Saturday, December 30, 2006

There's A Pony in Here

The children had not rehearsed for the Christmas pageant at Grace Cathedral, but the relatives of the participants didn’t notice or care. The cherubic choir hit the high notes without straining, and the headdresses and sashes of the shepherds and wise men glittered under the lights.

The newly elected bishop of California greeted the assembly. He seemed in good spirits despite, or because of, his recent arrest for blocking the Federal building in protest against the Iraq war. Untypical behavior for an Alabaman, perhaps, but new Bay Area arrivals often feel compelled to remove the bushels from their lamps and let their lights shine, whatever the consequences. Marc Andrus has a long way to go before he shocks this flock. Northern California Bishop James Pike set the standard over 40 years ago:
[Pike's] episcopate was marked by both professional and personal controversy. He was involved with introducing the ordained ministry of women into the Episcopal Church, a living wage for workers in San Francisco, the acceptance of LBGT [Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Gay, Transgendered] people in the church, and civil rights. Among his notable accomplishments, Pike marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Selma, Alabama. His theology was profoundly challenging to the Church, as Pike wrote condemning a number of widely regarded theological stances, including the virginity of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the doctrine of the Trinity. He was censured by his brother bishops in 1966 for this and resigned his position shortly thereafter.
It’s a sign of how much the Church has changed that many of Bishop Pike’s views are considered mainstream by the American Episcopal Church . But enough of bishops and their obsessions.

Joseph, Mary, and the pony marched down the aisle to take their place at the altar. Cameras snapped, rolled, and flashed. I sang the familiar carols, only stumbling over the grating insertion of PC-pronouns into centuries-old lyrics (Hark the Herald: "born that we [men] no more may die"; Joy to the World: "let us our [men their] songs employ"). Yuck, the goddess of inclusion has a tin ear. But enough about me and my obsessions.

In the feast of the Nativity Christians put aside their divisions over human sexuality, the use and misuse of language, the role of women, the role of the Church, and the triune nature of God. We gather to celebrate the day without which none of these arguments would matter, the day when the Word became flesh and everything changed. In this Christmas season, may you experience love, joy, and peace with your families and friends. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Giving and Receiving

Children whose families struggle to obtain the basic necessities garner everyone’s sympathy over the holidays. But we often don’t think about our senior citizens, some of whom no longer have family or friends to talk to or be with. Last week a small group from the local Episcopal church paid a visit to one of Foster City’s retirement homes.

Our elder hosts were inquisitive and lively, except for the 99-year-old (!) lady who appeared a bit bored. It’s hard to blame her, though; with 99 years of history it’s doubtful our visit would be mentioned in her memoirs. Our three teenaged “volunteers” had to be cajoled into joining our group, but after the ice was broken they easily warmed to the conversation. Our planned hour turned into two, and we gave our new friends small packages of personal items.

A cliché, to be sure, but the well-intentioned bearers of gifts came away with more than we brought. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Grant Avenue, SF Chinatown

“A traditional Jewish activity on Christmas is Chinese food and a movie.”

Not a bad idea if you're not Jewish, either.

Hollywood has timed the release of the Nativity Story to capture the spirit of the season. The film is family-friendly, with sex and violence alluded to or occuring offscreen. (Parents of young children may have some explaining to do.)

Even for infrequent worshippers or non-Christians, the narrative should be sufficiently compelling to capture one's attention. And there are plenty of historical and musical references to hold the interest of those for whom the story is very familiar. Recommended. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

Saturday, December 23, 2006

December Lament

A graduate from a Hawaiian high school returns to the Islands to make an important decision. A senior going to that school has made hers.

Given her talent, intelligence, grace, and beauty (not to be discounted in a visual, celebrity-obsessed age) Michelle Wie could have gone to college anywhere. Stanford is on many top-five lists of major American universities, so it's a wise choice. However, if one of the factors in her decision is our warm weather--to quote Rick in Casablanca--she's been misinformed.

For the past several weeks the morning temperature's hovered around freezing. Frost is on the lawn, and the flowers that have survived previous winters are long dead. I run the furnace sparingly, but it will be difficult to keep the gas bill under $200 this month.

