Wednesday, March 25, 2009

R.K. Narayan: The Guide

There's something about magical fiction. It sucks you in, it forces your cynical mind to suspend disbelief, and then, when you finish it, you go, "why on earth did I read that?" Here I am, the girl who reads things like "Looming Towers" and memoirs of abortion doctors, and I follow up with the story of an Indian tour-guide-turned-saint? The writing wasn't quite powerful enough to keep me turning the pages, but there's something about India that is, let's be honest, exotic enough to want to know just what is going on. Or maybe it's my parent's recent trip, and my dad's wonderful blog (start at the beginning chronologically and allow lots of time), that makes me interested in India. I don't know if this story is based on a myth or a truth or just pulled out of thin air, but it's a fast read, and good to pass the time if you're too immersed in serious reading, or serious local news.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

My Life in a Nutshell, Part 3

There is something about my timing. Seriously. Hours after my last post, or maybe at the same time as I was writing, 4 OPD officers were shot and killed.

I'm not saying I'm crossing over to the dark side of Oakland-hatred, but man.

Rest in peace, guys. Oakland, step up. Seriously.

Keep Oakland Real

With the closing of the Parkway, a true Oakland landmark, I feel it's necessary to encourage people to keep Oakland real. It just isn't true, although it's often repeated that "there is no there, there." Gertrude Stein was confused, famous, and influential. I don't know how it started (I'll have to look into this more), but somehow Oakland's other claim to fame is crime, murder, corruption, and ghetto. In fact, I've been attending a training for people in my profession from all over California. Oakland has become the go-to joke for just these things, and one instructor even made the comment (only partially in jest) that Oakland residents were 30% "bad." When I started to object, he asked if the number was more like 80%. We'll leave aside my philosophical objection to the question of "bad" human beings (that's for another post), and just get to the bottom line: Oakland is NOT made of bad people, and the city itself is so much more than just the "'hood."

The Parkway was one of those places that made Oakland something special, and it will be missed. Of course you can still go to the Cerrito, and if you're a movie person, I think you should, and support local and locally own businesses. But there is lots of Oakland left, and it's our job to keep it here.

First of all, the A's. Thank goodness, the "nonsensical" and downright infuriating plan to move the A's to Fremont (Fremont??) is dead. The A's are still in Oakland, and if I have anything to do with it, they're staying here. Okay, I don't have delusions of grandeur. Obviously I have nothing to do with it. But as long as they're here, I'm going to games, and enjoying this awesome part of Oakland. I have nothing to say on the subject of the Raiders (and Mt Davis), so I'll leave that alone. I'll be at opening night, April 10th, will you?

There's tons of other local flavor: I was lucky enough to have this weekend off, and went to one of my favorite events, the Saturday Farmer's Market at Lake Merritt. This place is awesome. With the exception of the small children who play naked and pee in the Splash Pad fountain in the summer months, I really find no fault with it. Yummy produce, some pretty tasty precooked food, lunch opportunities, proximity to Arizmendi, even photo opportunities. There's other farmer's markets, too, in Temescal and Jack London Square and probably Rockridge (geez, I can't exhaustively do all the work here, like I did on the blog list, you've got to do some legwork- is not the yellowpages!) There's the Oakland Art Murmur aka First Friday every month, which is a pretty awesome chance to meet people and see art and again with the photo opportunities and beer drinking and yeah, lots of cool options in uptown. Your friends and mine at oaklandish never fail to provide good clean fun all over town along with history lessons and community projects.

There's all sorts of festivals and fairs in Oakland. Again, I can't list them all, but of course there's Dia de los Muertos in Fruitvale, the Temescal Fair, the Lakefest (what did that used to be called?), the Greek Festival, etc. This list has some pretty mundane and some pretty wacky things to do that you may have forgotten all about. I've never even been to the rooftop gardens, though it's on my "things to do" list. The Fox Theatre just reopened, Mountain View Cemetery is beautiful, Lake Merritt is really quite fabulous (the smell is quite... odorous), and I know people are fascinated with that new church.

Don't take my word for it. Check out Oakland Geology, FutureOakland, A Better Oakland, Living in the O, Brooklyn Avenue, or Oakland Streets; other Oakland blogs. Bottom line: I believe in Oakland. We're a troubled city, sure. I am not that rosy eyed, and bushy tailed, and metaphorically dumbly naive. I know this city is fucked up. I'm just not willing to believe that we need to give up and start shopping at Bay Street in Emeryville and spending all our time at Fisherman's Wharf. We can have a good time in local areas in Oakland, and believe in positive change for the there that is here. Call me Pollyanna.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

It's Like Collecting Baseball Cards

At least, that's what they say...

