Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Same Arguments Apply to Healthcare and CA State Gov't

On a healthcare per dollar basis, Americans don't compare well to other industrialized countries. Why are Californians so unwilling to make the same comparison between state governments? We pay more and get fewer and worse services.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Salman Rushdie is Awesome

Hello from San Diego! I miss the Bay Area terribly. T minus 45 months and counting.

Passing along this East Bay nugget: did you know Cody's Books was firebombed in 1989? Like many Bay Area immigrants for whom history begins somewhere in the 1990s, I had no idea. This happened in response to their carrying the Satanic Verses, in what may very well be "the first act of international terrorism in the United States".

In this holiday season, we should all take the opportunity to antagonize over-sensitive religious girly-men everywhere that threaten violence when their little myths are trod upon. In the meantime, please enjoy some cartoons.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Seen at the Grand Parkway

"With $2 an Hour Meter Parking Until 8pm, The City Will Finish Destroying Our Shopping District". This is one of several terrible, short-sighted ideas the city now has, along with raising hotel taxes (which you should vote against).

Ozumo is Excellent

We went down to Ozumo on Broadway for the Monday night all-you-can-eat sushi special. Yes, you'll wait a little for a seat at the sushi bar, and yes the orders get a little backed up - but it's worth it. Quality of fish and preparation are excellent. Ambience and sake selection outstanding. Sushi chefs and host bust their asses to make your dining experience a good one. One specific recommendation for appetizer: gyu katsu in particular melts in your mouth. Single? Good eye candy too. Get down there.

Friday, July 10, 2009

One Reason California is Bankrupt

From Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic:

In California, a state worker can retire at age 50, do absolutely nothing all day, and collect 90 percent of their salary for the rest of their lives! 5,000 of these pensions amount to six figures incomes. Nor can the state afford the system it has. As the Matt Welch piece mentions, "the state's annual pension fund contribution vaulted from $321 million in 2000-01 to $7.3 billion last year." That is a rather alarming rate of growth, and an astonishing figure, don't you think? Given that the state is bankrupt and issuing IOUs to its creditors, it doesn't seem unreasonable to complain that public employee unions have extracted benefits that are both obviously unaffordable and far in excess of what is enjoyed by the taxpayers who finance them.

Monday, July 6, 2009

San Francisco Homicide Rate Cut in Half

"San Francisco's homicide total for the first half of 2009 hit a nine-year low - falling more than 50 percent from last year - a drop that police officials attribute to flooding high-crime areas with officers and focusing on the handful of people who commit most of the crimes."

This, during a severe recession. Here's the Chron article. Let's hope their new police chief keeps up the program.

What's stopping Oakland from copying this program? Yes, we're in the hole, yes, we have an officer shortage - which seems all the more reason to deploy OPD where it can make the biggest difference. Public safety is the non-negotiable number one core service of city government.

And - here's my understated farewell - I will be moving to San Diego by the end of the summer. Yes, I'm defecting to SoCal! Don't worry, it's not because I want to move down there for its own sake - if there were a great med school with an excellent neuro program in Oakland (and they let me in), I would love to stay. In Brazil people say "We are the country of the future - and always will be." I used to talk up Oakland as a place with great potential, but the fact is, it's a great place now! People just have to figure that out, both inside and outside the city. So hold the fort down for me, because I'm already scheming to get back here for my residency. 2013 isn't that far off.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Send In Your Ballots: No No YES No

My vote is largely informed by recognizing that Oakland is a) in a big hole and b) shouldn't drive away revenue-generators that will get it out.

No on C: No on new hotel taxes. People and organizations shop hotels on price, and they don't need another reason not to come to Oakland. I've increasingly come to think that the way to grow Oakland is, as Zennie has suggested, to develop retail and entertainment. Measure C damages this effort. Don't delude ourselves into think we're going to be another tech or biotech hub in the next decade(s).

No on D: How much money are we already obligated to spend on youth services? Of course, if you don't have kids or don't plan to live in Oakland when you do, this is also rationally self-interested vote.

Yes on F: Finally, a consumption tax! Finally, a good idea! This is the marijuana one, and at least some of the marijuana club operators are on board. I'm enthusiastic that this is on the ballot for multiple reasons, not only because it can help (some) with Oakland's deficit but because the more such measures are on ballots, the more that cities and states will see marijuana as a legitimate product (and source of revenue).

No on H: If we tax the transfer of corporate properties (hotels, chain restaurants) they'll start avoiding Oakland for our neighbors. This will get us a few dollars for one year.

Barbara Lee's Email Contact Info?

I was just trying to email Rep. Lee about something, and found that the links on her homepage to email her run in circles. Am I missing it?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Pro-Iranian People Rally in Union Square San Francis Tuesday June 16

I have no other information than what I just heard on a call-in show on 810 AM. I'll be there. Let's show our support for the people of Iran and their right to free speech and free elections.

Power Outage Last Night

I haven't seen any other reports of this. About 2:30am this morning (Monday 15 June) I woke up to find my power in Rockridge was out, and had been for some time since the entire of my refrigerator was warm. Based in what I could see, the outage extended as far as Broadway at College and (what looked like) Telegraph. Emeryville was still "on". The power came back on around 3:20am. Am I the only one who noticed the extent?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ah, So Bart CAN Run Twenty-Four Hours

The Bay Bridge will be closing Labor Day weekend, and BART will be running 24 hours. Here is the official info so far on the bridge closure, although it doesn't mention the 24-hour BART schedule - I got that from a story on KCBS radio today.

I mentioned before (among other possible improvements) that BART could be made to run for twenty-four hours, which would make it much more useable for off-shift workers, people who work late at the office, and people who'd rather go out for a drink without having to worry about driving (and watching the clock all night). So here's yet more evidence that BART can run all night, like New York's system. Why can't we make it happen all the time?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Save the Salmon - Salmon Aid June 20-21 Jack London Square

Free music and food! Plus, the event supports the dwindling salmon populations along California's coasts, which need your help. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

While this didn't happen in Oakland (which has its own success-punishing policies) this account is a perfect example of the anti-success bigotry that defeats efforts to improve our cities. Inspiring long story short: homeless guy gets off the bottle, cleans himself up, and starts a successful sidewalk shoeshine enterprise. Someone writes about it. City employee reads it, confronts him, demands he get a permit that eats up most of what he'd saved for a deposit on a room.

I don't take issue with the need for a permit. What I take issue with isthe selective enforcement of the policy, which has the effect of directly discouraging people from improving themselves and the economy. Most people in this man's position wouldn't have his fortitude and would say "You know what? The hell with trying to work. I'm going back to depending on soup kitchens and wandering around drunk at 11am." The kicker is that the city employee that told him he needed a permit couldn't tell him where to go, just that he needed one to continue.

