economy, 'technology', public space, San Francisco past and present, class, books

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Hill Help for Bikes!

Having resumed bicycling my mood is much improved. The weather has been simply amazing too, plum and cherry trees are bursting into bloom all over the place, including in my back yard. I used to ride to the top of Twin Peaks every couple of weeks, sometimes more often, but now, with my hobbled sciatic nerve, I have to ride really slow, and the more I have to push against gravity, the more it hurts. So I’m not doing any sprints or climbs. By way of the SF Bike Coalition‘s regular email, I was pointed to this lovely video of a very simple cable bike lift in Trondheim, Norway… I had imagined a system of tow ropes and translucent bridges in my novel. But this is a beautiful fix for folks who want to cycle, but cannot deal with climbing steep hills. Check it out!

My neighborhood

Finally emerging from my month and a half hibernation with sciatica. I actually rode my bike to the Farmer’s Market today and then up to see Adriana’s new apartment in the Haight. Couldn’t ride the whole way, had to walk about 6 blocks at one point, just too much pressure on the sciatic nerve. But I didn’t do any damage and I made it back home after a few hours of convalescing in her really cool room with a big curving bay window looking west-northwest at Golden Gate Park and the Panhandle from Shrader and Page, top floor of the SE corner. About 5 days ago I had my first tentative walk around the neighborhood, making it about 16 blocks altogether. It still hurts but nothing like before, so I think I just have to work through it now… Anyway, it coincided with the first sunny day in weeks after relentless storms and rain. I took a bunch of photos. Here’s a nice shot of Mission Street with a very green Bernal Hts. in the background, and then a typical–but so lovely–produce market, which are abundant around here…

I felt so great just strolling around the area. I made my way to drop off a DVD, which took me past the abandoned gas station on Valencia and 23rd.

What is up with all the abandoned gas stations? One after another has been closing, getting replaced with condominiums, which I suppose is the fate for this large lot too. Obviously I don’t mind losing gas stations, but it seems strange that in a city that is gaining more population, generally affluent and car-owning, the gas stations are slowly closing. I was imagining (at least 20 years ago when I first noticed this trend) that it had something to do with the oil companies restricting availability to drive up the price… but all they needed for that was GW Bush and an invasion of Iraq (it went from $20/barrel in 2000 to $90+ now)… Not that I really care. I ride a bike or walk so the hell with the gas stations! But couldn’t we do better than an endless series of 4 and 5 story luxury condos going up on Valencia?

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Nowtopia Rising?

I have about three blog entries piled up so I’ll just plunge in. First off, I read an article in the Jan./Feb. issue of Orion called “Send in the Clowns“… it’s a beautifully written piece and was eerily similar in certain respects to my forthcoming Nowtopia… in fact, I’m finding more and more writing out there that resonates with my book (another example is Jeffrey Shantz’s article “Anarchist Futures in the Present” in the new Resistance Studies Magazine), which just reinforces my sense of a rising movement that still lacks its own voice. Anyway, here’s a nice snip from the “Clowns” article:

They are people who have turned their backs upon petroleum culture, who, by doing so in a world that has been made safe for consumption, for a besetting tyranny of convenience, have instead profoundly inconvenienced themselves and are trying, in John Updike’s phrase, to be “model citizens of Thoreau’s utopia of doing without.” They are grassroots, agitprop do-it-yourselfers, tinkerers, roboticists, jugglers, musicians, radical gardening disciples, fluffy anarchist trash worshipers, and practitioners of slow food and slow time. They are thrift store habitués, living comfortably and happily off the salvage stream. In dumpsters, on city sidewalks, and on the shoulders of American highways, radical bicycle activists lay claim to the materials of construction to build their huts and their yurts and their geodesic domes in the woods. In a world where one hardly knows where to start the work of redemption, salvage has, for them at least, rediscovered its link to salvation.

The article is well worth reading all the way through, when the author finds himself falling out with his hero, an anarchist bicyclist who turns out to be a rigid moralist that can’t brook the author’s ongoing “normality” after being exposed to the “superior” lifestyle he’s been shown. In this curious way the article actually serves as a repudiation by a ‘regular guy’ of the subculture his article mostly celebrates. And I get it! The self-righteousness that one encounters all too often among the marginal activists and innovators might be a crucial way for them to keep themselves going, but it’s incredibly off-putting if you’re not already “with” them…

Not long ago I was talking with Rose Aguilar of Your Call radio after a CounterPULSE event about how flaky the “left” can be compared to how tightly organized and well presented mainstream folks can be (we were lamenting a rather poor panel discussion we’d just been part of)… she spontaneously came up with the example of “a bicyclist who comes late to the radio studio, all sweaty and breathing heavily”… her KALW studios are at top of a steep hill adjacent to McLaren Park in southern SF, and I’ve ridden there. Not easy! So the implication of her offhand comment was that an organized “together” person would arrive by car, and only the disorganized and (implicitly) pathetic would arrive by bike… sad that she has that association, but it’s telling. And it dovetails in an interesting way with the portrayal of Dave Santos in the Orion piece.

Today is election day, Sooper Dooper Toosday, and the usual frenzy is well underway, but limited to the random friend who unpredictably and mysteriously gets suddenly very animated about Obama or Hilary or Kucinich or… fill in the blank. In years past it was Jesse Jackson or even Walter Mondale (that was 1984 and if Reagan was re-elected, the world might not survive!)… I grapple with my own sense of utter disconnection from these momentous decisions. The person who occupies the presidency matters on symbolic levels for sure, but among the people still running there are hardly any differences. They all are representatives of a fairly tightly organized ruling class politics. Obama is pro-coal and pro-nuclear? getting his foreign policy advice from Brzezinski? Sure, the fantasy is that he’ll break with all the received wisdom (oops, I mean madness) and it might be that the ruling class itself (at least a good-sized faction of it) sees the need for radical reform in the face of collapsing economy and failing empire. But the most likely scenario, like when Clinton and Gore were running the show, is that Obama will give cover to really heinous policies serving American capital… his noise on trade and labor and environment means he’ll be perfectly positioned to advance the aggressive penetration of other countries and cultures by US business. Might he be the president that kickstarts the radical capitalist exploitation (biofuels, genetic materials, cheap manufacturing) of Africa?… that seems overdue.. anyway, it’s all speculation now, and it’s impossible for me to imagine that Obama or Clinton will be anything but a nightmare once in office.

Meanwhile, I’m up and moving a lot more. In my next blog post, perhaps later today, I’ll show some photos of my neighborhood that I can finally walk around in again. In a small 2-block zone there is a great window on the neighborhood murals here, old and new… but for the moment here is the meal I finally got to sit at the table and eat, brusselsprouts and scallops and champagne, celebrating my emerging recovery:

back again later, or tomorrow….

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