Thursday, October 19, 2017

We need to live with fire and not let it burn us down

When a disaster like the current outbreak of California fires takes place there are an inevitable number of people throwing spin and the spin we should least believe is that these outbreaks of fire could not be prevented.

The fires cannot be prevented, but the disasters can.

Let’s just start with:

Much of California is a natural fire ecology.

You will hear a lot of lip service to that and a lot of jargon thrown around more than you will hear about how our state planning and regulations are ready for the inevitable fires.

So how could we have kept this from being a disaster?
I’ll propose five expensive parts to a plan that could well work.

Part one: Stop building buildings that burn.

“Oh we have done that and it did not solve everything” is part of the CYA discourse and that is basically not true. We did not get fireproof building codes, we got “fire resistant” building codes.

Sure, we don't have shake wooden roofs any more, but what we do have is not fireproof.

Fire resistant shingles on plywood held up by cheap pine burns quite well and the standards that claimed it was sufficient are just bogus. Walls made of press board held together with “fire resistant” insulation paper and covered with some kind of plastic siding or stucco, also burn.

And unfortunately you will see block after block of buildings built to this new “better” code burned to the ground in Santa Rosa.

Roofs made of ceramic tile and held up by metal are what is fireproof. You will find them in the San Diego area, but only after some serious suffering and loss of homes there. Walls made of cement or adobe don’t burn so well either. That would be a standard that might help.

Cheap is probably the word to follow here. I wonder who lobbied for those watered down standards that allow builders and developers to make so much money, so fast, building cheap buildings for a hot market?

I heard one government apologist on the radio saying that even concrete buildings with cement roofs would have burned in this fire. Yeah? Show us one that did.

Fireproof building is not new, it is ancient. Those old adobe buildings with red tile roofs? How many of those have burned to the ground due to wildfire?

Part two: The choice is big fire or small fire, but not no fire.

It seems that every time a fire like this happens the forestry experts get out and tell folk that either we do proscribe small burns or the fuel will build up. So, let’s start our own small fires to avoid the big ones.

Part three: Fire ecology areas should have fire ecology plants.

The native plants of our area have evolved to survive. They do not produce so much fuel and when there is a small fire, the fires that we should have, they open their fire resistant seed pods and plant the regrowth. Some of our native plants only can reproduce when there is a fire.

In practice that means enough of the grass fields and non-native trees already. 

They may grow well in our climate, but they also burn well in our fires. Too well. And stop planting that stuff as landscaping around our “fire resistant” buildings.

Part four: Get ready, get proactive, actively prevent and isolate the danger.

Well of course everyone wants that right? But our local and state budgets don’t show prevention as a priority. Right now people are acting surprised. Any state office holder who is surprised by this set of fires should not be. They could just listen to their own excuses.

“The rains created a lot of fuel”. “The winds whip up a forge”. “There was unusually high heat”.

None of this was not predicted and by the heart wave in early July of this year it was obvious that too much grass fuel had built up along with other types of fuels. This was so obvious that the cattle industry trucked their animals north to get them out of the dry, high fire risk, areas.

Note that the lack of controlled burns and lack of native plant restoration is happening on top of the drought, the rains, the unusual growth and the following heat wave. Global warming has an influence here in only in the statistics and intensity; the basic environmental science was figured out before any of us were born.

Informed land management people have known how bad the problem was this year for a long time and the risk of this kind of disaster was predicted. Our state did not prevent or prepare.

Part five: Spend the money it takes.

The press is now being filled with speculation about where the fire started and who started it. This is a diversion. If a tanker truck turned over and spilled, we would not blame that fire on the pilot light of a nearby water heater. The conditions that our state authorities allowed to develop were just as flammable as a gasoline spill. Can anyone doubt that now?

When such conditions build up, it takes work to build the buffer zones between habitations and open lands. It takes money to remove fuel, do prescribe burns, and replant with fire ecology vegetation around the key buffer zones and waterways.

And it takes some time. This work should have started years ago and this year we should have been on an emergency footing since that June-July heat wave.

And when conditions get as bad as they have been in California since July, get ready.

