Archive for January, 2009

Melting Pot Oakland

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Melting Pot
A proudly inclusive grocery on East 12th Street in Oakland.

Back to the Future of Online Newspapers

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Check out this 1981 report from a San Francisco TV station about reading newspapers on one’s home computer. I love the shot of the guy connecting his modem — probably 1200 baud at most — using his rotary dial phone. Ah, the good old days, when we worried about baud instead of broadband, and Digital VT100 terminals were the gold standard of network computing. Little did I know, as the 8 year old boy that I was in 1981, that I was witnessing a revolutionary change in our culture when I watched my father connect to “the network” (I don’t remember hearing the word “internet” for another decade, although it may have been in use) to check his email from home…

This recent article in Slate has more on newspapers’ early stabs at online editions.

Criminal Injustice Systems at Home and Abroad

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

I finally got around to reading Samantha Power’s article on Gary Haugen in the January 19th New Yorker. Haugen is a Christian human rights lawyer whose organization represents impoverished and abused people in Cambodia, Kenya, and other countries.  Like most of Power’s work, the whole article is worth reading, but one set of statistics snared my attention:

Countries emerging from conflict often command headlines, congressional interest, and rule-of-law funding: Bosnia and Sierra Leone in the nineties, Iraq and Afghanistan today. Chronically flawed justice systems, like the one in Kenya, tend to get far less support. Haugen is incredulous: “Without investing in the rule of law for the poor, none of the other investments we make will be sustainable.”

In 2007, Transparency International published a report underscoring the extent of the problem. Seventy-nine per cent of people surveyed in Cameroon, and seventy-two per cent of Cambodians, reported paying a bribe to obtain basic services in the previous year. The study also confirmed Haugen’s view that the poor are more likely to pay bribes than the wealthy, often to avoid harassment. According to a report published by Afrobarometer, a public-opinion research group, only fifty-three per cent of people surveyed in subSaharan Africa expressed confidence that senior government officials would be brought to justice if they committed a serious crime. In Kenya, sixty-four per cent deemed most or all of the police corrupt. A World Bank study of twenty-three countries found that the poor saw police “not as a source of help and security, but rather of harm, risk, and impoverishment.”

Those numbers, 53 percent and 64 percent, are presumably supposed to sound startlingly high. Perhaps because community-police relations have been on my mind lately due to the fallout from the shooting of unarmed Oscar Grant by a BART police officer at the beginning of this month, I was curious about whether the statistics would in fact be much different in some communities in the United States. Might we see similarly high distrust of the criminal justice system and the police in North Philly or the South Bronx, in East Oakland or West Baltimore?

I did some googling to see if I would find any comparable studies from communities in the United States. (more…)

“No Crime Here at All”

Monday, January 26th, 2009

An awful story this evening, related to my post about speeding cars and pedestrians on Park Boulevard the other day:

A pedestrian was struck and killed in a crosswalk at the intersection of Sunset Blvd. and Santiago St. in San Francisco tonight.

The woman was walking westbound across Sunset when a man driving a Toyota Corolla south on Sunset struck her at about 6:15 p.m. The woman was taken to San Francisco General Hospital where she died. Her name was withheld, pending notification of her family.

The driver had no stoplight or stop sign and stopped after hitting the pedestrian, and police said the incident was just a tragic accident.

“It doesn’t look like he was speeding or under the influence or anything like that,” said Sgt. Renee Pagano. “There’s no crime here at all.”

“Just a tragic accident” Nice to know that a car can plow into a pedestrian in a crosswalk, and as long as the driver isn’t speeding or drunk, they are not breaking any laws according to the SFPD. (I actually knew that already, because these incidents happen all the time, always with the same result — you can even kill two young children on a sidewalk and as long as you didn’t intend to do it, you won’t be held responsible.)

My recommendation to people on foot or bicycle: Always assume that drivers won’t see you, and act accordingly.

“Avis: We Try Harder” (…to push gas guzzlers on you)

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Avis ad

This ad (slightly condensed horizontally to fit here more easily) was a banner across an article at the Oakland Tribune website today. Memo to Avis: Hummers are not “cool cars,” not even the H3 shown in the ad, described without irony at the Hummer website as “the midsize SUV” and “proof positive that good [sic] things can come in small [sic] packages.”

Not Much is Really Sacred

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

From Steven Pinker’s op-ed in Thursday’s NY Times:

Though the ungrammaticality of split verbs is an urban legend, it found its way into The Texas Law Review Manual on Style, which is the arbiter of usage for many law review journals. James Lindgren, a critic of the manual, has found that many lawyers have “internalized the bogus rule so that they actually believe that a split verb should be avoided,” adding, “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers has succeeded so well that many can no longer distinguish alien speech from native speech.”

