Archive for January, 2009

An East Oakland Shipwreck

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

To a lot of people, the words “East Oakland” conjure up thoughts of poverty and crime, liquor stores and drugs, sideshows and Raiders fans, hyphy and scraper bikes. And indeed, you can find all these things in East Oakland, some of them in larger quantities than you might like. What many people in Oakland (and even fewer elsewhere) don’t know about East Oakland is that you can also find several miles of parkland along the estuary nestled between Oakland, Alameda, and Bay Farm Island.

Shipwreck, East Oakland

I personally appreciate this park because it allows me to ride on a 3-mile bike path all the way from High Street to Hegenberger without crossing so much as a train track or driveway, instead of braving the maniacal drivers and potholes of the city streets. Others have their own reasons: the joggers and dog walkers like having a place to exercise, the birders out in the early mornings enjoy the plentiful fowl, and the fowl themselves find plentiful marshes, channels and shoreline.

With a national spotlight currently fixed on Oakland’s violence and unrest (and with more destruction possibly scheduled for Wednesday night), now seems like a fine time to note one of the many bright spots you can find in East Oakland’s varied neighborhoods.

Beached boat

This boat — maybe about 40 feet long — must have been beached on this tidal flat near the mouth of East Creek Slough quite a while ago. By now it is just a carcass, rotting and decaying like roadside carrion. It seemed especially picturesque this afternoon as I rode home just after sunset, with the sky aglow, what may or may not be a planet hanging above the horizon in the Southwest (any amateur astronomers out there?), and jets coasting in for landings at OAK to the South. A person might be able to walk out to the old boat at low tide, but I just glance its way as I ride by, wondering what passengers or cargo it once held, and what voyages it might once have made.

Never Mind the NPR, Here’s the Sex Pistols

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

Today I woke up early and went out to walk the dog and get some coffee. When I’m out walking, I often listen to KALX, the Berkeley student radio station, but the first thing I heard when I turned it on this morning on was “Anarchy in the UK” by the Sex Pistols. Don’t get me wrong: I like the Sex Pistols as much as the next guy, but it wasn’t what I was looking for at 8:30 on a lovely Sunday morning. So I switched over to NPR, something I try to avoid doing, especially on the weekends (I’ll save my full NPR rant for another time).

So what do I hear on NPR? A report from Linda Wertheimer about the personal side of George W. Bush. I have no objection to these sorts of stories in principle, but my God was this one awful. The NPR website claims that the report is “the third in a series examining President Bush’s legacy.” Sure, if by “examine” you mean quoting a total of three observers: two fawning Bush advisers, and one reporter who is extremely impressed with the rigor of Bush’s mountain bike rides.

It’s a short enough report that you can read it yourself if you like, but this assessment from former Commerce Secretary Don Evans, a longtime friend and aide to Bush, pretty much captures the tone of the whole piece:

“I wasn’t a knee-walking drunk, but I was drinking. And alcohol was beginning to compete for my affections. So I quit. One night I had too much to drink in Colorado Springs, Colo., and I haven’t had a drink since,” Bush said.

That was in 1986. Don Evans, secretary of commerce in the president’s first term and a friend of 40 years, says that act demonstrated the president’s commitment to his family and to the Bush family’s belief in public service.

“He realized at that point in his life, not only for his children and his family but for all fellow man — he can’t honor that core belief like he wants to if he’s drinking,” Evans says. “So he quit. Pretty amazing, I might say.”

Did you catch that? Bush quit drinking “for all fellow man.” Really! And people say that Barack Obama is treated as the Messiah. For an alcoholic to quit drinking cold turkey is indeed a difficult and praiseworthy thing to do, but since Evans chose to describe this personal accomplishment as an act of global salvation, I can’t help but point out that “all fellow man” would been spared eight years of Bush’s disastrous “leadership” if he had never quit drinking.

NPR apparently thought that Evans was a particularly insightful observer of the President, because they chose to give him the last word:

“I promise you this,” Evans says. “Anybody that has a chance to sit down and visit with George Bush will come away saying, ‘You know what? I really like that guy. He is really a good man.’ “

In retrospect, I should have stuck with the Sex Pistols: despite containing lines like “I am an antichrist,” I think “Anarchy in the UK” is much less offensive than NPR at 8:30 on a lovely Sunday morning.

A Local Protest

Friday, January 9th, 2009

Why go to a march when you can let the march come to you? I was eating lunch at home this afternoon when I started hearing chants of “Fuck the Police” getting louder outside the window. I went down to see what was going on, and it turned out to be a small protest march down Park Boulevard:

Park Boulevard Microprotest
I assume that these are students from Oakland High School, which is a few blocks up Park Boulevard. They must have been inspired by the rioting in downtown Oakland on Wednesday night, because they kicked a few cars whose drivers had the audacity to creep past them going the other way as they marched (there was plenty of room).

The large banner reads “STOP US BACKED ISRAELI MASSACRE IN GAZA / MASSIVE RESISTANCE NEEDED NOW!” and the anti-police chants alternated with “Free Palestine” chants — another thing these kids seem to have learned from their activist elders is how to cover their bases. I can’t say whether this was a pro-Palestinian march which expanded to include the anti-police message after last week’s shooting of an unarmed man at an Oakland train station, or whether this was an anti-police-brutality march which expanded to include the pro-Palestinian message. And I can’t say whether the marchers would even recognize that distinction.