Mow the damn grass in key locations if you have to. Grass fields need buffer zones and intense fire control practices. Other than move the cows to safety, what was done?

Have people, materials and equipment pre-positioned in the danger areas. Calling for extra support after the fire starts is a bit late. It would have been better to have everyone on guard for a fire that did not happen than to be rushing in help as we are now. We need to budget for what we know is coming sooner or later.

So, I offer these five proposals intending to start the conversation. It would be good to hear other proposals if you want to shoot these down. If not this, then what? Right now what we are doing is tragically and obviously too little too late and I am proposing we avoid a “next time”.

My background is as an administrator and activist. It is time to hear from the scientific community that is willing to speak up and not afraid that their funding is at risk. It is time for those who work the land to speak up. It is time for those who actually build the buildings to speak up. The only voices that we should not give much credence to are the spin doctors and lobbyists representing those who oppose any regulation that curbs their profits.

I can be accused of proposing that people be told what they can do with their own private property. 

Yes, we need to tell people what to do with private property in land management the same way we tell that not to build a dynamite factory next to a school yard or throw raw sewage into the river that runs past their home.

Ownership has its rights, but it also has its responsibilities. If you owned a Rembrandt and decided to cut it into coasters to sell, well you might have the right to do that, but I doubt you would have much public support. If you own a stand of redwoods that are older than our culture, you fall under laws of stewardship and are not allowed to cut them indiscriminately.

The ownership of real estate, farm and city, has a bit of both types of law applied to it. On the one hand we have stewardship obligations and on the other we are prohibited from public endangerment. In the case of building and land management regulations as they relate to fire we have both the moral task of conserving our collective natural heritage and we need to stop building and growing fire hazards.

Addressing conservation and fire control we can also give ourselves a healthier environment in biodiversity, biomass and carbon capturing. Of all the things said about global climate change, one thing is sure: we need to plant more trees and protect more waterways. The kind of land management regulations we will need to manage our fire ecology home state will help with both. 

Now we will get talked down to by our political class who will read this and then lecturer us about budget and political realities.

Realities like why they won't stand up to the lobbyists who resist reasonable regulation.
By that I mean the builders and agribusiness.

Realities like why they don’t really have a decent fire management budget or much of any land management leadership, authority or financing. The buck gets passed to the local authorities who are starved for funds and the private agribusiness and building sector, who are part of the problem.

Those who will lecture us about the realities of money and politics have delivered to us the realities of loss of life, homes and livelihoods.

The first step in preventing the next disaster is to know that this one should not have happened.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Germany slides right

Germany slides right

One of the main results of the 2017 German federal elections is that the four party legislature became a six party legislature.  The two new parties come from the right.  They are the moderate, liberal Free Democratic Party and the nationalist, anti immigration ultra right party called the Alternative for Germany.

That puts Merkel’s right wing Christian Democrats in the middle of the right.  

When the world press says that Merkel “won” this election what they mean is that her party got more votes than any other. That is 33%, down 8.6% from the last election.  She also “won” because she will probably be able to form a governing coalition.  

Almost all the government's we have known of West Germany and all of the governments of the united Germany have been coalitions.  The only reason that I say “almost” is because I don’t know the post war history enough to be sure.  I can not think of a post WW2 German government that was not a coalition in the west.  The east was a mono party state.  

In order of size, those the reaching the minimum of 5% of the votes required to hold proportionally allocated seats in Bundestag, the main house of the German legislature whose majority elects the Federal Chancelor, are as follows: 

Christian Democrats 32.9, down 8.6

Social Democrats 20.8, down 4.9

Alternative for Germany 13, up 8.3 first time qualifying

Free Democrats 10, up 5.6 and coming back into office

Left 9, up .4

Green 9, up .6 

Source Spiegle on line 

The two main political parties that have usually held the office of Federal Chanclelor and have always been part of the ruling coalition both lost ground.  

One of the two new right wing groups to qualify for representation, the Free Democrats, is an old traditional party that has held many posts and been part of many coalitions in the past.  It is no surprise that they are back in.  The poor results last time that lost their representation have been recovered and they return to their normal size and place.  

