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Friday, June 28, 2013

I just saw the first same-sex marriage!

I happened to be at Civic Center this afternoon when word came down that the stay on same-sex marriage had been lifted. I was on my way to meet with state Sen. Mark Leno when I saw Attorney General Kamala Harris heading out of the state building toward City Hall with a huge group of people behind her. Leno's office was buzzing with excitement -- the stay has been lifted! As Harris tweeted, "let the marriages begin!" So we walked over to watch the plaintiffs in the landmark case, Kristin Perry and Sandy Stier, get married, on the balcony at City Hall.

The Mayor's Office was packed with people; the timing was perfect. A bright sunny day, the opening of Pride weekend, the Trans March on the way, and for all of our (serious) political difference, there was a moment of magical solidarity when even Mayor Lee (who is not my best bud) was happy to see me and shake my hand.

Harris got the job of presiding over the first legal same-sex marriage in California since the Supreme Court decision, and while she clearly had no experience as a preacher (you gotta do the "I take you" a little more slowly) nobody cared. It was a "wow" moment in the world and in the city, and I will always remember being a part of it.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Could Sean Parker be right?

I can't believe I wrote that headline.

But after reading the long (long) piece that the Facebook billionaire posted today, I'm thinking: Guy's got a point.

Not that I excuse the (obvious) excess, not that I think a really really rich guy has anything to complain about when his wedding cost $2.5 million more than he expected, not that, at a time when the gap between the rich and the poor is as bad as it's been in a century, I have much sympathy for someone who has trouble understanding what the fuss is all about. (Hint: It's not the Redwood trees.)

But his analysis of how the media, particularly the new, online and social media, buzzed onto the story like a bunch of angry bees and whipped it around the world at the speed of light without taking much time to check the facts is, sadly, all too accurate.

The boring old traditional reporters with the boring old traditional media have a boring old tradition of calling the people they're attacking before they write stories. They have a boring old tradition of trying to present all sides; in the best of circumstances (all too rare, then and now) they have a tradition of researching the situation in some depth before jumping to conclusions.

I am as guilty as anyone; in the frenzy over this story, I got some facts wrong (the wedding was not in a state park, or on any public property; we all repeated the $10 million figure which might very well be wrong).

We beat up on this guy without talking to him, without making sure we had the story right ... and that's not fair.

I can't believe I'm defending Sean Parker, but I like what he writes here:

Speaking personally, this entire experience has prompted me to think about the state of journalism, in particular the way in which social media, blogging, the acceleration of the news cycle, and the flattening of the media landscape have altered journalism over the past decade. One could easily write off what happened with a blanket criticism of the media: They’ve become link-baiting jackals who believe that “truth” is whatever drives clicks....

Regardless, I can’t escape the feeling that there is a kind of cosmic irony at work here. Readers of this publication are likely familiar with my career in the technology sector. I have spent more than a decade creating products built on the premise that the democratization of media was a good thing, that self-publishing, the free sharing of information, and the removal of the media “gatekeepers” would all lead to a freer, more open media — with the implied assumption that this was a “better” media. I practiced what I preached, both talking about and designing systems around the core belief that empowering people with the tools to more freely access and share information — be it music, links, photos, text, or any other form of media — could only make the world a better place. ...

And yet, as if by some process of karmic retribution, the mediums I dedicated my life to building have all too often become the very weapon by which my own character and reputation has been mercilessly attacked in public. No thanks to the moderating powers of identity and accountability, users of these mediums are happy to attack me publicly, in plain view, using their real names and identities, no veil of anonymity required. I have watched as these new mediums helped foment revolutions, overturn governments, and give otherwise invisible people a voice, and I have also watched them used to extend the impact of real-world bullying from physical interactions into the online world, so kids growing up today can now be tormented from anywhere. I have also witnessed these mediums used to form massive digital lynch mobs, which I have been at the mercy of more than once. I guess it’s only fitting that I would be; the universe has a funny way of returning these things in kind.

Economically speaking I came out on top. I have been one of the greatest individual beneficiaries of this seismic shift in media. I have made, quite literally, “a billion dollars,” which, as I’m constantly reminded by the media, is “cool.” But I’m the first to admit that this shift away from a centralized, top-down media towards a decentralized bottom-up media did not come without a cost. ..

Economically speaking, I profited handsomely from the destruction of the media as we knew it. The rest of the world did not make out so well, and society certainly got the worse end of the bargain.

 The problem with blogging about and repeating on social media stories that someone else has written is that sometimes those stories are wrong. Not saying we should all be sorry for insulting poor Sean, but we should, as a growing industry, take a second to think about what we're doing.

The (boring, old) New York Times has a slogan: Get if first, but first, get it right. Not a bad way to think about what you publish, in any medium.

The economics of the digital media age haven't shaken out yet; I still think that democracy needs (accurate, honest) reporters, and that while the days of the giant one-newpapaper-town newsrooms are over, a model will evolve that will allow people who take journalism seriously to make a living doing it. I hope so.

I have spent much of my career complaining about the (boring, old) MSM, and refusing to abide by the (boring, old) notion of objectivity. But I've always made it a practice to call people before I criticize them, to try to see if there's something in the story that I didn't know or understand. And I still think that's what this business is all about.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sports: Bracing the A's

By Dani Leone

I went to Oakland because it's easier than going to the avenues. A nice young man there thought my legs looked good. He wasn't hitting on me. He was fitting me for a custom ACL brace, so I can get back in the game.

