Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The New Bay Bridge YAY!

I was so geeked to see the new Bay Bridge that I pestered my wife to let me give her a ride to work this morning even though I had no need to drive to SF today. That's right, I braved a commute with new traffic patterns for no reason at all other than to see the bridge.

It was more than worth it!  The new bridge is just wonderful.  Riding over it this morning made me see the entire Bay Bridge and the way it connects San Francisco to Oakland/Berkeley an a very new light.

Some background - the San Francisco Bay Bridge is actually two very different bridges that meet at, and tunnel through, a big rock in the middle of the bay called Yerba Buena Island. The western span is a 4 tower, double decker suspension bridge.  It is a good looking bridge with a classic prewar aesthetic.  Not as pretty as the Golden Gate, for sure, but a very good looking bridge none the less. The eastern span is also a double decker bridge, but is a heavy, strong looking, cantilever and truss bridge.  It looks, from a distance, like it should carry trains.  Very functional looking, like it belongs next to a working port (which it is).

The drive from Oakland to San Francisco was on the upper deck of the old bridge.  But since the bridge is of cantilever construction, the view is obstructed by the heavy steel beams of the bridge's construction.  As a driver, you see the bones of the bridge, very strong looking, working class, little nod to being pretty.  As you emerged from the tunnel in Yerba Buena Island, you see the tall, graceful towers and flowing cables of the suspension span first.  The height of the towers let you see the path that you were taking, even though you couldn't see the road deck due to the curvature of the bridge. Then, weather permitting, you see the skyline of San Francisco, maybe even the Marin headlands and the golden gate bridge.  Some or all of this may be obscured by fog, but even then, it really is a beautiful sight.

The return to the East Bay on the old bridge is an entirely different story.  Since you are on the lower deck of the bridge, there is no view.  You are basically in a tunnel the entire way with nothing to see in front or above you, and very obstructed views to the side.  There's no anticipation, very little beauty, just waiting to get to the other side.

Now, with the new span, when you come through the toll booths in Oakland (heading west to SF) it's almost as if the roadway itself just rises up gently towards the sky.  No heavy support structures are visible, just minimal vertical light poles running down the center, between the east bound and westbound lanes (which are side by side).  You're pointed off towards the North Bay but it almost seems that you will simply fly into the sky.  The road bends gently to the left and the main tower of the new self anchored span comes into clear view. Because of the nature of the self anchoring suspension construction, none of the support cables appear vertical from any point on the bridge (or anywhere else I think).  The effect is one of constantly changing geometry as you drive.  It seems very high tech and etherial. The view to, through, and from the tunnel is as before.  The overall effect is that you start your commute in the East Bay on a beautiful, high tech bridge and end your commute on a classic suspension bridge with a great view of San Francisco.  Not a bad way to start your day.

The trip home is where the change is most dramatic.  The beginning of the trip is the same, in the guts of the bridge, nothing but ugly.  But as you approach Yerba Buena island (during the day at least), you can see light. As you exit the tunnel, the west bound section of the bridge moves away and you are outside in the light.  You can see the new tower structure with all of its interesting angles and in the distance, the beauty of the Berkeley hills.  As you round the gentle bend past the tower you see Oakland hills and the beauty of the East Bay. This is an entirely new experience and it makes coming home even better.  The old commute home started ugly and didn't get any better until you arrived somewhere that you liked. This commute showcases how lucky we are to live on our side of the Bay.  At this time of year, it's heightened by the difference in the weather between SF and Oakland.  Leaving SF, it is likely to be cold and foggy.  The skies clear and the temperature rises so that by the time you touch ground in the East, you're ready to hit the backyard and fire up the grill.

I can't wait to make the drive in the dark to see how the bridge looks all lit up.  Hmmmm... sounds like an evening road trip.

Here's a link to sped up view of the drive from just before the bridge opened:

Monday, August 5, 2013

Blurred Lines? No. Not at all.

I like Jimmy Fallon.  I love the Roots.  Robin Thicke... well, he's funny (in a self parodying sort of way) on RHOH.