The other one, the Alternative for Germany, is the big part of the slide to the right coming into the system for the first time with a strong showing and taking the third largest share of the votes.  This group is correctly indentified with our own alt-right, the National Front in France and other ultra right wing movements that have been making gains across Europe.   

With a combined left vote of 40% between Social Democrats, Left and Greens, the German left does not have enough votes to govern by themselves in a Red-Red-Green Coaltion, but they are still a mainstream part of German politics.  Note that they form many a local Land government in different coalitions.  

This election represents dissatisfaction with the status quo. The two parties that lost votes are the two parties that form the current government coalition.  

The harder left did not gain much, but it did not lose votes either. 

So the big move was from the two main, traditional government parties, to the liberal center right and the hard line far right.  The vote for the liberal Free Democrats was not much of a surprise and is more in keeping with their normal share of the electorate.  That leaves us with the biggest news being that the hard right comes in taking votes from the status quo movement.  

So, who is this new Alternative for Germany?  It would be fair to refer to them as being more of an anti-immigrant party than a typical far right party with a strong anti socialist bias and hard line right wing politics on a series of subjects.  Inside their movement there are more and less hard line members and divisions strong engough to have one of their founders leave the movement before they have even been sworn in.  

So who are the 13% of Germans who voted for the hard right Alternative for Germany?  

Mostly Social Christians, but also significant numbers from the Social Democrats and minor numbers from the other movements.  

Many from the former East Germany and from Bavaria, but really getting significant votes from most of the the country. 

More men than women, but many women voted for them and their main leaders are women. 

More workers than professionals, but again, the numbers are a tendency that does not define their whole electorate.  All social classes and education levels had a perscentage of hard right voters.  

Source Zeit

And what should we expect?  

In Germany we should expect all the other parties represented to shun and isolate the ultra right.  

The Social Democrats have decided not to stay in the government, taking themselves out of the conversations to form the next coalition.  They have good internal reasons to do so, but they also have a national reason.  As the second largest party they will now form the official opposition.  If they had joined the government, the ultra right would have held that official role. 

The Christian Democrats will probably form a government with the Free Democrats and the Greens, what the Germans call a Jamaica Coaltion for the party colors Black-Yellow-Green.  Remember that the German Greens are not so far left and have served in government before. 

It is noticeable that the news graphics assign the color light blue to the Alternative for Germany and I have not seen the traditional color for fascists in Germany, brown.  

Germany’s support for more refugees coming and their participation in the French government initiative for a stronger, more federal Europe will both be in a bit of trouble.  While the mainstream German parties will not accommodate the hard right movement, they will not miss the message either.  The anti Europe and anti immigrant feelings in Germany extend way past those who feel so strong about it that they are willing for vote for the ultra right.  We have already seen a shift in positions from inside of the Christian Democrats.  

And a lot will not change.  Merkel will go on to be the longest serving federal Chancelor.  German politics will be plural, colorful and peppered with some new drama, but in the end their system of political pluralism and proportional representation is inherently stable. 

Note: In earlier blogs I predicted this outcome with smaller numbers for the hard right based on Land elections earlier in the year.  Between then and now the main change was Merkel’s and her Christian Demorcrats decline in popularity, especially over the issue of the one million refugees Merkel accepted last year. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Why is the Hurricane Harvey response lurching around and late to get started?

Twelve years to the day after Katrina our government is still improvising and coming up short on dealing with this predictable disaster in Texas and Louisiana and, of course, has done nothing worthwhile to prevent it.  

The reason why was displayed today listening to the California Report on KQED.  Our upbeat reporter was talking upbeat innovation with our upbeat candidate challenger who wants to run against “old guard” (read white, male, Republican) in a congressional district on the border with Nevada.  

What was so innovative? Some new internet site to raise money for politicians online that will let them sell their campaign ideas before actually becoming a registered candidate. The “innovation” was to test market this kind of fundraising. 

In the course of her report, the upbeat reporter had talked about how prior challengers to the old white republican guy hadn’t gotten very far and had only raised $50,000 to $100,000 which the reporter called “chump change”. 