Thanks to SFist for the heads up, because you know I am not about to read the Chronicle every day. Apparently San Francisco is considering jail time for the Very Serious Crime of graffiti because people are So Pissed Off. If you've been following along like good themacinator readers, you'll know that I'm not too worried about pissing off the city of San Francisco, and that I do in fact support appropriately placed graffiti that is not gang related. Of course, the well-selected quotes in the SF Chronicle article will have you believing that all graffiti is on the sides of houses owned by frail elderly people and that once one building is tagged, houses start getting foreclosed and basically, everything goes to shit. Damn, who knew spray paint was so powerful!

I have to tell you, I have a different reading of this article. If you want to live by the doctrine previously outlined by themacinator and conveniently and in a timely fashion brought up again by my dear friend Mr Nevius over at the Chronicle, I recommend moving to Seattle if you hate graffiti, and continuing to take pictures of graff in SF if you live here, like me. I mean, really, didn't he know he was batting for other team when he used the baseball card quote? He might has well have handed me a Rickey rookie card.

Go A's!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Susan Wicklund: This Common Secret

Near the end of "This Common Secret," Susan Wicklund describes herself as a doctor who has "been providing safe, legal abortions for women for nearly twenty years." She is one of very few doctors that provide this service in the United States. According to the LA Times, there were only 1800 abortion providers in the US in 2000, and according to the well respected Guttmacher Institute 87% of counties have no abortion providers.

Dr Wicklund puts a human face on both the trials of being a doctor who provides this service and the varied patients who come into her offices for a simple, yet always complicated 5 minute procedure. She discusses the evasive maneuvers she has to take just to get to work (wigs, disguises, security guards, walking miles to get to hidden cars, secret addresses, etc) and the tricks she uses to ensure that her patients get what they need. She outlines her struggles to provide compassionate care in the face of managed care and how frustrating and daunting this is for patients who need access to services without the added complications of insurance companies who only think of the "bottom line."

Dr Wicklund is a "whole person" doctor. She thinks about patients' lives and circumstances, and will not perform an abortion until she is confident that the woman and the woman only is behind the procedure 100%. She takes the time to talk to protesters, even though they make her life miserable. She neglects her family for her career, though they seem to come out okay in the end (would we notice this if Dr Wicklund were an hombre?), and can't give up her job when she's fired for caring too much about her patients. We need more doctors like this, who fight the good fight with their work and their extra-workular activities. Not a great read, but worth reading to keep you inspired to keep fighting.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lawrence Wright: The Looming Tower

I can't help it. I read these books about the US failure to forsee and prevent/US contribution to radical Islamicism like they're going out of style. I like to understand current events, but more, I am a cynic. An optimistic cynic, sure, but a cynic who says "Duh, we should have known better." Duh, the US created enemies like THAT was going out of style. And it doesn't take some kind of radical leftist conspiracy theorist to see it.

Lawrence Wright's analysis and history of the 30 or so years leading up to 2001 is an evenhanded take on how various Arab governments and American inept foreign policies helped to make radical, fundemantal, and ultimately fringe Islam into a popular and dangerous worldview. Osama bin Laden went from a rich young son in an influential Saudi family to a destitute, charismatic, world leader with a murderous plot that admittedly included the killing of innocents. Wright outlined the turn of events that created this new persona of bin Laden's, and the institutional oversights that crippled the potential for the US to stop him. This book won the Pulitzer Prize. What else can I add to that?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tresspassing, Graffiti, and Pissing San Francisco Off

I am generally quite law abiding. I think I've mentioned before that I occasionally talk on the cell phone while driving. This is illegal in California, but I just can't help it, and I think it's a stupid law. Though originally I was a cell phone hater, I've turned into what I abhor, and now I'm a cell phone addict. I guess we can hate our addictions, so it's one of those lived contradictions. I have been known to break the speed limit, and I am a notorious jaywalker. I wouldn't be from the Bay Area if I obeyed the zebras. I even work in law enforcement, as much as I don't define my career that way.