We have to decide whether we want our cities to be places where people who try to better themselves are punished, or rewarded. It shouldn't be a hard choice.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Oakland ID Card Is a Really Terrible Idea

Oakland City Council is discussing issuing ID cards. They would be available to anyone who can prove s/he is a resident of Oakland; really, they're targeted at undocumented people (i.e., illegals).

This is a horrible idea.

First, let's get out of the way the arguments for an ID card: increased crime reporting by marginalized undocumented residents, and increased community participation. Good intention. Wrong approach.

I understand that illegals are just trying to make a living but a) if you haven't noticed, we're in a recession, and native-born Americans (including native Oaklanders) are struggling to find work too, and b) governments aren't charities. They're by the people for the people, funded by the people for the people - of the locality in question. It is therefore mind-boggling and unconscionable that this ID card program is being proposed at a time when Oakland's budget deficit is about to swallow the city. It is also unconscionable that any self-identifying patriotic and involved Oaklander does not find the whole thing an affront.

And as what seems to me a final insult, Oakland will be generating this information but refusing to share it with other agencies, including Federal ones. Is the whole (stated) rationale for the ID program not public safety? Doesn't restricting the use of card information to Oakland city government directly undermine this mission? If this initiative goes through, you bet your ass I want this information available to the Feds (including my own, if I get a card). Compared with Europe, the American ID system is famously fragmented. I could understand de la Fuente and Quan's sudden conversion to this anti-Federal States Rights position if they had conceived the program on a ranch in Wyoming, cleaning their rifles and muttering about the ATF and Ruby Ridge. But this is a major city, and if the city has the information, the Feds should be able to see it too. End of story.

Public safety is Job 1 for Oakland, but this initiative is incredibly misguided. You don't improve safety in the long- or near-term by legitimizing (and incentivizing) illegal residents in any way. As a loyal Oaklander, I want to see this city's limited resources used to help this city's legal residents, and I suspect that there are many out there who feel the same but are uncomfortable speaking as bluntly as I have here.

I also suspect that some readers will find my strident tone offensive, particularly because I strongly advocate smoothing the road for immigrants with earning power, who have no choice but to jump through the hoops because of the kinds of jobs they take - versus making life easier for illegals, who cannot contribute nearly as much to Oakland's economy. We have hard-fought labor and immigration laws to protect our workers. Let's not ignore those protections of a misinformed attempt to lower crime and act on ill-formed humanitarian impulses. The de facto implication of the pro-ID-card camp is that a day laborer should have an easier time making it in Oakland than someone with high-priced skills that will contribute to Oakland's economy (if both of them don't bother coming here legally). I challenge you to explain in your comment exactly why this should be.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Japantown in SF is Nice!

My two cents about an article in the Chronicle today, hating on Japantown Center. It's what I call a "dumb article". I really like the whole area around Japantown Center, and it's very well-traveled by pedestrians. There are always people and families around. I'm puzzled that someone would describe this part of SF as drab or dead. Try Market west of Powell after 8pm. That is what a dead, drab area looks like.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Darth Nepotis

I felt I must draw attention to the profile picture that Oaktrooper uses in his/her profile on the Chronicle.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Oakland CANNOT Cut Police

There were 9 murders in Oakland just in April. Because there's no media coverage doesn't mean it's not happening. In what nightmare world does that make it time to talk about cutting police? This effectively translates into abandoning the residents and merchants in (for example) East Oakland, the majority of whom said they wanted more officers when they briefly had a media voice in the post-Lovelle Mixon spotlight.

In the comments around the blogosphere, one theory is that this is the old trick to send up the alarm and get Oakland funding - i.e., threaten to cut something important, everyone freaks, and the city government can either get outside funding more easily or at least has more tolerance from voters to expand their revenue options (taxes, bonds, etc.) If that's true, then I'm happy to be part of the kneejerk "NO!" that will help the cause, but frankly, I don't credit Dellums with being that clever. I think he sees a major shortfall and he wants to cut police, period.

The reaction from saner quarters? Because we still don't have a permanent chief, the Chronicle typically gets comment from the head of the Oakland Police union, Dom Arotzarena. "Crime will go up," Arotzarena said. "More people will die." Public Safety Committee Chair Larry Reid adds "I just think there's an issue (with cutting officers) when crime is Oakland's No 1 priority. I understand the difficult budget challenges we have, but it took us a long time to get the police department up to 803 officers."

Amazingly, Dan Lindheim said, "If we don't get outside revenue, we will have to cut public safety personnel. There is no question about it." I knew little about Lindheim, but he's confirming the suspicions of many that he's a Dellumzombie. Rather than throwing up our hands, Jane Brunner suggests that we try to find another way to fund the police that we fought so hard to get in the first place. Alright Jane - so how do we do it? Show me a way and you have my support.

Facing cuts in March of last year, Mayor Chuck Reed of San Jose clearly got it: ”Even though we're trying to make cuts in some areas, public safety is our number one priority. It's our core service." Emphasis mine. This is a city that doesn't have nearly the crime problems that Oakland does, and still, for them, cutting police is not an issue.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Links for Information about H1N1 Flu

...can be found here.

Now that at least one school in Berkeley is closing as a precaution, I would be surprised if it doesn't show up in the East Bay soon. In my nonprofessional opinion, it's encouraging that so far it has been highly non-lethal in the United States, especially compared to Mexico, though it's been speculated that individuals are underreporting non-lethal infections in Mexico, therefore the denominator is smaller than in reality, therefore there isn't a mortality discrepancy between Mexico and the U.S. and it's not nearly as bad in Mexico as the statistics make it look.

Friday, May 1, 2009

How Serious Are We About Public Transportation?

There's an opinion piece in the Thin Green Line on the Chronicle today about fare increases on Muni. I've used Muni less than five times in my life. I've principally used BART for public transport, but almost certainly less than 100 times in more than 10 years in the East Bay. In the last election I voted for state prop 1A, but against Oakland Measure VV (transit bonds for AC transit; it passed anyway). But this fare increase is a symptom of a larger attitude.

Why am I a car addict? Because for the most part, public transportation in the Bay Area doesn't go where I need it to, and we're constantly disincentivized from using what public transportation there is.

In my case, if I drive to work, even at peak rush hour, it rarely takes an hour. On the other hand, if I take BART, it will be at least one hour and seven minutes before I'm in my office, and probably closer to the max of an hour twenty-seven. It involves a 10 minute walk from home to BART, then if I catch the train exactly right I go from Rockridge to Glen Park in 32 minutes, and then if my company's shuttle leaves immediately after I come out of the station it's another 15 minutes to campus, and then it's a 10 minute walk to my office. And I might have to wait 10 minutes for BART, and 10 more for the shuttle.