So I'm not at all happy about the cutesy version of Thicke's Blurred Lines version done by Fallon and the Roots.  It takes the song, with its pretty clear message that women don't know what they want sexually, and that consent is oh so confusing (the blurred lines referred to by the title) and pairs it with kid instruments and a catchy tune.  Which makes the tune that much more appealing to parents and their young, pop music listening children.

In case you think I'm over reacting, there's chorus (sung every so sexily by Thicke):
And that's why I'm gon' take a good girl
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
You're a good girl
Can't let it get past me
You're far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted
I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
But you're a good girl
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty
Go ahead, get at me

I really don't even want to bother with the rest of the lyrics, many are even worse, especially for kids.  So read em yourself here.

And if you want to see what Thicke was really all about with the song and video, watch the NSFW unrated version.

You might be thinking something like "Brian is just a prude" or "Brian has a young daughter and is freaked out about her growing up."  But you'd be wrong.  It's not that I am in any way against sex.  Or that I am all that worried about either of my kids becoming sexual beings.  I think that good sex is damn near a birth right for human beings.  I am horrified and terrified about rape culture.  About the idea that there is anything at all blurry about consent.  About women being animals in need of domestication.  That objectifying women or threatening them or turning sex into violence is OK.

I'm not freaked out by sex.  It's rape that scares me.

My son is not really into pop music at all.  He listens to mostly Red Hot Chili Peppers and similar sounding rock (he's a bassist, so if it has a solid bass groove, he likes it).  But the idea of him mindlessly humming "I know you want it" scares the shit out of me.  It would mean that he had uncritically allowed this fundamental message of rape culture into his head.  I owe him better than to allow him to uncritically accept these messages.  I owe every female that his will ever come into contact better than to unleash him on the world, full of testosterone, with the belief that consent it blurry.  It isn't.

I'm not freaked out by sex.  It's rape that scares me.

I was mildly amused when my daughter walked around the house absent-mindedly singing Macy Gray's "Kissed It."  She had no idea what the song was about.  She doesn't know what the "it" that gets kissed is.  She doesn't yet understand how good sex can make you forget how badly a person has treated you, and that kissing "it" can fix almost anything.  But someday, she'll know what that means.  And when she does, I'll remind her that she used to sing this song when she was 10.  And she'll be embarrassed, and we'll (hopefully) enjoy a good laugh.  I hope that she never ever discovers how some men think that the lines that define consent are blurry.  That's too horrible for me to contemplate. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Empathy - the real shortage

In pretty much every issue in the news today - the Steubenville rape case, the debate about guns, the federal government's fiscal challenges, and even Senator Portman's recent conversion on marriage equality - our leaders seem to be unable to feel empathy.

Let's start with Senator Portman's change of heart.  Until very recently, he has walked in lockstep with the Republican insistence on discriminating against same sex couples who wish to marry each other.  He has been proud to treat some Americans as second class citizens who do not deserve to be allowed to legally codify their loving commitment to each other.  But since his adult son called him and told him that he is gay, the good senator has decided that, all of a sudden, those gays must be people too.

I am disgusted by his conversion.  He's supposed to be a leader, a protector of all citizens.  But it takes a blood relative's plight as being oppressed in order for him to see that oppression?  WTF?  I guess those of use who aren't related to the Senator will just have to hope his kids marry a hugely diverse group of spouses before we can hope to deserve his representation or empathy.

I've been having conversations about gun rights with some friends.  The gun rights side has been very intent on protecting the "individual civil rights" of gun owners (their words, not mine).  They have been adamant that their right to bear whatever arms they feel like should not be infringed in almost any case. And when it should be infringed (criminal conviction, mental illness, etc), the government's tools to enforce that infringement should be so limited as to be almost entirely ineffective (my characterization of their allowed remedies).  They seem to have no ability whatsoever to connect that the unrestricted commerce in guns is what floods poor and black urban neighborhoods with guns, and that that flood of guns is a necessary contributing factor to the level of gun violence there.  They simply cannot see themselves in a world wish is awash in poverty, anger, unemployment and see that adding guns to that mix will (and has) result in more misery and more death.  Or maybe they just don't care because those who are suffering aren't them or their families.