"You look good," he kept saying, looking at my knees. "Your legs look good." Some people with my kind of injury, their legs go wonky, he explained. And he showed me his. His knee. Yep. Wonky.

Kaiser would cover the surgery, but they won't pay for the $428 brace that may well make me not need the surgery, according to at least two of their surgeons. Not medically necessary, they say.

So, to review: knee surgery, medically necessary. Brace so you might not need surgery ... not medically necessary.

Turns out it's worth $428 to me to at least try to not need the surgery that I need, so, OK. Got it. Texted Hedgehog from the elevator: Wanna play racquetball?

But she was in L.A. and I knew it. Looking for work ...

It was so balmy and beautiful on the street that I took the longest way possible to BART. And then when I was on it I realized this was Wednesday and the A's were at home. That's a $2 ticket. Game time: 12:35.

It was 11:30.

I got off BART at West Oakland, switched sides of the track, and went to the Coliseum for lunch. I didn't want to, I had work to do at home, no money, no hat or sunflower seeds ... But you can't not go to a baseball game, day like this.

The Cincinnati Reds. My age is no secret, I remember the 1970s, when the Reds and the A's were the powerhouses of baseball. And it could be that way again. It isn't, but it could be. Two very goddamn good teams, only now they are sneaking up on people. Because they're not the Giants or the Yankees or Red Sox, or even the Texas Rangers or the Braves. Or Dodgers. They are not the big-money teams.

Nevertheless, as we approach the All-Star Break, baseball season's halftime, the A's are in first place, and the Reds are in the thick of things in the very tough NL Central. I think their record is almost the same as the A's's, but because of the St. Louis Cardinals . . .

A's went up 4-0 in the fourth on an RBI double by Brandon Moss and a Josh Donaldson 3-run homer. Moss's hit never really left the ground, although it never exactly touched it either. In all my baseball life I have never seen anything like it. There was never any question of it going over the fence; but it did cross my mind that it might blast through it. Frozen rope, is the expression, but it doesn't do this one justice. This one laser-boinked off the base of the wall in deepest right field so quickly after being hit that the runner on second was barely able to score. From second! On a double!

Donaldson's home run, by contrast, towered up and away, majestically, rockets-red-glaringly, deep into the left field seats.

So: boom and boom. Back to back. Moss and Josh. But the real hero of the game was Jed Lowrie, just for being Jed Lowrie. Nah, he only had two hits, and only one of them was a double. The real real hero was A.J. Griffin, who threw his first ever complete game in the majors, and it was a beauty: a two-hit shutout against one of the better-hitting teams in baseball.

Mixing his marvelously mediocre not-so fastball with a bottomless changeup and a loping curve, he kept the Reds off-balance all afternoon. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, the meat of the Cincinnati order, both went oh-fer, with Jay Bruce looking particularly silly in his golden sombrero. (That means four strikeouts in four at-bats, yo.)

Yeah, and I think I deserve me a game ball, too, for managing to lazy through a warm-afternoon ballgame juiced on barbecue and back without forgetting my new $428 knee brace under my seat, miracle of miracles.

Is there a future for industry in the Bay Area?

I've been deep into the Plan Bay Area controversy, mostly because of the implications for housing, displacement, and the profound transformation of the city that's going to be accelerated by regional planning that doesn't take into account existing vulnerable populations.

But I haven't been paying as much attention to a critical element of the plan: its dismissal of industrial and manufacturing jobs and willingness to write off what is now a significant sector of the regional economy -- and by the way, one that offers middle-class, often unionized, employment.

So I'm glad Zelda Bronstein, former chair of the Berkeley Planning Commission, is on this. Her story in California Progress Report is well-done -- and alarming:

That the region's industrial sector has shrunk and its economy undergone a transformation is undeniable. But to frame this makeover in terms of low-tech vs. high, stagnation vs. innovation, brawn vs. brains, and bad vs. good is a mistake. For one thing, the line between the "old" and "new" economies often zigzags and blurs. For another, there's still a significant amount of industry in the Bay Area. According to MTC/ABAG, in 2010 manufacturing and wholesale enterprise accounted for 460,200 jobs or 14% of the region's employment.

Contrary to "new" economy hype, industrial decline isn't inevitable, and the health of the industrial sector is critical to both broad regional prosperity and environmental amelioration. But for industry to thrive, public officials have to support its essential role in the region's well-being.

Instead, Plan Bay Area puts industry at risk. 
 Again: Smart growth is fine, but not if it ignores the fact that there are already people, and businesses, in the path of large-scale, mostly high-end housing development.

Maybe it's time to talk seriously about a ballot measure to regulate housing development in San Francisco, on the order of the famous 1986 Proposition M. Then maybe other cities will follow.