Let's look at the benefits and drawbacks to me. (Like you, I am a rationally self-interested optimizer):

Cost$7.30 = $3.65 each way x 2$10.00 = $4.00 toll + (22 miles each way x 2)x(18 mpg)x($2.45/gal)
ProsCan read or do work on the wayComplete scheduling freedom
Consabout an hour more per day tied up with commuting; can't run errands at lunch; have to get to and leave work by certain time or pay for taxiCan't read or do work in car(1)

Ask me if $2.70 and some low-quality interrupted reading/work time is worth complete schedule freedom, and the answer will be yes. Now imagine if I didn't work for a business magnanimous enough to provide a shuttle (and how many do?) The closest BART station is South San Francisco, and it's 3 miles away. This is either a bike ride on some heavily-trafficked streets (and what if my company doesn't have a shower?) or $30 of cab rides every day.

My point in leading you through the economics of my commute is that, for most people in the Bay Area, using public transportation doesn't make sense. People aren't going to plan their lives around it unless you force them (if there were a 200% gas tax increase I'd start thinking about it). Not everybody works in downtown SF or Oakland. For the most part, public transportation doesn't go where we need it to, and it doesn't run when we need it to either. In particular on this last point, I have always wondered why BART stops running so early. Don't you hate having to look at your watch and leave your friend's party after midnight to catch the 12:50? Somehow, New York can manage a much bigger 24-hour system. Every time I'm driving across the Bay Bridge at 2:15, I wonder how many drunk drivers there are within a half mile of me. The worst part of it is that BART can definitely run 24 hours - because it did for nine months when the bridge was out after the Loma Prieta quake in 89.

Add to that the idea of charging BART riders more for riding at peak hours (and charging Muni riders more all the time), and you start to wonder how serious we all are about it - "we" meaning governments, public transit administrators, and voters. Charge me more to ride BART during rush hour? Thanks for the disincentive! I don't even mind if you charge me more to ride home with the other drunks at 2:30am if that's what it takes to keep it running all night, but don't raise fares and expect me not to keep driving. I know they need money, but that's the hard reality of economic behavior.

All this says to me that we're still not serious about public transportation. It doesn't go where we need it to, when we need it to, and we're punishing the people who use it. I hope the measure VV bonds send AC transit where I can use it more easily, when I can use it. I hope BART starts running later. Because until it does, you'll see me crossing the upper deck of the Bay Bridge every morning in my SUV.

(1) Drawbacks of my driving to myself are few, but to others they include: continued oppression of subjects and de facto slaves of medieval theocracies benefiting from petroleum extraction; climate change to inhabitants of predominantly low-lying countries and marginal precipitation environments. But the effects of my driving can be dispersed to everyone in the world, so I don't care. A classic suboptimization problem. Until there are more laws, you can expect me and every other rational person to continue behaving this way. An unpleasant truth, but you can't be effective if you insist on denying human psychology.

Later addition: I took BART to work this morning, with my company's private shuttle. 90 minutes each way, $7.30 round trip. If I worked in this area and did not have a private shuttle, it would be about $37.30 round trip EVERY DAY with the taxi ride, or I could ride my bike to work if they have a shower (if not, I guess my coworkers would just have to deal with me stinking all day for the sake of the planet). Or, I could plan my career around the few places that are convenient for public transportation; and isn't that what little girls and boys dream about when they tell you what they want to do with their lives?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Great Meeting The Oakland Blogging Community

It was really a lot of fun to meet Zennie, Hedera, Vsmoothe, Becks, the City Homesteader, Chris Kidd, and a host of other people - and thanks to the folks that took the time to organize it. The only downside is that now when I disagree with one of your posts I'll feel bad since I've met you in person. The venue (2022 Telegraph/The Ave) was great too. I hope we can do this again soon.

How Many Oakland Murders in April?

Nine, counting on Oakland Crimespotting, and including the not-on-the-map murder of a social worker walking his dog in the Dimond District two nights ago.

We need more police. More police do make a district safer. Here's some evidence.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Policy That's Helped the Homeless

From Atlanta, via Marginal Revolution:

Added later: this article in the Chronicle states that Mayor Newsom suggested the idea in SF, but it was ridiculed. Why? The article cites a survey stating SF as the seventh-meanest city to the homeless for (among other things) citing people for sleeping on sidewalks. Gasp! What's meaner to the homeless, enabling the many mentally ill people on the streets to persist in their unhealthy and often fatal lifestyle, or encouraging them to escape it, with the same carrots and sticks the rest of us deal with every day of our lives?

Monday, April 20, 2009

East Bay Metal: Check Out Crysknife and Industrial Undergrowth

Today (4/20 dudez!!!11!!1) is the official release of Mythos, the most recent effort from the Oakland+Philly masters of metal mayhem Crysknife. I give it four horns up.

Also, Industrial Undergrowth has a demo out. I've been listening to it all weekend and can't get it out of my head. I highly encourage you to infect yourself as well.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Morgan Hill Temblor

Lest you need reminding that we live in a geologically active part of the world, well, after yesterday's shaker near the conjunction of the Hayward and Calaveras Faults you don't need reminding any more. I've often thought that it's no surprise that the theory of plate tectonics did not mature until after experience with the west coast of North America, in particular with the San Andreas and associated faults, because the fault geology here is so self-evident as to be insulting. Read with Brooklyn accent: "Hey stupid! I'm drifting over here!"

So, to sate the bloodlust of the tectonics gods before they punish us with further quakes, it's worth emphasizing some of the cooler geological features of the East Bay. If you think these are interesting then check out Oakland Geology and Berkeley's Walking The Fault.

1) There's a place in Hayward where you can actually see the displacement caused by the Hayward Fault as one side drifts north. The curb has moved noticeably over a few decades.

2) Sibley Volcanic preserve. Right up in our hills there's a dead volcano, with an old quarry exposing some of the rock. Plus it's damn purty. A few miles to the north, Lake Anza in Tilden is sitting in a dead caldera as well.

3) On Mt. Diablo, there's a cool little trail with interpretive signs heading up through the different geologic age-zones exposed on the mountain.

4) There is a wall that runs the length of the East Bay hills, from above Albany all the way down to Fremont. No one knows who built it, but there are theories ranging from boring early twentieth century rancher, to exciting but probably B.S. Aztec colony.

