Nailed Again

April 25th, 2011

I suppose that if you’re going to get a nail through your tire, Easter weekend is an appropriate time to do it.

Kevlar-reinforced tires do a decent job of handling all the broken glass on Oakland’s streets, but even Kevlar is no match for the nails and other debris which lines the gutters around town. (This isn’t the first time a substantial nail has skewered one of my tires in Oakland, so you might think I’d be more vigilant, but it’s tough to keep an eye out for nails when one is worrying about all the potholes, car doors and aggressive drivers.)

Free Range

March 20th, 2011

Free Range

Tile Style

February 15th, 2011

For some reason I’ve been taking a lot of photos of tilework lately. Continuing to mine that vein, I took some pictures of mosaic murals in jingletown today:

While many of the murals in this cluster are mosaics, there are some painted murals too. I’ve posted shots of some of the other murals (along with those above) to a set at Flickr.

Guilt Sandwich

January 27th, 2011

Guilt Sandwich

Fixer Upper

January 18th, 2011

Water views. Satellite TV included.

I walked by this scene today at Union Point Park. I daydream about moving onto a boat sometimes, but every time I hear about a boat sinking in the Oakland estuary, I am reminded of the virtues of solid ground—even solid ground which shakes and rolls under our feet every once in a while.

Vigil

January 14th, 2011

I wrote half of a post the other day about the Tucson shootings and related matters, but it wasn’t really coming together as I hoped, so I’ve set it aside for now. Maybe after my thoughts jangle around in my head for a little while, they’ll emerge more fully formed at some later date. Meanwhile, I walked the dog over to City Hall on Wednesday evening and attended the second half of a candlelight vigil for the victims in Arizona and victims of violence more generally.

Vigil

At one point, a speaker asked us to turn to the people around us and tell one another what we would do in the future to reduce the violence, of all kinds, which plagues our society. The guy next to me happened to be a reporter covering the event, so he joked that the first thing he was going to do was write a story about the vigil. We had a little chuckle about that and never really got around to what I planned to do. Just as well, perhaps, since all the quick answers that popped into my head seemed either hopelessly vague, or totally inadequate to the enormity of the problem. That’s just how it goes with eternal problems such as violence, I suppose, but the “What will you do?” question is one that can always bear more consideration. If you’re at all like me, one thing to keep in mind is that it’s almost always better to do something than to worry excessively about which particular something you should do.

Brotherhood of the Traveling Pants

January 14th, 2011

I wonder, are “security breeches” similar to chastity belts?

I may want security breeches myself if I’m asked to go through a backscatter X-ray next time I’m traveling by plane…

Navigating the Strait of Caña

January 10th, 2011

I’m all for new businesses opening up in vacant storefronts in nearby neighborhoods, and I’m all for sidewalk seating in front of restaurants and cafes too—almost anything that encourages people to be out and about on the streets and sidewalks of our neighborhoods seems like a good thing to me, whether they are walking to the post office or sipping mojitos with friends at a sidewalk table.

That said, I was a bit taken aback when I saw the outdoor seating area for the (not yet open) Caña, a new cuban restaurant and cabaret:

My first reaction was, “WTF? Could you have made your sidewalk seating area any more obtrusive and obstructive?” More than half of the sidewalk is blocked, right next to the bus stop and garbage can, so there is only a 30-inch gap through which people have to pass—in the 2 minutes I was standing there gaping at this new fence, I saw several pedestrians stop to let oncoming walkers pass through this Strait of Caña before they themselves could proceed. A woman pushing a regular stroller through the gap used careful navigation, since there were only a few inches on either side.

My second reaction was, “Well, I know that they are going to be widening this section of sidewalk soon as part of the Lakeshore complete streets project, so this fencing off of a public walkway for private use will presumably be a lot less obtrusive once the sidewalk is larger.” Of course it might have been nice, I told myself, if they had waited for the sidewalk expansion before they blocked a busy pedestrian strip with a fence for a seating area which isn’t even being used yet, but whatever, it will only be temporary, and it might be nice once the sidewalk widening occurs.

My third reaction came after I got home and saw that they plan to expand the sidewalk seating area from 6 feet to 10 feet after the sidewalk is widened. So the current fencing was apparently designed for the currently configured sidewalk, not the more commodious sidewalk of the future. I returned to my first feeling of “WTF?”

