The Veritable Smorgasbord

"I'm just preparing my impromptu remarks."- Sir Winston Curchill

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

I'm a 30 year old San Francisco resident by way of Virginia, currently working as an alumni affairs officer at a major research university in the Bay Area. I mainly write about politics, sports, music, and culture. I am a 1999 graduate of the University of Virginia with a degree in Foreign Affairs. I am hoping to begin a master's degree program in Journalism in the next few years.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

San Francisco cops don't learn from the 49'ers...

Earlier this year, the San Francisco 49'ers gained national exposure when a "training tape" that was supposed to be kept in house leaked out to local news media outlets. The video depicted 49'ers players in several skits that had racist and sexist overtones.

Apparently, the San Francisco Police Department didn't get the message that videos like this are frowned upon. Tonight, there are reports that over 20 SFPD officers will be suspended in the wake of the discovery of a tape that indulges in the same kind of "humor" that got the 49'ers into trouble. SFPD Chief Heather Fong said today was, "an extremely dark day -- in the history of the San Francisco Police Department".

The fallout from this should be immediate. Mayor Gavin Newsome has called for a blue-ribbon panel to investigate the matter.

What I'm Digging

Music/Shows/Websites I'm feeling (December 2005):


  • "Shoot Your Gun" 20-20's (Bluesy Brit Rock)
  • "Guns Don't Kill People, Rappers Do" Goldie Lookin Chain (I don't if these guys are setting out to be the British verison of the Beastie Boys, but that's their vibe)
  • "El Chupa Nibre" Danger Doom (The Danger Doom team - rapper MF Doom and DJ Danger Mouse - are freaking great. The album contains all kinds of odd references (Destro and Hasbro, anyone?) as well as samples from the Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" shows. Great beats and a hilarious listen.)

On the tube:

The Boondocks (The animated version of Aaron McGruder's acclaimed comic strip is groundbreaking. Liberal use of the "n" word are among the many things that stand out about this "cartoon". The "Trial of R. Kelly" episode was a riot..."R.Kelly may have pissed on that girl, but America pissed on R. Kelly!")

While you were surfing...:

Lifehacker is a great site for all kinds of ways to improve your life. Be it with cool personal organization tips, ways to improve your on-line experience, or with interesting links to other sites that might be under the radar, it's a great resource for anybody looking to make things in their life more simple.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

This land is our land?

On June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling with broad implications in regards to private property and its uses. Under a 5-4 vote, the ruling allows local governments to seize people's homes and businesses -- even against their will -- for private economic development.

The liberal wing of the court, joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, ruled in favor of the "public interest", a position they have consistently supported. Under the principle of eminent domain, the state has the power to take "real property" to complete projects, such as highways, provided the government offers "just compensation" (as is spelled out in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution) to the owner whose land is being appropriated.

However, Thursday's ruling in Kelo vs. New London would allow state and local governments the ability to seize land and offer it to private development groups. Kelo argued in the case that her property could not be taken and given to another private body under the reasoning that the development corporation would be able to generate higher tax revenues for the locality. Over the years, state and local governments have increased the scope of eminent domain to include economic development plans, but never to the point where private development interests have been able to be awarded such land for their uses.

In his opinion for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens said that local officials, and not federal courts, should have the final say on the merits of a development plan in their community. Stevens found that the, " has carefully formulated an economic development that it believes will provide appreciable benefits to the community, including, but by no means limited to, new jobs and increased tax revenue...". Stevens then went on to also write that, "It is not for the courts to oversee the choice of the boundary line nor to sit in review on the size of a particular project area...".

Justice Kennedy, in his concurring opinion, took a somewhat narrower view of the power afforded local governments pointing out that a development project that showed only, "incidental or pretextual public benefits", could be challenged.

