Sep 082013

In light of the news of a proposal being floated to name the new span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge after former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, I thought I would repost what I wrote a few years ago about naming civic structures after politicians generally. Short answer: I’m against it, and I use another Bay Area bridge as an example of how civic structures should better be named. (Note also the post-script at the end.)

In the days where naming rights to every civic structure are routinely sold to the highest bidder, it’s nice to see things get named after a deserving and appropriate person.

California just completed a new suspension bridge (in the Bay Area, crossing the Carquinez Strait carrying eastbound I-80 traffic) and named it the Alfred Zampa Memorial Bridge. According to CNN (Update: link may no longer be active):

[The bridge] is named for an ironworker who fell from the Golden Gate Bridge during its construction in 1936 and survived to help build six more bridges in the Bay Area.

Zampa died in 2000 at 95, weeks after turning the first shovel of dirt for the bridge.

He sounds like a worthy recipient of the honor of having the bridge named after, and certainly much more worthy than others who’ve had civil engineering projects named after them like, say, Ronald Reagan. Someone wrote on the Internet somewhere (I forget where) that it was tremendously ironic to name an airport after the man who had fired all the air traffic controllers.

I think it would be advisable to make a rule (either codified, or simply as a hegemonically and tacitly socially agreed-upon tradition) not to name things after people until 50 years after their death. This would give us a chance to really reflect on these people’s contribution to society and decide if, on retrospect, we still feel highly enough about them to justify the honor. Also, particularly in the case of political figures, such a policy would prevent the naming of structures that everyone shares for people whose politics not everyone necessarily favored.

True, Zampa died only a few years ago, but it’s not like he was a political figure whose supporters called in political favors to have the structure named after him. And the story of his contributions to the Bay Area’s infrastructure makes naming a bridge after him seem very appropriate. Perhaps if it was a baseball stadium they wanted to name after him I would feel differently. But then again, if it would prevent another recurrence of an Enron Field…

The preceding was originally posted November 10, 2003. A few months later, on another post, came the following comment by Ronald Zampa:

I like your commentary regarding the naming of things. Alfred Zampa was my grandfather and a local legend. There never was a more down to earth individual. He started building bridges on the first Carquinez in 1926 and the rest is history. I wish more of the structures in America were named after the people that did the work to build this country.

Jul 142013

I wrote this originally on July 14, 2003, shortly after the US decided to invade Iraq.

It’s Bastille Day and a great time to comment on all things French.

On Friday the Sofitel Hotel in Redwood Shores hosted a party to celebrate an early Bastille Day. It wasn’t all that much fun – way too American! (The band should have played French music!) – but I got to catch up with my friend Valerie, an actual French person, and there were fireworks afterwards. We spoke French a little as well and I was happy to see I haven’t forgotten it all despite not having been in France since March. When I’m in France my French skills sort of warm up and I get more fluid with my speaking. But I don’t practice much when I’m in the US because it just doesn’t seem intuitive to describe life in the US in French. French fits France: the roads, the buildings, the people, the food, the life, the light, the French ambience in its entirety. But in the US, and maybe California in particular, the spaces are broader and, how shall I say it, differently colored? There is a rhythm to life which requires the English vocabulary and its broader phoenetic syllables to describe. Whereas IN France the opposite is true and English feels clunky and ineffectual.

Apparently last year for Bastille Day the Sofitel Hotel hung a gigantic French flag off of their building. This year I guess they’ve chosen to be more subdued. I think it’s an absolute shame that they think they need to. There was a recent article in the New York Times about how American families were refusing to host French foreign exchange students. Such behavior is absolutely appalling.

  • Even if we assume that the French have done something unforgivable, what sense does it make to penalize students?
  • Given the rift between our respective cultures, what sense does it make to deny ourselves the opportunities to build bridges between us that foreign exchanges afford?
  • Even if we accept the most cynical assessment of Chirac’s motivation for not agreeing with the US on Iraq, I don’t believe, from my experience meeting real live actual French people in France, that the French reluctance to invade Iraq was based on anything other than reasonable, rationale, and humane concerns.
  • If either country has behaved in a way that requires apologizing, it’s not France. All things considered I think the French have been tolerating tremendous American arrogance with astonishing equanimity. I’ve not heard of an example of the French being nearly as inhospitable to Americans as we are being to them.