5) There was a train tunnel under the Oakland Hills that came out in the town of Canyon. (Never been back there? You should go.) The east entrance was buried by a landslide almost 3 decades ago. Does anyone know where the west entrance is/was?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Oakland vs. California Crime

When I saw the disparity in crime rates between Oakland and other mid-size CA cities, I asked the question "Were we always different? If not, when did we pull away?" Consequently, what I really wanted to do was compare to the other mid-sized cities (Fresno, Sacramento, Long Beach, Anaheim, Santa Ana). But that's a lot of work, and not every city (or the FBI) provides historical crime data online going back before 2000, and I suspect there are people who know either where to find the data already digested, or at least in an easier format - if so, please feel free to comment.

So what I settled for was looking at whether Oakland followed the trends in homicide and general crime across the state. I used both California vs Oakland homicide, and composite crime as an indicator. To get the curves in the same region of the graph I normalized Oakland to CA in 1969, and I had to use some pretty extreme multipliers as you can see. Sources and caveats at the end; click on the graphs to make them legible.

The murder rate, in terms of the trend outpacing the rest of the state, is a relatively recent trend. From 1969 until 1991 the overall murder rate in Oakland did not rise as quickly as in the rest of the state, as a percentage of the 1969 rate, and then at the peak in 1992 it dropped slightly faster. However, just in 1999 it began to shoot up while the rest of the state rose only very slowly.

Similarly, the general crime rate in Oakland does not rise as quickly as a percentage of the 1969 rate as the California rate does. However, in 2000 when crime in the rest of the state was still falling from its peak in 1992 (and continued to until at least 2006), Oakland began climbing. Again, outpacing the rest of the state is a recent trend.

It bears keeping in mind that both the murder rate and the general crime rate peaked in 1992 in both California and Oakland, and we haven't returned to those levels. But that we see a spike beginning in 99-2000, not only while the state trend is declining but prior to the dot-bomb downtown, strongly suggests something specific to Oakland is going on.

Sources and Caveats:
(1) California homicide and crime data from the California Attorney Generals Office. To avoid holes in the graph data was smoothed between 4-year-data points.
(2) Oakland population data 2000-2007 from the Census.
(3) Oakland population data 1960-1980 from the Census, obtained here.
(4) Oakland population data 1990 from the Census, obtained here. Population was assumed to increase or decrease arithmetically between census points.
(5) Oakland absolute crime data comes from OPD.
(6) The Oakland general crime statistic is a sum of all murders, forcible rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, total larceny, and auto thefts. The California general crime statistic is a sum of all homicides, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults.
(7) Data for Oakland general crime statistic 1995 was unavailable, so figure was averaged from 1994 and 1996.

Oakland Does Have a Crime Problem

I have changed my mind. Vsmoothe and an anonymous commenter showed me some better statistics. Oakland is worse than Philly. Oakland is worse than almost everywhere.

Fortunately, someone has already done what I was going to sit down and do myself, which is to compare Oakland to neighboring cities, and similar-sized California cities. And we look terrible there too.

What I would also like to see is these same stats but going back further. When did Oakland start to pull away from the other cities? How and why? Which parts of the city contribute disproportionately, and have they become crime areas in parallel, or at different times? The elephant in this discussion is race. It's 2009, we have a black president, and we still have a chronic issue with economic disparity and crime in black neighborhoods; the time to tiptoe around this subject is over.

One overcontributor is the area around 74th and Macarthur where the shootings happened, and residents of the neighborhood have expressed frustration that this is what it's taken to wake up the rest of the city to how bad it is there. So let's use this as a silver lining to convince people that we need more cops, and we need more attention on that neighborhood. I would also ask that if you live in that neighborhood and you're reading this, talk to your friends and neighbors and convince them that "don't snitch" is killing the community.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Citizen Reaction to Other Citizen Reactions

A friend of mine emailed me this today. Originally I wasn't going to post anything about my emotional reaction to the idiots heckling the police as cited in Chip Johnson's column. My friend expressed his anger more eloquently than I could:

I am interested by the response of some in the Oakland community to the murder of the four officers this weekend.

While the vast majority of Oaklanders were shocked by these crimes, some people gathered near the scene of the initial shootings to celebrate the deaths of the officers. In the Chronicle this morning, it was reported that Mr. Mixon, the man who shot the officers, had a lengthy rap sheet and was connected to an unsolved rape in Oakland a few months prior and may have been responsible for another murder in 2007. Apparently, a crowd gathered near the apartment in which Mixon was killed to pay respects to that great young man, with a member of that crowd calling Mixon a "soldier." Indeed. A soldier whose righteous missions included terrorizing innocents in Oakland through theft, assault, rape, and murder. Such a soldier would be right at home in the Sudanese army.

They also pointed to Oakland's hsitory of police mistreatment of blacks as justification for the four officer deaths. I am sure that Mixon's thoughts were solely focused on racial injustice when he first opened fire. His sister recently told the Chronicle that Mixon was "not a monster." I beg to f**king differ. Your brother was nothing short of a monster and the real tragedy here is that he was born at all. The ability of people to feed themselves lines of bullshit never ceases to amaze me.

He goes on to describe his two degrees of separation-experience; it turns out that Dan Sakai was a friend of a friend. I think a lot of people in the East Bay are going to have this experience this week.

I Am In Need of Levity

I'm considering seeing Carcass on Thursday in SF. Tell me if the schedule at the Grand Ballroom that night doesn't make you laugh too:


5:00p Appel & Frank "Spring into Style" Womens shopping event

6:30p Carcass W/ Death Angel, Suicide Silence, The Faceless, Toxic Holocaust

Monday, March 23, 2009

Vigil for Fallen Officers Tuesday 6pm

Vigil for the four officers at 6pm Tuesday, 74th Avenue and MacArthur. More information here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Statistics and Stereotypes

(Update: I was corrected in the comments by people with better statistics. I am now convinced that Oakland has a severe crime problem relative to other cities, and I'm leaving this post up to show you that if you still believe Oakland does not have a crime problem, you should change your mind like I did. Go here.)

Of course I'm adding my own name to the list of Oaklanders remembering Officers Romans, Sakai and Dunakin, and hoping that Officer Hege recovers.

Statistics time. The idea that Oakland is a dangerous city is prevalent, and somewhat misleading. That I can say this after an outrage like yesterday
is backed up by numbers. I'm originally from the Philly suburbs. Below is a table of Philadelphia and Oakland violent crime rates per capita, relative to the national average:

CITYMurderForcible RapeRobberyAggravated Assault All Violent Crime

That I can claim even the day after these killings that Oakland isn't that bad is backed up by statistics, but that I have to say it is because of the high profile of the event. Humans are bad at thinking about statistics but good at thinking about human drama. Look at those numbers again. What's your association with Philly - forcible rape? Robbery? Both higher than Oakland! No, your association is cheesesteaks and the Liberty Bell, the virtues of which are both extolled by proud (ex-)Philadelphians, many more of whom move to Oakland than the other way around. Are Philadelphians deluded and naive, or are Oaklanders buying into the negative image of our own city exacerbated by high-profile tragedies like this one?

