Category Archives: Local events

After four years, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei is free to leave China

Ai Weiwei (1 of 1)-2Until I saw Ai Weiwei’s Alcatraz show, I knew him more as a dissenter than as an artist. I am not normally a fan of message art – for lack of a better term – but this show was a surprise.

To back up, last April, we went to Alcatraz – for the first time, Alcatraz being one of the many, many, Bay Area attractions that we would see if we were tourists here, but have never gotten around to seeing because we live here – to see an Ai Weiwei installation. I’ve struggled whether to call it a show, protest, art installation, art show, or what, because it is really all of that.

Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist and activist who was jailed and released but then confined to China for his art, well, actually for his activism. His show at Alcatraz was put on, in absentia, by the For-Site Foundation, a nonprofit that commissions artwork in public places, and the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy which run  Alcatraz now that it has been decommissioned.

It was a beautiful spring day in San Francisco and on the Bay when we went to the show and it was easy to feel superior about an art installation – to settle on one descriptor – that is being put on in the United States by a guy who is deprived of his freedom in China. But the show, itself, put a lie to that. After all, the installation was at Alcatraz, one of the most notorious prisons in the world, and the thick walls and ever present bars constantly reminded us that the United States is the World Champion of putting people in prison.     Ai Weiwei (1 of 1)-4Walking around the island with its view of San Francisco, tantalizing close, seemed so pleasant. However, once inside the cellblock, the view shrunk to an unobtainable dream. We are free and can leave on the next ferry and the inside-out fortress still felt oppressive. Ai Weiwei (1 of 1)-5 Ai Weiwei (1 of 1)-6For me, the most powerful part of the installation was…well, here is the description from Weiwei’s website:

This sound installation occupies a series of twelve cells in A Block. Inside each cell, visitors are invited to sit and listen to spoken words, poetry, and music by people who have been detained for the creative expression of their beliefs, as well as works made under conditions of incarceration. 

Ai Weiwei (1 of 1)I listened to part of Study for String Orchestra which was written in Auschwitz by Pavel Haas Terezín, an unknown to me, Jewish composer. The music is disturbingly and beautifully upbeat  and, sitting in the empty cell, I wondered how anybody could keep themselves together in those conditions. A couple of cells over, I listened to Pussy Riot’s Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away, and then Martin Luther King, Jr’s plaintive call for an end to the war in Vietnam, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.  

Outside the cell, people were talking, some even laughing, and it was frustratingly hard to hear King’s speech. Sitting in that oppressive cell, with the paint peeling off of thick concrete walls and hard steel bars, prison felt real, less abstract. It is not just being locked up, prison is about having our humanity taken away. Prison is about having control of our own life taken away, it is about living without privacy or power or influence; even over ourselves. That is the point.

Michele and I both left the prison subdued. The size of the infrastructure required to sustain that kind of brutality is horrifying. I suspect that a visit to Alcatraz would always be disturbing but Ai Weiwei’s installation has given the passive ruins a new life.


An overheard snippet of conversation

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Last evening, we went down to the Town Center to hear and see the Lara Price Band performing, what they call, rootsie rock’n blues. There were kids running around everywhere, perfect dogs – on very loose leashes – sniffing each other, and beautiful people relaxing in the twilight. It was idyllic and, the day after a white terrorist murdered six women and three men in Charleston, it made me sad.

Looking at the people around me, the kids playing, the adults laughing, everybody relaxed and comfortable, feeling safe, I kept thinking that everybody should have this. The right to a safe, open, public space with music every once in awhile, should be a Civilization’s highest priority. What is the purpose of government if it can’t or doesn’t want to keep its citizens safe. As Americans, to feel safe in public should be our birthright.

If the state doesn’t provide safe places for everybody and anybody, what is the point of having a State?