Park Boulevard Microprotest
I followed the march until it got to Lake Merritt, when I turned toward home. As I walked home, I passed the girls in headscarves who had been bringing up the rear of the march (see the first photo above). They must have left the protest when it reached the Lake, although the marchers seemed to be heading toward City Hall.

The fatal shooting of Oscar Grant (who was unarmed, and lying face down on a train platform) was obviously a grievous injustice, and people have a right to be outraged. The fact is, however, that although the BART station happens to be located in Oakland, the officer was a member of BART’s police force, which has no connection to the Oakland Police Department or Oakland’s city government.

Smashing store windows and burning cars in downtown Oakland, and lashing out at Oakland’s mayor and police force, is a strange way to seek justice for this particular crime, but I can’t say I’m surprised after having seen the same phenomena during the Rodney King riots in Berkeley in the early 90’s — storekeepers on Telegraph and Durant Avenues obviously had nothing to do with the Rodney King case, but when simmering rage erupts into violence, you can’t expect it to follow any kind of strict logic. I’m just glad that no one seems to have been seriously hurt in this week’s protests, at least so far — this could be a tense weekend in the streets of Oakland.

Walmart on the March

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

I feel like I’ve seen this in different form somewhere before, but this is a cool visualization of the uncool spread of Walmart across the United States, from FlowingData. Store count is in upper left, year is in lower right.

I’ve been riding right past Oakland’s very own Walmart this week on my commute. (“Right past” in this case means that I can see it in the distance, across a parking lot, even though I ride up the same street that Walmart is on.)

Speaking of journalism

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

To get a dramatic sense of how technological changes have affected journalism over the past 150 years, compare this amazing 1864 photograph showing a New York Herald encampment during the civil war, and this San Francisco Chronicle article about how several bystander videos have allowed anyone in the world to watch the fatal shooting of a young man by transit police at an Oakland BART station late on New Year’s Eve. (The prevailing speculation is that the young officer might have thought he was using his taser, not his gun; he does look baffled after he shoots the young man.)

Circle, Square, Triangle

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Every time I talk to someone who works in newspapers, or who used to work in newspapers, the conversation inevitably turns to the fate of the industry. Someone here in Oakland seems to be doing their best to keep newspapers alive:

Form and function

Or maybe no papers get delivered to this address at all. Those colorful boxes shaped like a child’s blocks could just be art, like the stone-filled fenceposts or the sculptures in the yard.

Technical difficulties

Monday, January 5th, 2009

I’ve been informed by several people that the page does not fully load when they visit the blog. They see the top few inches, but then everything below that gets cut off. So far it seems to be only people who are using Internet Explorer Version 6 who are having the problems, so I’ll blame Microsoft.

Unfortunately, I have to ride my bike 8 miles to work in a drizzle right now, so I can’t look into it until tonight. I apologize if anyone is having trouble viewing the site — refreshing the page sometimes seems to solve the problem, but only sporadically. If anyone else is having any technical difficulties with the site, then it would be a great help if you could let me know by email (dmc at fragmentaryevidence dot com will work) or by leaving a comment. Technical information (browser type and version number, operating system, etc.) is always helpful. Thanks!

Special Sale! Misfortunes

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

Like something out of Lewis Carroll, in Oakland’s chinatown:

Special Sale! Misfortunes

I couldn’t buy any misfortunes because the fortune cookie factory was closed that day, but I peeked inside and discovered that misfortunes go for a buck fifty a bag — cheaper than kettle corn, and less fattening!

Misfortunes $1.50

Opportunity Knocks

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

The New York Times had an article a few weeks ago with the headline “Bad Times Draw Bigger Crowds to Churches.” Slate’s press critic, Jack Shafer, who has never met a trend story that he didn’t want to debunk, posted a rebuttal a week later, citing Gallup research suggesting that church attendance did not increase as the economic news got worse and worse over the course of 2008.

zionI have no idea who is right, since I don’t think I made it to the end of either article, but they did remind me of some pictures I took in October, during the most tumultuous period of this ongoing crisis (at least so far; let’s see what fun is in store for 2009).

I took the dog for a long walk up toward the hills one day, and passed two churches that were seizing the moment like any savvy investor would: when prices fall, it’s an opportunity to add to your portfolio!

And who can blame them? When you traffic in the eternal, I suppose it’s only natural to remind people who are anxious about something as worldly and material as the stock market that a few hundred points up or down in the S&P 500 don’t even register on the great Bloomberg terminal in the sky.

What to do, what to do And if your reminder happens to draw some worldly, material people to your church to hear more about God’s eternal love, and perhaps to drop a few bills in the plate, then so much the better. Worldly concerns and eternal concerns may be different, but they don’t have to be mutually exclusive, right? Just ask Joel Osteen.

I don’t remember what made me snap photos of these signs, because they don’t seem so remarkable when I look at them now. They do, however, raise a worldly and eternal question: What stocks would Jesus buy?

The Revolution Will Not Be Text Messaged?

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Please destroy cell phones before entering

A front gate in Berkeley. Photo taken with my cell phone, of course.

The More Things Change: a poem in eight syllables

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

New year.
New blog.
New me?
We’ll see.