Majority Report

Oakland's Panopticon Effort Scaled Back, Mayor Vows to Move it Forward

All eyes from civil liberties watchdogs across the Bay Area were on Oakland’s City Council meeting last night for the discussion of and vote on agenda item number 14, Domain Awareness Center (DAC) Phase 2 Contract Award. And there would be much discussion, with opponents that included the National Lawyers GuildACLU of Northern California and Electronic Frontier Foundation heeding Oakland Privacy Watch’s call to “flood the hall.” Collectively, the audience submitted 149 cards to weigh in with public comments, now being fanned perpetually above.

Five hours later, the Council voted 5-4 to significantly curtail the effort, restricting it to only the Port of Oakland and Oakland Airport facilities owned by the city (at least until the city can come up with a privacy policy). The decision was welcomed with a mix of applause and jeers, as many had hoped for the project to be scrapped entirely. Mayor Jean Quan broke the tie with a “yes” vote on the more limited implementation after showing up around 10pm and reportedly killing time going through her mail and checking out catalogs.

Those watching at home and playing bingo couldn’t see some of the more theatrical moments beyond reach of the cameras, like “One man in a balaclava [who] used his smartphone…to take close-up pictures of city staffers and interim Police Chief Sean Whent as they waited to speak” according to Chronicle reporter Will Kane. He reports another masked man using his public comment time to read Michel Foucault out loud, while Oakland North shared pictures of protestors with LED signs reading “SINK THE DAC.” Councilmembers buried their head in their hands and plugged their ears as the boisterous meeting dragged on.

Quan, who backed the full program but was forced to settle for the more limited proposal, was surprised by the vehement opposition but vowed to move forward. “It didn’t occur to us … that a system that would just help the existing cameras coordinate better in an emergency would become so controversial.” Similar systems, implemented with the help of federal money, exist in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Overtly intended to help first responders in emergency situations, the program and the technology behind it raised concerns that it was a stalking horse for the continuation of a “Total Information Awareness” approach to counterterrorism that would grow beyond emergency response to include surveilling local activists and policing everyday citizens. In the context of the Oakland Police Department’s ongoing struggles, the NSA’s widespread domestic surveillance, behavior prediction algorithms leveraging “big data” and mobile tracking and recording technology like smartphones and wearable technologies such as Google Glass, the audience’s fears don’t seem entirely unreasonable.

“You could say that we won on some level,” vocal opponent Dustin Craun told the Oakland Tribune’s Matthew Artz. “But I think they put their foot in the door for expanding it later.” Which? Pretty much!

“The most important thing is that at least the port security system will be there … and it will give us time to talk about privacy,” Quan assured fellow supporters. Once those rules are in place, the City Council will likely reconsider features, including the centralized video monitoring system and connections with ShotSpotter microphones for notifying and locating gunshots. “We’ll bring them back one at a time,” Quan promised.

Opponents were just as committed, and the issue could have implications for the upcoming mayor’s race, where Quan has been sliding in the polls. Popular Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who voted against the DAC, was the most popular choice for mayor in a December poll, with Quan in third.  Officially Kaplan isn’t planning to run until 2018, but in the meantime Occupy Oakland veteran Jason “Shake” Anderson recently announced his candidacy with the Green Party, offering guaranteed opposition from the left to the increasingly moderate Quan.

Holy Loaded Gun Batman!

SF Chronicle Declares Who Ruined the Mission: Latino Artists

Debating who ruined the Mission (or if the Mission is ruined at all) has long been the sport of choice of journalists and the otherwise disaffected.  Top billing generally goes to techies, hipsters, white people, Mark Zuckerberg, bloggers, baristas (with or without facial hair), dad, the clientele of Zeitgeist and Trick Dog, anyone named Chuck, corporations, and Jello Biafra.  This we all know.

Now, admittedly, the topic is getting a bit stale, which means it is the perfect time for the information tortoises at the San Francisco Chronicle to chime in.  And chime in they did.  With a circa-2007 titled listicle “You know your neighborhood is gentrified when …”, which this editor read purely for the schadenfreude of watching The Chron stumble through another ham-fisted attempt at relevance, the publication hilariously put part of the blame on the neighborhood’s gentrification on Victor Reyes and other muralists:

We’d like to argue that graffiti replaced by organized street murals is one of the more beautiful early signs of gentrification. Pictured: Victor Reyes working on his mural on the corner of 23rd and Mission streets on a Walgreens in San Francisco on Friday, April 16, 2010. He’s in the midst of a series of murals, each depicting a letter of the alphabet.