Now “chump change” is an ugly, money grubbing expression closely related to the phrase “money talks and bullshit walks,” but to call more money than most of us make in a year “chump change” says a lot, including the fact that most of us are seen and treated as chumps by those who bask in the favor of our vile, money-mad, status-minded elites.  

Why are we evacuating residents of Houston in private fishing boats?  

Because we have a political system that organizes itself around money and the job of governing and providing for us chumps is secondary at best and usually an afterthought or brand positioning for the next round of vote marketing and paid advertising “political” campaigns.  

We all know this.  So much has been said and reported that there is not one person in the country who does not know that to be an elected official one needs piles of cash.  All of us have seen the avalanche of political advertising every two years.  

Why should we expect our elected officials to have any other priority than Dollars?  

Why isn’t Houston ready for this hurricane? It is hardly the first one to hit the area between New Orleans and Corpus Christi.  Galveston has been blown down how many times now?  

The words “fiscal reality” have already been used to explain away the poor response, failing dams and levies, failed pumps, lack of evacuation vehicles, etc. while the press is flooded with a bunch of boosters talking about how well the underfunded local, state and federal emergency agencies are cooperating and how heroic the first responders are.  There is no talk of why everyone is so underfunded past the vague, now accepted poverty of “fiscal reality.”

The first responders and the volunteers with their fishing boats ARE heroic.  
The elected officials who made the “fiscal reality” decisions are not.  

A couple days back a very important Op-Ed was published by Newsweek.  In it the point was made that Houston was the proud home of regulation-free urban growth under a system of free market madness worse than the nationwide norm. 

The article gets to the point when it comes to letting the market take the place of zoning. 

I say only worse than the norm, because the norm is to cave into the moneyed interests first and then “balance” the “needs of the other stake holders” second.  Our government is a process of players at the table where you have to have cash to play and the rest of us are chumps who are not “stake holders” and who are not at the table when “win-win” deals are cut because having a stake in the game is more important than unfunded things like paying attention to science or being a citizen.

And not listening to basic hydrology science is THE source of the current problems in Houston.  

There is every material reason not to have allowed Houston to expand in that area using those methods. 

Even without global warming, Houston was a place where the hurricanes were going to come, have come and will come again. The city was built in the path of heavy rains and they paved over the ground that should have soaked up the water in the process.  

So now there is a flood?  Well duh, we built a city in a flood plain

Those rains are going to come, and the reason we don’t have rain proof cities there is squarely the fault of the elected officials, state, local and federal. 

And who were all those national, state and local elected officials listening to?  
Let’s try looking at where those politicians get their campaign funds for starters.  

Well, just looking at the disaster news, one sees that the prices for gas has gone up at the pump and supplies have dropped because the refineries that transform the oil are in the areas affected.  

Any wonder that the local political class is so close to the free market fanatics and the climate change deniers?  Or is someone going to try to tell us that the world's largest industry, the oil industry, does not advocate for itself and exert influence where they have so many refineries?  

By the way, until the situation gets better, Chevron’s office in Houston is mostly closed. It is one of the largest Chevron has and one of the largest in Houston.  

It is easy to sit in California and take pot shots at Texas and its ultra-right Tom Foolery, especially when a center of climate change denial is busy shaping fiscal realities and finding a balance between the economy and whatever they don’t want to do, as their feet are wet. 

It would be a lot funnier if this was not costing lives, and causing suffering and loss for tens of thousands of common people in their homes. 

And California has little to boast.  

Our state is currently building environmentally destructive aqueduct tunnels to take northern water south, under the delta, and “balancing” the needs of “farmers” with the environment (for “farmers” please read “owners of agribusiness”). All the while we Californians still don’t have a sustainable water usage plan, much in the way of water recycling, grey water use, or any serious management of our depleted Central Valley aquifer.  We have declared our drought to be over, but have no plan to really adapt to our own climate and stop using, sourcing and disposing of water in a unsustainable, albeit profitable, way. 

Any idea of how much political power agribusiness wields in California?

We are also letting money dictate the constant loss of farm lands and natural spaces to track homes and strip malls.  We have some regulation and planning, more than Texas, but are still poorly prepared for fires, floods and earthquakes -- all of which just as are sure to come as the gulf winds are sure to blow more rains upon East Texas.  