A win, but not total victory, for same-sex marriage

Pretty much everything that you can say about the Supreme Court's decision on same-sex marriage has been said. I think (as is often the case) scotusblog had the best strict legal analysis, with Suzanne Goldberg noting:

But what is most striking about the opinion, again, is the direct, clear way that the Court seems to understand why DOMA is such an egregious violation of the constitution’s equality guarantee under the Fifth Amendment.   Words like “demean,” “degrade,” and “humiliation” do not appear often in Supreme Court opinions in reference to unconstitutional laws.  Yet the Windsor decision is replete with those words and more.    Indeed, the tone of the opinion almost suggests a sense of offense on the Court’s part:  “the principal purpose and the necessary effect of this law are to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage.”
 Goldberg also points out that the decision, by implication, could end the federal government's refusal to allow same-sex couples the same immigration rights as opposite-sex couples -- a huge change in immigration policy that wasn't at the top of anyone's discussion points as this case came down.

On Forum this morning, the guests mused over an interesting question: The Court -- for whatever valid legal reasons -- ducked the larger issue on Prop. 8. What would have happened if, say, Attorney General Kamala Harris decided, purely for strategic reasons, to defend the measure and force the Court to decide the case on the merits? Is the US Supreme Court, with Anthony Kennedy (who wrote the DOMA decision) as the swing vote, ready to say that marriage equality is a basic civil right?

We don't know. In a sense, while the ruling is exciting and, combined with the DOMA ruling, groundbreaking and historic, it has a conservative edge. Conservatives hate the idea of broad "standing," which in the past has been a huge issue in environmental law (can the Sierra Club sue to stop oil drilling in Alaska if none of its members own property next to where the drilling will happen?) And the Court conservatives like (generally) the idea of leaving civil rights issues to the states, and the voters.

So for now, the matter of same-sex marriage in California is settled (unless somebody tries to argue that the original federal court ruling overturning Prop. 8 only applies to the plaintiffs and the counties where they live, which won't get far). But in other states, it's going to depend on legislatures and voters. Bad news for gay couples in, say, Texas or Arizona.

Still: Goldberg is right that we've come a very long way:

Put simply, it was almost unimaginable, when the gay rights movement took hold in the 1970s, or even as legal victories started to mount in the 1980s and 1990s, that the nation’s highest Court would find that a federal law unconstitutionally interfered with the “equal dignity of same-sex marriages.”
And, as I've been arguing for some time now, this was inevitable. In ten years, same-sex marriage will be legal, and common, just about everywhere, and in 25 years, everyone will look back and wonder what was wrong with America, why this was even an issue, and why it took so long.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Are all the NFL running backs obese?

So the American Medical Association now thinks that obesity is a disease. That's probably good in some ways -- it might make it easier for people to get their insurance companies to pay for treatments that are actually helpful. But really: Most normal "obesity" treatments (short of surgical interventions) fail. What works, of course, is prevention -- education, healthy eating, starting in school, etc.

Maybe this means more money for healthy lunches at school. Maybe it means more resources for "food deserts" where large populations lack access to fresh vegetables. That's all good.

I worry, though, that it turns "fat" into "sick" in a way that's really bad for a lot of young people. Middle school and high school is already brutal; add in body-image issues ("you're fat! You're sick! Go to the doctor! Loser!") and it becomes seriously traumatic.

Particularly since "obese" is such a loose term.

I was listening to Forum this morning, and one of the doctors said that the definition of "obese" is a Body Mass Index of greater than 30, which means, for example, that a six-foot tall man who weighs 225 pounds is clinically "obese."

What that means is that most of the running backs in the NFL are obese. Frank Gore? He's 5-9, 217. Marshawn Lynch? 5-11, 215. Are these people really "fat?"

No. There are a lot of healthy people who weigh more than that "obese" level, and there are a lot of skinny people who are radically unhealthy.

I'm big into exercise. I've got 25 years of martial arts training to remind me that health comes from the mind and the body, and the connection between the two, and eating well and working out and a whole lot of other things. But I worry about this medical definition. Particularly for kids. Can you imagine going to the doctor at age 15 and being told that you're "sick" because your BMI is too high?

Am I wrong here?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Fuck startups -- and corporate personhood

I got no problem with startups. I like small businesses and people who build them. I get why some folks could be mad at the "Fuck Your Startup" graffiti in the Mission. But James Temple's defense -- that startups are the same as immigrants and transgender people -- is more than offensive:

Last month, a group of gentrification protesters unleashed their rage on a piñata of a Google Bus, an act that seemed at once sadly impotent and uncomfortably close to violence.

If the tag on Valencia had read "F- immigrants," or that piñata was made to represent a transvestite, would San Francisco's famously progressive citizens be posing next to it or clapping along?
Ummm... immigrants are people. Transvestites are people. Google is a corporation. No matter what the Supreme Court says, there's actually a difference.

It makes me so crazy when I read this shit:

So short of some radical plan that allots housing units by skill type or bans tech companies, our only option for solving the part of this problem that we can is to make housing more affordable. We can do that in three basic ways: Build more, set aside a greater portion as affordable and protect the existing stock.
Can you say "clueless?"

We can't "build more" to solve the problem. Historical data is clear: There has never, ever been a time when new construction of market-rate housing has brought prices down. Never. Demand in this city is nearly infinite; as the slogan of the old Redevelopment Agency put it, "Omnes voluant habitate in Urbe San Francisco." Everyone wants to live in San Francisco. The only thing that works is strict, tight regulation -- and regulation that protects existing residents against wealthier newcomers.

