Iranian-American journalist Hooman Majd separates facts from fantasies about the Iranian protests

June 25, 2009                                                                                                                            Salon

"A friend once told me that I was the only person he knew who was both 100 percent American and 100 percent Iranian," writes Hooman Majd in his book on Iranian culture, "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran."

The consummate insider and outsider, Majd served as the English-language translator for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's now infamous 2006 speech at the United Nations, and also wrote about the experience for the New York Observer.

The son of an Iranian diplomat under the shah, and grandson of a powerful ayatollah, Majd grew up mainly in the United States where he worked for many years in the entertainment industry before launching his career as a journalist and author. Although openly linked with the reformists -- he wore green Iranian slippers on Bill Maher's program last week and has also translated for former President Mohammed Khatami (to whom he is related by marriage) -- Majd's views on Iran are distinguished by their nuance and fierce independence.... (more)

A big gay Mormon wedding

October 31, 2008                                                                                                                 Salon

The Church of Latter-day Saints has pumped millions into Proposition 8 to ban gay marriage. But for one devout family, the politics are personal. 

"Love each other, be selfless, negotiate," George E. Redd III said to his son Jay on his wedding day recently. Gazing at his 36-year-old son standing next to his beloved, in the Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco, Redd III quoted Paul, Ringo, John and George: "All you need is love, love is all you need."

It was hanky time inside the chapel, a cozy wooden Arts and Crafts building that could have been airlifted in from a village in Scandinavia, or perhaps the Shire. There's nothing like the father blessing the son at a wedding, with Irish folk musicians strumming in the background, to get the tear ducts flowing. Especially when the son's gorgeous spouse is another man.

A few weeks after the wedding, Jay, a movie director based in Los Angeles and San Francisco, told me that his father's Beatles reference had taken him totally by surprise.... (more)

Why Churches Fear Gay Marriage

 November 25, 2008                                                                                                 Salon

The crusade for Proposition 8 was fueled by the broken American family, explains gay Catholic author Richard Rodriguez

For author Richard Rodriguez, no one is talking about the real issues behind Proposition 8.

While conservative churches are busy trying to whip up another round of culture wars over same-sex marriage, Rodriguez says the real reason for their panic lies elsewhere: the breakdown of the traditional heterosexual family and the shifting role of women in society and the church itself. As the American family fractures and the majority of women choose to live without men, churches are losing their grip on power and scapegoating gays and lesbians for their failures.

Rodriguez, who is Mexican-American, gay and a practicing Catholic, refuses to let any single part of himself define the whole. Born in San Francisco in 1944 and raised by his Spanish-speaking Mexican immigrant parents to embrace mainstream American culture and the English language, he went on to study literature and religion at Stanford and Columbia. His first book, “The Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez,” explores his journey from working-class immigrant to a fully assimilated intellectual — angering many Latinos with his view that English fluency is essential. “Days of Obligation: An Argument With My Mexican Father,” which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1993, continued his investigation into how family, culture, religion, race, sexuality and other strands of his life all contribute to the whole, a complex “brownness” of contradictions and ironies. “Brown: The Last Discovery of America” completes the trilogy — but not his insatiable intellectual curiosity, which he is now shining on monotheism.

Rodriguez’ stinging critiques of religious hypocrisy are all the richer for his passionate love of Catholicism and the Most Holy Redeemer parish in San Francisco, where he and his partner of 28 years are devoted members. Today, Rodriguez is at work on a new book about the monotheistic “desert religions” — Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Ever since Sept. 11, “when havoc descended in the name of the desert God,” Rodriguez said in one of his Peabody Award-winning radio commentaries for PBS’s News Hour, he has been trying to understand the strands of darkness that run through these religions. (More)


Voyage to the top of the trees

June 8, 2007                                                                                                            Salon

Just as Jacques Cousteau opened up the oceans, amazing tree-climbers are discovering a new frontier in redwood canopies 35 stories above the forest floor. 

Flying around the planet via Google Earth, it’s easy to despair that there is nothing left for humans to discover. Having mapped every inch of the planet with satellites, we can type in London or Darfur or Redwoods National Park and see pigeons circling above Trafalgar Square, a tent city spreading out across the desert, or the green expanse of the forest canopy. This ability to instantly possess images of almost any place on any continent, to zoom in on a certain tree or building (hello, Dick Cheney!), then zoom out as if piloting a plane, can make the world feel like an entirely known quantity, bereft of mystery. 

Then comes Richard Preston’s thrilling, wondrous book “The Wild Trees.” Trees — the most familiar and beloved of all plants — turn out to be as unexplored by science as Tibet was by the West before Alexandra David-NĂ©el dressed as a man and sneaked over the Himalayas into the forbidden kingdom. The tree of life may be the archetypal symbol of the human experience, but we don’t know as much as we thought about the life of the tree — especially that of the redwood, the tallest species of tree on the planet. Higher than the W Hotel in downtown San Francisco, redwoods can grow to be 370 feet tall, and until very recently nobody thought, or dared, to climb them. 