O globe, where is thy warming? © 2006 Stephen Yuen

Ice rink at Embarcadero Center

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Watch Me

Time’s Person of the Year is You. You post on YouTube, MySpace, and Friendster (mere blogging is nearly passé) to add to the world’s pool of knowledge, to socialize, and yes, to get noticed.

But there are other, older, ways to satisfy one’s ego.

Few power trips can compare with standing at the conductor’s podium. All eyes wait for your signal. The gallery is silent, as if you were putting for the Masters. You raise your wand, and nearly a hundred musicians raise their instruments. A flourish, a downbeat, and the melody starts. A wave toward the oboes, and they join in. With a downward sweep of your left hand, you silence the trombones. You point to yourself---watch me! you mouth sotto voce—and everyone does. You turn, bow, and bask in the applause. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

A P Giannini Middle School Band at Embarcadero Center

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sorry It's So, Joe

Joseph Rago of the Wall Street Journal doesn’t like blogs.

Most of them are pretty awful. Many, even some with large followings, are downright appalling….Its closest analogue might be the (poorly kept) diary or commonplace book, or the note scrawled to oneself on the back of an envelope--though these things are not meant for public consumption. The reason for a blog's being is: Here's my opinion, right now.

We rarely encounter sustained or systematic blog thought--instead, panics and manias; endless rehearsings of arguments put forward elsewhere; and a tendency to substitute ideology for cognition. The participatory Internet, in combination with the hyperlink, which allows sites to interrelate, appears to encourage mobs and mob behavior.

Ouch. Hey, Joe, if you don’t like what you’re reading, close the lid on your laptop and go watch some TV.

© 2006 Stephen Yuen

Monday, December 18, 2006

Plus ça change

I used to have to hang on the line to find out whether a flight was arriving on time. Now I can get a graphical representation of the location of the airplane overlaid on a satellite map. I can chat with my passenger if I am willing to pay today's exorbitant cost. Now if they can only figure out how to find my luggage......

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas Party, 2006

Janet and Hugh

The office Christmas party at the Sir Francis Drake was a long and liquid affair, made bittersweet by the sale of a major division. This occasion was the last time that all 150 of us would be together. For next year’s gathering we’ll be lucky to attract half that number.

Cocktails started promptly at noon. As I do at every holiday party, I chatted with the retirees. Most looked better than ever; the worry lines are gone, they eat less, exercise more, and have lost weight. (Retirement is an option that will soon be available to me, so I’m watching and wondering.) One gentleman was walking with a cane. We spoke for half an hour about hip and knee replacements, medical plans, and pre-existing conditions. 10 years ago we might have talked about travel plans; now an incident-free stroll to the grocery store is a satisfying sojourn.

IT Department

A photographer was there to commemorate the occasion. I posed for three different group pictures, reflecting a year of multi-tasking. Revelry was still going strong when I left at 5:30, centerpiece in hand. What a swell party it was. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

The flowers still look good after three days.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Whichever Way We Can

As families shrink and disperse, too many of our elderly neighbors are forgotten during the holidays, and even small remembrances can brighten their spirits. Last week the Thunderbird club (the car, not the wine) of Santa Clara and members of the local Episcopal church wrapped gift bags for senior shut-ins.

“Senior Stocking Stuffers” has been an annual labor of love for a lady whose garage each fall becomes the repository for hundreds of toiletries and personal items. Her husband and son tolerate and assist her volunteerism (not that she allows them to have any choice in the matter).

When I arrived the ladies were putting the finishing touches on the gifts, the cars were loaded, and the drivers had received their instructions. I offered to help, but the hostess gave me the slightly pained look that professionals evince when dealing with the untrained public, “How about taking some pictures?” Okay, we help whichever way we can. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Good Time

The skies cleared on Sunday afternoon, so attending my first professional football game at Monster Park wasn’t a totally miserable experience. Although both the 49ers and Packers were struggling this year---both were well under .500—the game had two things going for it: an opportunity to see Packers quarterback Bret Favre in his likely last San Francisco appearance and the chance to witness a victory by the Niners, who were favored by 4 points.