In his legal opinions, Chief Justice Roberts has altered quotations to conform to his notions of grammaticality, as when he excised the “ain’t” from Bob Dylan’s line “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” On Tuesday his inner copy editor overrode any instincts toward strict constructionism and unilaterally amended the Constitution by moving the adverb “faithfully” away from the verb.

So Roberts’s mangling of the oath might not have been a “flub” after all: he might have been, consciously or unconsciously, trying to “correct” the words in the constitution.

I knew we couldn’t trust that guy — two documents that you really shouldn’t mess with lightly are the United States Constitution and the collected lyrics of Bob Dylan.

Park Boulevard: the anatomy of a city street

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

The San Francisco Chronicle had a “Chronicle Watch” feature the other day about one of those solar-powered displays that cities put up to let drivers know how fast they are going (the Chron’s “Journalism of Action” in action!). The display in question, which briefly wasn’t working because its solar battery was dead, happens to be a few blocks from me on Park Boulevard (where the marchers were protesting recently).

I’ve actually spent a lot of time thinking about Park Blvd, because I face its problems every time I cross over it, walk down it, or bike up it. In some ways, Park is a nice street: it curves gently up shallow valleys and ridgelines, from humble flatland beginnings at Kragen Auto Parts and Church’s Fried Chicken to a posher terminus in hillside Montclair. There are several parks alongside the street, and numerous shops, restaurants and cafes. You wouldn’t call it bustling in the way that some other Oakland neighborhoods such as Chinatown or Fruitvale are bustling, but compared to the strip malls of Fremont or Fairfield, it’s an urbanist’s dream.

And yet lower Park, from E. 18th Street to Interstate 580, is clearly not living up to its potential; cars drive at dangerous speeds past the occasional pedestrian who stands helplessly at a crosswalk, businesses routinely disappear for lack of customers, and some neighborhood residents avoid the sidewalks and parks because they don’t feel safe.

Earlier this week, I was eating lunch outside a bagel shop on Park Street in Alameda, and I was surprised to realize that Park Street has just as many lanes as Park Boulevard. The streets could hardly feel more different: Park Boulevard often feels like a speedway running through a semi-deserted neighborhood, whereas on Park Street, the sidewalks are thick with pedestrians popping in and out of thriving businesses, drivers obey the speed limits, and people can cross the street without putting their life at risk.

I’m not a city planner or a traffic engineer, but a few explanations for Park Boulevard’s deficiencies come to mind. (more…)

A Pirate in the City

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” — Bill Bryson

I had a visitor late last week, and I thought I would show him around town. The fact that my visitor was a pirate, and under 6 inches tall, did not hinder us in the least. After the pirate passed my dog’s smell test, we headed into San Francisco for some sightseeing.

The Smell Test

First we stopped by a pirate supply store in case my little friend needed any equipment. He wasn’t very impressed, so instead of buying supplies, we sat in the park for a while.


Then we stopped by Mission Dolores.


My pirate friend was hungry for lunch, so we went to the oldest Taqueria in San Francisco and ate a burrito that was bigger than the pirate. A lot bigger. (more…)

Anti-plywood activism?

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

They say that people in San Francisco will protest absolutely anything. After seeing this banner hanging on a building under renovation in North Beach, I can see what they mean.

Enough with the plywood

Lux et Lex

Friday, January 16th, 2009

May the light of justice shine upon Oakland:

Lux et lex

The setting sun shining through and around the Alameda County Courthouse across Lake Merritt.

SUVs on Parade

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Also known as afterschool pickup at an elite private school in an elite neighborhood of the liberal and holier-than-thou city of San Francisco:

Afterschool pickup

While I was ranting about trucks, I thought I might as well go ahead and post this photo too. This is a line for a high school in one of the country’s most compact cities with a very comprehensive public transit system; so why exactly do these teenagers need to be shuttled home in SUV’s every day? The line was literally half a block long, and as soon as it moved forward, another big gas guzzler would fill the gap left at the back of the line (except for one lonely prius which I could barely see squeezed between two trucks).

I know, I know, this is probably no different than any elite high school in the country. You expect more from San Franciscans, though — if they won’t make their teenage kids walk or take the bus, then who will?

Illiterate? Or just selfish and lazy?

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Just an hour or so after there was a rally to save a portion of bike lane on Market street in San Francisco (the lane is being removed in order to make it easier for car drivers to make an illegal right turn. Really!), I happened to come across this scene as I was riding down Market a few blocks away:

Trucks in bike lane on Market Street

Thanks, guys! I was hoping I would have an excuse to merge into the car traffic on one of the busiest thoroughfares in San Francisco!

I’m generally a pretty easygoing guy, but this is one thing that gets to me, probably more than it should. (I’m not the only one: see You do have to admire the way the drivers of these trucks both managed to park directly adjacent to “Tow Zone: No Stopping Any Time” signs. They both had their hazard blinkers on, so they must have thought that made it all okay. Since there probably wasn’t a chance in the world that they would get tickets for this, I suppose they were right in a way.