The holiday season is upon us, and for an extrovert like myself, it’s the season when Berkeley seems most bountiful. My East Bay epicenter is Berkeley but this week included a field trip to downtown Oakland’s Preservation Village, a mock-up of what Oakland might have looked like when Gertrude Stein was gestating her syntax at the turn of the 20th century.
The Potemkin Oakland, initiated by then Mayor Jerry Brown, whose wish to draw 10,000 settlers to the city is now being fulfilled because of high rents in San Francisco, Preservation Village's Nile Hall was host to the launch of Oaktown Tech, a local Google map of tech players in Oakland, which includes companies, bloggers, open spaces, and whatevers. Mr. Lotus 1-2-3 Mitch Kapor, who runs the Kapor Center for Social Impact in Oakland, funded the venture. Susan Mernit, editor in chief of Oakland Local, an award-winning hyperlocal news site that trains and employs local journos, created an “ecosystem map” and database that might have blown Mercator’s literal-location-based mind.
I brought a bevy of clients (in high tech) to the tech-revival potpourri, including the formerly (and soon to be) famous Seymour Rubinstein, founder of MicroPro International, which developed the first commercially successful word processor, WordStar, and launched the PC revolution -- before WordStar, why would anyone want a personal computer? The Oakland technorati at this event included the politerati from Van Jones’s Rebuild the Dream and various nonprofits that bring computing to those who can't afford an Internet connection from the likes of ATT and Comcast, which monopolize the market.
Speaking of monopolies, I met a delightful author, Charlie Haas, earlier this week at a fundraiser for Arlene Blum's (my former Reed College housemate) Green Science Policy Institute, which has led the fight to eliminate toxic flame retardants in household products, such as couches. Jamie Redford’s movie, Toxic Hot Seat, about the fight to eliminate these toxins is debuting this Monday (Nov. 25) on HBO, but since I lack HBO – a monopoly on tasteful TV – I’ll wait to see it on the more democratic distributor of culture, Netflix. So I mentioned to Charlie that I bicycle, and so does he, and he recommended a mobile app called sworkit for doing a great, quick workout. He looked fit, so I checked it out and am still pleasantly aching from some of the moves.
Haas – an Oakland screenwriter and prolific, freelance magazine writer – has written the most hilarious, anti-establishment novel I’ve read since Catcher in the Rye called The Enthusiast, published in 2009 by HarperCollins. It follows the travels and travails of a college dropout who becomes an editor for a bevy of enthusiast magazines, from real ones like ultra running and spelunking to invented mix-and-match sports like kite buggying and mountain boarding. As each magazine folds or gets swallowed by Clean Page, a magazine magnate, we witness the current media disarray mirrored in the hobbyist magazine market. Haas’s attention to detail and sense of the absurdity of modern life – the name of an extreme- sports promotion company the protagonist’s girlfriend works for is called Hindenburg – makes this a rollicking read. I can’t wait for his next book, which he’s writing now.
“The real issue is politics,” said Robert Reich, a UC Berkeley professor in the Goldman School of Public Policy, in a discussion Nov. 21 with Dan Kammen, another UC professor -- of energy (didn’t know these existed!) -- who won a Nobel prize along with the rest of Al Gore’s organization studying climate change. Reich was talking about how climate change affects the poor more than the rich in a talk sponsored by CITRIS, a UC Berkeley institute focusing on science, IT, and social policy.
“Environmental degradation and inequality are responsible for much of the upheaval if not the warfare in this century,” Reich added. To resolve the crisis, which he says is immediate, “We need a new industrial revolution…and the scientific community needs to make this a frontline issue.” He urged the students in the audience to organize, mobilize, and energize. Like Charlie Haas, Reich pokes fun at the hypocrisy between our beliefs and our actions but leverages the laughs he gets to motivate his listeners to change the world. He’s a classroom comedian and one of the most loved teachers at Cal.
Finally, although I have had enough of cycling and drugs, I saw The Armstrong Lie, a documentary by Alex Gibney that was just released and only played one week in Berkeley theaters. The euphoria of bicycle racing is like the allegro con vivace in the last movement of a Beethoven symphony: it brings a rush like no other. Or maybe a rush similar to one induced by drugs. When people don’t want to make a judgment, they say, “It’s complicated.” That’s the feeling this movie left me with. Basically, everyone is to blame: the coaches, the sponsors, the policing agencies, the media, the teammates, and Lance.
I stayed to watch the credits and saw my friend’s name: Amy Smolens, fellow Albany Strollers & Rollers advocate and professional sports video producer, who was listed as associate producer.
“What did you do?” I asked Amy in an email after seeing the film Thursday night in a theater with all of two other people, who looked as if they had dropped in to kill time. She was elated to hear her name was on the screen. She’d driven the camera car when Lance’s team was training in Santa Rosa in 2009, and she said it was the scariest experience of her life. A fearless camera person herself, she had to weave between cyclists, oncoming cars, and make sure her camera person wasn’t going to fall over a cliff while she was shooting and leaning out of the car. She wrote up the experience in http://pedalmag.com/cody-campbell-interview-astana-camp-photos/