[Photo: ArtFan70]

Love Hurts

Bi-Coastal Dating Experiment Hasn't Even Gotten to Dinner Yet, Already Feels Awkward

The Dating Ring, a Brooklyn-based startup that has been arranging group dates between thoroughly-screened candidates since last year in New York City, recently expanded its operation to San Francisco. After a few weeks spent commuting along the peninsula, founder Lauren Kay kept joking that she should fly eligible women from New York City, where her data suggests there’s an over-abundance of candidates, to meet the many, many perpetually single boys by the Bay.

Kay shared the story of progressing from inspiration to execution with San Francisco Magazine:

“We kept joking about doing something like this,” Kay told us over the phone from NYC. “But people didn’t realize it wasn’t serious. When you’re running a startup, if people say they want to buy something, you should listen.”

“My sarcasm tends to get lost on the lovely people of San Francisco,” she also shared with TechCrunch after launching “Cross-Country Love: Help Fly NYC Women to SF,” another crowdfunding campaign from a company with existing investment from startup incubator Y Combinator. Locally, the logic makes perfect sense: we have people checking Tinder instead of checking each other out, and if our dear, departed Uncle Milton taught us anything about love, it’s that the best way to maximize returns is through leveraging capital to arbitrage market inefficiencies.

Or, as Kay summarized in her promotional announcement on the The Huffington Post:

Most people don’t like to mix hard statistics and love — one is dry and mathematical and the other is supposedly serendipitous and magical. But when it comes down to it, dating is, in large part, a numbers game.

Y Combinator just happens to have hosted a Female Founders Conference earlier this week, presumably in part to address long-standing systemic sexism, giving Model View Culture’s Shanley Kane an opportunity to take a break from presenting statistical evidence of the persistent discrimination in Silicon Valley funding and employment to warn the women of New York to save their money if they’re actually looking for grown-ass folks.

In other words, maybe the reason there are so many single bros in Silicon Valley isn’t a problem of supply but of demand.

Enter Valleywag’s Nitasha Tiku, who called into question the implications of raising money to fly women across the country for the convenience of busy techbros by way of comparing the idea to the Japanese Imperial Army’s “Comfort Women” program during World War II, which enslaved women across Asia for systematic rape. That didn’t go over well, either! Calls for a retraction were made, and rebuffed, but an apology issued

In response to an email inquiry for comment on Valleywag’s coverage, Kay went on the offensive: 

We are disgusted by the comparison and yellow journalism, but not surprised at all by how low Valleywag is willing to stoop to get page views. It is an extremely offensive comparison - not just for us, but especially for Asian and Asian American Valleywag readers, particularly those who have women in their own families who were subjected to this horrific trauma.

However, when asked about testimonial made in the promotional video declaring men in New York being either “gay or awful” (and why she thought potential dates might find things any different here), Kay agreed the joke was tasteless and would be cut from the video, but pointed out that “we have been LGBT friendly and we arrange straight, gay and bisexual dates.” She has capitalized on all the attention by also launching a campaign to fly men from San Francisco to New York, citing demand and promising that it was in the original plan all along.

How big is the market for mail-order men? Probably not as big as the existing market for mail-order women—last year, AnastasiaDate revealed to Fortune that it made $110 million in 2012. (Which, incidentally, is the same year that a lobbying group representing the industry urged congress to amend the Violence Against Women Act in order to roll back protections for immigrant women who make allegations of abuse against their American husbands.) But where some may see this market’s existence arising from interpersonal relations distorted by traditions of gender inequality intersecting with the massive wealth disparity wrought by the globalization of neo-liberal capitalism, others see opportunity!

It remains to be seen which of Kay’s campaigns, if either, will prove successful. There’s certainly any number of people who might appreciate a service that flew entrepreneurial men from San Francisco in search of love to anywhere else, anywhere at all. However you feel, at this point you can be forgiven for wanting a drink or excused for a trip to the bathroom and a splash of cold water. If you were really smart, you would have arranged to have a friend call so you can pretend that some emergency just came up and you’re really sorry but you have to go.

Because even if you miss out on Memorial Day weekend, the budding romance between Kleiner Perkins’s Juliet de Baubigny and News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch could fizzle and then they’ll both be back on the market in Silicon Valley and New York City, respectively. Worried about having to pick up the check after trying to take either of them out on the town? You can always raise the money on Crowdtilt!