I note that Lanesplitter Pizza, which is right next door, also plans to expand their outdoor seating. But Lanesplitter seems to be waiting for the sidewalk expansion before fencing off a large part of a moderately sized sidewalk in a fairly busy pedestrian area. For now, Lanesplitter has simply been placing a few tables out on the sidewalk during business hours, and the pedestrian right of way remains clear (until, of course, you hit the Caña property line, where you suddenly run into a metal fence).

As I said, this problem is probably temporary, because (I hope) the expanded sidewalk will be wide enough and presumably designed to accomodate the outdoor seating at Caña and Lanesplitter and other restaurants on that strip, and once the sidewalk is wider and Caña actually opens, the benefits of outdoor seating will probably outweigh the impediment to pedestrians. Even if I might prefer a less obtrusive seating area without a big fence around it, the streetscape redesign will surely be a big improvement over the status quo.

I don’t mean to pick on Caña, which I hope will be a lively and valuable addition to the neighborhood, but it’s still somewhat galling that a business which hasn’t even opened yet can erect a fence which indefinitely blocks pedestrian traffic, while a business such as Farley’s East can’t appropriate a small piece of the automobile’s turf for customer seating for a single day without being forced by the police to remove their temporary seating area from the street.

I see that “Caña Outdoor Seating” is listed on the agenda of the Grand Lake Neighbors’ monthly meeting tomorrow (as is the contentious proposed dog park next to MacArthur Boulevard), so I wonder if I’m not the only person who was a bit surprised by how obtrusive the sidewalk fence is.

The Varieties of Sunset Experience

December 28th, 2010

I’m not obsessed with sunsets over Lake Merritt—really, I’m not!—but it’s hard to resist pulling out a camera whenever I happen to walk the dog over to Lakeshore Avenue in late afternoon. And when the pictures turn out well, then it’s hard to resist posting them online.

That many of the sunsets from the east side of the lake are beautiful goes without saying, but what has struck me as I’ve photographed them over the months is their wide variety, depending on the season and the clouds and the temperature and presumably other changes in atmospheric conditions. So we sometimes get lurid splashes of color, sometimes golden halos, sometimes ominous skies, and sometimes serene reflected light.

There was no thrilling sunset through this evening’s rain, but last night’s is shown above. To be honest, my camera (or its operator, perhaps) failed to capture the color properly—it was, I think, more violet and less orange, but no less impressive. Possibly the color accuracy could be fixed if I knew more about editing digital photos, but the color as it came out of the camera will have to suffice for now.

Happy Holidays

December 24th, 2010

Looks like Christmas has already come and gone at Cleveland Elementary School here in Oakland:

Neon Cyclist

November 26th, 2010

Neon Cyclist

Came across this sign at a bike shop in LA. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the neon in action.

Politics: A Not So Beautiful Game

November 23rd, 2010

“…at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare posessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason…”
—Keats, in a letter to his brothers

I noted on the eve of the World Cup that soccer appeals to romantics worldwide. The Cup’s many egregious refereeing blunders offered an interesting example of this sensibility. Many viewers were baffled by FIFA’s resistance to the use of video replays or other innovations which would determine with more certainty whether, say, the ball crossed the line into the goal. Hockey uses technology to determine whether the puck goes into the net, tennis uses technology to settle disputed line calls, but soccer continues to rely almost entirely on the eyesight of one referee and his (or her!) two sideline assistants. Calls for change are fiercely resisted, however, by purists who argue that “uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts” are an essential part of the game. As at least one wag pointed out after Frank Lampard’s clear goal for England against Germany was not counted, if you reduced the imperfections and uncertainties in the officiating, then it would ruin the game, because people wouldn’t have anything to argue about at the pub after a match. (As Joni Mitchell sings, “All romantics meet the same fate someday/Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark cafe.”)