Set aside a greater portion as affordable? The city's general plan says it should be more than 60 percent. We never get beyond about 18 percent. Protect existing stock? That means preventing the evictions that are happening because so many better-paid tech workers are moving into town.

I wasn't so into smashing the Google Bus pinata, either. But you have to understand the anger, the rage, of a community under assault.

Chain stores -- and why we don't need 'em

The Chron's coverage of Chipotle applying to move into the Castro sounds like a press release for the company:

It's been almost two years since the Castro's Home Restaurant declared bankruptcy and closed, leaving a vacant building at Church and Market streets that has since been marked by public urination, graffiti and homeless people sleeping outside the shuttered restaurant.

The owners of 2100 Market St. have found a willing partner in a Mexican restaurant that would have no trouble paying the bills and is offering to fund a public art mural on its walls.

So what's the problem with using burritos to fight blight?
It's not until you get to the 11th paragraph that we hear what the problem is:

Victor Juarez, the owner of Chilango, said Chipotle's lower prices would drive him out of business.

"I cannot compete with them - it's impossible," Juarez told the commission. "I will have to close my business."
There are plenty of good reasons to limit chain stores in San Francisco. They drive up rents. They cheapen local commercial districts. They displace creative local operations. They're really an admission of civic failure: If San Francisco can't create its own local businesses, and we have to look to national chains to fill our storefronts (even in this era of economic boom) then there's something really wrong.

Jay Barmann has a mediation on all of this at sfist, and even he comes down on the side of saying sometimes chains aren't so bad:

Sure, we all want idiosyncratic antique shops and cool local clothing makers in our shopping districts, but sometimes we want a few basic needs met within a few steps of our building, too. In areas that haven't known as much residential population in the past, like SoMa and parts of Mid- and Upper Market, going out to buy Vitamin Water and Tylenol can be a pain in the ass. Those who might reject the idea of any and all corporate stores have to consider that rents in the ground floor spaces of new buildings aren't going to be cheap, likely unaffordable to small operators, and you might rather have a 7-11 down there than nothing at all.
 Which gets to the heart of the issue -- and it's not that different from the heart of the housing issue in San Francisco. If commercial landlords see a way to jack up rents (over and over) to the point where only chains can afford to set up shop in San Francisco neighborhoods, then chains are all we're going to get.

The state Legislature has prevented cities from passing commercial rent control; that means a local business has to sign a longterm lease (scary; if your business fails, you're still on the hook) or accept a short-term deal, which means that after a year or two, the landlord can raise the rent and make it impossible for you to stay in business, in place.

In the case of the Chipotle site, we're talking $19,500 a month.

I don't know the finances of the owners, or how much the mortgage is on the property, but geez -- is it possible that a locally owned business might be able to move in if the rent were a little lower?

Should the city charge a special tax on vacant storefronts to encourage landlords to rent the places out at rates that local entrepreneurs could afford?

Because seriously: This is a food-crazy and restaurant-crazy city. There are plenty of people who would love to open something in the Castro. But at $19,500 a month?

Isn't that part of the problem?

Friday, June 21, 2013

The fakest 8 Washington ads ever

Imagine: The developer of a condo complex aimed at not just the 1 percent but the top 1 percent of the 1 percent -- we're talking about the most expensive condos ever built in San Francisco -- is now running online ads claiming to be some sort of populist.

Check it out:
 "Don't let the 1% prevent open access to the waterfront?" You've got to be kidding. The new building would do NOTHING to open up access to the waterfront. It's a bunch of expensive housing units for rich people. I've seen a lot of lies in my life as a political reporter, but this is among the most outrageous.

Willie Brown in bid-rigging probe

Now this is delicious: It appears Louise Renne is now investigating Willie Brown's role in alleged contract rigging at the Housing Authority. Larry Bush also reports that

Law enforcement officials at the federal and local level are showing a strong interest in whether former mayor Willie Brown was at the center of an effort to rig a Housing Authority contract.

 If there's any success here, it will be the first time ever that Brown was caught at anything. The FBI has gone after him. Ethics regulators have gone after him. He's never been charged.

And I wonder how long Ed Lee will continue to stand behind him (and the Chron will give him a free forum) if it turns out that an investigation shows serious wrongdoing.
Law enforcement officials at the federal and local level are showing a strong interest in whether former mayor Willie Brown was at the center of an effort to rig a Housing Authority contract, CitiReport has learned. - See more at:

Law enforcement officials at the federal and local level are showing a strong interest in whether former mayor Willie Brown was at the center of an effort to rig a Housing Authority contract, CitiReport has learned. - See more at:

Enforcing the law on housing

Spoke to my good friends at the Bernal Heights Democratic Club last night. The opening act was former mayor Art Agnos, who made the case (effectively) against the Warriors stadium, hotel, and shopping mall complex. I talked about housing and the ABAG plan for San Francisco.

And when we got to the discussion, a fascinating idea came up: Why not give the city's General Plan the force of law?

Yeah, wonky stuff. But here's how it works and why it would matter.

Under state law, every city has to put together a general plan for growth and development and update it every ten years. The plan looks at Commerce and Industry, Transportation, Housing, etc.

The Housing Element of SF's General Plan is actually interesting. It states that, in order to accommodate projected growth and maintain a proper mix of jobs and housing, more than 60 percent all of new housing should be "affordable," that is, below (way below) current market rates.