Because of these shootings, even if you're an Oakland cop, you have a 0.5% chance per year of getting shot in the line of duty. I'm not diminishing the heroic burden the OPD bears, but putting a number on it puts it in perspective. My probability of getting shot is very close to zero. And chances are, so is yours, unless you live in certain parts of the city which we all want to make safer.

People across California and the country just had their stereotypes of Oakland reinforced, and this isn't helping the city's residents or businesses. Horrific as it is, we have to not only work on the city, we have to defend Oakland's reputation. That's why when friends elsewhere in the Bay Area and the country make generalizations or tasteless jokes at Oakland's expense, I stop them their tracks. Not only do I not think it's funny, I won't be a passive party in reinforcing a negative image for the city.

On the media criticism front, not to kick the Chronicle while it's down, but their article on the shooting was rambling and disorganized, and I'm glad to see the Oakland Tribune stepping up with excellent coverage. I'm glad to see that we can expect (as we should) that our own city's paper covers events here better than the Chronicle. To this end, once again props to Zennie for doing original reporting and getting out there on other media. The vast majority of bloggers, including myself, are opinion jockeys whose only real journalism comes from links to original reporting and data we find elsewhere. It's exactly because there aren't many Zennies that losing traditional print media with professional journalists is a disaster.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Story Time: The Parkway

RIP Parkway: you rocked the hizzazzle.* Very sad for Oakland. (Update: Councilwoman Pat Kernighan is seeing what can be done to keep it open.) At City Homestead it was observed that visiting the Parkway is a bit of a rite-of-passage for those of us coming in from less culturally gifted parts of the world - "Wow! It's a theater, but you can drink beer! And they have couches!"

And now, story time:

- The only time I've seen a Godzilla movie on the big screen was there. This is easily the Parkway's strongest endorsement.

- One of their filmed announcements made clever use of perspective with a cocktail glass that appeared to be close to the camera but, when the announcer drank out of it, revealed itself to be in fact about the size of a toilet bowl. This was perhaps inspired by the fireplace scene in Citizen Kane. Or, was it the other way around?

- It was during their showing of Trekkies that I had the epiphany that George Takei was gay. That this should have been the mode of revelation is in direct contradiction to the theory of the Howard Stern show's Artie Lange, who instead informed George on the show that everyone knew he was gay when he told a prank caller that his dog was named "the White Queen". In French. To be fair, we should consider Artie's argument to have some merit.

- I saw Cannibal Holocaust there. And participated in one of the more fascinating impromptu psychology experiments of my life. There was a mumbling, flailing woman in the (crowded) theater whose process was obviously not intact, and during the film she kept standing up, pointing and talking at the screen, and in general making a nuisance of herself. Finally one guy had his fill and began a campaign of ridicule, prompting her to head for the exits. The tone in the murmuring theater was confused - some combination of trying not to laugh openly at this person who'd gone out of her way to make a spectacle of herself, plus feeling sorry for her, plus fear that she would snap and open fire or something, plus just plain wanting to watch the damn movie undisturbed. Then came a (to put it mildly) shift in attitudes: the wingnut in question stopped at the exit and shouted to her oppressor and to the room in general: "I hate this place anyway, it's run by a bunch of (n-word)s!" There was an extended pin-drop pause and the temperature in the room dropped noticeably, and there rose a low collective "ooooooooh". The guy who had before been making fun of her shouted back "You can't talk like that! Now get outta here before I beat the s*** out of you!" She ran.

The reason I found this so interesting is that here was a roomful of people who had paid for the explicit service of having their taboos systematically violated (at least visually), but who were collectively reduced to silent disbelief by a single earnest racial slur.

- Having fallen asleep during video presentations of Rocky Horror Picture Show at I don't know how many high school cast parties, I was dragged as a "grown-up" to one of the live-action showings Parkway to finally get me involved for real. I still fell asleep. My lack of endorsement should not be cause for distress, as I once slept through a performance of The Merchant of Venice in Stratford, England at the Royal Shakespeare Company Theater. I'm told I snored loudly at both RHPS and RSC. Please note that Riffraff's performance in the Spice Girls movie is much better than in RHPS. (Yes. Really.)

RIP Parkway!

*From Elamite hizzazzl, "grand house, palace". Thought by overenthusiastic historical linguist Shevoroshkin to be descended from proto-Dravidian *hutata, "Snoop Dogg".

Princess Hedera Gets Her New Blog Template

Hey, I hope you're happy now. Is there anything else you want, your royal worshipfulness?

Hey, I kid, I kiiiid! Italics mean sarcasm on this blog. Isn't that wonderful?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Al Davis Serves Sauron

I knew that title would get some click-through. But you have to read my sports rant first!

There are two reasons to worry about sports teams leaving your city. The more legitimate one is the loss of tourist dollars and the effect on the city's economy. The second and frankly less important reason is the patriotic one that we like the A's (or Raiders or whoever) and don't want to see them go.

As for the first one, what, exactly, do Oakland and in particular the neighborhoods around the Coliseum lose if the A's leave, in terms of revenue? What percentage of money spent on game day does not go directly into the As' (or Raiders', or Warriors') coffers? Have there been studies done as to how much money would be lost for Oakland's residents? It's hard to argue that restaurant revenues and other recreation in Oakland would take much of a hit because of this. Who comes to a Raiders game and then goes out in Oakland? I would love for this to change, but looking at the geography of the stadium, you either BART in, and then BART right back out (getting to Coliseum BART on the caged-in raised platform) or you jump back on the freeway. By the time you're passing the Broadway exit, do you stop for a beer at Pacific Coast, or do you keep going home to Pinole or Vallejo? While this seems reasonable, it's also all speculative and anecdotal, so if there are numbers please point me to them.

Pro sports teams are accustomed to (pardon the expression) having cities over a barrel when they threaten to move. Example: 15-20 years ago when the Steelers wanted a new stadium, they essentially told Pittsburgh "build us one, or we move, and your hanging-on-by-a-thread downtown area is dead". As a former Pennsylvanian, I can tell you (gratefully) that the West Coast is notoriously uninterested in sports relative to the Northeast and Midwest, probably owing to better weather, and furthermore out here we're much better served by non-sports tourism than cities in those parts of the country. San Francisco's downtown does not depend on sports revenue. That's why when the Niners tried the same stunt with Newsom a couple years back, he told them not to let the door hit their ass on the way out. Can you tell I love how stunned the owner was by this? (The day after I wrote this I was reading CNN and saw that in fact, parts further east are taking this same attitude: this article in part discusses the uprising against the Marlins' demand for a new stadium in Miami.)

