Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Adultery Wednesdays

So, the Foreign Policy Association had us all write a summary of 2011 and our predictions for 2012 on our particular blogging topics.  This has been weighing on me, but I finally got it done, just before the deadline.  It's here.  I'm by no means an expert, but having strong opinions (the Robinson family motto: Often wrong, never unsure), I had a piece or two to say.  It's a bit long--we also had to give some book recommendations and talk about our fave person from 2011--so buckle in. 

Tomorrow is World AIDS Day, so I'll have more to say on Friday, for a regular Adultery Fridays post.  I'll go ahead and say it now: go get tested, friends!  Please take a moment tomorrow to remember the people we have lost to the virus and those who soldier on.  And if you're feeling in any way solvent, donate some cash to a well-deserving HIV/AIDS organization.  There are many.  They do good work.  And with their help, and yours, we could see an HIV-free generation sooner than you'd think.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Glancing Blows

I know I've been out of commission.  There were friends, fish, camping trips, drives to the Southland, and lots of turkey in the way.  Things'll normalize soon.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Spirit Bears, Tar Sands, and Conservation

SPOIL from EP Films on Vimeo.

The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival took place two weekends ago.  The film Spoil took home the prize for Best Film - Mountain Environment.  This documentary is an advocacy piece for the conservation of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, which is currently threatened by plans for a tar sands oil pipeline that would put massive oil tankers off the coast.  The film is under forty-five minutes and well worth a look--in the time it takes to kill your brain with The X Factor or Glee (guilty on both counts, don't you worry), you could learn a little something about tar sands and the Great Bear Rainforest, listen to some nice music, and drool over incredible nature footage. 

The film follows the efforts of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) as they put together an environmental campaign to stop the tar sands plans.  Along the way, you'll see the lengths to which nature and wildlife photographers will go for that perfect shot--including tromping around (respectfully) in bear country, dodging spawning salmon, and braving jellyfish stings to the face.  There are otters, bears (my favorite animal), wolves, whales and plenty of gorgeous forest and ocean shots.  It's worth a watch for the natural eye candy alone--put it in full screen for the best effect.

The film also discusses the importance of the area to the Gitga' First Nation, whose members guide the iLCP photographers and take a few nice photos along the way as well.  The Gitga Nation opposes the oil pipeline, which endangers their livelihood.  The coastal waters through which the supertankers must navigate are treacherous.  In one poignant scene, the director chose to compare maps between the "relatively easy" route of the Exxon Valdez and the proposed channel for the new tar sands pipeline, which requires five angled turns to the Exxon Valdez's one.  We all know how that story turned out--and these new supertankers will carry almost ten times as much oil.  Tar sands extraction is also extremely damaging to the environment.  Of course, big bucks are at stake--this project is meant for foreign export, mostly to China.  The discussion of this BC oil proposal makes the Keystone XL Pipeline, a joint Canadian-American project currently on hold (thanks for something, Obama!) look like an even stupider idea.  An oil spill in this area, or in any area, would be catastrophic, as we have seen only too recently. 

It becomes clear over the course of the film that the real star of Spoil, however, is the Spirit Bear--a black bear with a recessive gene that turns its coat white.  Spirit Bears are important to the Gitga' and a tourist attraction for the adventure travel crowd.  National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen heads out with local guide Marven Robinson, who has been around bears for many years and knows some of them from when they were cubs.  After twelve days of searching, they come across a white bear, who passes within two feet of them.  Nicklen described how close they came: "You could smell his breath, you could look into his eyes."  In the end, it is this moving encounter (yeah, I cried a little bit) that gives the greatest argument for protecting and conserving this unique area. 

If you're interested, you can see National Geographic's coverage from its August issue: Spirit Bears, Paul Nicklen's photos, and more on the BC tar sands project.  If you can't see the film at the top, you can go here.  If you think you'll dig the films from Banff, check out their awards page for more films or the schedule for their world tour.  And if you'd like to get involved, visit

Friday, November 11, 2011

Adultery Fridays

New post at Foreign Policy Blogs, on World Pneumonia Day. 