The Steubenville case is, of course, even more shocking. The perpetrators of this attack on this girl victimized her in full view of several classmates.  Only one of those spectators apparently even raised any objections at all, and many of them took pictures and videos and posted them to social media - victimizing the girl in new ways (and, ironically, making the prosecution of the perpetrators possible).  To add further injury to the initial injuries, mainstream media then expressed empathy for the plight of the rapists!  For. The. Rapists.  WTF?!?  Empathy about how their lives were forever ruined by their conviction, as if the conviction, rather than the act, was what brought these difficulties into their lives.  Perhaps it was easier to see themselves as promising young student athletes than as a vulnerable kid who had had too much to drink and was unable to defend herself.

Rape culture being what it is, much of the response to this case has been about the girl's behavior, her drunkenness, whether she "asked for it," whether she had had sex previously, what clothes she might have been wearing.  One well meaning response is to say to potential rapists "what if it was your sister/daughter/mother?"  NO!!!  We shouldn't have to imagine a direct blood relative being victimized in order to know that raping, RAPING, people is wrong.

In all of these examples - the drunk teenage girl in a room of male athletes, the kid who wants to play on the sidewalk outside of his apartment without being shot, the gay couple who wants to simply live their commitment free from interference by others - the inability to see the situation from the perspective of the least powerful person in the mix is what allows us to be indifferent.  To not care.  To blame.  To oppress.

I think that if you look at any issue in the world now - from the wars in the middle east, to climate change, to funding education - a lack of empathy for the least powerful is getting in the way of making progress.  The good news is that empathy is free.  The bad news is that we seem to have no idea about how to sell it.  Maybe that's the real problem... since no one makes a profit on empathy (in fact, some profits would decrease with more of it), we just don't have good tools to spread it.  Or maybe those tools have been hidden from our view.  I don't know.  But I sure wish we had more of it.  A lot more.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It's just hair... or not.

I've been thinking about this since I first read Will Smith's comments about his daughter's hair.  Now that mom Jada Pinkett-Smith's has weighed in, I'll share my thoughts as well.  Here's what I posted on a friend's fb page about it:

I'm almost entirely there. Almost. I encouraged my daughter to cut her hair shorter than it was because it took too much time to care for. She cut about 10 inches off. And she has learned to care for it a little more (long natural black hair can be a lot of work).If she wanted to shave her head, I'd grab the razor for her. Color it pink (blue, green, or black), and I'll drive her to the store and give her the money. But.... if she wanted to color her hair blond (from the dark brown that it is) or permanently straighten it... I'd have a problem. To me that would feel like she were killing (or suppressing) a little bit of the blackness that makes up a part of who she is. Yes, that is my insecurity, but she is a child. I have a responsibility to guide her, not just to let her do whatever she feels like doing.  
Just as she is required to eat vegetables and is prohibited from getting tattoos (at the moment), there are some limits to what I will allow her to do to her hair or body while she is still a child.

I figured no one would care one way or the other about my parenting style, but one woman wrote:

@ Brian- I get really insulted when people imply that straightening hair is suppressing or "killing" blackness. Am I somehow LESS black because I have long straight hair? No. I am not my hair. Also, you can't PERMANENTLY straighten hair.

To which I responded:

@  (commenter's name) - you aren't my daughter. I am not commenting on your hair. You may or may not agree with my reading of our society, but I see that there is enormous pressure on black girls to confirm to white ideals of beauty. My daughter is in an almost entirely white and asian school. She had expressed frustration with her hair when she was little. The one time we flat ironed it, I watched her avoid physical exertion to avoid sweating out her do (she's very athletic, and that almost made me cry). She's also very light, so one of the few things that identifies her as black is her kinky curly nappy happy hair. So what you do with your hair and why is your business. What my daughter does with her hair when she is out of my house, spending her own money and her own time, is her business. But while she lives in my house and spends my money, I am going to teach her that she is perfect, just as she was made. And that includes her big curly kinky nappy mop of difficult frustrating wonderful hair. Hopefully when she is grown, she'll rejoice in it. If not, I'll love her just the same.

