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.