That's right: Sixty percent of the new housing the gets built is, according to the city's own plan, supposed to be sold or rented for far less than what developers are charging today.

Yes, developers pay for some affordable housing. If the city gets a really, really good deal, 15-18 percent of the units are below market. (Although developers never build affordable units on site; they put that money aside into a fund that gets used to build housing somewhere else.)

But overall, the city violates its own General Plan every time it approves a new housing development.

So what if we did a ballot initiative that mandated every new project actually conform the the General Plan? That is: No new market-rate housing development unless 60 percent is affordable. No new construction until the city catches up with its below-market-rate needs.

Oh, and by the way: No new construction of any sort until the developer pays enough fees, up front, to cover the costs of new Muni service, police and fire, schools, open space etc. that the people living there will need.

Developers, who are making a vast fortune on market-rate housing projects right now, would go crazy. And maybe they'd come to the table and say: How do we make a deal?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Homeless person dies while onlookers just film it

You have to be horrified by what this story says about the city that I love. Everyone has a cell phone these days; what has taken over our collective minds if we can see someone suffering, bleeding, dying and not even take five seconds to dial 911?

I was walking to my car with my son the other day, along 2nd street, and we saw a man lying on the ground. Nothing unusual in SF -- I don't call for help every time I see a person asleep on the street. Except that this guy was bleeding from the head, and when I tried to wake him, he was incoherent. Maybe drunk, maybe just fell down, whatever; I'm not a doctor or an EMT.

But I'm a martial arts referee with enough first aid training to know that head wounds are always potentially serious, so I called 911.

It took moments, a tiny instant out of my life. The cops were there within three minutes. They knew exactly what to do, and took control, and told me I could (and should) go, so that I wouldn't be in their way.

I have no idea what happened to the guy, or how he got there, or if his injuries were serious, or if he was just done in by too much drinking -- I'm not saying I'm some kind of grand samaritan who followed him to the hospital and became his best friend or anything. But I know he didn't die there in the street. That seems like a very modest amount of civic responsibility.

Who are these people who didn't call 911 when someone was clearly bleeding and in serious trouble? I 'm not suggesting they all jump in and do CPR; most people aren't trained for that anyway. Sometimes being an amateur and trying to do emergency health care is the worst possible thing.

But it's not all that hard to call for help. You won't even miss your lunch meeting. I promise. And you might save a life.

The cost of public records

I could easily argue that the modest cost of local government complying with the California Public Records Act is a bargain: Access to public records is the best check on malfeasance, and malfeasance (particularly in contracting) costs a lot of money.

So if the issue before the Legislature is whether cities should pay to comply with the law or the state should reimburse them, it's a crazy question. Cities SAVE money by having solid open-government policies.

But there's another element here that drives me crazy. Cities shouldn't have to incur much in the way of costs to comply with the Public Records Act. Most of that cost is actually the cost of trying NOT to comply -- having lawyers look over documents, crafting excuses for not finding the information, fighting for confidentiality, etc. There's an easy answer:

Just make the stuff public.

We live in the digital age. Every document created at City Hall exists on a hard drive somewhere. It costs nothing -- zero, not a penny -- to copy that same document to a publicly accessible online database. It might cost a few bucks to create the software that automatically made everything in the public record instantly public, but I can pretty much guarantee that we can find pro bono software engineers to write the code if we need to.

Yes, some records are confidential. All you need is a button on the "SAVE" function that allows you to save that record into a closed database -- while at the same time making a public notification that the document exists and is not public. That determination can be challenged if somebody feels it's necessary.

But the vast, vast majority of what the press and public wants to see is legally public, and instead of sending city employees searching for it, and having city agencies trying to make life harder for people who are investigating them, just dump it all onto the web. We'll find what we need; the city will save a lot of money.

I don't know why San Francisco can't seem to do this. The mayor is the Tech King; why not use tech to make everyone's life easier?

Borders, North and South

A friend of my uncle's was plucking bass out the St. Lawrence River last summer when a Canadian Customs boat pulled up next to him. "Where did you catch those fish?" the uniformed officer asked.

My uncle is in his 90s, and his friend isn't much younger. We're not talking about a dangerous lawbreaker here; the guy's retired and had gone to the river to fish.

The guy said he'd caught the fish in the river, which was logical, but not good enough for Dudley Do-Right, who wanted to know exactly where in the river a particular fish was swimming when in hit the bait and got snagged on the hook. Was it, he wanted to know, a Canadian fish or an American fish?

Tricky question.

The St. Lawrence serves as the border between upstate New York and Canada. It meanders, as does the borderline, between about 1,200 islands, some unihabited, many reachable only by boat. Some are in Canada, some in the US.

People have been known to swim across borders, but there are places in the St. Lawrence where you can wade; in fact, I know one narrows where a decent high school athlete could probably jump. And when you're on a boat in the wider areas, there's no way anyone without GPS equipment for more sophisticated than the average weekend angler carries could tell where the border really is.

When I was a kid we used to swim across to Canada to visit friends. There was no Customs station. Nobody seemed to care.

Now, of course, 9/11 and terrorism and all, there's a (modest) effort to enforce the rules, sometimes bordering on the silly. The Canadian Fish Patrol cited my uncle's friend for using an American boat to catch a fish in Canadian waters using bait purchased in the United States. He got fined. Seriously.

