Housing rant

27 July 2015

So this CityLab/SF SPUR article has been making the social media rounds recently. It argues that the San Francisco’s crisis of housing supply and affordability has been caused by the failed policies of 70s and 80s SF progressives, either by intent or a tragic set of unintended consequences (i.e., either SF progressives are mean and nasty or stupid).

The question, though, that this line of reasoning can’t answer is this: why is it that at roughly the same time, in roughly the same shape, with roughly the same consequences, this pattern of housing crisis appeared not just in cities up and down the west coast from Vancouver to San Diego, not just in major US cities across the country, but globally?

And given that, how is it possible to explain a genuinely global phenomenon by way of very local, place-based political decision-making? The fact is, I think, that local housing markets have been internationalized, at least in terms of the flow of money across borders. This is a new reality, a function of neoliberalism as pernicious as any other – and the traditional theories and conventional wisdom about how local housing supply and demand functions – hence the policies that ought to be followed (not to mention who gets the blame) no longer makes sense.

That’s Jim Russell’s point here. Before we all join in a chorus of blaming a few local policies and people for what’s really a global systemic failure, his argument about what’s causing our troubles needs to be brought into the debate. Read the rest of this entry »

5 reasons and a bonus point why the Center for Investigative Reporting should buy Digital First Media’s Bay Area newspapers (with apologies to Rosey Rosenthal).

12 September 2014

John Paton, Digital First Media’s CEO, announced this week that Alden Global Capital, DFM’s hedge fund owner, is considering selling their newspapers holdings. DFM has newspapers from Vermont to California, including historically important metro outlets like the Denver Post, San Jose Mercury News, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Besides the Merc, it also owns a dozen other local Bay Area papers managed through the Bay Area News Group, including my hometown paper, the Marin Independent Journal.

Ken Doctor, who’s been following the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the newspaper trade for years, figures that Alden will sell the papers region by region. It’s easy to imagine an investor group looking to buy the papers with an eye on short term ROI (which was Alden’s strategy all along, anyway). But if the papers end up being sold to an owner with that approach, it spells more death spiral for local newspapers (that’s how the News Guild sees it, too).

Instead, the Bay Area could be the model for how to turn a decaying, declining, near dead newspaper system into something beautiful and powerful.  For that to happen, it’ll take a smart team and smart money to figure out how to reverse the trend. This could be an opportunity for the nonprofit journalism world to take the lead – but only if we look beyond our constraints and limitations (self-imposed and otherwise) and begin to act on a bigger stage. Call me crazy, but how else will local journalism survive and thrive?

Read the rest of this entry »

Canadaland, or: four questions about an emerging petrostate

26 July 2013

My wife Rachelle tells me that I’m obsessed with Canada. I spent a few days up on Cortes Island last month at a conference on social change at Hollyhock (Dave Roberts from Grist was there too; here’s what he wrote about it) – and I pretty much haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

1. Canadaland

In 1967, my high school gym teacher took a bunch of us to Expo 67 in Montreal. How totally cool: me, a 15 year old, crossing an international border for the very first time – even if it was just north of Plattsburgh. The Canadians had a way better looking flag. The girls spoke English with a French accent. I think I ate poutine. Everything was scrubbed clean and shiny. The future looked great.


Read the rest of this entry »

When Great Trees Fall

5 May 2013

Maya Angelou’s ‘When Great Trees Fall’

When Great Trees Fall
Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.