Not to mention how foolish this attitude is if it turns out that the French were right about Iraq.

I just find it unfathomable that there are Americans who would tell me that to support my country I need to now hate the French. I didn’t go to all the trouble to learn their language just so I could lord myself over them in a misplaced sense of haughty patriotism. I think, rather, that it would be advisable for more Americans to go to the trouble to try to see things from the French perspective. And rather than continue to resent them for WWII, if we are determined to rely on history to justify our contemporary relationships, perhaps we would be better served by recalling the contributions of Lafayette, or perhaps the gift of the Statue of Liberty, or any other of a number unsung occasions of the French supporting Americans.

Jun 132013

It’s all Huey Lewis and the News’ fault.

A few years ago, after moving back out to California following law school, I somehow decided it would be fun to ride my bike to a Huey Lewis and the News concert. I think this notion was rooted in the remnants of some adolescent teenybopper fantasy I used to harbor that they’d someday play in my town, so the idea that I could propel myself to one of their shows under my own power appealed to me as a way to somehow scratch that old itch. However WHY I thought I could do such a thing is a bit of a mystery. The band frequently plays shows in Saratoga, which is near where I used to live and ride before law school but not really near where I was currently living and riding. Plus it’s not like I was ever any sort of serious cyclist. Even when living in the South Bay I rarely biked more than 20 miles at one time, and during law school I hardly ever biked for any length at all. Nonetheless, once I got it into my head to bike to the concert, I had to do it. So I did, riding 65 miles south from my home in Sausalito to see my favorite band play.

Even though it was a taxing ride for me, I did it again a few more times over the next few years, until about two years ago when my plans were stymied. Their concert was going to be in the middle of the week, not on a weekend, thereby making the logistics unfeasible. “Saratoga on a Wednesday??? How am I supposed to bike there then?” I posted on a fan board. “Or am I expected to bike to Reno this year instead?” For, you see, the Reno show was going to be on the Saturday, and while I was fully joking in suggesting I might bike there, as soon as I articulated the thought the mental wheels started turning. Could I actually bike to Reno I wondered? The googling of potential routes immediately commenced, and, yes, it turned out, I indeed could. And so I indeed did.

The Reno ride was about 200 miles over three days, requiring the traversing of the Sierras on Day 2 and what was then my longest one-day mileage record of 82 miles on Day 3. It wasn’t easy, but I did it, and suddenly my cycling ability and confidence matured many levels – so many that when I rode the 65 miles to Saratoga for the concert last year, it was embarrassingly easy. Clearly I was going to need a new challenge.

I suppose I have always been somewhat aware of what used to be called the California AIDS Ride, the multi-day bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. You pretty much can’t walk into a bike shop in the Bay Area without seeing flyers for it. While I always thought it was something I’d like to say I’d done, I never could imagine it being an attainable undertaking. It was for serious cyclists, not an occasional weekend rider like me. But after the Reno ride I started to rethink the kind of cyclist I might actually be. Last year, in addition to the 65 miles to Saratoga, I also did 72 miles around Lake Tahoe and 86 miles from Sausalito to Santa Cruz. Day 1 of the AIDS ride, now known as AIDS Lifecycle, was just from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, and I already knew I could do that part. It made me start to think that maybe, just maybe, the AIDS Lifecycle really was for people like me. Dipping my toe in ever so slightly, early this year I signed up.
Continue reading »

 Posted by at 8:22 am
May 042013

Another repost from my old blog:

Last night I helped my dad clear the table. “Where do we put the trivet?” I asked.

Then I interrupted myself. “What a useless word, ‘trivet.’ In a way it’s nice that there’s such a precise word for this specific thing, but it’s sort of a waste of mental space to have to know a word that almost never gets used.”

To which my dad said, “Oh, I don’t know. I try to use it three to four times a day.”