I wasn't trying to offend or cast aspersions on anyone else's personal or parenting choices.  That said, I have to parent my kids.  That means making choices, sometimes for them.  What do you think?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Why Is the NYT Trying to Kill Black Women?

This article in the NYT really pisses me off. I avoided reading any of it for a few days because I knew how it would make me feel, and I was enjoying my brief vacation. I read a few lines, and I was right, it did piss me off. My anger started from the title and progressed from there. A friend thought that the title served its purpose of getting people talking about the issue, and therefore the author (or editor who wrote the title) didn't "get it wrong." Here's my response to that.
Yes, she did get it wrong. We are talking about the article, but we are not talking about solutions to the black health care crisis. We are fighting with people who are making us the problem. That causes stress. Which leads to heart disease (and other health problems). So not only did she get it wrong, she's trying to kill us. How about "why is the corporate media trying to kill black people?" That would generate lots of readers too.

But really, putting a picture of Josephine Baker as the lead pic in an article about black female obesity? Are you f'ing kidding me? That is irresponsible. That is hateful. There are young black girls, perhaps living in the kind of upper middle class black household that subscribes to the NYT and values education enough to make the sacrifice to live in a place like Piedmont (an almost all white suburb of Oakland that has great schools), who will see that picture in the context of the article and hate their perfectly healthy, curvy, athletic bodies.

I know the mom of one such girl. The girl is a star athlete, plays soccer and runs track. She is curvier than her peers (mom ran track and could have been on that relay team I mentioned, and tells me that her daughter has a similar shape). She gets flack for being "big" all of the time. She's not. But that peer pressure affects what she eats and it affects her mood. It causes her to not want to live in her body. You can't be healthy if you don't love yourself. It's hard to love yourself if the media is making sport out of saying that you're fat, you're lazy, you're stupid. And if they are gonna put up a picture of one of the most beautiful women who ever walked the earth as an example of a "fat black woman." they can go straight to hell. Because they are a huge part of the problem that black women face as they struggle to simply be in this society.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Closed Mind

Normally I don't write a takedown piece, where the writer analyzes the arguments of another with the goal of dissecting them. And normally I don't make public the facebook writings of anyone else. But this interaction on my wall was so over the top, that I'll make an exception.

Original Post:
Me: This article is old, but points out that in a civilized society, less crime should mean fewer prisoners. Yet we have much less crime in our country and vastly more prisoners. That is a natural result of privatizing the prison industry.

A couple of friends commented initially, but I'm only including those whose comments are required for this post. All comments are shown in their entirety, misspellings and all.

Smart Friend: Another possible explanation for this is that in the Netherlands, almost nothing is illegal.

Confrontational Friend (CF): Isn't that the point of the prison system? They keep bad people from committing crimes. Death penalties in other countries are more efficient as well. ie. Less crime less prisoners.

Me: That's exactly my point. Who lobbies to make private behavior criminal? Why do these super tough sentencing laws get passed. An unholy alliance between law enforcement (gets more funding if there is more "crime), prison guard unions (more overtime better job security with full prisons) and private companies which profit from prison construction and operation. Throw in the slimy companies which get cheap prison labor and you have a disgusting group which extorts money from tax payers to steal the liberty of citizens.

Up to this point, things were going along as normal. I post links to articles which point out some of the public policy failings in our country, friends of different ideological stripes make comments which reflect either their disagreement with my assertion (e.g how I interpret the article) or disagreement with the ideology.

CF: By private behavior you mean: drinking and driving, selling drugs, doing drugs, stealing, fraud and tax evasion?
Yup those are totally victimless crimes! Set them all free! I've got my poster board and bull horn let's do this! (note the sarcasm)
What is a private behavioral crime?

CF: I have the end all be all answer! Stop commuting crimes!
It's really not that hard. When some has the urge to rap and Pillage. They should step back and say "hey I might just go to jail for this!" then not do it.
If you blame the justice system for how many prisoners are in the system, then I am going to blame my pencil for all my misspelled words!