Any idea of how much political power developers wield in California?  Try that at the state and local level and don’t be surprised that some of the people transforming farmland into profitable real estate are those who owned the land already.  Oh, and protective regulations to keep some of the land as a natural buffer?  Those get chipped away at every session of your county board or city council.  

The distortions I describe here are just development and water regulation. One could go on with other examples.  Mass transit comes to mind.  How many other subjects relating to regulation and planning play out a similar song of not doing the intelligent thing because of political and fiscal realities imposed by those with the cash?  How many don't?

And remember, we live in a state where $50,000 for a candidate running for office is “chump change.”

Of course, when the time comes, we always have heroes in our own first responders dealing with disasters that our own elected officials could have avoided, but don’t because they respond to one thing above all others, and that is money.  

Sunday, August 6, 2017

No plan for more parking

Last week we had a meeting in Temescal to discuss the parking situation, which is not good and not getting better and there is no plan to make it better. 

Our lead speaker was Michael Ford, Parking Manager from the OakDOT, our Oakland Department of Transportation. 

He held up a copy of Don Shoup’s The High Price of Free Parking and declared himself a proud “Shoupista” and went on to give his presentation. 

The plan is to make the price of parking so high that there will always be spaces available to those who can pay up. How high? Well it should be raised until there is always about 15% of the spaces available. Ford described pulling up and having parking available, he did not describe where the people who did not come and park had gone. 

In his presentation our Parking Director called this process “creating parking”. 

Now I am a radical environmentalist, bike riding, Green Party activist and I strongly believe in spending on mass transit, conversion off of fossil fuels and radical reduction of automobile use. 

I don’t see how driving poor people out of their cars will help. 

I also don’t see how having people decide not to park here and drive to another area will really reduce car use or help our local economy. This question was asked very clearly and did not receive any answers. 

In this meeting we got some upsetting news. To start with they handed out a survey results on parking situation in Temescal as they describe it. The map showed that the survey applied to upper Telegraph, the back streets going towards the freeway and one block east into the residential areas east of the commercial strip. It was basically a circle around the business strips and the residential areas that could be used for business parking. Our neighborhoods were “out there”, not surveyed. 

One nearby resident took a quick glance at the map and declared it to be inaccurate even in the limited area it covered, in which this resident lives. That, at least, was acknowledged. We got the normal disclaimer that the information on the map is dated (only five years) and “everything” is so different now and before we do anything we need to do a new study ….. 

According to Mr. Ford he has to balance the parking for three groups:
1 Commuters,
2 Business clientele and
3 Residents. 

After saying that he went on to describe a situation that went about 75% restaurant and shop clients and 25% residents and when it came to talking about what can be done for the people who work here, we talked about something done in another neighborhood as maybe a good example. 

For the business clients, the only thing put forward was raising the prices of parking where it is already over filled. “Price mechanism” was the euphemism and details were scarce. What was clear is that they plan to implement this kind of different price schemes in downtown Oakland first. 

Temescal is on the list as being next because they have a “history”, meaning the study that led to the map that they were handing out. 

For the residents there was only the suggestion that people get neighborhood restricted permitted parking. 

And again, for the people who work in our thriving restaurant and shop district, not one practical thing was offered. 

By creating parking we did not mean any space that was not parking before becoming parking now. We were not talking about the new construction all over our area putting more cars off the street. 

We mean driving client cars out of the commercial district using high prices and we mean driving employee cars out of the neighborhoods with residential permits. 

Then Ford went on to wax poetic and revel in the irony that the City Charter clearly states that parking enforcement dollars should go to pay for parking structures. He seemed to be bemused by the fact that this is not getting done. 

One of the local property owners has already let this crowd know that as a private developer he cannot get a loan for a private parking structure as long as there is free parking nearby, and by that we mean the free parking lot between Walgreen’s and the Post Office in that plaza at Telegraph and 49th. Our BID board president made this point seeking some kind of engagement of the issue.  