It's another cold, rainy Friday in SF...Although I belatedly realized that the building has turned on our heaters, which would have saved me a lot of shivery, two-blanket grief, as a Southern Californian, all I can say is that it's icky.  And unnatural.  OK, it's not that bad.  I did spend a good portion of yesterday outside at the Wave Organ.  Which is awesome.  If you can find it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

More Police Violence: Occupy Berkeley

A new video (warning: it's intense) has surfaced showing police violently confronting a peaceful group of UC Berkeley students at Occupy protests on campus.  I really don't understand why the Cal administration or the city of Berkeley thought that it was a good idea to have the police there at all.  The Huffington Post has a little more.  This video, along with a sound bite of kids chanting "stop beating students" probably isn't a great PR move for UC Berkeley, Berkeley PD, or the city.  The video shows the lengths that a (self-styled "liberal") university will go to to control its students and the messages discussed on its campus and demonstrates that even in a higher learning setting, where all ideas and viewpoints should be given air time and free speech and expression celebrated, there is a real fear of actually letting students have their say.  What are you afraid of, UC Berkeley?

In my experience at a similarly "radical" university (I take pride in having attended "University of Havana, North," with all of the "fascist liberal anarchists," though not the actions that led to Bill O'Reilly calling us those things), security and the administration set up a lot of hoops to jump through before protests were allowed.  In one case, it was easier to get a permit from the City to protest on Broadway than to get permission to have a peaceful assembly on campus (against an appearance by John Ashcroft).  Following racist and homophobic events on campus, students were given permission to occupy one of the central lawns my senior year--poor kids were freezing, but it was all very calm and polite.  At the time, it was a pretty big deal that a tent city was allowed, but it was allowed.  Despite these restrictions, the NYPD was not allowed on campus, unless investigating felonies, after the police brutality during the 1968 anti-war protests put 150 students in the hospital.  So, a chilling of free speech on campus, but at least a pretty strong guarantee that the university wouldn't call in the cops to hit us with truncheons.

I've embedded the video from Berkeley's not Tarantino-levels of bloody (or anything close to Chicago '68, Columbia '68, etc.), but I found myself a bit shaken, mostly out of shock that this was allowed to happen.  Universities must protect their students.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Occupy Oakland: More Context

I wrote about the Occupy protests last week and condemned the violence and vandalism committed by a few protesters.  I also briefly mentioned the brutality committed by the Oakland Police Department against Occupy protesters. There was an interesting op-ed today in The New York Times by Oakland resident and author Ishmael Reed.  It gives a little context to the anger of some Oakland protesters by discussing the long history of excessive force and brutality committed by the OPD.  Reed also unpacks the implications of race and local vs. "outsider" (perceived or actual) in the protests.  It's worth a read, and I think it adds another dimension to Occupy Oakland. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Well, Hello There, Cape Town

The trailer for Safe House, the Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds CIA thriller, is out.  It was filmed on-location in Cape Town while I was living there, and a few friends (not me) spotted the two stars around town, on and off set.  All I experienced were massive traffic jams during day and night shoots around the city.  However, I'm pretty excited to see how the Mother City is portrayed on film, even if it looks like CT and its denizens play a back-seat role to the action.  Oh well.  Baby steps.  I'm sure it brought much-needed revenue to the city, maybe employed a few people as extras and on the crew, and doesn't appear to portray South Africa in a negative light...just the CIA.  Also, maybe I'm biased, but this looks like a better vehicle for Reynolds that some of his recent action outings, and I'm hoping this is a return of the not-quite-good-not-quite-bad Denzel character, as opposed to the hero-of-various-train-situations one (Training Day--OK, he was all bad in that one, but so good--vs. Pelham 123 or Unstoppable).  Add Sam Shepard, Vera Farmiga, and Brendan Gleeson to the mix, and I'm feeling pretty good.