Apparently the US authorities are doing the same thing to Canadians who dare to catch our bass, which, of course, carry no passports when they migrate across the imaginary line to wherever the food is and the fishermen aren't.

I mention this because the reality is that the border between the US is, for the most part, 5,000 miles of open territory. In some places, nobody actually knows where the border is. There are no fences or walls along most of it, no kleig lights and barbed wire. For thousands of miles, all you see is a narrow strip of land where all the trees have been cut down.

Yes, there are motion sensors, and stepped up patrols, and I'm not suggesting that it's easy to sneak into the US from Canada. I'm just saying that nobody in Congress is serious suggesting that we build a massive concrete wall from the shores of Lake Superior to the Vancouver Straight.

Nobody is saying that the passage of an immigration bill requires more fencing or a "surge" at the Canadian border. No: that's just for Mexico.

Are we not worried that Canadians seeking the wonders of American society will cross the unguarded northern border in massive waves? (They won't come looking for health insurance.) Or are we just concerned that people with brown skin will do that?

America's Cup: The money's not there

KTVU interviews Jon Golinger, of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, about the fundraising problems at the America's Cup.  The mayor insists that everything is fine -- that the city is on track to raise the missing $20 million or so by "June." It's halfway through June now, and the money's not there.

Too young to be rich?

Does anybody really think that the public outcry over Sean Parker's wedding had much to do with Redwood trees environmental damage to streams? No: it's all about excess. It's about someone who's too young to be this rich and too too clueless to realize that the rest of society is losing patience with the new Gilded Age.

Yeah, I said it: too young to be this rich.

Just as children need to be treated differently in the criminal justice system, because their brains aren't developed fully, people in their 20s who have sudden wealth can easily turn into entitled assholes, because they haven't had the life experience to know what the rest of the world is like.

The tech industry has done what no industry in America ever did before: Create a generation of vastly wealthy people who made their fortunes before they hit 30. It's no surprise that some of them are getting into trouble: Are you proud of everything you did at 26?

The Sean Parkers of the world need to learn a little humility and keep a lower profile until they've figured out that they aren't any better then anyone else. Or they're going to spit on and insulted and sneered at by waiters. That's just how it is.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Food trucks and schools

I'm not against food trucks. I know it's impossible to do much of anything in San Francisco if you have to be 1,500 feet from a school (witness: pot dispensaries) since there are so many schools in so many places. So I understand what Scott Wiener was thinking when he drew up his new rules.

And he argues that Middle School campuses are closed, so kids won't run out at lunch and eat junk food.

But as a parent of a kid who just left middle school, and another who is just entering middle school, I can tell you that lunchtime isn't the issue. It's the snacks on the way home.

A lot of SF middle school kids, including mine, take Muni home from school. The kids at Aptos who took Muni liked to stop at the 7-Eleven on Ocean Ave on the way. Kids are hungry after school; that horrible establishment sells giant sodas, chips, candy ... every bad thing for kids to eat and drink. And it's cheap.

Hey: When I was growing up in the suburbs, the ice cream truck would come by right after school, or at about 4 pm during the summer, just when that mid-afternoon snack need was setting in, and we'd all buy ice cream. The marketers are no fools.

So middle school kids will go to the trucks at 3 pm. That's reality. And distance doesn't matter -- the damn 7-Eleven was more than 500 feet away.

So how about this: Food trucks that want to be within a mile of a school should offer something decent and nutritious. That's not hard. Many already do. I'd much rather my kids have a bean and rice taco with lettuce and tomato than a Big Gulp and a candy bar. A lot of these trucks are pretty gourmet; make them reduce prices for school kids for (at least relatively) healthy after-school food. Make that a condition of the permit.

And stay away from high schools at lunch hour. That's not about healthy food; it's about class. If the poor kids have to eat school lunch and the rich kids go to the food trucks, you have an unfair situation.

Although the school food is a lot better now. So some of the trucks may find themselves in competition.

Warriors architect and flood planning

How's this for irony: The company designing the new Warriors waterfront arena, AECOM, is also the company contracted by the federal government to do a study on the impact of climate change (and thus sea-level rise) on the national Flood Insurance Program. The idea: Let's figure out how broke the insurance plan is going to be if developed areas along coasts and rivers get flooded a lot more often.

Guess what? They will. In fact, the study's pretty alarming. You can download the pdf here. It notes, for example, that the 1 percent annual flood plain area (the area where there's a one percent annual chance of flooding) will grow by 45 percent. The graphics showing how much of the nation will be subject to regular, serious flooding by 2100 are frightening.

But here's what's really interesting. AECOM's team analyzed a few coastal areas -- North and Mid-Atlantic, Gulf Coast, and Northern Pacific -- but there's no specific detailed analysis for the Bay Area. The nationwide maps (if you have better eyes than me and look real close) seem to show catastrophic problems in the Bay Area and into the Central Valley. But AECOM doesn't break that down.

At any rate, you'd think the same company that has a fat federal contract to figure out where the insurance companies and the federal guarantees are going to get soaked might have figured out that the San Francisco waterfront isn't a great place to put a huge, expensive new arena. Unless we're all planning to swim there.

(And the Bay is awful cold during basketball season.)