In the dissent, Justice Sandra Day O' Connor felt that the court was not doing its duty in enforcing the Constitution saying that:

"Finally, in a coda, the Court suggests that property owners should turn to the States, who may or may not choose to impose appropriate limits on economic development takings. Ante, at 19. This is an abdication of our responsibility. States play many important functions in our system of dual sovereignty, but compensating for our refusal to enforce properly the Federal Constitution (and a provision meant to curtail state action, no less) is not among them."

What to make of this decision? On its face, it is a major victory for private developers. The way has been opened for those with deep pockets and the proper connections to reap huge financial benefits under the guise of helping the "public". Under this ruling, a development project doesn't even have to be open to the public; developers need only show economicic benefits to the community at large to appropriate the land.

Furthermore, individual property owners took a beating here. This ruling will make it far more difficult for the average citizen to get "market value" for their property as the government, and not the market, can determine worth.

As someone who tries to follow the court with some regularity, I am not shocked by the decision. However, as a Democrat, I am disappointed with the ruling delivered by the liberal justices. In this case, I think their support of the "greater good" overlooked the fact that this decision will greatly increase the political and economic power of development interests...intereststs that are most often aligned with the Republican Party. It's the rare occasion that I would agree with Justice Clarence Thomas, who pointed out in his separate dissent that poor blacks would be the group facing the most adverse effects from this ruling. Even if the scope of this practice can be contained by challenges as noted by Justice Kennedy, I don't like the message that this case sends to politicans or special interests.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

A Down Home atrocity

It sounds like something concocted by Hitler...the state forcibly sterilizing thousands of citizens in the name of creating a better gene pool. You would think such a thing would have met it's end with the fall of Nazi Germany, but the sad truth is that at least 30 states in the U.S. had laws on the books pertaining to eugenics. In some cases, the justification for the procedures were thin at best, citing laziness and being promiscuous as reasons. The most prominent case has been that of North Carolina, which unlike many other states, has at least owned up to the practice. Newsweek first reported on this in it's March 28 issue. The report states that 70,000 Americans underwent forced sterilization until the idea of eugenics fell out of favor.

More disturbing is the fact the vast majority of people sterilized under the plan in its later years were either welfare recipients or black. Newsweek reports that, "North Carolina's sterilization program zeroed in on welfare recipients. Over the last 15 years of its operation, 99 percent of the victims were women; more than 60 percent were black."

In America, this kind of thing should have been unthinkable. North Carolina is attempting to put in place a plan to repay the victims, but no amount of money could ever replace the ability of these people to have children and start families.

The silence on this issue from the right to life camp is deafening. In their zeal to protect all life, where is the outrage over the killing of innocents sanctioned by the United States government...or is it ok if its poor blacks and those on welfare who aren't allowed the basic human right to produce offspring?

Monday, December 27, 2004

Looking for love in all the wrong places?

"I'm scattered like newspapers all over the street
I see your face in everyone I meet
I'm avoiding the corners
I'm avoiding your name
I know that I loved you
But I loved you in vain
And this city's too small for two
My melancholy friend and you.."
"Tears All Over Town" A Girl Called Eddy

As Spring has sprung, the heart turns to thoughts of love and our fair metropolis is considered one of the most romantic places in the United States, if not on the entire planet. Though a big city by most accounts, our City by the Bay tends to display all the elements of the worst sort of small town when it comes to matters of the heart…where else can you go out on a first date, in the middle of the week no less, and have a former flame pass by the window of the little out of the way dinner spot you painstakingly labored to select? Or how many times has a "random" hook-up turned out to be the best friend of your former roommate's girlfriend? Such contrived- sounding relationships might seem far-fetched to an outsider, but ask anyone who's lived here for more than a few months and you'll see this is the rule and not the exception.

Having spent the better part of almost five years in this place and hurtling quickly toward my 28th year, I've come to the sad realization that the horror stories are true; the dating scene (or lack thereof) in San Francisco is no urban myth, but a painfully-grim reality for the thousands of twenty and thirty somethings who have chosen to call this place home.