Whatever one thinks of the FIFA authorities, no one can accuse them of any “irritable reaching after fact & reason.” Inexpensive innovations such as an additional official behind each goal to see whether a ball has crossed the line, or to look out for fouls in the crowded penalty area, have not been widely adopted. Video replays of any sort are resisted because they would interrupt “the flow of the game.” Timekeeping is also fuzzy, with the head referee given wide discretion to add on extra time as he sees fit (or, as happened in Almeria’s 8-0 loss to Barcelona on Saturday, a referee might blow the final whistle a few seconds before full time has elapsed in order to put a badly losing side out of its misery). It’s no wonder that the romantic Brazilians love the sport which is known as the beautiful game. There are stories, which are too good to double-check, about the Brazilian national team returning victorious from international tournaments, but being greeted coldly by fans because they hadn’t won with sufficient style—playing beautiful soccer was apparently more important than winning. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” indeed. (In that letter to his brothers, Keats goes on to say that “with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.” Substitute “great footballer” for “great poet,” and many Brazilian futebol fans might agree.)

Contrast this with American football, where irritable reaching after fact & reason is taken to extremes. Video replays, official challenges, resetting the clock by one or two seconds after a play so as to create an illusion of timekeeping exactitude—these are all efforts to pretend that uncertainty can be overcome. Even the officials, who swarm the field in large numbers, wear black and white uniforms, sending a sartorial message that there are no gray areas when it comes to their rulings—rulings which are announced via wireless microphone through the stadium’s PA system, as if from the voice of God Himself. This pretense of precision and infallibility may reach its apotheosis in the 10-yard chain, which is hauled out onto the field in order to adjudicate first downs. While everyone waits with bated breath to find out whether the football’s nose is sniffing a blade of grass half an inch beyond the chain’s end, it is rarely pointed out that the ball was placed in that spot by a human official, who was more often than not just eyeballing where the ball was located when the forward momentum of a runner was stopped, or when a receiver’s knee hit the ground. And an equally subjective judgment was probably used to determine where the other end of the 10-yard chain was placed on the previous first down. But no matter—the chain is carried onto the field with great ceremony and gravitas, and players from both teams huddle around with quiet deference to await their fate.

What does any of this have to do with politics? Good question! Some of the close results in this year’s elections made me reminisce about the disputed 2000 election, and whenever there’s a close election, I’m reminded of how contingent and haphazard our electoral process can seem. Running elections the way soccer referees run matches is not really an option—even the most romantic spectator of the political game would probably not want an electoral system that stubbornly resisted all efforts toward greater accuracy and precision. So we have no choice but to run our elections more like American football games, with all sorts of detailed rules and processes for ensuring—or at least giving the impression of—a fair and accurate result.

Most political races aren’t especially close, so we can pretend that a platonic assessment of the will of the people has been achieved. (56.32 percent! It’s that most elusive prey on the political savanna—a mandate!)  In truth, however, the best we can probably hope for is to avoid gross electoral fraud, and when a race comes down to a matter of a few tenths of a percentage point, then we might as well flip a coin. Of course we need some non-random process for determining a winner, so we have procedures in place, and legal observers from the campaigns, and court battles about whether misspelled write-in votes or hanging chads should be counted as valid votes. These procedures are all necessary, to be sure, but they’re a bit like the 10-yard chain in football—they introduce the appearance of precision into a process which is full of potential for human error and contigent on everything from what the weather is on election day to whether or not voters understood how their ballots would be counted, or a plethora of other factors.

I’m not arguing, obviously, that elections should be governed more like soccer than football. Muttering curses about the “blind” referee into one’s pint of ale might be a valuable part of soccer fandom, but it just won’t suffice in politics, where more is at stake than mere money and pride. The 10-yard-chain may seem slightly preposterous to me—an irritable reaching after fact and reason—but at least it provides a means for coming to a decision and getting on with the game, and until someone comes up with a better system using micro-chipped footballs and lasers (or whatever), the 10-yard-chain does the trick. Similarly, the rickety legal and technological apparatus used to conduct elections may be vulnerable to uncertainty and error, but we need a way of picking winners and getting them into office, so we do what we can with the tools we have and hope that the race is not too close.

What’s my point, you might justifiably wonder? I’ll ally myself with Keats, so you’ll find no irritable reaching after any grand point here; I’m just musing on the vagaries of the sport of politics. Perhaps my view of the electoral process as inevitably messy and flawed explains why I am so sanguine about candidates exploiting loopholes in campaign finance laws and similar sins. Complaints about how a certain candidate is not “playing fair” or following the “spirit” of a law just don’t seem to move me unless there’s some really major skulduggery going on. Like American football, politics can be exciting to watch, with moments of inspired beauty, but it’s still fundamentally an ugly game.