Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone has a very happy and healthy holiday!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Plato Would Not Approve

When I go for a walk, sometimes I like to use it as an excuse to get some sunshine, listen to music, and empty my head for a little bit. Sometimes, though, my brain wants a little something to chew on. Often this is something I’m working on that needs to percolate in my subconscious, or else it’s something non work-related that’s on my mind.

Sometimes something presents itself to me while I’m walking. This urban koan is a good example. Not a quarter of a mile into a recent north Oakland stroll, I found this stump, which someone had taken a chain saw to and made into this pentagonal form. That’s intriguing enough—why would someone go to all this trouble to transform a dead street tree?

What really kept my mind turning during the next half hour or so was the graffiti on the stump, saying that, “Plato Would Not Approve.” What does that mean?

I took exactly one philosophy course in college. I didn’t really enjoy it, and didn’t give the readings as much attention as I did, say, lunch, which came right after (and sometimes during) this particular class. Consequently, twenty years later I tend to confuse what I think I learned in school and what I really learned from the Monty Python Philosopher’s Drinking Song . Which is a long way of saying that I don’t really know what Plato thought about much of anything except maybe whisky.

This didn’t stop me from trying, although like any good koan, there is probably no right answer, just possibilities.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

City Limits

Yesterday I had a good walk that took me through parts of three cities in 45 minutes. This probably won’t happen again, although if it does, it will be in the next week or so, while I’m exploring the extreme northwest corner of Oakland, where it meets the irregular borders of both Berkeley and Emeryville.

North Oakland is known to be rough, and it can be, but there are some good things happening in this part of town. I am right now typing this in a café that I really like on San Pablo Avenue, one that I never would have discovered if I had not been on foot in the neighborhood.

I’m also pleased to report—well, maybe “pleased” isn’t the right word; “secretly smug” is probably closer—that yesterday I noticed a distinct change when I crossed the border from Oakland into Berkeley. The Oakland side was fine and I felt perfectly safe and at ease there. As soon as I was in south Berkeley, however, I noticed a number of large men on small bicycles going nowhere and people working on cars on the street. I also witnessed one man ask another if he could buy a single cigarette from him. I see all these as signs of if not actual illegal activity, then at least a strong gray-market economy. I was relieved when my route took me back into Oakland, and the people out on the street all seemed to be on their way somewhere.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Elusive Tim Tams Spotted in Northern California

Word has it we’ve entered that most wonderful time of the year (October-March) when Tim Tams (Australia's gift to snackers) are available at U.S. groceries. So get down to your local store right away, but maybe not so much the little Farmer Joe’s conveniently close to my house because I think those ones are poisoned? You should leave them right where they are.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Naughts and Crosses

One of the many churches in north Oakland has been maintaining this display for several years, but I only just now discovered it for myself. Starting in January, the church puts up a cross for every Oakland homicide victim. It’s pretty sobering to see them all visually represented this way, and somewhat nauseating to realize that they’re actually a little short—I counted forty-some crosses but the most recent OPD count is sixty-seven murders so far in 2010.

Shockingly, this is a slight improvement over last year, when 89 people had already died violently before Halloween.

Seeing this doesn’t really make me feel much less safe because the majority of these crimes are drug- and gang-related--they occur on the same streets I walk on but in different worlds. But it sure gives me something to think about while taking a walk on a nice fall day.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Imagine My Relief

This reassuring little piece of sidewalk art is in front of a café at the corner of Alcatraz and San Pablo, in North Oakland. This neighborhood is very close to the Berkeley border. It’s pretty gritty, but also surprisingly spiritual. There are quite a few churches, but it’s not just that. There is a concentration of yoga studios on San Pablo and there are several meditation centers within walking distance of this spot. This part of Oakland may not be perfect yet, but it is certainly working on self-improvement.