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Fake Numbers and Real Limits

My blogging is lagging, and not because I’m gagging, or even lollygagging, just too much going on at once. My book rollout for Nowtopia was last Wednesday and I’m now in the flow of the my “tour” which leaves SF on April 28, but continues later tonight at SmackDab and next Thursday at Modern Times. You can check out the podcast of my rollout reading if you can’t join me at one of my tour stops.

Golden Gate Bridge from Twin Peaks, April 2008.

I wanted to complement my book’s appearance by noting some useful items in the media, both online and off, that help the larger anti-economy argument that Nowtopia is part of. In the current Harper’s magazine, Kevin Phillips writes about the fake numbers that underpin our sense of “economic reality”: “Numbers Racket: Why the Economy is Worse Than We Know”. He gives an overview of how government economics statistics have been jerryrigged and altered quite a few times just since the 1970s, leading to the imaginary economic health much touted by Clinton and Bush during the past 16 years. Turns out unemployment, if measured as it once was, would be closer to 9%, inflation would be running at 12% and GNP and “growth” would have been much worse than reported. Of course the important caveat here is that I don’t believe in any of these numbers either! The whole system of measuring wealth and economic activity is so skewed away from any sense of what’s meaningful or true as to be quite meaningless anyway. But Phillips, a former Nixon speechwriter and Republican strategist (and more recently, debunker of the Bush Dynasty as a criminal enterprise spanning generations) wants to reclaim economic stats from the funhouse they’ve been relegated to. One compelling stat he cites is that in order to artifically hold up the illusion of economic growth during two decades of financial chicanery, 15% of “Gross Domestic Product (GDP)” value in 2007 is accounted for by “imputed” income (the benefit one receives from a free checking account, or the imputed income of living in one’s own home, or the value of employer-paid life or health insurance premiums).

Phillips’ article follows the interesting piece “Faustian Economics: Hell Hath No Limits” by Wendell Berry, in the same issue, which is trying (again) to focus Americans on the reality of limits. Berry has been writing from a radical ecologist position for years now, and often he brings in a quasi-religious tone that really puts me off. He admits as much in this article.

“We are, in short, coming under pressure to understand ourselves as limited creatures in a limited world… I am well aware of what I risk in bringing this language of religion into what is normally a scientific discussion. I do so because I doubt that we can define our present problems adequately, let alone solve them, without some recourse to our cultural heritage.”

Much as I loathe the admonitional tone that wants to chastise for living beyond our limits, I can easily understand the basic ecological truth of that point. Berry’s article escapes his own rhetorical trap as it proceeds and by the end I was quite happy with it.

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Still Bicycling!

There’s something odd afoot and I’m not sure what to make of it…a mini-PR offensive was launched last week that had some contradictory components. Following the shocking death of two racing cyclists in the South Bay hills, run over by a cop or sheriff who fell asleep at the wheel, also badly injuring a third cyclist, most bicyclists felt that maybe, just maybe, the local authorities might start paying attention to how unsafe it is to cycle around here. The Comicle rushed in to the save the day. They published this hilarious article which puts the blame for 2/3 of all bike-car accidents squarely on the shoulders of the bicyclists. The source? Why it’s that always objective and reliable California Highway Patrol and local police records. What a joke!

Anyone who has bicycled regularly for any length of time around here has had the experience of seeing a fellow or sister cyclist get doored or driven into or worse, or come upon a cyclist sprawled on the ground, and seen how the police routinely take statements from anyone at the scene EXCEPT other bicyclists! The presumption at all points of contact between cyclists and motorists is that the cyclist is at fault. It’s quite difficult to even insert into the record a contrary point of view.

This coming Monday night I’m going to be on a radio show with the Bike Coalition’s Leah Shahum, the MTA’s Bridget Smith, and anti-bicycling crank Rob Anderson:

On Monday 3/31/08, 7:00pm to 8:00pm, the topic for City Visions Radio (91.7.FM) will be: “Planning for San Francisco’s Growing Biking Population” Call in during the show at 415/841-4134 or e-mail us.

I hope you cyclists will call in and demand a thorough and radical alteration of our city streets in favor of safe cycling, traffic calming, and reduced car access wherever possible. It might get weird and even ugly with Anderson on there, since he’s the guy who filed the lawsuit that stopped the current bike plan in its tracks, ostensibly because inadequate environmental review was done before it was implemented.

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Springing Forward

Nowtopia is back from the printer! You can now order copies here, and you can visit the website I put together for it here. I have an ambitious calendar of appearances scheduled already too, so I hope to see everyone out there somewhere! Big opening party at CounterPULSE April 9, 7:30 p.m.

Obviously I’m behind on blogging these days. My birthday passed last week, and I had the pleasure of discovering that I share a birthday with John Ross. John threw a septugenarian poetry slam at Cafe La Boheme at 24th and Mission a week ago. Here he is early in the proceedings:

He writes semi-regularly for the SF Bay Guardian and Counterpunch, and has a manuscript looking for a publisher about Iraq, where he went at the start of the current war to act as a human shield in Mosul. He just sent out a short piece about that, so if you want to get on his email list write him. I interviewed John a year ago about his late 1960s/early 1970s experience with the Mission Tenants Union and the Mission Coalition Organization, incredibly important episodes in San Francisco history that are largely forgotten… hope to get the clips up on the Shaping SF archive collection soon.

History jumps out at me from my rides and walks around the city. Here’s a piece of public art gracing the MUNI “barn” at Presidio and Post, a nice 30s aesthetic:

Up on Potrero Hill where I was strolling last weekend, spring has sprung, but I was also surprised to find this memorial stencil on 19th near Vermont Street, a most unlikely place for such a thing:

Some folks I know put a lot of hope into Bhutto’s return to the fray in Pakistani democracy, but as usual, I didn’t think it was such a big deal. Her martyrdom is sad–she was apparently an interesting person who had once had quite a joie de vivre, but she must have known her odds of surviving were pretty darn low. Tariq Ali, who was both her friend and a fierce critic, wrote several good pieces about her, here’s one.

Here’s a couple of spring flower shots for all you far-away friends and family yearning for San Francisco at its best:

The ceanothus go crazy at the beginning of spring. Here’s one on the slope below McKinley Square on Potrero Hill with such an intense blue-purple color, I don’t think the photo can quite capture it.

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