together down in Mexico, but all the kids from that first batch were wiped out in an epidemic, which had a lot to do with their decision to start over in Alta California.

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Take Me Out to the Bullfights

May 18, 2009

It’s not easy being a bullfight fan in California.  Sure, bloodless corridas are legal, but the Portuguese societies that sponsor them wisely choose to fly under the PETA radar, making them both hard to reach and hard to hear about unless you’re part of the community. Most of the venues are out in the dustiest corners of the Valley, in little farming towns that are hours from the cities. Most of the fights are on weeknights, conducted in Portuguese, and only written up in Portuguese newspapers. There’s a fan website in English, but it’s no longer being maintained, and the URL is up for sale. In other words, you’ve really got to love this sport if you want to see it.

And make no mistake, this is definitely sport. When a team of forcados leaps into the ring, eight brave men versus one angry bull, it’s like being catapulted back into the Stone Age, when bull-jumping and bull-baiting were some of the world’s earliest athletic spectacles.

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100 Great Stories

May 17, 2009

Because so many Top 100 lit lists are so full of crap, I’ve decided to make my own. No Proust, no Joyce, none of those put-you-to-sleep, emperor-has-no-clothes writers that we’re supposed to like but really don’t.  Just good ripping tales well told — works of fiction that I’ve read and enjoyed and can recommend. If you want to read any of them, great. If you want to argue about what’s on or not on my list, or recommend other titles that you think I ought to like, that’s also great. Friend me on if you really want to mix it up.  Anyway, here’s my list, sorted alphabetically by author. Enjoy!

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COVERT Number 1

May 9, 2009
artists rendering

Not an Actual Photograph

Like most of John Law’s events, it began with cryptic instructions: “We will be leaving from the Vaillancourt Fountain in Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco at 7:01 pm sharp. Look for the man in the Top Hat. Bring legal ID, $2.75 in quarters, and a flashlight.”  There was no indication of what we would be doing, other than the event name, ‘COVERT,” and John’s rich history of hosting off-the-grid excursions.

A veteran of the Cacophony Society and its predecessor, the Suicide Club, Law has organized everything from illicit bridge climbs to tours of undergound military facilities to elaborate street games. COVERT seemed to be in the tradition of the Suicide Club’s notorious “Into the Unknown” events, where the participants had no clue where they were going until they arrived.

Mrs. M and I arrived at the fountain at the appointed hour, and along with 48 other adventurers we were relieved of our cell phones, digital cameras, and all other electronic gear for the duration. No photos, no Tweets, no permanent record of the event was to be allowed, other than what we carried out in the folds of our puzzled little brains.

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A Brief History of Naughty

May 8, 2009

HawkingI’m probably going to Hell for this, or maybe I’ll just get sucked into a massive black hole, but I couldn’t stop myself from wondering what one of those dorky Penthouse letters would sound like if it was read by Professor Stephen Hawking.

I saw Dr. Hawking once on the streets of Berkeley, or someone who looked just like him, accompanied by a tall, rather sexy nurse in crisp white uniform. I remember thinking: “Way to go, Doc!” After all, his condition hasn’t stopped him from fathering three children. He’s a man, damn it, not just a disembodied brain with a speech synthesizer!

So here you go: a little soft-core pillow talk from the smartest man in the world. Enjoy!  Dear Penthouse

C28: Fundamentalist Fashion

February 10, 2009

c281You know how the car radio occasionally scans up a station that sounds like standard indie rock, with big guitar riffs and some guy singing about getting high, kicking ass, and falling in love? But then you listen for a minute and you realize he’s getting high on God, kicking Satan’s ass, and falling in love with Jesus? C28 is the rag-trade equivalent of that sneaky FM station, a retail chain selling faux-hip clothes and gear for young evangelicals who don’t want to dress like Mormon missionaries, but whose moms won’t let them shop at Hot Topic.

Poised between the godless Bay Area and America’s pulsing red heartland, I have a rare vantage-point from which to observe this sort of phenomenon. It’s called Sun Valley Mall, and it’s easy enough to find the C-28 store if you know what to look for. Just stand in front of Hot Topic, then look across the mallway to the store that looks just like it, only instead of being staffed by surly teens with clip-on nose rings, has a fresh-scrubbed cheerleader type working the door.

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Return of the Giant Beers

January 31, 2009

we-want-beerA friend texted me this morning: “All of us are going to the Bistro for the double IPA fest today.” I got all worked up for about 90 seconds, until I realized he was off by a week, and it’s not until next Saturday. Which is a workday for me. Damn.

If you’re fan of giant beers, the Double IPA Fest is the Super Bowl of tastings. Held at a little beer bar in Hayward, it’s the flagship event in this year’s SF Beerfest. I would so be there if I could. But since I can’t, I’ll have to make do with a few Plinys and maybe a Racer X down at my local pub to wash away the grief.

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Nixon’s Laughing in Hell

January 17, 2009



Can you feel a rumbling deep in the Earth? For once it’s not an underground nucular test or exploratory oil drilling. Down in that special level of the Inferno reserved for American presidents, a dark shade is laughing. “I was a crook,” he writes on the fiery blackboard for the zillionth time. “But I was not a jackass.”


It’s all but official: Richard Nixon is no longer the worst president in U.S. history. In an unexpected burst of evil energy, George W. Bush has exploded out of the pack like Lance Armstrong on Ritalin, and seized the flaming jacket from his predecessor. Soon enough in hell-time, Tricky Dick will find himself unstrapped from the Oval Orifice, downgraded to lesser punishments, and replaced atop the Fist of State by Bush the Younger.


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