Oh, and The Overheard Snippet? We were standing in line, waiting to order a panini from a food truck, when I overheard part of a conversation. It was just a snippet as the line momentary contracted enough to hear the couple standing behind us. He: How was your lunch with Alice? She: We had an interesting conversation about failure. About the importance of failure to learning and  growth and building character. He: Everybody fails. She: It worries me that Emily and Ryan are so afraid of failure. Then the line moved, we stepped forward out of hearing range, and my eavesdropping was over.




Some of our favorite things at the year’s first Farmer’s Market

I have a disclaimer here, for me a particular pleasure of where I live is its Asianness, so, in my photography of public areas in Greater-Silicon Valley, I may photograph a higher percentage of Asians than their percentage of the actual population. End disclaimer.
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One of my favorite pleasures in life is the San Mateo Farmer’s Market; it is on my short list of hypothetical places I would bring a hypothetical visitor, to this part of the world, if I were a hypothetical tour guide. Any Farmer’s Market is fun, but especially the San Mateo Farmer’s Market, where I know the Egg Lady and can get pasture raised chicken eggs – the chicken are pasture raised, not the eggs, they aren’t raised at all – and some nice Pu’er tea. Michele can get a hunk of bacon to flavor some beans and a steak for tonight.

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Farmer's Market-2444And we can both wander for an hour buying vegetables.

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Portola Valley Jan 3 '15-1378Or pick-up the makings for miso soup.
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Fun in the fog

2014 Historics -0009Thursday, Malcolm Pearson and I went down to Laguna Seca to watch some old cars drive around in a fog heavy enough to be called drizzle. I can’t imagine doing anything more fun!

It was all part of the Cargasm that, according to Sports Car Digest, is now known as Monterey Classic Car Week, Pebble Beach Automotive Week, Concours Week, Holy Car Week or just Car Heaven. Car Heaven started out innocently enough, in 1950, when owners of what were then called Sports Cars, wanted a place to race those cars just like in Europe. The Sports Car Club of America put on several races, including the Del Monte Trophy which was run on part of the private Seventeen Mile Drive. The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance was put on to compliment the nearby race. In 1956, Ernie McAfee was killed while racing a Ferrari in the feature race, making it obvious that racing through a forest on narrow roads was too dangerous, and the race was cancelled after 1956, but the Concours lived on, thriving.

In 1974, Steve Earle organized the Monterey Historic Automobile Races to show off his and his friend’s old sports and racing cars. In a sort of turnaround is fair play and, I suspect, hoping for synergy, they chose the same weekend as the Concours. They got synergy in spades, first an auto related Art Show and then a get together of Italian Cars; over the years, some car auctions were added, a get together for German Cars, another car show called  Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours on the Avenue. Sometime in the last thirty or so years, The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering, a very high-end car show started and became so exclusive that the $450 tickets are controlled by lottery. Now there is something happening every day of the week. Usually something very expensive.

This is the kind of Automotive Event that every car company wants to be part of:  it is where you can sign up for the Aston Martin experience – a week of luxury for you with your Aston Martin – for only $18,000 per person, where – on the same Thursday that Malcolm and I were at the racetrack – a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO sold for $38,115,000 at the Bonhams’ Monterey Auction, a place so important that Toyota repainted and reupholstered their FT1 concept car in order to tone it up for display.

Still, there are ways to mitigate the expense, the Concours on Sunday costs $300 a ticket but most of the cars take part in the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance, which is on public streets, visible to anyone, and the Monterey Historic Automobile Races – now called the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion – has a sparsely attended practice day on Thursday that is cheaper than the usual Friday Practice. Malcolm and I chose Thursday and we got two bonuses.

The first was not a surprise, the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance now takes a lap around the racetrack before heading out on the city streets, the second is that almost nobody goes to the Thursday Practice. Standing in the grandstands because the seats were too wet to sit on – and why don’t they call them grandseats? if you aren’t supposed to stand? – The Tour passed by in no discernible order.