Normally I don't mind the back and forth. I enjoy it actually. But I do not like to have my words intentionally mischaracterized. CF is not one who is classically trained in debate, philosophy or rhetoric, so I give him some leeway when he makes commits logical fallacies. But the stealing fraud and tax evasion comment was nonsensical even by the low standards that I usually hold him to, and I was uncharacteristically annoyed by that. So I was perhaps a little nasty in my response.

Me: CF - don't be an idiot. Seriously, it's beneath you. Stealing, fraud, tax evasion are not victimless. Recklessly endangering others (drinking and driving) is a huge public safety risk. I will do zero research and bet money that those are all illegal in the Netherlands.
Doing and sellin drugs are victimless. Which is why Phillip Morris and Anheiser Busch are billion dollar companies. The harm from consuming and selling drugs which are illegal is created by the illegality, not the substance.

CF: When did Phillip morris come out with crack and extasy? I did see it on the shelf last time I was at Safeway.
You tell a mother who's child OD'd or got shot by a stray bullet from a gang fight over drug turf.
Pull your head out of you fucking collective ass's and put the Blane on those that break the law.
You mean to tell me you would have your kids ride in a car with their friends parent if you know they were high? What if they wrecked and killed your kids as well as another family. Would smoking weed be a victimless crime?!?!?! Would it?
You just made my blood boil with such an arrogant comment.

Don't you love the straw man he sets up in his arguments? A child OD's on something (crack or ecstasy?) should mean that crack or ecstasy should be illegal? But thousands of young people die every year from alcohol. Tens of thousands of you count people of all ages. A kid gets shot by people in a gang fighting over turf and the fault is the drug? Not the fact that the drug is illegal? When was the last time you saw alcohol dealers shooting at each other in the streets? Oh yeah, when (and where) it was last illegal to sell alcohol. Of course nothing I have said in this argument or any argument ever has indicated that I advocate to allow people to drive while impaired. Although, I have pointed out that impairment from cannabis has not been shown to make people more dangerous drivers (unless they are also impaired with alcohol) and even then I do not advocate that they be allowed to drive while high.

CF: I'm done with this. I don't want to say something I will regret. Good day sir!

He should have regretted making himself look stupid with his nonsensical arguments.

Me: I have some work to do, I'll get back to this in a minute. I'll address you points more gently then.

Yeah, that was a little snarky. I said "don't be an idiot, it's beneath you," by which I meant, I respect your intelligence, please use it. And in that last comment I was implying that he was being a petulant little child with his temper tantrum.

CF: No need to be gentle.
I just feel you should stop pointing fingers at everyone else.
It's funny how you try and use the points of they imprison people for cheap labor, job security and higher pay. Sounds like you want to be a prison guard for minimum wage!
Also that coming from a person saying that the average person can't support a family on $60-70k a year. Yet bitch about jailers making too much to deal with dangerous dirtbags!
It is beyond me the logic you use whilst backing all these conspiracy theories. You are an enabler nothing more. I really have nothing else to say to you. I really used to respect you. But you are constantly spewing this shit all over. And the sad thing is that the sheep with no ideals of their own will blindly follow you and others that think like you. You think you are fighting for a greater cause cause but all I hear is white devil this white devil that. The man is keeping us down! You go hold the hands of these so called wrongly imprisoned people you are bleeding your heart out over and tell them they did nothing wrong. While I tell my niece and nephew that for rich or poor being and good person and respecting the law and those that uphold it will keep you out of trouble and jail.
No need to respond I won't read it.

This is too incoherent to even make any sense of. I say that the prison guards union lobbies for tougher sentences and he takes that to mean to mean I think that they should guard for minimum wage? This from a guy who routinely argues against all manner of public employee unions and their "lavish" pay packages. No dummy, I do not think that prison guards should be paid less. They should probably be paid more.... but there are too many of them because we have too many prisoners. We have too many prisoners because the people who profit from the prison industry lobby for very long sentences. Is that hard for your tiny Fox News addled brain to understand?