As to the second reason - city patriotism - in general, Americans' attitude toward sports franchises is blurred. We think of them almost as a government agency. They're not; they're a local franchise of a national company, operating out of profit-motive. Just like the Taco Bell two blocks from your house. Are you more loyal to that one than the one up in Albany? That's all fine, but then don't be puzzled when teams screw their "home city" for a few dollars; don't be puzzled when players change teams "just for money". Yes. They're professionals. They're doing it to make money.

In addition to the lost revenues, mayors of other cities don't want to be known as the guy or gal who let the home team leave on their watch. By all means, follow Chip Johnson's proposal and sue the A's to keep the name and colors in Oakland, so the team can be reincarnated in the event another organization comes to Oakland in the future. For now, the current A's organization shouldn't hold its breath waiting to be courted.

I fully support the city of Oakland handling the A's and the Raiders the same way that Newsom dealt with the Niners. Losing these teams will not affect the downtown.

Also, how do I know Al Davis serves Sauron? Because he's an orc. Spot the difference!

Above: a vicious creature that creeps around in the darkness and slime whose occasional glimmers of intelligence emerge from incoherent hissing and growling only in flashes of deceit and animal-like blood instinct. The other one was in Lord of the Rings.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Cost of the Riots: At Least $1,200,000

One million of the $5.5 million that OPD is over-budget is owing to the riots. Add to that $200,000 in property damage.

This figure doesn't take into account business lost due to bad public perception of safety - both from safety downtown, and safety on BART (including from BART's own police force). Small businesses in Oakland don't need more challenges at this point in economic history.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

You Can Help Defeat Nepotism in Oakland City Government

The Oakland City Auditor needs your help to ensure transparency and control nepotism in City Government.

The Deborah Edgerly mess left no room to doubt that nepotism was a huge problem in this city. Fortunately, it spawned efforts to reign it in. Unfortunately, those efforts are being stymied from the highest levels. There was an Chip Johnson piece in the Chronicle last week about how Oakland city employees are resisting a legal request from the City Auditor’s office for information, apparently with the complicity of City Manager Dan Lindheim and, by extension, the mayor and her husband.

From what I've seen so far from her, city auditor Courtney Ruby has one goal: transparency in government. Consequently, having to confront this kind of bald-faced resistance to a basic good government effort to de-opacify the goings-on in City Hall, she has put out what HarriOak News referred to as "an unprecedented plea for help":

Dear Concerned Oaklanders,

You have likely seen the article in today's Chronicle. It is accurate - the Administration is trying to withhold key documents essential to my audit of the City's hiring practices.

There is no question that these documents should be released to my office. As City Attorney Russo states, "I issued an (legal) opinion in 2007...under the charter, the auditor has unlimited review power."

I am your eyes and ears inside City Hall. These anti-nepotism documents, as part of my Hiring Practices Audit, are critical to restoring transparency and accountability in Oakland's government.

My office will be pursuing legal avenues, but nothing is as effective as the power of a concerned electorate. I encourage you to contact the Mayor's office today and let them know that you expect the Administration to fulfill the City Auditor's request.

Committed to serving you and Oakland with the utmost integrity,

Courtney A. Ruby, CPA
City Auditor

Office of the City Auditor
City of Oakland
1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, 4th Floor
Oakland, CA 94612
Phone: (510) 238-3378

So get on email and let the Mayor know, and spread this so-far very quiet news far and wide. The City Attorney has ruled clearly and we're getting into basic questions about respecting the rule of law. According to one commenter at HarriOak, when s/he called the Mayor's office, s/he was told that comments must be faxed or emailed. So I've already emailed my comment to Full contact information for the mayor can be found here.

Update: Happy ending. After another Chip Johnson column (mentioning 40 emails to City Hall, of which I was one) the situation is resolved. Below is an email sent out by Ms. Ruby today. See, they do listen to citizens:

Dear Oaklanders,

Early this morning, the Administration fulfilled my request for hiring practices documentation.

Your voice, joined with scores of other concerned and committed Oakland citizens, triggered another key step toward establishing transparency and accountability at Oakland city hall. I am especially grateful for and honored by your willingness to respond immediately when the cause of good government calls.

Today I have fresh confidence that the new City Administrator shares the goals and aspirations demonstrated this past week by you, Oakland’s concerned citizens.

Together we can have the city we all want - one that is managed with transparency, accountability and enlightened, ethical leadership.

Committed to serving you and Oakland with the utmost integrity,
Courtney A. Ruby, CPA
City Auditor

The Bird Sanctuary at Lake Merritt

Once a week or so, I pick up a nice little Vietnamese sandwich in China town and then go over to the bird sanctuary along Lake Merritt, over there by the Junior Center of Art and Science. You know, the first wildlife sanctuary in the United States, established in 1870? Until today I didn't know either. That's yet another point of pride for Oakland, which we ought to be trumpeting more loudly.

A black-crowned night-heron at Lake Merritt. While the name and the red eyes may make these fellows seem slightly malevolent, they're really pretty mellow.

As much as I enjoy the herons and cranes and grebes and canvasbacks over there, I can't help but wonder how to explain several observations. If you have info, by all means share in the comments.

1) There's a geodesic dome with birds in it. As I later learned from a user at, the dome is "one of the first, and probably the longest surviving of [Buckminster Fuller's] ingenious domes." Another first! The mystery is what the purpose is of the birds in it? It doesn't seem that they can get in and out, but the species inside are the same as the ones outside, and they don't seem to be injured. The upkeep inside the dome doesn't seem to be great. What's the story on this?

2) In addition to all the native critters that take advantage of the sanctuary, there was a chicken wandering around today. Now, I'm no ornithologist but I'll wager chickens aren't native fauna.

I know it's challenging to keep a place clean when birds are flying everywhere, but the upkeep of some of the facilities (especially that dome) and groundskeeping seems like the city hasn't paid it much attention recently. Even a few more informational plaques about what they're doing there would really help the public appreciate it more. This spot has the potential to be a really outstanding family and outdoor destination.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pro-Legalization, Anti-Hood

I'm totally for legalization, but I also emphatically second the statement of James Anthony, who represents legal medical marijuana dispensaries: "Lemon Drop was illegal, it was dangerous and it was undermining the medical cannabis movement. There's no place for that kind of activity in Oakland." What I don't get is why you would start an illegitimate dispensary?