November 2014 ballot: Height limits, district school board?

The November, 2014 ballot's going to be busy: An Assembly race to replace the (irreplaceable) termed-out Tom Ammiano in the Assembly, races for the even-numbered supervisorial districts (will anyone challenge Malia Cohen in D 10? That seems the only one where the incumbent might not have a walk) and, I'm hearing, a couple of interesting ballot measures.

The Potrero Hill folks, along with a lot of waterfront activists, are talking seriously about a campaign to lower height limits all along the Port, from Fisherman's Wharf down to the Hunters Point shipyard. The idea, as I hear it, would be strict limits -- the 40-60 foot cap that currently exists -- as far south as AT&T Park, with room on the southern waterfront for a few taller buildings.

But every new building would have to pay for the transit and other infrastructure demands that it creates (that's a lot of money) -- and all new housing would have to be 50 percent affordable.

This is, of course, a spectacular idea, and would be among the most profound, sweeping land-use measures since Prop. M passed in 1986. And the campaign alone would serve to remind us all that the city is under attack by developers, and land use will be the driving issue in local politics for the next few years.

Then there's talk of electing school board members by district -- another great idea that would ensure that schools on the East Side get the same level of attention as the ones in the wealthier parts of town (although the way things are going now, the East Side is going to be nothing but rich people soon anyway). My suggestion: School Board should be a full-time job, like the Board of Supervisors -- and the board members should be paid the same as a mid-career teacher.

That way a lot of good people who would love to be on the School Board (and would do a great job of it) but have kids and can't afford to work that many hours for $500 a month (the current pay) would have a chance to run. And every month, when the paycheck arrived, they'd be reminded what it's like to live on a teacher's pay.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Outsourcing for cheap labor (and no accountability)

There's a similarity between the action that the people who work in the concessions at AT&T Park are taking and the noisy protests I saw in downtown San Francisco by security guards trying to get a decent contract. In both cases, very wealthy owners  have outsourced key operations to subcontractors who don't pay their workers fairly.

You can protest outside an office building in SF, as the workers did  -- but the owner of that building isn't setting your pay rate. That would be a private security company, most likely headquartered out of town, whose owners are not well known or subject to public pressure.

The Giants clearly aren't hurting for money. Two World Series victories in three years have made the team immensely valuable. Loyal fans buy three million tickets a year, selling out the place every night. The players are, of course, highly compensated.

But the Giants team doesn't hire the concession workers, who have been without a raise since 2010. That's contracted out to a company called Centerplate, a global food-service corporation. So when the workers picket at the ballpark, they're in a tough situation -- Giants management can simply say that it's not involved.

Of course, that's not exactly true: I don't know how long the Giants contract with Centerplate lasts, but at some point it's up for renewal, and if the team said today that the contract's future would depend on a settlement with its workers -- now -- that would have a huge impact. As would the support of the Major League Players Association, the most powerful union in pro sports.

In the meantime, the best way fans can show support is not to spend money at the concessions. Sure, go to the game. But don't buy food or drinks. (Ten bucks for a beer is crazy anyway).

What the NSA spies have found

Years ago (many years ago), when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was discussing legislation to ban random drug tests on employees of local companies (one of the few good things Bill Maher ever did as a supervisor), a Chamber of Commerce type stood up and said that the ability to find out which workers were on drugs could be critical to a business.

Maher's response: Sure, and if we set up a checkpoint on Market Street and randomly searched every human being who passed by, we'd find some drugs, some illegal weapons, some other contraband. We might get some guns off the street.

But would anyone really think that was a good idea -- or worth the price we would pay in the loss of civil liberties?

So yes: It appears that by spying on all Americans, you can find an occasional terrorist plot. We don't know if this was the ONLY way to uncover that particular plot, but we know: If you monitor everyone's phones and email, you can stop crime.

You can. It's that simple.

But is that a price we really want to pay -- and isn't that the question we should be asking?
The most interesting data in this fascinating compilation of statistics on San Francisco is the employment chart. Now: It's 2010 census data, which means it's out of date since this city has been changing radically in the past couple of years. But still: the largest number of jobs in this city -- by far -- falls into two categories, neither of which is tech. It's government (55,000) and health care/social services (89,000). Together, they account for 144,000 jobs. That's one third of all employment in San Francisco.

And Mayor Lee has not, to my knowledge, ever talked about either sector as worthy of the sort of attention he pays to companies like Twitter.

The reason this is so important: Most of the jobs in those sectors are decidedly middle-income. Yeah, a few government workers (high-ranking cops and firefighters, public-health doctors, a few department heads) make a lot of money. But most earn less than the amount needed to rent the median apartment in San Francisco, and a lot less than the amount needed to buy the median house. And that's the better-paid class.

Health care and social services workers (again, with the exception of doctors and agency directors) are typically paid even less than government workers.

Which means it's impossible for a third of the city's workforce to live in the city.

The only ones who live here are the ones who moved here long enough ago to find an affordable apartment -- and are protected (for the moment) by rent control, or those who bought houses more than a decade ago.

A statistic that isn't in the mix: How long the typical resident has lived here. The old adage holds that  a third of the city turns over every ten years, and while that's probably an overstatement, it's clear that significant numbers of workers in every sector have been here for a short enough time that they're facing an impossible housing situation.