There was no discussion of seeking a resolution of either of these roadblocks so we have an area going high rise without a parking structure even being considered anywhere in the district. 

What was offered, some by Ford, and some by attendees, was reasons why other people should not own their own car. There was some ugly stuff about people who leave their cars in the area for a long time and never drive them. Michael Ford told his own disdain story about a woman who wanted to start a residential street parking program near her new home in the MacArthur Transit Village and had two cars; one she keeps in the space provided, and the other she needs for work. 

Now there is part of me that thinks it fine if people are using their cars less and taking transit and I did not hear of any plan to help them have a place to leave that car behind. The practical message was to either own an off street space, or sell your car. 

We got a lecture about the cost of ownership of a car, as if people don’t know what their most expensive possession other than a home means to their budget. Others asked about workers who cannot afford the time to take transit because they need to get to do things like pick their kids up from school where there is no transit or go home where there is poor transit. 

Nothing they answered seemed to have any practical value to me. This meeting left me with nothing I could say to a local employee that might sound like a practical solution getting to or from work with or without their car. 

We heard a lot about how the plans were going to be flexible, and that there were twenty different things that the parking policy could do for us, but when the discussion became specific the plan was clearly always going back to raising parking meter costs, expanding metered parking zones, maybe putting in residential parking permit areas and then do more studies to do the same in other areas, ours included. 

This is where I drilled in on the other OakDOT representative, Danielle Dai. 

She was talking about these studies and I asked about the danger of asking questions that bring about a foregone conclusion and always come up with higher priced parking meters as an answer. So I wanted to know about the methodology. Have we done a census of the local business employees? (Not just count cars on the street). Will they survey residents on what their needs are and how they could be better served with parking rules? 

After some very common waffling I asked her point blank if the OakDOT had the resources to do the kind of studies that they really needed to re-engineer our parking and traffic and the answer was a clear no. 

“No” is also the answer to the question “Is there going to be any more parking?” 

“No” would also be the answer to the question: “Is there an overall plan?” 

There is no comprehensive plan. What we have is different groups pushing around public property, bits and pieces of transit and the odd ad hoc arraignment as if each action was some determinant influence over a market mechanism that will sort things out for us. 

We know that plan. That is the plan that usually hurts those with the least money. 

The only mention of more and better transit was the extension of the bike path and the B Bus. That the B Bus ever started without connecting the train station to BART or filling in the difference between BART stations, combined with neglecting the Grand Lake area, kind of makes one ask “what problem they are trying to solve”? Have they heard of Emeryville? They have a shuttle and one line runs from Amtrak to BART. 

Others asked more questions about the spate of new housing going in all around us and we got another set of philosophical answers justifying insufficient parking in those new buildings. Most of the answers were about how people in these new buildings should adopt a new lifestyle, and there was no clear idea if these new, affluent residents would actually forego car ownership or what that actually should look like. Will a sufficient number of our new residents not own a car to make it work or will they end up using more of the already overcrowded street? Was not owning a car a requirement for anyone moving in? 

Again there was little to nothing said about those who might make less use of their car and instead ride a bike or take transit, such as myself. Where are we supposed to leave our cars behind? Since I own a shop large enough to park that car off the street, I can do that without having to deal with the street sweeping, broken car window break-ins and predatory parking tickets in front of my home. 

I rode my bike back from this meeting knowing that I can do so because of my social privilege, feeling that the parking plans will cause more hardship among the people who live and work here and drive potential clients away from local businesses.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Mime Troope edition 2017

Mime Troope edition 2017

The San Francisco Mime Troope was founding in 1959, making it one year younger than me and the same age as the Cuban Revolution.  I have only been going to their political pantomime theatre in the parks for 28 years, having missed once, in 1995. 

Saturday was season opener in Cedar Rose Park, Berkeley. 

How can one be critical of people whose work one adores and admires?  Who am I, this radical mechanic from back east to provide any theatre reviews?  Yet here I am with a new encounter with an old love that left me feeling a bit sad and a lot disappointed.

This year’s piece is called The Wall, and they mean Trump’s wall of course. 