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2014 Historics -0057It was like going back to the beginning of the Historics, when we could park close to the track, the stands were almost empty, and we could leisurely walk through the paddock talking to car owners and their mechanics. OK, the mechanic part is new, in the olden days, most cars were owned by people who did their own work, now it is a much bigger deal, even on Thursday. Unexpectedly – although, I guess it shouldn’t have been – the everyday street cars of some of the owners were absurdly spectacular. Absurd as a Ferrari, but not the kind of everyday Ferrari that anybody with a two or three million dollars yearly income could buy, no – this one had a special body by Zagato – or a McLaren P1 which is not to be confused with the standard, pedestrian, McLaren you or I might own, or two – count them, two! – 1955 Bentley S1 Continental, Mulliner Fastback Saloons.

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As we wandered around, I mentioned to Malcolm that I was having a hard time coming up with a theme on which to blog about this. Malcolm said I don’t know, but don’t make it about the money. He is right, in this case, it really isn’t about the money. Michele and I are going to Squaw Valley for the weekend, but after that, a bit – maybe a bigger bit than some people might want –  on several of the special race cars at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.

MoveOn and Net Neutrality

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All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. George Orwell, Animal Farm

I don’t know as much about this as I should so please, Please! let me know if I have said anything in error. All I know is what the speakers told me at the rally in the pictures (Ok, and what I read in the email propaganda I get on a regular basis).

In January, in a lawsuit brought by Verizon, an U.S. Appeals Court of three judges threw out the federal rules that required Internet providers to treat all Internet traffic equally. The Court said Given that the Commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the commission from nonetheless regulating them as such. In this case, the Commission, means the FCC which has said that broadband is not the same as a utility and the Court then said, in effect, if it isn’t a utility, you can’t regulate as such, come up with new rules.

In May 2014, according to ZD Net, the Federal Communications Commission decided in a 3-2 vote on Thursday morning that it will allow telecommunications and broadband providers to charge content providers for preferential treatment across their respective networks. Simultaneously, and confusingly, the FCC also stated that broadband companies could not slow down or block incoming traffic outright. The people who are good at reading FCC tea leaves, think that this is the end of Net Neutrality, AT&T and Comcast can now charge more for higher speed. Because of public outcry, this new rule has now been put on hold for 120 days so the FCC can hear public comment.

So, so far, the status of the Internet is in limbo, but the chances of Net Neutrality becoming the Law of the Land are pretty slim. Obama, who as you may remember, ran on Net Neutrality, appointed  Tom Wheeler to the Chairmanship of the FCC.  That may seem like a surprise because Wheeler was the top lobbyist for Comcast and AT&T who have fought Net Neutrality for over a decade (and Wheeler did much of that heavy lifting). But it really shouldn’t be too surprising. Brian Roberts, the CEO of Comcast, and Obama often play golf together – Roberts is a major donor and has had Obama over for dinner – and that means he has lots of time to present his point of view. I’m not saying that it is nefarious, they play golf together, they are friendly, Roberts pitches his point of view.

The way I see it is, can enough people make enough noise to outweigh Brian Roberts, one guy with alot – thinking of you Gail on that spelling – of money and the access it buys. Roberts has a point of view and he has a right to that point of view and, one on one, none of us has a chance to have our point of view heard equally. That may not be fair, but it is real. If two of us speak up, it still will not matter, if twenty million of us speak up, Brian Robert’s point of view probably won’t matter – although  the NRA may be so powerful that it is an exception – and I have no idea where the tipping point is. But I am convinced that there is a tipping point; I am convinced that, at some point, if enough people speak up, they will be heard.

Even though the chances of keeping the net neutral are slim, it wouldn’t hurt – and you might feel better about yourself – if you sign one of MoveOn. org petitions and send it along. If you really want to feel good about yourself, send the FCC a comment directly.

Internet-3-2Oh, the pictures? It was a MoveOn rally on an intersection that they thought Obama would pass on the way to a fundraiser in Los Altos Hills. He either went a different way or came by helicopter. I think the helicopter theory is more likely because several helicopters, escorted by two Marine V-22 Ospreys, were flying in the area.