What's interesting about legitimate pot clubs is that even frequent marijuana users, especially ones with families, have a major NIMBY problem with them. Granted, I wouldn't want pot smoke drifting into my backyard or open window, but I also don't think there's any data showing that crime is associated with them. If there is, please bring it to my attention.

In the meantime, support Tom Ammiano's bill: legalize marijuana, wipe out part of the state's fiscal problems, lower crime.

Shooting Suspects in SF Go To Oakland to Escape

Isn't this a little embarrassing? Someone dropped the ball here. I can't help but immediately think it went like this: SF cops chase suspects across bridge, call OPD ahead of time to tell them the suspects are coming, and the understaffed and demoralized OPD doesn't have units in place in time and the suspects get away in downtown Oakland. That's speculation, and it's unfair, but unfortunately that's the automatic assumption that OPD will have to combat.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ichiro is Good. You Should Eat There

How's that for a plug? Except it really was good. Eat there. I command thee!

And the Trappist the other night was packed and a lot of fun, but the chocolate-and-beer tasting looked to be sold out, so I was forced to do the unthinkable and just drink beer. Now that I'm a Respected Member of the Oakland Blogging Community, I should start remembering what I eat and drink so I can write about it later. Suffice it to say a friend introduced me at the Trappist to a "beer" that was at once hoppy and sweet and vinegary, and maybe the strangest beer I ever had, and I liked it. And it was only the third one of the night. Ask for it in there. I'm sure they'll know which one you mean.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Beer Week in Oakland

SF Beer Week is having events all over the Bay the week of 6-15 Feb, with events at The Trappist, Cato's Ale House, Oliveto, Miss Pearl's Jamhouse, and culminating the events all over the Bay at the Oakland Convention Center. Check out the East Bay events here. I'll probably head down to the Trappist on Wednesday for the beer and chocolate event on Wednesday the 11th.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Nice People Who Organized the Protests

Interesting information about the organizers of some of the earlier Oscar-Grant inspired protests that turned violent. Keep in mind when you leave links outside the site like this one that I have no way of verifying if the names mentioned are legitimately implicated.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Call the Mayor's Office - They'll Actually Call Back

I just read on a neighborhood forum where a private citizen called in with her recommendation for Police Chief, and someone from Dellums' office called her back to ask about it. Encouraging.

Friday, January 30, 2009

More Fun Hyperlocal Rockridge Stuff: Pugs and Hummingbirds

I'm thrilled by all the readers who've dropped in and commented so early in my blog's history. I really want to make this more of a local casual blog instead of putting on my Serious Writing Face every time I post, and include more local Rockridge stuff. There's no point in my recycling political news, especially because I'm new to Oakland and I often don't have much to add to the conversation. When I do have something about local politics to say I'll say it here. In the meantime:

I've developed a hummingbird obsession. Fish are to Frank Gehry as hummingbirds are to me. Fascinating that something which today fills the same niche as insects and is occasionally eaten by them is descended from theropods (dinosaurs) and that the evolution of their speed and metabolism has a ceiling based on the limits of kidney filtration (though there's some argument that it's mitochondrial function too). They're a biochemical swiss watch. They're an evolutionary treasure - something I would be proud to show an alien if I met one, as proof of the awesomeness of my biosphere. I've often wondered how close we are to building an RC plane the size of a hummingbird. Put a little camera on it. Fly it down to the corner on Sunday morning before you go to see if there's a line at the breakfast place.

This time of year they don't have many flowers to drink from. The other day one was flying along the edge of my balcony, methodically searching every square inch for sugar. He got quite close to me in the process and seemed desperate. Given their metabolism, they can go from well-fed to death by starvation in literally an hour. So I made a little feeder for them and hung it in the courtyard of my building with some fake red flowers to draw them. I hope they find it.

Equally randomly, there are two pugs next door that, when they let themselves out through the dog door into their yard, scream and cry until they've been let back in. They sound for all the world like they're dying slow and agonizing deaths. Once you realize it's just these two dummies wallowing in their separation anxiety the performance becomes not only tolerable, but progressively more hilarious every time.

Decisive Dellums?

Am I the only one who found the Chip Johnson love fest for Ron Dellums to be a be of a non sequitur? It's certainly positive that the Mayor seems to have turned over a new leaf and is making decisions, but a more reserved attitude is still in order until we see that it's been sustained. I don't know enough about Lindheim to react strongly pro or con his appointment but this seems not to be the case for FutureOakland and others.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

All the More Reason to Write Your City Council Member

Chip Johnson isn't crying "recall", but he does make a very useful observation about City Council. That is, they've shown they can "collar" Dellums when needed. Maybe we do have a decision-making body in Oakland after all. Whether you support a full recall (disruptive as it would be) or just increasing the role of the City Council in doing something for the city, now's the best time to write your Councilperson.

Incidentally, it's not as if I'm out looking for stories of Oakland corruption, but this one just popped up on the Chronicle. Note there was no background check, and note how Dellums met this intern - at a block party. Maybe that's how police chief candidates should be introduced to him.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Write your Oakland City Council Representative

...If you're dissatisfied with Dellums. There's a campaign underway to write our council members to get City Council to vote no-confidence for the mayor. If you don't know who your representative is, the district map is here. Don't know why I didn't think of this. After all, it worked to get rid of the Police Chief.

Taking Bets on When We'll Get a Police Chief

Oakland cops have a tough job, and we need them, which why I hope we get a good chief in there now. As Chuck Reed recently said of San Jose, the number one service a city provides is safety. And Ex-Chief Tucker says Council President Brunner and the Council aren't serious about public safety? Honestly? VSmooth says that the OPD got $208M last year and went over budget - how does that compare to other cities?

We can't afford another permanent temporary city-administrator situation like we've had with Edgerly. According to Zennie we at least have some explanation (i.e., it would have been Bobb were it not for Bobb's price tag), but as a clueless private sector hack I'm open to explanations of why it takes this long to hire a city administrator. There are rumors that Dan Lindheim's confirmation for the job is already quietly on the calendar for February 3rd; fine, but at this stage I'll believe a decision has been made once we see it.

So what's the story on recalling Dellums? We just had a riot for crying out loud, and then the head of the police department resigns for unrelated reasons. If we think the temporary disruption is better than 2 more years of this, and there's a mechanism, it's now or never.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

State of the City Address Monday Night January 26

Mayor Dellums is giving his state of the city address Monday night January 26. A list of satellite viewing locations is here. Will we be able to watch this at home on KTOP? Will this be posted on the web somewhere?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Report from Downtown Oakland #1

I was at the packed Cafe van Kleef last night (Friday) along with it seemed about a thousand other souls, and I had the good fortune of being able to talk to Peter van Kleef, whose bravery and quick-thinking is featured in Zennie's video from the night of the first protest. Peter thought it was funny that I had seen him on screen but never in person. According to Peter, these jostled pictures I took represent a regular Friday night:

End result: got my greyhound, heard very original live music, talked to some interesting people and had a great time. I'm going to get back down to SOBO for the 17th on 17th festival this afternoon. See you down there.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

An Official Night Out?