H/T Kai.  Thanks, friend!

Glancing Blows

Friday, November 4, 2011

Adultery Fridays

It's freezing, I'm tired, and I've been dealing with computer problems all day as I've tried to transfer files from my 2004 PowerBook G4 (yes, the one that's so old it has the round charger pin) to my brand-new baby...I mean...MacBook Pro.  The G4 is so old that it can't even consistently power a 500GB external hard drive (or that's my current theory), so I'm moving all my files piecemeal.  On top of that, the neighbors continue with their loud and never ending renovations.  Which equals grumpiness.

I managed to pound out a global health post over at Foreign Policy Blogs, however, on crowdsourcing HIV/AIDS (yes, we're both old school and cutting edge around here), how genetically modified mosquitoes are probably going to kill us all (or something), and the total complete crapfest that was the G20 summit.  Sidenote: President Obama: you cracked your gum in a meeting with David Cameron?  Really? Really?  After all of that depressing malarkey, combined with my horror that it is November, a recent reminder that every pound of conventional cotton requires a pound of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and defoliants, and my concern over the general state of the world and of humanity, I am going to go watch "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" and not think about anything.

Update, 10:15pm: OK, so now I've got Migration Assistant running.  Which is lovely, and I am a moron for assuming that Apple wouldn't make an intuitive system for transferring files...except it's saying it'll take 105 hours.  Hmm.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Occupying Hearts and Minds

Screen shot:Two weeks of Occupy Oakland
Photo courtesy of Heart of Oak, CC BY 2.0.
I've struggled to write about the Occupy protests.  Not because I don't support in their message, nor because I believe protesting is wrong.  On the contrary, I think we need to make fundamental changes to our financial, commercial, political, and social systems, and the amendment I most strongly support is the right to free expression.  I've done on-the-street, yelling-with-a-sign activism.  I've marched in Washington and New York against the war in Iraq and the actions of the Bush administration.  I've spoken into a megaphone in front of a crowd of several hundred decrying the policies of the Justice Department under John Ashcroft.  I've lead a 24-hour reading of George Orwell's 1984 to draw attention to warrant-less wiretapping and other violations of privacy through the National Security and PATRIOT Acts (also under the Bush Administration). Activism gave me direction and focus during a dark period in American history. 

I put that behind me during my senior year in college.  I had a difficult time, as I was not-quite-centrist enough for the Democrats on campus and too centrist for the other Leftist groups.  And, honestly, I got screwed over from both sides before I took off for Senegal second semester junior year.  Furthermore, I found that anti-war marches were mixed-bag affairs, with every left-leaning issue represented by a different sign, slogan, or color.  Environmentalists calling for more attention on global warming.  Anarchists with masks (though not in New York City, where masks are illegal).  Communists calling for class warfare and insisting on tedious collective meetings.  Pro-Palestine groups.  PETA.  Feminists.  And so on.  They weren't all there to protest the war: they had their own agendas.  This made for a disparate, muddled message.  And it still does.  The most all-encompassing and typical Occupy protest poster I've seen said: "I am very upset."  Sometimes I feel that protest is only a way to look cool, or to feel supported in an idea, and not to change policy: it certainly didn't stop George W. Bush.

I approached the Occupy protests with apathy, caution, and hope.  It's hard for me to feel that anything can be accomplished these days, that a bunch of left-leaning protesters can actually do something to influence the political debate.  I've tried (perhaps not hard enough) to make a difference, and I left activism feeling burned and bruised by my government, fellow activists, and student politicians.  President Obama's term has crushed me even further than the Bush Administration, when I felt that I could  protest, if that makes sense.  Being out of the country for almost three years also left me disconnected from any political process--the problems in the foreign countries in which I lived were not my fault nor my responsibility, and I couldn't do anything while abroad about the issues at home.  I was afraid of being disappointed again (and still am), so I've avoided taking a position on Occupy.  I just don't have the heart to get out in the streets anymore.