Conspiracy Theories? Really? Do prison guard unions support longer prison sentences? A quick google search yields the answer. Does Corrections Corp of America (prison construction and operation company) do the same? Well of course they do. By the way I picked that link because it has no political agenda at all and it points out that CCA is lobbying the government on immigration reform. Not to go all conspiracy theorist on you, but how much you wanna bet that they are seeking detention for as many immigrants as possible for as long as possible?

White devil? White devil?!? At least he owns his fear with the statement "all I hear is white devil this and white devil that." I'm not even gonna address that it's so stupid and inflammatory. Oh wait, yes I will. The reason why that's what he's hearing is because that was his ears are tuned to hear. How? Well without knowing this for a fact (because I don't recall asking, and he hasn't responded to my request to have a conversation) he listens to Fox. Fox sells fear and racism. Period. They want honest hard working, under-educated white people to be afraid that the darkies are coming to get their hard earned stuff, to make their big pick up trucks more expensive to own (he has at least one), to take away their guns (he's an avid shooter), to have sex with their women and to make them marry other dudes.

I thought this was going to be fun... pointing out the logical inconsistencies and complicated mental gymnastics required for a normal American guy, to go off on such a stupid rant. But it wasn't fun. It made me sad. CF is a guy who used to work for me. He worked hard, he was honest, he did his job well. I ribbed him a bit because of his conservative politics, and took special joy when, for good business reasons, I had to send him to work in Berkeley for a while. But honestly, I liked him. I overlooked many of the racist things that he said because I wanted to educate him a bit about privilege. I figured that if I could get to him, a self described red-neck, then I would have helped the cause of justice because he could spread the word in places that I do not have access to. On previous threads, he would typically post stuff that started from an ill-informed place, but asked questions that indicated that he had at least an open mind. His last words "No need to respond I won't read it" were what made me the saddest. A closed mind turns a person into a pre-programmed robot. And his current programming, which I was trying to help him change, is odious.

Oh well... can't save em all I guess.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

100 people, 100 dollars

My daughter asked me today about the Occupy protests. She's heard me blathering excitedly about them and was curious about what they are doing and why.

It's can be a pretty tricky topic to explain to most adults, and touches on the financial crisis, credit default swaps, the decline of the labor movement, Glass-Steagel, Citizens United, etc, so I struggled a bit about how to explain it to a 10 year old. Rather than tell her, I decided to pose a situation and ask her some questions about it.

Me: Imagine if the whole country were just a group of 100 people, and they had 100 dollars of money to between them.

Ella: OK

Me: How much money would every person have if they all had the same?

E: that's easy, one dollar.

Me: Right. Now you know that some people have more money than others, so how much money do you think the richest person has?

E: hmmm.... I don't know. 5 dollars?

M: OK, then how much do you think the poorest person has?

E: there are people in the world who don't have anything at all!

M: true, but I'm talking about in this pretend country that we just made up that has 100 people and 100 dollars.

E: right. The poorest person would have 5 cents I think.

M: OK. So how much money do you think that the richest 1 person would have to have before the poorest 50 people would get really mad and start to protest the situation?

E: uuuhhhh.. hmmm... if the richest person had 25 dollars that would be a lot.

M: OK, then how much would the poorest 50 people have combined?

E: I guess 50 dollars?

M: I don't think that would work. Because if the richest 1 has 25 dollars and the poorest 50 have 50 dollars, then that leaves only 25 dollars for the almost richest 49 people. So I think with that example, if the richest 1 had $25, then if everyone else had exactly the same, they'd each have about 75 cents each. Which would mean the the poorest 50 would have about 35 dollars combined. But that's not really likely since some people have more than others.

E: ok, so I guess if the poorest 50 people had 25 dollars combined, then they would be really mad and protest.

M: OK. Do you want to know how it really is now?

E: yes

M: the richest person has about 40 dollars and the bottom 50 have about 1 dollar between all of them combined.

Her eyes got really big, and she understood why so many people are so pissed off. Then we got in the car to pick her brother up from basketball practice. We took the long way there so we could drive past City Hall and see the protesters. We passed them at about 7:15pm, while they were in the middle of a General Assembly. Hundred of people listening to each other. Quietly, peacefully making the point that enough is enough.