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
Email: cityauditor@oaklandnet.com
Website: www.oaklandauditor.com

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 officeofthemayor@oaklandnet.com. 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 RockridgeResidents.org, 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.