But the truth is, I often spend my free time breaking the law. And enjoying it. My guilty pleasure is trespassing. There is almost nothing I like more than taking photographs of abandoned stuff. The problem is, with the exception of sofa frees, which are almost always on the sidewalk (i.e. public property), most abandoned things are marked as "private property" or "no trespassing" or "trespassers will be prosecuted" or "restricted area." Well, shit. I prefer "urban explorer" to "trespasser," but in the eyes of the law, I'm sure the term is "criminal." Some of my favorite places to explore (Skaggs Island, parts of Treasure Island, Mare Island, the Alameda Naval Base, and decidedly all of the Dogpatch) are off limits. I've been shooed away gently and less gently, but so far have evaded capture. I'm not sure how long this can go on. And what would happen if I was captured... Life on a desert island? In a prison cell? Destruction of my camera? Honestly, I prefer to believe that those signs are put there for my safety, or the safety of fools who aren't careful with their safety. Small children should not be playing in abandoned buildings, so the owners of these buildings should probably cover their asses. Smart move! But me, I'm careful, and all I do is walk around, avoid glass, and take some pictures. The sign posters don't really mean me, right?

Graffiti poses a similar problem. I've been taking pictures of graffiti for as long as I've been taking pictures. My grandpa gave me his Canon AE-1 and I used to go shoot train layups (benching), and any walls I could find. I did this in Oakland, Berkeley, Connecticut, and points in between. I love graff- good graff- and see it as art. I've had fights with my aunt, and converted my parents, who even had a young graff artist paint their wall, about the merits of graffiti. I collect graff books and used to hunt magazines in bookstores and on eBay. I still get a little trill in my heart when I see a graff book in a store that I have never seen before. I can't help checking the art section for these books. But graff, well, it's just not legal. Most people hate it. They consider it urban blight and part of the reason Oakland and other cities suck. I don't DO graffiti (I'm not that talented or that law-breaking), but I appreciate it. I feel that good graffiti, not gang tags, which are totally different, actually make a city more beautiful. Urban areas can be totally boring and ugly and banal. How many times can you see McDonald's billboards and Starbucks signs and gas stations? The fun of looking for GATS tags and being surprised by a wall full of color is way more exciting, novel, and artistic. Street art changes over time, and is creative and unique. And totally not legal. I can chase it all I want, but it often brings me into areas I'm not really supposed to be in, since graffiti artists are often pushed into areas they're not really supposed to be in, since the city streets are difficult to paint. Train tunnels, back alleys, fenced off areas- there we go with the trespassing again.

Lately, I have been involved in pissing off the city of San Francisco. It was accidental, I swear. I just like to have fun, and to take pictures of other people having fun. It all started with Bring Your Own Big Wheel. Little did I know that being a grownup could be so much fun. I mean, I know I'm not a normal grownup, but I didn't know there were other abnormal grownups who like to behave like children out there. Well, there's shittons of them, apparently, and I began to seek them out. I like to have fun, and I like to watch people having fun, and I like to take pictures of them having fun. Fast forward to the pillow fight on Valentine's Day, which was also amazingly fun. Who knew so many grownups could make so many feathers? And who knew San Francisco would be so mad? Feathers WERE everywhere, it's true. When we got to the BART station, there they were. They were even on the train. I thought it was hilarious, and kind of sweet. Apparently, SF thought it was annoying and expensive. Well, crap. There I go with the outlaw stuff again.

I talked about it with a friend last night, and bottom line, I think it comes down to the fact that I'm a photo-fun-communist. I believe that property should be shared: if no one's living or using a building (i.e. it's abandoned), it should be fair game to take pictures of. "No Trespassing" signs are somewhat appropriate- I don't want anyone to get hurt either, but really, prosecuting people is really quite awful and unnecessary. The Navy doesn't need those bases anymore, and they've totally cleaned out those buildings of anything classified. It's not going to hurt anything if I take pictures of the faucets that don't work anymore. And likewise with graffiti. It would be totally awful if someone threw up a piece on someones house or small business, but on the backside of a business in an alley? or a light post? or parking meter? or train car? Why the hell not? Blank space is getting beautified, and colorful, and our lives are more interesting this way. Respectful street art is beneficial to everyone. Way better than commercial alternatives. Lastly, people should have fun. There is war all over the world. The economy sucks. People are dying, fighting, starving, etc. Let them have good, free, clean fun. Big wheels? Pies in the face? Pillows? Why not! We make friends, we laugh, we generally get our spirits lifted. Stop being grouchy, lighten up a little, and join in- you might feel better. I know I do when I have fun, and I'm generally slightly uptight.

I promise not to talk on the cell phone while driving and to attempt to abide by the speed limit if the "No Trespassing" signs come down, the Bay Area lightens up on graff, and flashmobs are allowed to continue.

lawenforcing, lawbreaking themacinator