Political Cynicism 101

Soda Companies Frame Anti-Childhood Obesity Measure As... Impacting SF Rents?

Election years are meat for political wonks: countless reports on position jockeying, candidates spewing tragically butchered sound bites, the occasional Republican defending rape, poverty blinders, and the endless stream of campaign mailers flowing straight into our recycling bin.  And here we are, eight whole months before we hit the polls and make a marginal impact on the direction our country takes, and mailers are already hitting our mailbox.

What fun! This mailer has such promise. Cost of living! Escalating rents!! Evictions!!!! It even depicts City Hall as drenched in the blood of a thousand puppies horrifically mowed down by Google buses.

For the San Francisco political junkie, the heart-pounding excitement felt by opening this mailer can only be matched by a young boy’s discovering of his first crusty porn stash.  Such suspense!  What is City Hall’s plan?…

The fuck is this?  Sure, I like a good cheap soda as much as the next miserable asshole struggling with control issues, but the mental gymnastics you have to go through to make this a cost of living issue is exhausting.  The horrible details, from this past November:

On Monday, three weeks after Supervisor Scott Wiener unveiled a proposal for a 2-cents-per-ounce sugary beverage tax, Supervisor Eric Mar stepped up to a podium to announce his own tax — and standing next to him was Wiener.

Mar, along with supervisors Malia Cohen and John Avalos, has been working on a soda tax proposal with public health advocates for the past year and said Monday they wanted to put the legislation they have been crafting forward. The two proposals, however, are remarkably similar: Both target sugary-drink distributors, both impose a 2-cents per ounce tax, and both would use the estimated $30 million a year for health and nutrition programs to fight diabetes and other health issues associated with sodas, energy drinks and other sugary drinks.

The mailer is put out by “The American Beverage Association, Member of Stop Unfair Beverage Taxes - Coalition For an Affordable City,” which is just an elegant way of saying “Coke” and “Pepsi,” who are rightfully worried about our concern for children’s obesity affecting stock prices San Francisco’s affordability.  And maybe they have a point: if we stop all those 2 cent taxes, anyone who drinks 195,000 ounces of soda a month will suddenly be able to afford a nice two-bedroom.


Meanwhile, Giant Cats Take Over Oakland

As anyone who’s been in San Francisco since 2010 can tell you, this new mural will need to incorporate laser eyes to achieve full feline virality.  Regardless, it’s been some time since we’ve seen an artist depict a future in which the Bay Area’s cat population is exposed to fierce levels of radiation and ballooned up to Godzilla-like proportions—and this new work by Megan Lynn does just that.


Chip In for the KitTea Cat Cafe, A Warm Place to Get Catty

While the Crowdtilt fundraising effort got off to a bit of a rough start, you can now pitch in a few or a few hundred dollars and help create create KitTea, “one of the first, well, probably the first cat cafe in the United States,” which co-founder Courtney Hatt hopes to open in Hayes Valley.

The cafe will be using an ongoing reservation system to keep the space manageably calm for the fostered felines, so now’s you’re chance to book early. Fellow co-founder Benjamin Stingle told the Business Times that the team is hoping to have the first month or two booked in advance.

Look, people, America needs to close the cat cafe gap with China and Russia or we’re all doomed to globadorable irrelevancy. Vladimir Putin is clearly crazy, don’t think he isn’t coming for your kittehs next.  If the good people of San Francisco can’t collectively come up with a $50,000, interest-free loan to sell attachment-free companionship to desperately lonely cat people, we may have already lost.

You have thirty days. Make the right choice.

A-Level Local Comedy!

Secret Mystery Headliner Takes Over Cynic Cave This Weekend

With a quick bit of searching, you can probably piece together who is taking over the Lost Weekend basement this weekend.  But, hey, don’t let the internet ruin the surprise.

Besides, it’s a deal: for the cost of a burrito and a beer, you can catch one sure-as-shit hilarious comic workshop an hour of new material.  What’s more? You don’t even have to leave the Mission.

The show runs Thursday through Sunday at 8pm nightly, with a solid crop of local stand-ups opening every night:

  • Thursday: Kate Willett & Matt Lieb
  • Friday: Sean Keane & Caitlin Gill
  • Saturday: George Chen & David Gborie
  • Sunday: Kevin O’Shea & James Fritz