And then, over the course of the rest of the evening, he did. Of course, not always in its original meaning, as a noun describing a portable flat surface upon which one sets hot dishes. Sometimes he used it as a verb or an adjective. Which necessarily involved adding some new meanings to its definition, as the context it was used in would dictate.

At first its meaning fluctuated somewhat randomly, but over the course of the evening it did seem to take on a consistent usage. As an adjective it sort of described a state of flummoxed confusion. In fact, in a way it described that particular condition better than any other actual English word did. So much so that I think the word “trivet” (or, in this case, “triveted”) should be adopted for common parlance.

I suspect it could be done so successfully, because at one point my sister had wandered into the room and overheard my dad inserting the word into conversation. It was perfectly clear to me what he was saying when he used it, but not so my sister who had never come across this word before (despite her rather expansive vocabulary). Completely trusting that it was an actual word in an actual dictionary, she asked my dad what it meant so she could add it to her repertoire. I think she genuinely expected that it would have some lengthy etymology, dating back perhaps all the way to Ancient Greece. As opposed to the backyard, an hour earlier.

 Posted by at 4:18 pm
Apr 142013

I’ve always been a committed fan of free speech. More than a fan, actually: it was something I believed in fighting for.

In my previous career as an Internet professional I became more and more concerned that when it came to speech taking place over the Internet, free speech values were too easily being compromised. I went to law school in order to put myself in a position to do something about it. So when I saw the Popehat Signal seeking a lawyer’s assistance to defend someone’s speech, I knew I had to answer the call.

Continue reading »

Apr 092013

Both Ken @ Popehat and “Gideon” at his blog have posts on the position reporter Jana Winter finds herself in. To briefly summarize, the contents of the diary of the alleged Aurora, CO, shooter ended up in her possession, ostensibly given to her by a law enforcement officer with access to it and in violation of judicial orders forbidding its disclosure. She then reported on those contents. She is not in trouble for having done the reporting; the problem is, the investigation into who broke the law by providing the information to her in the first place has reached an apparent dead end, and thus the judge in the case wants to compel her, under penalty of contempt that might include jailing, to disclose the source who provided it, despite her having promised to protect the source’s identity.

In his post Gideon make a compelling case for the due process issues at stake here. What’s especially notable about this situation is that the investigation isn’t just an investigation into some general wrongdoing; it’s wrongdoing by police that threatens to compromise the accused’s right to a fair trial. However you might feel about him and the crimes for which he’s charged, the very fact that you might have such strong feelings is exactly why the court was motivated to impose a gag order preventing the disclosure of such sensitive information: to attempt to preserve an unbiased jury who could judge him fairly, a right he is entitled to by the Constitution, irrespective of his ultimate innocence or guilt, which the police have no business trying to undermine.

Ken goes even further, noting the incredible danger to everyone when police and journalists become too chummy, as perhaps happened in the case here. Police power is power, and left unchecked it can often become tyrannically abusive. Journalists are supposed to help be that check, and when they are not, when they become little but the PR arm for the police, we are all less safe from the inherent danger that police power poses.

But that is why, as Ken and Gideon wrestle with the values of the First Amendment versus the values of the Fifth and Sixth the answer MUST resolve in favor of the First. There is no way to split the baby such that we can vindicate the latter interests here while not inadvertently jeopardizing these and other important interests further in the future.  Continue reading »

Mar 262013

I wrote this when I was in law school. I always kind of liked it as a piece of writing. I also think it remains a perfectly sound theory…

BoingBoing has a post about an author of a book on parasites, which explains, among other things, that there is a parasite in cat feces that can affect humans – making women more friendly and men into jerks.

Perhaps that’s why my August 2000 turned out the way it did. I had been living, catlessly, with my boyfriend for 13 months. He really wanted to get a cat, but I resisted. It’s not that I object to the concept of a cat, but I am not comfortable with their logistical realities: smelly input and output, and the long-term commitment any house pet requires. How could we go places? How could we travel? Having a cat would seem to instill a burdensome complexity in our lives that I thought we were better off without.