We've heard it all before…this is a city that should nurture a thriving and vibrant dating culture. Few places in the U.S. can rival the Bay Area in terms of the depth of its cultural offerings and its access to outdoor recreational opportunities. The physical beauty of the area is legendary. In a recent issue of Men's Health, a Metro Grades survey revealed Fremont, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose to be among the most well-educated cities in the country*. In other words, there are a lot of good reasons that the people who live here who should be out, meeting and experiencing each other, but for some reason there’s a massive "system failure" (to use the parlance of our C.S. friends at Stanford and Berkeley) when it comes to what should be the (relatively) easy task of securing a date.

So the question then becomes…why? What is causing the singles scene in San Francisco to resemble a middle school dance with all the boys standing by the gym door wanting to sneak away and the girls standing across the floor, gossiping amongst themselves?

There don't appear to be any easy answers. To my eyes, there are several factors at play that contribute to otherwise normal, good looking, and successful men and women spending an inordinate amount of time beating their heads against the wall and asking the time honored relationship query of, "What's wrong with me?"

One of the most obvious factors seems to be the transient nature of the city. San Francisco was founded by people on the lookout for quick riches and when the gold was gone, so were they (don't apply this analogy to the here and now…the current creek beds haven't been picked clean just yet). Quite the contrary, there's lot of gold to be found…it's just that a lot of it tends to move downstream before it's uncovered. Think about who you know in the city…most of us, even if we've been here for a few years, can count on two hands the born and raised San Franciscans we know. Everyone else (myself included) arrives from all over the country and many stay for a couple of years to act crazy in a beautiful, forward thinking city and then head off to grad school or back to wherever they came from to settle down and start their "real" lives.

Now there's no fault to be assigned to that line of thought…but for those of us who are semi-permanent residents, this causes a rather violent upheaval of the dating pool on a fairly regular basis. When people breeze into town with the fun mentality clicked to the "on" position and knowing they have a set amount of time in which to get it all out of their systems, it cuts the number of real dating prospects significantly.

A second and very notorious factor is the existence of cliques. They manifest themselves here in all of their ridiculous forms, breaking down along lines of class, race, neighborhood, education, profession…you name it, and there's some faction built to spec. Now, this kind of thing happens everywhere for certain, but it becomes more pronounced in San Francisco because numbers wise, it's just not that big of a place and,unlike New York City, for example, you can't cross town to reinvent yourself (or hide away) because the mood hits. Don't get me wrong…everyone likes to feel comfortable and we all like the ease and peace of mind that comes from being around others like ourselves. But if you examine the ways in which people willingly self-select themselves in to cliques, and thereby remove themselves from the scene at large, you start to see the problem. It's similar to the problems that come with raising Dalmatians; sure, they look nice, but due to the complications of inbreeding, they aren't all that fun to be around unless you're just like them. Examples of this sort of behavior abound. No doubt you've heard some variation of the following before:

"Dude, I can't date her…she's B & T!"
"I mean, why would you want to go out in the Haight? It's all the way across town and besides, the guys don't shower and their hair is long. Let's just go to Balboa."
"I only go to the Mission for the food."
"I can't dig on the pretty boy and daddy's girl frat scene over in the Marina…how fake can you get? I get enough of that on the GAP and Banana billboards."
"$15 cab ride or 5 minute walk…the beer's just as cheap here…and the girls are better looking."
"I only date bankers and lawyers." (Good city for those on that track, then)

And so on and so forth. It's enough to make even the most extroverted among us want to stay home on a Saturday night and read "Missed Connections" on Craigslist.