It was sweet that the band started the pre-show set with a jazz instrumental of the Pink Floyd song.  They went on to do some other surprising covers that I found excellent. 

If there is anything that describes the Mime Troope over the past two and a half decades it is an every improving production value.  The music is great.  The acting is brilliant.  The politics are strong and in sync with my own.  The staging is amazing for what they can do with so little.  The shows go on professionally and are smooth and well presented.  If there was an opening day mess up on stage under the afternoon sun, I didn’t notice it, nor did most of the fellow members of the audience with blankets on the grass.  

So why disappointed? 

I found it predictable, a bit boring and worse still, not very funny. 

This is the same Troope that once suddenly converted an argument between the Dictator of Obscuristan and a US state department operative into an S&M ballad that mixed that kind of a sexual relationship with the international relationship between the United States and producers of petroleum.  That was unpredictable, made a political point and made my ribs hurt from laughter. 

Don’t expect anything like that in this year’s show. 

Maybe the Mime Troope wants to move to drama and away from comedy?  Nobody said that they have to stay stagnant and not change up their art.  There is certainly little to call funny in what is going on with US immigration policy. 

But shouldn't drama have its innovation and surprises too?  What I heard today was the predictable language about immigrant rights that one would hear from a lawyer or some nonprofit fundraiser.  It treated Mexican illegal immigration with the clich├ęs of the movie El Norte. 

It would have been nice to introduce the traditional migratory labor across Mexico and stretching into the US as being from OAXACA State.  Mixteco, Zapateco and Triqui would be good native languages to show, given that they are present here in our fields and construction sites.  But I digress knowing more about Mexico than I do about theatre. 

It's not that all the themes were not good, they were just not engaging.  Little bits like a soldier having served “in the DMZ of North Korea” feels sloppy and detracts from the piece’s authority.  (US troops serve along the De Militarized Zone on the South Korean side). And like I said, most of it was so predictable that the pace started to feel slow and I found myself waiting for it to end. 

There were some of the brilliant Mime Troope funny bits, including Velina Brown perfectly doing a short role as a shopper that everyone in Oakland has met at least once.  One sequence of quick lines was funny, witty and sharp at the same time. 

Maybe I am just being critical of a good show because in the past they have put on so many great shows?  It would be great to see an interview with their playwright and often actor Michael Gene Sullivan to hear what he thinks of this piece and where he wanted it to go.  Seems that the crowd liked it a lot more than I did, so maybe I missed something. 

There was something different and something eternal about the SFMT audience. 

On the side of being the same as always, we were mostly white.  Much more white than any part of the Bay Area, even the North Berkeley neighborhood around the park.  We are also many of the same people, just older.  At 59 I should not feel that I am below the median age. 

There were a few people of color, and a few more people under 50 than that, but a lot less of both than the crowds I first sat in when I moved to the US in 1989 and met my first Mime Troop fans in Dolores Park.

There were two other big differences in today’s audience. 

1, There was a lack of common courtesy with people bringing dogs into the middle of the crowd, walking them and/or themselves over other people's blankets, and setting up chairs blocking the view of those on blankets behind.  All of these things I had learned to be against the rules from the Troope staff in earlier shows.  In fact, I own a chair that sits flat on the ground that I bought specifically for Mime Troop shows and found that it was a polite thing to use at other outside shows, such as Stern Grove. 

2, There are always fewer of us.  Once upon a time, we would make going to a Mime Troope show a group outing, a picnic that we started early to get our blanket somewhere with a good view.  Today it was not hard to get to the side of the people in the full size chairs and see the stage without arriving early. 

Like I said, others enjoyed the show more than I did.  When the dialog said those good things that I agree with, but found a bit old hat, many hands clapped.  When the show was over there was a standing ovation. 

I watched everyone stand up from the back, next to the audio booth.

In years past, that same spot was the middle of the crowd. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

New France

The elections in France are probably a new French way of running its own government and will certainly give us a new French roll in world affairs, starting with European affairs.  

This Sunday’s second round of national legislative voting stands out for:

  • Record numbers of citizens who didn’t vote.  
  • A new party taking the absolute majority.  
  • More women in the assembly than ever before. 
  • The exit of most of the French old guard political class from the game. 

