Archive for March 2011

Mystical links to Farragut

March 27, 2011

We owe a debt of gratitude to Dan’s parents for letting us stay at their downtown timeshare for a few days last week so that we could enjoy big city downtown living.  I also owe them for making possible the discovery that there is a strong historic connection between Vallejo, CA and Farragut, TN.  Some of you may be way ahead of me … but it turns out that Admiral David Glasgow Farragut played an important role in the early history of the naval base on Mare Island in Vallejo.  From the Visit Vallejo web site:

The military history of Mare Island began on January 4, 1853 when the United States purchased the island for $83,491. In September of 1854, Commander David Glasgow Farragut and his family arrived on the island. Farragut had been sent west to personally oversee the building of a navy yard in support of the Pacific Squadron. Farragut later became a naval hero and our nation’s first Admiral for his victories at New Orleans, Vicksburg, and finally his capture of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. Although Farragut dreamed of building the first naval vessel to be constructed in the west, authorization for the ship was not received until after he left Mare Island in 1856.

Many of you will know where he was born ...

I learned this from a tour guide while on a free San Francisco city tour of downtown POPOs (Privately Owned Public Spaces).

How did it take me 13 years to figure this out?!?



March 22, 2011

That’s the Japanese word for earthquake. You know their word for tsunami.

I actually toured a nuclear power plant in Japan in 1998, on the weekend trip every graduate level seminar is required to take (we also toured a sock museum (!?!) and the port where Japanese soldiers & civilians arrived after years spent in Chinese and Soviet camps, in the decade following World War II –from the ridiculous to the unforgettable). Apart from the “character goods” in the gift shop (that is, Atom Boy and Atom Girl merch) my biggest memory was the emphasis placed on seismic safety. The tour guide assured us that the instant a major earthquake was detected, the plant would shut down safely, etc.

I don’t know much about the nuclear power industry in Japan, but I instinctively agree with Ian Welsh on this matter. Nuclear power may be the only way to tide us over to the post-oil economy (although I also know some have suggested more optimistic scenarios) but the industry that exists in Japan and the U.S. is like any other industry –prone to cutting corners in the name of profitability and coddled by “regulators” who shuttle back and forth between corporations and government. Japan is no different than the rest of the world in that respect.

On the other hand, I’ve also read that Japanese people are not panicking precisely because they are receiving good information, as opposed to the sensationalism being fed to world publics, even though TEPCO has not exactly been forthcoming about the conditions in Fukushima. When I lived there, I found Japanese news sources to be remarkably sober and informative. Japanese culture is, for better or worse, biased toward quantifiable knowledge. And I would never assume that the Japanese people’s sober response to this tragedy is cultural; it’s clearly human nature to respond altruistically to disaster.

But I know that the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo resulted in large-scale massacres of resident Koreans (who were accused of poisoning wells, etc.) and the murders (in jail) of left-wing activists rounded up by the police in the earthquake’s aftermath. Japan has been under much pressure in the last decade to become more like the United States: to reduce or renege on its social safety net, to put short-term profitability ahead of long-term value creation, to become –in short– more “efficient.” Will this become another instance of “disaster capitalism” or will it provoke a different kind of response? Japan’s northeast is the poorest, oldest (in terms of the average age of its population), least economically vibrant part of that country; it is, also, one of Japan’s most important agricultural regions. It’s a place young people can’t wait to leave. How and for whom will it be rebuilt? What will be the impact of radiation in the rice crop –two of Japan’s most potent cultural symbols combined in a new and horrific way?

Events like this are not the causes of anything in particular. They leave their mark on history because of the way they reflect cultural and economic attitudes at the time. The 1923 earthquake allowed Tokyo to be rebuilt as a modern city, and signaled an authoritarian shift in Japan’s politics. The 1995 earthquake in Kobe made it clear that Japan’s swaggering decades of economic triumphalism were over; the government could barely cope with the aftermath of that disaster. It’s too soon to tell, obviously, what this event portends.

My guess? More muddling through. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have your house or your loved ones just washed away –gone in a frightening instant. But the survivors will have to deal with the very same world that existed before the tsunami struck.

We’re all united in that struggle.

Coffee and baseball

March 7, 2011

This game took place across the street from the current location of Four Barrel Coffee:

Image source: Wikipedia

Reading Infinite City has got me diggin’ down through the layers of our city …

Quiet weekend

March 6, 2011

We did check out “Citizen’s Band” in SOMA.  Comfort diner food with a CB theme.  Drizzly wet night.  If I were a certain friend from Oakland, I would write a haiku about it…