A third issue is the "What's your age?" game. The most recent census revealed a tremendously high number of "never married" people in their mid-twenty to mid thirties in the Bay Area. Part of that is almost surely skewed by the aforementioned way in which people cycle in and out of town. However, the professional pressures that seem to be prevalent here along with the self-motivated and highly intelligent population, drive people to seek a high level of financial and career well being, in part because of the high cost of living and in part because that’s what the "group think" mentality stresses. Seen through this light, it's easy to see how having a relationship can start to slip down the ladder in terms of importance. In a perfect world, nobody would have to sacrifice a successful career for a successful relationship; reality, however, tends to get in the way of our best intentions. Time waits for no man (or woman) and certain realities begin to assert themselves as we grow older. The age issue is all too often simply portrayed as the biological clock of "desperate" women ticking away, but let's face it…very few of us want to spend the rest of our lives doing it on our own and the "work hard, play hard" lifestyle starts to lose its luster when you keep coming home to an empty apartment and the only person who wants to hear about your accomplishments is your mom.

Well, what to do about it then? Probably the most important thing (which is no great revelation) is for people to simply pursue their personal interests as much as possible. If you like jazz and you can't get a friend to tag along with you to Yoshi's, go solo. Nobody’s going to take a second look at you if you're making your way through MOMA by yourself or if you're lost in the stacks at Borders (hell, Barnes and Noble in New York was just recently cited in a poll as the best place to get a date). Don't fall into the trap that says doing something by yourself makes you a loser. It's a terrible frame of mind to be in; besides, you can't be happy with anyone else if you're not happy with yourself, so make time for you. You'd probably be surprised at how many people you can meet if you give yourself a chance to be you doing what YOU want to do.

When you do have friends on hand, though, help each other push your boundaries a little. Take a class (really…stop saying you will and go do it)! CCSF and Berkeley Extension, among many others, offer classes in language instruction, cooking, photography, and almost too many other things to mention here that are worth checking out. Instead of going to a bar on a Friday night, go take in a play or head to the symphony. Some things are certainly better to do with a good friend by your side.

On the topic of friends, many of us meet potential dating interests though people we already know. It tends to be a little more natural (unless, God forbid, you get set up on a blind date). For lack of a better way of putting it, plan events that will increase your chances of meeting new and interesting people through those who already know you (and who can vouch for how great you are). Organize a monthly dinner club. Volunteer with a group through One Brick, or at Glide Memorial, or at a senior center. Make every third Wednesday indie-movie night followed by coffee or beers…whatever it is, build activities that are attractive to a wide range of people and let your friends be the draw for others.

Lastly, don't be a hermit and don't feel like you're the only one dealing with the reality of being single. Nobody emerges emotionally unscathed from a landscape like the one we face here, so take solace in that fact. It's definitely NOT you. So don't let it get you down. I'm not a big believer in the clichés that tend to flow from the mouths of the happily involved among us, but even I have to admit there is some truth to the idea that things happen when you are ready for them and that there is little you can do to force fate's hand in that regard. Mick and the boys once sang, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you'll get what you need." That hurts when you've just hung up from the call informing you that there will be no second date, but just consider that dumping to be a badge of honor, move on down the line (you can't win unless you're in the game to start with, remember), and apply what you've learned to make yourself better off in the long run. Relationships start and end due to timing (ah, that well worn cliché again!) coincidence, convenience, and a host of other factors, so don't overanalyze…eyes on tomorrow, not mind on yesterday.

None of these conclusions are groundbreaking and I'm sure many of you have had these or similar realizations on your own, but keep in mind that there are lots of random hearts out there looking this spring...and who knows, a few months from now, you might be celebrating a summer love of your own.

(* = Criteria used in the Men's Health rankings factored in the number of bachelor's degree per capita, the number of universities in the area, inhabitants' SAT scores, state creativity scores as assessed by Catalytix and the Richard Florida Creativity Group, and the number of Nobel Prize winners for physics and medicine born within a town's borders.)

Monday, December 06, 2004

Back from Nowhere

It's been many months since I've last gotten around to writing I am. I'm feeling well traveled, having attended six weddings all over the country. I've found what I think is some good positive energy heading into the holidays...things have been a little turbulent of late, starting with the election (oh vey!) but life moves on and as '04 is in the homestretch, making it through another year is always cause for celebration. My intention is to get back to something that resembles a normal posting schedule in the next few weeks...with what's on the agenda, I'm sure there will be plenty to riff on...