May 31, 2009

Punch Up

"The San Francisco artists tended to be anti-intellectual and uptight, […] a lot of energy went into hating New York and Los Angeles" — Bruce Nauman, quoted in the latest New Yorker, on the SF art scene he once escaped from years ago.

It's still a lot like that, at least for older San Franciscans: I don't think establishment San Francisco's ever really got over the fact that in the last few decades LA's become the cultural heart of California, the place where interesting art happens, a place where music and culture go their own merry way without so much as a nod to mother San Francisco. Those older San Franciscans seem fixated on LA (and, to a lesser extent, NY) as cultural rivals, but there's really no contest: San Francisco might have punched well above its weight fifty years ago, but looking back lovingly at the 1960's doesn't in itself a vibrant culture make, and neither New York nor LA see SF as much of a rival — gallingly for us here in the Bay Area, they don't see us at all.

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May 26, 2009


Proposition 8 gets affirmed, to the shame of California, but as even our Republican Governator publicly recognises, one day it'll be overturned by common consent or (better-grounded) legal action (hell, that's already happening in other parts of the country — I can't help feeling that a tiny part of the outrage felt here is that California's been trumped on this (of all issues) by those little states Back East). Again, it's hard not to believe that sometime soon Prop 8 will be looked at in the same way we look at anti-miscegenation laws nowadays, as an affront to decency, and Prop 8 as the last gasp of Boomer (Worst. Generation. Ever.) bigotry.

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May 25, 2009

Blue Gum Blues

"The hated Tasmanian blue gum tree — better known as a variety of eucalyptus — has been blamed for virtually every evil short of snatching babies out of strollers […]" (the lead sentence from a front page story in today's SF Chronicle).

To an Australian, that seems a little rough, but it's essentially true (if nothing else the blue gums certainly contribute disproportionately to bush fires (brush fires) here due to the way they drop their branches and bark, and the various flammable oils they produce). Out here in the SF Bay Area, as the article says, gums "breed like rats", and you can't help noticing gum trees are everywhere, especially on the hillsides. That little thrill of recognition and familiarity disappears after a while when you realise they're deeply destructive alien species brought over here during and after the gold rush, and have basically taken over the coastal hills in large parts of California — even the native coastal Redwoods don't do as well as the gum trees. So you learn to grit your teeth and ponder your loyalties every time you walk through the many beautiful tall groves of blue gums here, and not to get too bent out of shape over your breakfast bagel or laptop latte by articles like that.

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May 15, 2009


Swanning around the bright spacious well-peopled aisles of Fry's in Fremont on a Friday evening in search of NAS drives and eSATA cables: what else is there to do in the Valley? I'm such a nerd.

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May 11, 2009

Imagine That

"Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination," Mr. Obama said. "It is happening right now, it’s been happening for decades. The problem is, it’s been happening elsewhere, not here." (Quoted in a recent NYT news article).

A long time ago (the late 1980's or early 1990's), while working as a recently-transplanted Londoner in Silicon Valley, I remember seeing a poster near the front door of the company I worked at that compared Old Tech very smugly and unfavorably to New Tech by comparing railway (railroad, I guess, this being the US) technology and companies to the then-nascent PC and workstation companies (like the place I was working at then). One had a Future, the other only a Past; QED, I guess. The poster had whole diagrams and columns devoted to explaining why train technology died out in the twentieth century (and why PC technology had a glorious future). Those lumbering old trains, heavily-engineered steel dinosaurs in the last gasp of extinction, roadkill on the way to the future…. Good riddance.

Two worlds, for sure — but not the two the poster writers (and the company's founders) probably had in mind, I'll bet. The world I'd just come from had fast, convenient, and relatively-cheap train travel (in fact until I moved to California I'd never really owned a car because public transport was so much cheaper and more convenient); trains in that world didn't just have a future, they were (and still are) the future (or a part of it, at any rate). From my point of view back then, it was cars that looked like a long-term dead end, at least in their current guise.

The world I'd just moved to, though, seemed completely oblivious to the reality elsewhere: didn't they know trains worked? Didn't they know that modern trains were marvels of hi-tech engineering and efficient use of resources? No, they basically didn't. Trains were these slow old things that almost no one used; I didn't know anyone in The Valley who took trains anywhere (there weren't any trains to take, in any case). Trains were The Past. I remember a front-page article in a local newspaper (the old SF Examiner, I think) that patiently explained to its readership train basics (such as how to get on and off trains) in preparation for some trek or other in an antique train up the coast. I used to joke that when cars became less desirable in the future, at least in California there'd be enough space to use the freeways as train right-of-ways. And now California's starting to pitch itself as ground zero for new (green) railway technology, which can't be a bad thing, for sure. Get that hi-tech on the rails again….

The US's transport infrastructure: so well-prepared for the twentieth century. And that's just the way so many Americans like it….

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May 06, 2009

Road Trip Pix

I've put an automatically-generated gallery of some hi-res pix from my recent road trip into California and Nevada here. I'll be doing something separate for the people shots from the Vegas conference, sometime in the future, for those of you who asked….

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May 01, 2009

City of Light

It's easy to get all huffy about the tawdriness and inauthenticity at the heart of Las Vegas, but immersed in the crowds on The Strip late at night, it can seem a bright and cheery sort of place (watching the Bellagio fountains do a brassy "Hey Big Spender" really did it for me), and from the 26th floor of the Flamingo, with the lights out towards Nellis twinkling in the desert heat and distance, the neon reflections in the windows arrayed around the immediate high-rise horizon, the helicopters shuttling above the strip, the lights of the planes turning final into McCarran, and the palms swaying in the breeze between the parking structures, it's easier to take Vegas at face value, an authentic sort of context for the genuinely inauthentic. Who cares whether the palms in front of the Eiffel Tower are fake or not?

But the drive in the from the desert, the long struggle to get through the traffic in suburb after suburb of huge pastel developments, empty garage Mahals, strip malls, sandy hills and clogged freeways, the permanent impermanence of everything much beyond The Strip or Downtown, the flinty Los Angelisation, the endless stream of billboards that seem to advertise only personal injury, DUI, and traffic offense lawyering, the taxis with rooftop ads for automatic weapons, the way almost every built surface looks instantly worn in the same way so many local faces do… all that's the ugly heart of Las Vegas. It's just hidden in that vast periphery that few get to see on their five-block ride in from the airport.

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