Update: go here to see the people on Yelp who had this same idea. See you at Cafe van Kleef at 10pm.

I keep referring to Living in the O's post about patronizing Oakland businesses.

How about an official Night Out? Doesn't have to be anything fancy, just everybody pick a night and meet up somewhere, hit a restaurant, a couple bars, get to know your neighbors. Sounds like fun anyway. Being new to Oakland I'm open to suggestions about exactly where. Of course somebody else probably already thought of this, so please comment with the info so everyone knows where to go. We could wear a red dot on our shirts or something to identify us as Oakland-Night-Out folks.

Forward this to friends, neighbors, and coworkers!

Questions for Peaceful Protesters

1. Are there many people in Oakland who think what happened at Fruitvale Station New Years Day was acceptable? If so, will their opinions be changed by these protests?

2. Will the outcome of the trial be changed by these protests?

3. Is it possible that people who are sympathetic to the cause are now so disgusted with the behavior of some of the protesters that they don't want to hear about the case any more?

4. Is it in your interest as peaceful protesters to issue the most strident condemnations of the rioters?

Everyone understands that the crimes are being committed by a small subset of the people who show up for the protests. That doesn't mitigate their impact on the people whose lives are being derailed. Some of the rioters I saw in the footage of the January 14th riot were smiling and laughing. Grieving for Oscar Grant? Angry at The System? There is no indication that they were doing anything but finding an excuse to break windows.

Our right to protest is predicated on our ability to assemble peaceably. After two protests with rioting, you've established a pattern. As with any killing, I demand that justice be done in the case of Johannes Mehserle. And at this point, as a citizen of Oakland, I also support police efforts to stop further demonstrations. The people of Oakland have experienced three tragedies so far - a police shooting, and two spates of property destruction. We don't need more.

If you want to help Oakland, get involved in city affairs and volunteer at times other than when your face will be on TV - and patronize businesses in the riot zone.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Support Downtown Oakland Businesses

Especially if they were vandalized. Just throwing my support behind this post over at Living in the O.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Mayor Dellums, We Still Need More From You

I haven't been a big fan of Ron Dellums, but I left the door open in this blog's inaugural post to my optimism for a renaissance in the Dellums administration. The Chinese character for "crisis" is a compound of "danger" and "opportunity", and this is exactly that for a mayor that seems to most residents of Oakland to be using his office as a retirement perk.

Yes, Dellums turned up to calm the crowd the night of the riot (let's call it that; a protest doesn't involve setting things on fire). So far so good; one point for Ron. And his administration has stepped up with funds to help those business owners hurt by the riot. Good! Two points for Ron.

But we need more, much more. While justice is slowly enacted in the investigationof Johannes Mehserle, along with the now-incarcerated losers who used Oscar Grant's death as an excuse to burn their neighbors' cars, Dellums must keep very, very visible. The window for action is sliding shut. Obama is building confidence by appearing constantly on television in the days leading up to the transition of power; Dellums can do much the same thing by appearing daily, shaking hands around the city, and giving a transparent plan of attack for how we can keep this from ever happening again - not only the tragedy on BART, but the public reaction to it (driven apparently by outsiders) as well as the violent crime that has plagued Oakland for years, somehow without sparking the same outrage. I haven't seen nearly enough of Dellums on the news to convince me that he's putting forth enough effort. In contrast, regardless what you think of Gavin Newsom's handling of the Olympic Torch visit - I personally disagreed with it - Newsom is about as hands-on a mayor as there is, and I grudgingly admired how involved he was with the execution of the relay that day. After the drubbing that Oakland's reputation has taken, business owners will take some more convincing that Oakland is a good place to grow a business. Broadway and Telegraph downtown really have the potential to be a great entertainment district, but restauranteurs looking for a new location are going to be understandably nervous at this point. The mayor can do something about that.

There are two things that are not helping. The first and most disgusting is the airtime given to the goons from the Nation of Islam to speak for the people of Oakland. To put a fine point on it, Nation of Islam is on thin ice to act outraged over the killing of a black man. I'm also disillusioned that at a time like this Dellums is talking about a position with the Obama administration. Not only does this break an unwritten rule of cabinet picks (if you want the job, you don't talk about it) but it shows that the mayor's focus is not where it must be: on Oakland. My fondest wish is that with the next blog post I'll have to eat my words.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Riot in 2008? Are You Kidding?

If you thought the election of a black president would erase America's racial tensions, you didn't have to wait long to test your theory. Here is the Tribune article and the Chronicle article. I'm sick of explaining to people in the Bay Area that Oakland isn't one big continuous riot or gang war. Now, it's going to be more difficult to make that claim. Oakland has long been preoccupied with the elusive Dellums. The BART shooting that sparked the riot wasn't the mayor's fault, but he now has a golden opportunity to lead in a crisis. Time to show us what you're made of, Ron.

I've been planning to put up an Oakland blog since I moved here in June of 2008. It's a great city that isn't nearly living up to its potential, and as a new immigrant to it, I'd like to do my part to make it better. I hoped my inaugural post would be positive, but there's no time like the present.

A problem that Oakland faces, like many American cities, is that people behave as if we're all not residents of the same city. We don't behave as if we are in charge of it. Whether or not you realize it, we are. The worst manifestation of this is the urge to smash cars and businesses in our own neighborhoods when there's been a tragedy. If someone is breaking into cars in your neighborhood, the solution isn't to join in with him!Where's the sense of community and ownership and responsibility? This is our city.

Which is exactly why it's a huge problem that thrillseekers were coming in from outside Oakland:

"'I feel like the night is going great,' said Nia Sykes, 24, of San Francisco, one of the demonstrators. 'I feel like Oakland should make some noise. This is how we need to fight back...[she] had little sympathy for the owner of Creative African Braids. 'She should be glad she just lost her business and not her life.'"

That's great Nia! I'm glad you're coming into Oakland to incite the destruction of black-owned businesses in my city! The next time there's a tragedy in San Francisco, can we come over and set your car on fire?

There is an ongoing criminal investigation into the BART shooting, and justice will be done. The proceeding will no doubt be tainted by this event. As the Tribune reported: "The protesters were 'calling attention to something that is a systematic problem, which won't go away with an apology,' said a 29-year-old who identified himself only as B. Rex. He was arrested and taken by police in a squad car soon after." Guess what B. Rex? It won't go away by setting your own city on fire either.