But a new breed of tree-loving eccentrics — some of them are scientists, others have an almost mystical attraction to the species — has discovered a world above the forest floor, an aerial forest 250 feet aboveground teeming with biodiversity that is largely “undescribed” by science. “The forest canopy is the earth’s secret ocean,” Preston explains, “and it is inhabited by many living things that don’t have names, and are vanishing before they have even been seen by human eyes.” (More)


Cellph Portrait / Mobile Phone Photography Show at RX Gallery

May 28, 2004                                                                                                       SFGate

Inn the post Abu-Ghraib era of digital photography, what stands out about the Mobile Phone Photography Show at RX Gallery in the Tenderloin is the abundance of G-rated images: photo-booth-like head shots, portraits of kids and pets, quirky close-ups of half-eaten meals and untied shoelaces, dreamy landscapes, classic tourist attractions, silly signage -- in short, casual visual jottings from inside the quiteness of daily life.

 Another thing that stands out is the insubstantiality of the images, the sense of impermanence. This is not an exhibition of framed photographs to be purchased and hung on your wall, but a show that emphasizes the communication aspect of the new wireless photography, the thrill of zapping a photo to a friend in Brooklyn as you stand on a street corner in London. Who knows if you'll ever look at that photo again?

The cell phone is already the ultimate personal communication device, but now, in addition to sending voice and text messages, it can snap low-resolution photographs and, using the same wireless technology, instantly deliver them to e-mail in-boxes or "moblogs" (photo and text blogs updated via mobile phone) or to other cell phones -- making possible the continuous circulation of the visual documentation of one's life.

Not surprisingly, as Susan Sontag pointed out in her essay on the Abu Ghraib photos in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, this endless flow of personal imagery, made easier by digital photography and the Internet, and accelerated further by wireless camera-phone technology, means photographs have become "less objects to be saved than messages to be disseminated, circulated."(More)

Project Aims At Genetically Engineered God

 Oct. 20, 2004                                                                                                            SFGate

 SF artist tries to find Almighty on tree of life beside bacteria, slime mold

Researchers in San Francisco have announced that they are on the verge of genetically engineering God.
 Hailing the effort as a "major simultaneous breakthrough in the fields of science and religion," the International Association for Divine Taxonomy (IADT) has "developed a novel method of genetic engineering that may soon allow scientists to place God on the tree of life alongside every other species, including slime molds, fungi and humans." 

 The goal is "accurate placement ... of all deities worldwide, including the god commonly known as Yahweh, Jehovah and/or Allah," -- or, for scientific purposes, Divineus deus -- in order to end centuries of often violent conflict between faith and reason.

No, this isn't something out of an article from The Onion. It's the latest "thought experiment" by San Francisco art critic and conceptual artist Jonathon Keats, 33, whose recent projects include selling shares of the 6 billion neurons in his brain ("Brain Trust," 2003) and trying to convince the Berkeley City Council to pass an unbreakable law, Aristotle's A=A (Every Entity Is Equal to Itself, 2002).
In his newest brain game, "The God Project," which opened at the Modernism gallery in San Francisco on Sept. 29, Keats reappropriates the core principles of science and religion in the name of art. (More)




I'm an editor on the Web. Everyday I go to my cubicle, strap on my wrist brace, and put content onto the Internet.

You know -- "content" -- that stuff on the Web. It used to be called short fiction, or news, or movie criticism.

content -- filler up Now it's just pillow stuffing.

These days, content is supplied by "content providers," a term about as inspiring as a new mouse pad. Content is also being "repurposed" and "leveraged" all the time. And to handle all this content, we have, of course, "content managers" and "content producers."

But for anyone who takes their craft seriously, the idea of lumping together the arts with stock prices and government statistics under the generic category "content" is just plain silly. If not offensive. The word "content" has blundered its way into the Web world, linguistically blotting out the subtlety, life, and passion in the arts and all creative pursuits. It's so generic that it erases notions of quality and craft.

So, although many artists and writers do thrive on the 'net, we're obviously not having much influence on its lexicon.

All "content" is not created equal. (More)

Interview with Spaulding Gray


America's "talking man" dropped by The Gate's offices recently to, well, talk. 

Spaulding Gray was in town to perform his acclaimed monologue about learning to ski in the midst of an emotional meltdown -- "It's a Slippery Slope" (reviewed by the Chronicle and Examiner). He looked exactly as he looks on stage: neat checkered shirt, billowy silver hair, playful eyes. Over the last two decades the motor-mouthed New Englander has chronicled his life in 15 monologues (Including "Swimming to Cambodia," "Monster in a Box," and "Gray's Anatomy") and elevated autobiographical storytelling to a high art. He is already at work on monologue number 16 about one day in his life in Sag Harbor, Long Island where he currently lives with his sons Forrest and Theo and their mother Kathie.--JC 
Jeanne Carstensen: Is it true that you're claustrophobic? I've heard that. So I thought, my god, I'm going to put him in this little room...

Spalding Gray: I've had attacks of claustrophobia, but this room wouldn't bring one on. This is still a big room to me. I've probably had two or three of them in my life.  (More)