The last time I had attended a 49ers game the stadium was named Candlestick, Joe Montana was the quarterback and there was a baseball diamond at one end of the field. Everything’s changed, including the quality of the play. The Niners made critical turnovers and spotted the Pack a 17-3 lead. Hopes rose when the home team closed the margin to 17-13, but mistakes sealed the loss, and the final score of 30-19 was a fair representation of each team’s play.

Bret Favre's (#4's) TD pass attempt was batted down.

Bret Favre missed a few open receivers but flashed the skills that will land him in the Hall of Fame. His arm still rocketed the ball, and on other occasions he delicately dropped a soft pitch over the defenders into his receivers’ waiting hands. We were sitting in the upper deck surrounded by Green Bay fans wearing their yellow-wedged headgear, and this afternoon the Cheeseheads had a lot to cheer about. That’s San Francisco---always showing the visitors a good time. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

If you were a cheese, you didn't have to stand alone.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Not Hungry

Who am I to disparage oxidized metal (Tuesday's post below) when I can’t / won’t / shan’t part with my rust-pocked wheels from my college days?

I took my (t)rusty Beetle to Fred’s in Redwood City. Fred, who spoke mit ein tick Churmon accent, was everyone’s image of a Teutonic mechanic—white uniform, tallow hair, all business with no time for pleasantries. His son, John, inherited the auto-repair shop and continues to specialize in German cars.

I asked John how much it would cost to restore the Beetle’s faded blue beauty. The neighbors have been dropping gentle hints. How presumptuous. The Beetle has been part of the neighborhood before any of them were. John glanced at the car. “A 1967”, he said, “it would cost $3,000 to $5,000, depending on how much work you want done.” I was ready to move. As the diamond ads say, you can’t put a price on love.

John looked up at the overcast sky. “You probably want to wait until April. We’ll have to take the glass off and the inside will be exposed.” That’s another reason I like going to Fred’s---they’re not hungry to make a sale. April will come soon enough. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


At first glance the human figures appear to spring from woody vines. As one moves nearer, one notices the dirty pipes and corroded metal parts, their rough rusty texture clashing against the clean white walkways of the Embarcadero. One could be forgiven for thinking that Passage is another uninspired, discordant work of “art” funded by a patron with too much money and time on his hands.

The massive work towers over the observer, who steps back to view its entirety. The sculpture’s graceful form takes shape against the blue of the Bay. He catches a glimmer of the artists’ vision. The overarching design is best appreciated from a distance; up close it appears to be a mess. The observer thinks of himself, a miasma of undistinguished dust particles and chemicals temporarily organized into a state that some may call beautiful. After the Passage of time, he will revert to dust and be forgotten. He looks again at the sculpture: the ingredients are ordinary; their container is anything but. The sacred and the profane. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

[For more on Embarcadero art, see Cupid's Span, Arneson's Eggheads, and Vaillancourt Fountain.]

Sunday, December 03, 2006

One of the Boys

I’ve never been so inebriated that I’ve passed out, but on Thursday night I came close. After having imbibed two glasses of champagne and a glass of wine, I finished my third bottle of beer. The occasion was the sale of a major division and saying goodbye to people whom I worked with for fifteen years. The festivities started at 3:30 and were still going strong at 7:00 when I left the office. Some of the executives continued the celebration over dinner, but I don’t have their stamina.

Once in a while you have to cut loose in order to show that you’re one of the boys. I know some skilled individuals whose upward mobility was capped because they were LDS (Mormons aren’t supposed to drink). On the other hand, you can’t enjoy yourself so much that you say or do something stupid. And in the age of ubiquitous camera phones, your self-inflicted embarrassments are preserved for posterity.

On Friday, having had only five hours of restless sleep, I awoke with a splitting headache, popped some aspirin and went to the office. Of course, it was one of those days with a lot of interruptions and unscheduled meetings. I stumbled through the day and resolved to lay off the booze….well, at least until the office Christmas party. © 2006 Stephen Yuen

Golden Gate Boys Choir and Bellringers

The Christmas Train brightened up the Friday commute.