Two decades after Tiananmen

June 3, 2009
Man vs. tanks in Tiananmen Square, 1989. This picture speaks for itself.

Man vs. tanks in Tiananmen Square, 1989. This picture speaks for itself.


Obama inauguration: a San Francisco perspective

January 20, 2009

I’m getting ready to head out for some of the public events in San Francisco related to today’s inuaguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. In light of the historic nature of this inauguration, I’m pulling my daughter out of school for the day and bringing her with me. I hope waking her up with hot chocolate convinces her that today is as important as I’ve told her it is. Look for liveblogging here at and Tweets from as much as I can manage. I’ll wrap up in a post later today.

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Bad Vibes Bob washes up on Ocean Beach

January 8, 2009
This boat was washed up on San Franciscos Ocean Beach the morning of Jan. 8, 2009, at about Quintara Street. I dont know how long it had been there, or whether the spray-painted words "Bad vibes Bob" were there before it wrecked.

This boat was washed up on San Francisco's Ocean Beach the morning of Jan. 8, 2009, at about Quintara Street. I don't know how long it had been there, or whether the spray-painted words "Bad vibes Bob" were there before it wrecked.

Bad, bad, bad, bad vibrations.

Bad, bad, bad, bad vibrations.

Note the DVD cover for Cheech and Chongs movie Up in Smoke. A clue as to how the boat wrecked, perhaps? Some of the windows on the boat were smashed, an apparently dead motor was inside and the cabin interior was all smashed up and wet.

Note the DVD cover for Cheech and Chong's movie "Up in Smoke." A clue as to how the boat wrecked, perhaps? Some of the windows on the boat were smashed, an apparently dead motor was inside and the cabin interior was all smashed up and wet.

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S.F. Fire Department truck scores triple block

November 22, 2008

On Friday I saw a San Francisco Fire Department pickup truck simultaneously block a crosswalk, a wheelchair ramp and a fire hydrant. I’ve seen many city vehicles block one of these, but to see one score all three at once is pretty remarkable. The truck also had boxed in a silver pickup truck parked behind it.

There was a funeral for a police officer or firefighter at the church half a block away, and I’m sure that if there had been a fire requiring the hydrant, someone would have moved the truck without delay. But the truck was in the intersection of 40th Avenue and Ulloa Street, and the surrounding neighborhood has some of the most abundant parking in the whole city of San Francisco. Even when the church’s school is in session and there is an event at the church, it’s usually easy to find parking within two blocks.

There were no license plates on the truck, but I did get the VIN.

SFFD pickup blocking crosswalk, wheelchair ramp and hydrant

SFFD pickup blocking crosswalk, wheelchair ramp and hydrant

SF Fire pickup blocking crosswalk

SF Fire pickup blocking crosswalk

Observations on San Francisco’s November 2008 election, part 1

November 6, 2008

On Wednesday I attended the post-election analysis SPUR hosts after each San Francisco election, and as usual I picked up a couple of interesting pieces of information. Some of them are items that are transitory and likely to change as early as Friday, when San Francisco election officials are scheduled to do their first re-ordering of votes for local offices under the city’s ranked-choice voting system. Nevertheless, I think you’ll find many of them interesting and useful. This is only a taste — more to come in a later post.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over. As of lunchtime Wednesday, the San Francisco Department of Elections still had about 100,000 votes left to count. Even divided by SF’s 11 districts, that’s enough that it could still affect some outcomes, particularly in close district contests where the total number of votes cast is somewhere around 15,000 to 18,000.

Patriotic hipsters? Gabriel Metcalf, director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, summed up the unique quality that the Barack Obama candidacy for president brought to the entire November election season: “Never did I think I would be walking down Valencia Street and hear hipsters singing the national anthem.”

It’s just a jump to the left. According to David Latterman of Fall Line Analytics, some San Francisco supervisor districts have experienced a significant shift, becoming more liberal. Latterman, along with Prof. Richard DeLeon of San Francisco State University, produces the Progressive Voter Index, a measurement on a scale of 0 to 100 of how “progressive” — or liberal — parts of San Francisco are. The PVI is relative only to other neighborhoods in the city and doesn’t measure how progressive areas are in comparison with any areas outside of San Francisco. Latterman says that some neighborhoods, including District 1 and, most notably, District 11, have become significantly more progressive than they were two years ago.