At our forum last week on Plan Bay Area, Mike Casey, the head of Local 2, the hotel workers union, lamented that so many of his people now live far out of town that it's hard to put together a picket line or rally: After work, the union members head home to Brentwood or Antioch, and they're not coming back an hour later for a protest.

Why isn't this the biggest priority at City Hall?

Monday, June 17, 2013

 Hi, folks, I'm still here. Took the weekend to think about my options, and I'm still thinking, and in the meantime, there's a lot going on. For starters, my old pal Dani Leone has joined this blog. You will read her at least once a week, writing about sports. Here's her first post:

By Dani Leone

Go to the NFL Players Association's Web page. You can get a T-shirt with a rainbow-football-player drawing on it, a rainbow number on the back, and the name of one of nine NFL players who, in a sense, walk with you. 

Nike's getting in on it too, with its #BeTrue shoe and clothing collection.

Basketball star Jason Collins walked with Joe Kennedy at Boston Pride. Brendan Ayenbadejo walked in LA, and will walk here. The NBA, the WNBA, MLS, and pro boxing all now have well-documented outness in them. Between last pride and this one, a lot has happened gaywise in the wide and wonky world of sports.

It was all going to happen, of course, but I love that it was accelerated by democratic Maryland legislator Emmett Burns, Baptist pastor and PhD, who last September objected to Ayenbadejo's public support of Maryland's marriage equality referendum. Burns's idiotic and sinister letter to Baltimore Ravens' owner Steve Bisciotti requesting he silence his linebacker didn't have its desired effect. That's an understatement.

Not only did Bisciotti say (in so many words) no, but a lot of other people chimed in, most famously now-Oakland Raider/then-Minnesota Viking Chris Kluwe, whose hilarious open letter to Burns went viral.

Separately, Kluwe and Ayenbadejo, two straight pro football players, had been outspoken proponents of same-sex marriage for years. Now, suddenly, they were in the spotlight. A backup linebacker and a punter.

About a week after all that went down, then-Toronto Blue Jays/now-Tampa Bay Devil Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar wore a homophobic slur on his eyeblack and was suspended for three games by Major League Baseball.

In October, professional featherweight boxer Orlando Cruz came out, then won his next fight. And his next.

Between last Pride and this one, propelled perhaps by all of the above, people really started talking a lot more, and in earnest, about gay pro athletes coming out of the closet. Not just women, not just tennis, not just boxing, but pro football and baseball players. Gay men. Active players in major macho team sports.

Chris Culliver said his stupid thing, embarrassing the crap out of the 49ers and all of San Francisco days before the Super Bowl . . . which Brendan Ayenbadejo's team won.

This Spring, shortly after Ayenbadejo and others speculated all over the Internet as to who would have the first out gay player, MLB or the NFL, the NBA beat them both to it: Jason Collins, on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

No, he's not the first pro athlete to come out before retiring. But I'm sure Martina agrees, and Orlando, and Glenn Burke would if he could, that Collins is a very important one. For better or worse, we worship our sports heroes. The more mainstream and male-dominated the sport, the more widely worshipped they are, generally speaking. And the more widely worshipped they are, the greater the impact they will have on mainstream society's eventual acceptance of LGBT people.

Between this Pride and next one, there are going to be a lot more openly gay gays in the game. Everyone is talking about it. Already, for every Chris Culliver there are at least ten pro football players happy to put their numbers and names on the back of a gay pride T-shirt.

One cool thought: that, as the stupid stigma against gayness leaves the wide world of sports, so too will the reactionarily stupid stigma against jockhood leave a certain segment of the gay world.

I just revisited Kluwe's open letter -- as I imagine I will every so often, since it contains the phrase “narcissistic fromunda stain” (neverminding the more famous “lustful cockmonster”) . . . And I didn't have to look far into the Huffpost comments section afterward to find what I didn't know I was looking for: a self-described “stereotypical queer kid” who theretofore had hated sports and thought the worst of professional athletes. 

Until, of course, reading Kluwe's letter.

“I probably still won't turn on Monday Football,” he admits, before declaring himself a “new and ardent admirer” of Chris Kluwe, and signing off a “former jock-hating geek.”



Boom! In one big, long, drawn-out Nike swoop, we've got gays in the game -- and the game in gays.
I'm happy about this.

Friday, June 14, 2013

I just have to say, I am overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of support I've seen in the past few hours since the news came out. You are all so wonderful, this progressive community (crazy and sometimes divided as it is) is such a great thing to be a part of.

I have given myself the weekend to think about what comes next, and I will be posting here regularly.

I am no longer with the Bay Guardian

Hi, my friends, all the people I love and care about in this city. I'm sad to announce that after 30 years, I have left the Bay Guardian. I am proud of all the work that we did over those years, but sadly, it has come to an end.

I was informed late last night by the owner, Todd Vogt, that my "resignation" had been accepted, although at no point did I resign.

Todd and I had a major disagreement over personnel and editorial direction, and this is how it ended. I was hoping that if my employment at the paper I have helped build over all these years had to end, it would be on more friendly terms. But alas, that was not to be.

The good news is that Blogger is free, and I will fancy up this blog in the next couple days, and I will continue to present perspectives and news about progressive San Francisco.

You can reach me at timredmondsf (AT)