Starr King open space with Bernal Heights in distance behind… one of the gorgeous walks I’ve been on lately.
It’s the middle of July and I have to admit that I’ve let this blog slide considerably from earlier times. I don’t know if anyone is still out there waiting for my writing, but I’m guessing not too many. On the other hand, I’ve had some robot out there try to log on to my account here over 7,500 times in the past five days! I assume that when the Central American child immigrant scandal blew up, some right-wing lunatic got exercised over my most recent blog post about the border. I don’t know who has a robot that just rotates through 16 brand new IPs every hour or so, trying to log on, and I don’t know if this is supposed to be a Denial of Service Attack, or what. A subset of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists I guess (those ardent patriotic intellectuals who fill the comments sections of seemingly every website that has one!)
I’ve been PWOB, Present Without Blogging! Life is full and busy. I take a lot of walks, I’m scurrying about town giving walking and bike tours quite often, and we’ve been pushing our big summer fundraising drive (the 3% solution) for Shaping San Francisco which has gone surprisingly well. That has led me to spending a lot of hours adding new material to the archive at FoundSF.org, including over 200 new early 20th century photos from a private collector. I also confess that I am crazy for World Cup soccer and still a big baseball fan too, so there’s been way too many hours watching sports as well. I also read Dave Zirin’s excellent “Brazil’s Dance with the Devil” (Haymarket Books) which gives an excellent brief history of Brazil, the role of soccer in the country, but more importantly, a no-holds-barred exposé on the role of “celebration capitalism” in using spectacles like the World Cup and Olympics (the latter coming to Rio in 2016) to impose a neoliberal reorganization of urban space. It all benefits existing wealth at the expense of the rest of the population of course, and it’s quite analogous to the “shock doctrine” described by Naomi Klein, though in this case using the spectacle of mass sports to displace and destroy existing networks of life and community.
I read a lot, though not nearly as many hours as I think I should, more books lately but still there’s a steady deluge of magazines arriving in the mail every week. Read that grim piece “The End of Retirement” in the latest Harper’s yesterday, portraying all these over 65 folks too poor to stop working, living in RVs and driving from Amazon warehouse to state park to convention, doing short bursts of temporary (often exhausting) work. I also read Nathan Heller’s “California Screaming” in the July 7 & 14 New Yorker. Much too even-handed for my taste, treating the vicious and often personal tide of displacement and eviction as an unavoidable feature of living in a free society. Glad some friends got recognized and even quoted (Erin McElroy, Tiny, Tommi Avicolla Mecca, even Gabriel Metcalf!), but the author has that galling upper middle class know it all approach that flattens everything out. He insists the “culture war” is overstated, and that “the values that each side espouse can sound strikingly similar.” What I liked about Heller’s piece comes towards the very end. After detailing the various political objections the rich and the techies have against the dysfunctionality of local government, after having shown how dissatisfied activists are with the skewed priorities of local government (which seem to many of us to be focused on taking care of the rich and techies!), he ruminates on the problems of representative public life, but conflates public life with the broken institutions and empty rituals of consultation and deliberation. He argues:
“The West Coast radicalism of the twentieth century arose from the revelation that, in moments of extreme frustration or injustice, power could be claimed and wrongs could be corrected by exiting the system. What started with the dropout hippies and the direct-action campaigns of the sixties reverberates both in the protests of tech’s critics and in the work-arounds, hacks, and philanthropic deliverances of tech itself. The privatized mechanisms of San Francisco politics, with its warring stories of personal good will and subjective transcendence, are the fruits of that heroic nonconformism carried forward. The two groups may not share objectives, yet they’re joined by an escape from public political process that has intensified into local doctrine. The truly radical move in the Bay Area would be to return to the messy business of public debate.
“This would be tricky because public process is antithetical to tech culture. It is not fast. It is unruly and can be dispiriting. There are many people involved, with disparate ideas, and most big decisions are put to public vote—which means more people and ideas. This is the hell of regulatory blockades and referenda and open meetings to which crazy people come to read bizarre complaints off rumpled notebook paper. It is why those hoping for big, swift change leave government, and why people who worry about weak responses stand before buses. Getting anything done through public process requires convincing many, many individuals of the rightness of your dream. And it demands that you do that over and over, against a tide of disagreement, settling for half measures rather than no measures. The terms of public process are not personal or romantic but objective; it is language that could have been drawn up, literally, by committee.”
And then he slides back into middle class complacency, asserting that we have to work to stay “on the same page” and that the deeper political culture will survive the onslaught of “direct action devotees”—that the money will dry up when the Fed stops handing out billions to banks every month and “a company town will move toward becoming, once more, just a town.” Ugh. This trite neoliberal pabulum is hard to take given how profoundly San Francisco’s neighborhoods are being class-cleansed (at least formerly diverse neighborhoods like the Fillmore, the Mission, and South of Market).
On the other hand I think he’s hit the mark when he talks about the break down in public politics. Not precisely in the way he imagines it though. It’s not just that it’s so much work to get lots of individuals to agree with your views, it’s the system is wholly owned and operated by monied interests. The opportunity to comment on or offer critical amendment to public policy is mostly a charade of public hearings that only the most hardy or mentally delusional can bear to attend (or believe are sincere). But it’s also true that we saw the Occupy assemblies hijacked regularly by people who were mentally impaired in various ways. San Francisco has a particularly high percentage of psychotic people living on its streets, and plenty of them are lucid enough to want to occasionally participate in political life—as they should! Who is not troubled sometimes to the edge of sanity by this mad world, after all? More »