- In the always colorful world of San Francisco politics, I learned that our new DA, Chesa Boudin worked for Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, whose Wikipedia entry notes that:
Under Chavez, Venezuela experienced democratic backsliding, as he suppressed the press, manipulated electoral laws, and arrested and exiled government critics. His use of enabling acts and his government’s use of propaganda were controversial. Chávez’s presidency saw significant increases in the country’s murder rate and continued corruption within the police force and government.
Right? And his parents are both in prison–they were members of the Weather Underground, and were involved in the Brinks robbery which resulted in the death of two police officers. Boudin started visiting them in prison as a toddler, and so has seen the criminal justice system from the inside.
- The story I have been following with the most interest lately, as it impacts all of us in California, is the PG&E story. Public utilities should not be for-profit endeavors, and bankrupt PG&E has been trying to evade responsibility for the fires it started in 2017 and 2018 (and undoubtedly this year’s fires as well.) Not only that it has been shutting off power, allegedly to prevent forest fires, a strategy from 100 years ago. A modern power company would not do this. A properly updated and maintained system would not require shutoffs. The 2018 Camp Fire was started by a 100 year old transmission tower, and this year’s Kincade Fire was probably started by a 43-year-old transmission tower. PG&E has dangerously old systems, and has been ordered to stop paying dividends. I would like to see a system which did not require power lines from power plants running through forests to rural areas, and a new power grid of wind and solar–a distributed, decentralized system. I don’t know much about the power grid and how it works, but this seems obvious. The technology exists.
- Sam Liccardi, Mayor of San Jose, is getting a lot of public support for a proposal to take PG&E back, forming a co-op instead. Yes. PG&E should not be running our power any more.
- Glad to see that San Francisco’s supervisors have reached an agreement for $100 million to go towards Mental Health reform. Which is long overdue. And of course it always shocks me to see how government differs from my general experience of “getting things done”, i.e. nothing specific will be enacted as a consequence of this agreement, but an 11 member committee will be formed to make recommendations. So it’s an agreement to make an agreement to address mental health. It’s a start. The main point of this article, though, seems to be that they didn’t go to the voters to decide. Up with representative democracy! There is waaay too much “going to the voters” in California. This is why we have elected leaders! So I can find a candidate with whom my values align, and I don’t have to decide if we need to invest in roads, or schools or hospitals or this proposal or that proposal. Thank you elected officials.
An interview with Jyri about Kahvila Siili, the café we run in the summer in our neighborhood in Helsinki came out this week. “Kahvila Siili” means “hedgehog café”–there are a lot of hedgehogs in the neighborhood, though we didn’t see any, as we usually do, at the end of the summer this summer–some people say they are being driven out by the increased heat from climate change.
“Our fortune, in the next decades, will be intricately connected to our community structure,” he says on sunny afternoon in the front garden of the café. “A place like this is not just about vegan food or recycling waste but allowing people to rely on each other as we face the challenges of climate change.”
Spoken like the entrepreneur, investor and sociologist he is. Here are our neighbors coming out for the opening party at the beginning of the summer:
Waking up in Venice is unlike waking up in any other place. The day begins quietly. Only a stray shout here and there may break the calm, or the sound of a shutter being raised, or the wing-beat of the pigeons. How often, I thought to myself, had I lain thus in a hotel room, in Vienna or Frankfurt or Brussels, with my hands clasped under my head, listening not to the stillness, as in Venice, but to the roar of the traffic, with a mounting sense of panic. That, then, I thought on such occasions, is the new ocean. Ceaselessly, in great surges, the waves roll in over the length and breadth of our cities, rising higher and higher, breaking in a kind of frenzy when the roar reaches its peak and then discharging across the stones and the asphalt even as the next onrush is being release from where it was held by traffic lights. For some time now I have been convinced that it is out of this dine that the life is being born which will come after us and will spell our gradual destruction, just as we have been gradually destroying what was there long before us.
–W.S. Sebald, Vertigo
The Din is an apt word for the onslaught of sound assaulting us in our urban life, and The Din one of the topics we mentioned in the last episode on my podcast, Should This Exist? on Boom Supersonic. The sound of the supersonic plane is in the name itself: the sonic boom the plane makes as it crosses the sound barrier, which I’ve never heard myself, but is a tremendous, earth-shuddering sound, and one of the many reasons supersonic flight did not thrive in its last incarnation.
I once walked in late to a lecture that was in progress, I didn’t know the name of the lecturer, I believe it was Peter Warshall. and he was talking about how the sounds of our world–the industrial sounds, airport noise, cars, traffic–were killing the animal life around us, by silencing animal communication. Birds couldn’t hear their babies tweeting, bullfrogs living in swamps near highways couldn’t hear each other’s mating calls. How well we sleep in the country, far from the noise and stress of urban life. I was just in Japan, where we noticed how harmonious and gentle the street sounds were–the sounds guiding blind people through crosswalks, or the bell announcing an arriving train–compared to the alarming, jarring noises of the alarms in the United States and Europe. We’re not paying enough attention to sound.
Another interesting conversation that didn’t make it to the podcast–each episode would be an hours-long if we kept everything in!–was that the soul moves at the speed of a camel. Though I don’t remember where I learned this, I intuitively feel it to be true. The reason we have jetlag as we’re flying from, say, San Francisco to New York is that when we arrive we’re only there in body–our soul is trundling slowly through Utah, and doesn’t arrive until more than a week later, the time it would take to fully recover from jet lag.
We talked about flight, and dreams of flying, and how is the symbology of dreams flying is a metaphor for release, for freedom, for shrugging of whatever binds you and transcending it. We talked of Daedalus, the original inventor and entrepreneur of ancient mythology, who of course fashioned the wings for Icarus, his son, who flew too close to the sun and came crashing downwards, to Daedalus’s great sorrow. This can be a metaphor for what happens to many entrepreneurs, who see what they created lead to things they never intended.
And yet another interesting conversation we had was about being greeted at airports. When our planes landed, back when I was a kid, my entire Filipino family–and Filipino families are big!–were waiting for us at the gate when we arrived. Every grandma, cousin, baby, uncle. When someone came, especially from far away, it was a major event. There was exclaiming and hugging. We hauled out our balikbayan boxes. Sisters proffered flowers. Even now, I see large Indian families, or Mexican families, or sometime even Filipino families standing at gates in a flurry of greeting, but I see them less and less. There are more business travelers, travel is more frequent, less special, and why go to the airport when Uber and Lyft are so easy and convenient? Being greeted at the airport is a terrible loss, my friend Anarghya and I agreed. You arrive and your soul may still be laboring, swimming camel-like across the Pacific. You arrive soulless and solitary without people who love you to embrace you at the end of your journey. There is no longer a tradition of human welcoming, just posters of beaming mayors welcoming you to their city, or a friendly Uber driving asking how your trip went. There is no longer a tradition of arrival, as a demarcation, or event.
Why Cities Keep Growing, Corporations Always Die and Life Gets Faster, a summary of Geoffrey B. West’s LongNow talk, by Stewart Brand.
West is interested in scalability, starting out with research on animals, whose scaling is sublinear, up to cities, which is superlinear. Cities want to grow, and while companies want to grow as well, or even survive, they do not. The mean lifespan of a company is only 10 years.