Still, I wasn’t anti-cat, per se. Just like everyone else I thought the stray kitten we found frolicking at the bottom of the stairs of our garden apartment was incredibly cute and charming. To the point that I tossed and turned all night worrying about what would happen to it. It was not an idle concern: we discovered later that the cat had been living across the street — a four-lane street, which was hardly conducive to safe cat crossing! But she and her two brothers were all strays that a neighbor had been leaving some food out for. And that was about to end as her husband insisted that they be taken to the humane society. Word had it though that if they ended up there, after three days they’d all be put down. But this little calico seemed way too sweet and friendly to allow that to happen to.

So we brought her home — temporarily. Some friends of mine at my job worked with a cat rescue organization, and as a favor to me agreed to take her and get her adopted out. But they couldn’t do that right away so we took her in for a couple of days.

We named her Bovina because her calico spots made her look like a cow. She wasn’t too young — my boyfriend thought she was the equivalent of a teenager — but lots of things were new to her and she seemed to enjoy exploring our apartment. For this brief period I didn’t mind having a pet. She was very affectionate and nice to pet and I genuinely cared about what happened to her. But I knew I couldn’t commit to taking care of her, so instead I did what I could to find her a nice home elsewhere.

Soon my friends came to take the cat away and get her ready for adoption. Shortly thereafter, my boyfriend also moved out. We’d been having issues, but the move-out came as a surprise to me: I came home from work one day to find half the furniture gone! I was not thrilled with him, to say the least. But now I understand – perhaps this assholishness was caused by the parasite! He obviously couldn’t help himself — the cat made him do it!

It did seem bitterly ironic that within less than a month, I’d managed to lose both a cat and a partner. The apartment had rapidly gone from very crowded to very empty. But I do think it was all for the best. Look at my life now: I travel the world hither and yon, having all sorts of adventures. How could I do all that if I were tied down by a long-term commitment?

And what would I have done with the cat?

 Posted by at 8:50 am  Tagged with:
Mar 112013

Sometimes in life you just need to run off to Paris. So I did.

It was certainly time: I hadn’t set foot in France in 10 years, which was particularly odd given that I had twice lived there, once for a month in Provence and once for a better part of a year in Paris. That’s when I got the gift of French language skills. Unfortunately, being away from France for so long those skills had necessarily gotten really dusty, and for various reasons, now was the right time to find them again.

So I just spent a little over a week in Paris. I wasn’t a tourist. I didn’t see a single museum or historic site (at least not purposefully; in Paris you kind of can’t avoid seeing them accidentally). Instead I sublet an apartment and settled into my old home.

In many ways it felt like only yesterday since I’d been there, but the truth is that I left it nearly 15 years ago, and over and over I was reminded by how much has changed since. Back when I lived there they had JUST converted to the Euro, but still used French Francs. They had JUST built the 14th line of the Metro, but not the next several RER lines or tramways. The Internet had only just become popular back then, during that Christmas when everyone got “Internet in a box” (the hot item back then was a box containing a 14.4 modem, CD with Netscape, and a subscription to Wanadoo), but otherwise it was a country still attached to Minitel.

Back then I knew the rare places where you could find sushi (mostly in the 5th and a few spots in the 6th), but now it’s on every block, while bistros and other local cuisine has become much harder to come by. And now when people “take a coffee” it may well be from a Starbucks or McDonald’s “McCafe.”

It’s also much harder now to practice one’s French – English is everywhere. The Internet is everywhere, even in the Metro. What I noted about Germany seems true for France too: pan-Europeanism has replaced a lot of local cultural identity.

But, as a French friend reassured me, that is what the French want. Tastes have changed, he said. What you now see in Paris is what they have changed into. And to be sure, plenty of profoundly French hallmarks remain. There are still boulangerie-patisseries and boucheries on every block. Even supermarket food is French in style and reflects the local demand for quality and French ingredients. The Metro runs well, except when it doesn’t, just as it always has. The streets are still French, the buildings still French, and the people still French. But French life now includes a kind of global cosmopolitan openness it didn’t so much have before.

As well as far more bagels, donuts, cupcakes and burritos than there used to be.