Then the protests gathered steam and spread around the world.  I felt a bit more optimistic about their role, about their potential.  The police action in Oakland last week was wrong and very poorly handled, as are most police actions in Oakland.  It made me angry.  Occupy Oakland in many ways revived the movement and my feelings about it.  Then, the Oakland march and general strike took place yesterday.  That went off well, with little incident in daylight hours.  During the night, however, more radical Occupy supporters set fires, broke windows, scattered trash, and threw bottles at police.  I'm not sure if self-identified anarchists are these "more radical" protesters, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me.  They tend to ruin the fun for everyone. The police have claimed that protesters also threw Molotov cocktails and Roman candles, though I can't find any clear video evidence.  You can draw your own conclusions here and here (by the way, I love the Allen Ginsberg "America when will you be angelic?" poster--only in the Bay).  There are also some incredible photos here, including a shot of 92-year-old Pete Seeger, still takin' it to the streets.  I love that man.

Whether or not there were Molotov cocktails involved (which is well beyond the pale for me), actions such as throwing objects at the police, setting fires, and breaking windows are over the line.  I am also sick of seeing acquaintances on Facebook post about the need for violence and armed struggle on "behalf of" the ninety-nine percent or arguing that pacifism is no longer an acceptable form of protest.  Violence is not an acceptable means of protest in this case, or in most cases (if you're the French Resistance, then we can talk).  Violence and destruction of property delegitimize an otherwise peaceful and rational movement and only provide fodder to opponents.  On which do you think Fox News would focus the most attention: a peaceful assembly or a small group of rock-wielding morons? 

I think that the Occupy protesters have every right to do as they please as long as they are peaceful.  I fully agree that we must make drastic shifts to our overarching systems.  But the protests will not succeed if they allow violence and destruction of property to continue.  There is a legitimate place for civil disobedience and passive resistance, for instance, the occupation of government-owned property and symbols of corporate greed, such as banks.  It's breaking the law, but if you're willing to go to jail or face legal action for your cause, more power to you.  That's not a choice I would make anymore (my seventeen-year-old self would hate me).  Often, these actions are not in any way passive, even if their authors are peaceful, and draw attention and support to an issue.  I hate to bring up the Civil Rights movement because it feels so cliché, but the Woolworth's sit-in did exactly that. Putting police, fellow protesters, and passers-by at risk of injury, however, is unacceptable and only plays into the hands of opponents of the Occupy movement.

Update, like 10 mins later: Great little bit here from SF Weekly on protesters who tried to stop vandalism and violence.  Good to see.

To end on a lighter note, and so all you anarchists out there don't think I dislike you or think you don't have a sense of humor, here's one of my favorite songs.  The accompanying photo montage is a little...earnest (and was not assembled by the band) but I love the cleverness of the lyrics.  I also know how to play it on the guitar.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Halloween in Lo-Fi

There are Hipstamatic/iPhoneography haters out there.  That's OK, I get it.  I don't own a lomography camera, I haven't taken an actual film-film photo in a long while (though that will change soon...I'm going to gather up my old Minolta from Ojai on my next trip down the coast), and it's kind of cheating to use a program that does it all for you.  It's also a ton of fun to use apps like Hipstamatic.  And it requires some expertise, as you will see from the washed-out, weirdly lit, and otherwise amateur shots below.  I'm getting better at it.  However, on Halloween, when everyone (/many adults) have had a bit too much to drink, have spent too much time sweating their make-up off, and are fighting a food/sugar coma, it's better to do things old-school.  With an iPhone.  No hi-def, ultra-pixelated for us.  Haven't you seen the 30 Rock with the HD camera (sorry, no link, go watch episode seven, season four)?  So, in closing, I don't care.

In the following images, you will see two Jeff Lebowskis (with Caucasians), a number of characters from Wet Hot American Summer, views from a Russian Hill rooftop, a one-percenter lurking in the background ("But I have yacht payments!"), a jeans-into-jorts incident, a honey dadger (she don't care), and Egon Spengler, Ghostbuster.