Dems halt slide. According to Latterman, the Democratic Party increased the number of voters registered under its banner by about 2 percent this year. That’s a pretty good bump for the Dems, particularly in light of the fact that they had been steadily losing voters over the past few elections, as more and more people registered as “decline to state” voters.

GOP registration down again. While the Democrats added voters this time, San Francisco Republicans (yes, they do exist) continued to lose registered voters.

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Making sense of San Francisco’s Nov. 2008 election

November 5, 2008

If your head’s in a spin trying to take in the results of yesterday’s election and you live in San Francisco, take a long lunch this afternoon and pop over to SPUR’s post-election analysis. Expert political numbers man David Latterman and the witty and astute Alex Clemens will explain what happened at the polls yesterday — and how it fits into the context of local electoral politics.

The focus of SPUR’s election analyses usually is on San Francisco, but this time it’s certain to include discussions of the state and federal elections as well.

This regular event has grown over the years into a required piece of post-election analysis for everyone interested in San Francisco elections, so expect a crowded room along with unique insights.

It starts at 12:30 p.m. and runs to 2 p.m., tacking on an additional 30 minutes this time to handle the huge ballot. Five bucks for non-members and free for all SPUR members. San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, 312 Sutter St. at Grant Avenue (an easy walk from BART or the Muni Metro, with limited bike parking right out front). Note that this event takes place not in SPUR’s offices, but rather on the second-floor meeting room of the World Affairs Council.


David Latterman’s Fall Line Analytics

Alex Clemens’ Barbary Coast Consulting

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Grading the second McCain-Obama debate

October 8, 2008

U.S. presidential candidates Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama met Tuesday for the second of three scheduled debates in the general election. Who won? Did the candidates accomplish what they needed to do?

My initial impression of this town hall-style event was that it was uncommonly dull, and I’m the sort of person who gets all worked up reading an environmental-impact report.

Barack Obama, I knew, didn’t have to wow anyone last night. Unless the world around him changes radically in the next couple of weeks, Obama’s mission is to keep stimulating voters who’ve already decided to support him and to deny McCain the ability to rest. Obama needs to be vigilant against positive poll numbers lulling him into becoming complacent, of course, but he also needs to watch against trying to push so hard against McCain that he takes unnecessary chances. Still, Obama seemed off his game Tuesday, and I think he spent too much time counterattacking McCain instead of steering perceptions in the direction he wanted.

What’s interesting to me is that I don’t think it was McCain’s debate performance at the debate that forced Obama into a reactive stance: McCain was jumpy, vague and awkward, and he didn’t effectively make a case for a McCain presidency. Instead, Obama seemed to have decided before the debate to respond to and counterattack against McCain, and it didn’t come off well.

I’ve written before that I think McCain conservatism is much better for our nation than the Bush brand, so it was with some regret that I watched McCain’s ineffective performance last night.

All right, so what grades do the candidates get?

Keep in mind that I’m grading two different things in this analysis. First, I grade the candidates on their performance in the debate, looking at it as a stand-alone contest that could be reduced to box scores like a baseball game. This tells who “won” or “lost” the debate but doesn’t get into what that means for the campaign as a whole. Second, I assess the debate not as a single night’s contest, but rather as part of the continuum of the campaign. In other words, how does the debate fit into the context of the race as a whole? The candidate who “loses” the debate doesn’t necessarily hurt his campaign, and a candidate who “wins” doesn’t necessarily help himself going forward.

Overall grades on the debate itself

John McCain C-plus

Barack Obama C-plus

The second McCain-Obama presidential debate was so boring I’m not going to spend much time on the debate itself.

As far as McCain’s performance went, he got in a number of good points and clearly won a couple of the questions, but overall he didn’t produce a memorable narrative. In the first debate he gave a good narrative of himself, but this time he couldn’t articulate a narrative of how a President McCain would turn around the American economy. There were bits here and there, but nothing that came together in a memorable way.

If all an undecided voter saw of Barack Obama was Tuesday’s debate, he would be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. He wasn’t awful: Like McCain, Obama got in some points and dominated some of the questions. He also did better according to the gut-check that CNN’s Approve-O-Meter provided — strikingly better among women. But there still was no there there.

Grades on the debate in the broader context of the campaign

John McCain F

Barack Obama C-plus

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