The Fifth Repulic constitution assumed a three or maybe four party country that would choose between the left and right in runoff elections.  

That broke down with the rise of the ultra right National Front as a major force causing France to vote democracy vs neofascist in the runoff for Chriaq’s second term partly because then there were five and partly because the splintered left could not make the runoff despite getting the majority of the votes.  

It broke down again this election with the addition of yet another major group made this election cycle start a six way first round for president, leading to a runoff between the new center movement and the new neofascist leader.  Again the left was divided and could not make the runoff despite again collectively having the largest number of first round votes.  

At the first round the of legislative elections, the new center, En Marche, made runoff in the overwhelming majority of districts with a third of the votes of those who voted.  

So who the hell is En Marche and didn’t France already have a liberal party?  

From a policy point of view, En Marche is capitalist liberalism with a new image, one more akin to Trudeau in Canada.  The new deputies that form the En March majority come from a pool of people who are mostly younger, have backgrounds from outside of traditional politics and were half women.  This election I have been following a twenty something farm owner who ran successful in what was once a traditional Socialist district.  

Yes there was already a Democrat party with similar liberal views in step with the US Democrats and the Canadian Liberals and they have done well in this election too as allies of En Marche. This is a movement that once elected presidents, but now is second fiddle to En Marche. 

But no, this has not been the year of the incumbent or the old faces.  France has had more variety and choice in government than we in the US are ever offered and because of this, both the left and right have had time to govern and time to dissapoint. 

The last government has been voted nearly out of existence.  The Socialists came in behind the Eurocommunist wing in the first round of the presidential vote.  In the new legistlature the party that had the majority and the held the presidency has gone to obscurity in 2017.  

In the presidential primaries, President Holland made history by not even trying to go for a second term, the prime minister resigned to run in his place and was beaten by a more left leaning candidate only to find themselves fifth in the six way first round.  

The Repubicans usually governed France with the Socialists as their opposition and twice the Socialists were the alternative government with a Republican opposition.  They are the group usually called Galulists.  This historical party of power  took a similar beating at the presidentials.  Their former president, Sarkozy, was beaten at the primaries to be replaced by a Mr. Clean of the right wing of their movement who played the anti immigrant card in competition with the neofascist National Front.  That weak candidate turned out to also have a nepotism habit.  They came in fourth in the presidential, and did better in the legislature becoming the key opposition.  

The liberal Marcron and his En March movement took two thirds of the votes in the presidential finals, which sounds great until one thinks that a third of France voted for a women who represented barley masked racist, chauvinist and intolerant Catholic values.  

The En March third of the national legistlature vote and Macron’s first place showing in the presidential first round is probably a better indication of their significant core support, with the rounding up to majorities representing French voters having to choose between what they were offered after the group that represented them got knocked out of the running.  

But be clear, the dissapointment with politicians in France includes a dissapointment with politics itself.  Having seen both the Republicans and the Socialists fail to deliver jobs, development, and better conditions many of the French have turned to En Marche, but many others have just plain turned their backs.  

The French measure voter abstention based on POTENTIAL VOTERS, not registered voters as our press loves to do.  By that measure, half the people did not vote, which in France is unheard of.  The first round the of the legislative election had France's second highest abstention rate and this round makes the new record.  Note that this new French record low is a bit higher than our normal US election participation rate.  

So now we have it.  A new president with a new National Assembly working together will be the French government for the next five years.  What should we expect?  

  • Liberal “reforms” starting with employment guarantees.  
  • Strong pro European Union policies, including support for Merkel's austerity (service cutbacks). 
  • An Obama like interventionist military posture that will continue to intervene in North Africa, the Middel East and continue to be hostile to Russia.  
  • We should also expect some serious changes and reforms, some of which will be of value to everyone but most of which will be of value to the new generations of capitalists.  

And PR, expect lots of PR.  We will get the new look, constantly being told how young they are, how innovative they are and how inclusive, especially female, they are.  

Expect New France to have economic policies and military posture that would make Ronald Reagan smile while the public show will make them look like the republic of cool, hipster, business people.