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Losing Ted Smith

6 September 2012
I met Ted Smith many years ago, when he had just started at the Kendall Foundation, in my role as a fundraiser for Earthjustice. We continued our connection when I moved to my current place of work here at Mother Jones. Ted and I made a point of meeting up for lunch or coffee whenever I’d come through Boston – even (actually, especially) after the grantor-grantee relationship had gone by the wayside: this actually gave us the chance just to talk together and catch up without all the transactional undertow that comes from the giving and getting of money.
Late last week, Buck Parker (we worked together for many years at Earthjustice, and since then have gone backpacking together the past several years) passed along word that Ted had had died in terrible accident while hiking with his family.  I can only begin to imagine how painful and difficult a situation it has been for them – even if, as his brother Roger wrote in an email confirming Ted’s death, that he died doing what he loved most, in a landscape he loved best, with people he loved completely.
I so appreciated my conversations with Ted, not only for what he said and thought, but for *how* he thought about tough problems. Ideas seemed incredibly light in his hands – he’d look at a question first from this angle, then from that one, turning it over and upside down and inside out to see how close we could come to what was really going on out there in the material world. Ideas for Ted were like jewels, with unexpected facets and refractions, their beauty something to behold even as their flaws became visible. Some folks I know would get impatient with Ted’s thought process, but I loved it.
Without fail I’d leave our short times together, well, delighted and inspired. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who had this experience with Ted.
When Ted left Boston and moved back to Montana, it became harder to visit; Buck and I almost made it to his home on our way to Glacier a couple of years ago, but couldn’t quite get the logistics in place. Just a few weeks ago I’d traded emails with Ted; we agreed to get together out here in San Francisco the next time he visited.
I was really looking forward to seeing him again, and am heartbroken that that won’t happen.
Ted’s deep thoughtfulness and passion for the places and people he valued touched many, many people’s lives, including mine. I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to know him. He was one of the really good guys.

Leaf lard apple pie

28 December 2011

Over lunch in Annapolis a few weeks ago, Jenny Stanley said, “If you want to make a great apple pie, use leaf lard.”

Leaf lard = “fat lining the abdomen and kidneys in hogs which is used to make lard [syn: leaf fat]”

So the Thursday before Christmas and the road trip up to Lake Tahoe to see the Lehoullier and Phillips clans with the promise of an apple pie, I stopped at the Ferry Terminal at the foot of Market Street on my way to the Larkspur Ferry to see if I could track down some of this porcine ambrosia. Chowhound had a discussion thread on where to find leaf lard in the Bay Area that pointed me to the Prather Ranch store first, but they were out (and quel horror!, the sales dude said, hey, you can use any ole lard for your apple pie, it’ll be just fine. No way! It’s leaf lard or nothing!)

So I headed down to the other end of the Terminal, to Golden Gate Meats and found it: leaf lard in a bag:

Plenty of time to get on the ferry. . .

. . . and over to Larkspur as the sun set.

The next morning, the work began. First, I cut the leaf lard into smaller pieces, and rendered it.

Rendered lard isn’t exactly the most attractive smelling item in the kitchen, as it turned out, but an open window helped. Then I strained the mixture. Humans got the rendered lard; Mingus the Super Dog got a pretty good snack of “cracklins” later that day.

Here’s what leaf lard looks like (phew!) after it’s been refrigerated. It’s a short step to a ball of piecrust dough.

I’ve been using Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything for most of my gastronomical explorations, and apple pie is no exception, so  following Mark’s advice I peeled, sliced and cored,  and added in all the tasty stuff.

With that, it was time to get this puppy into the oven!  Bake, dammit!

A little while later, THE PIE miraculously appeared out of the oven. 

I was worried, though. Would my relatives  like my leaf lard pie?

Was this. . .

Or this . . .

Or this . . .

. . . to be my pie-making destiny?

NO! It was not!

It was thumbs up all around!

My leaf lard apple pie was a little slice of heaven!

It was so good, it drove folks nuts!

I was pretty proud of my leaf lard apple pie.

I sure was.

Thanks Jenny!

(With thanks to son Noah, niece-in-law Sierra, and nephew-in-law Mo for the facial gestures)

You get Norman McLaren. We get Baseball (A question from time at Hollyhock)

3 June 2011

Here’s a question that came up for me at the Media that Matters gathering at Hollyhock a couple of weeks ago. I’m no expert on things Canadian, so if it’s totally off the mark, toss it.

We got to Hollyhock just after Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won majority control over the national government in Ottawa, so it wasn’t all that surprising that in the 4 days we were together, a lot of people were still trying to figure out what that victory signified. It triggered some anxious questioning for people who had spent much of their professional lives in an environment supported by public funding, and who had mastered the art of obtaining it.   Read the rest of this entry »

MoJo takes on the IRS – and wins.

18 March 2011

Mother Jones started life in March, 1975, as a project of a non profit entity called the Foundation for National Progress (FNP).  Headed up by Adam Hochschild, direct marketing pro Bill Dodd, business wiz (and now Harvard professor) Richard Parker, and anti-nuke activist Paul Jacobs, the magazine flourished, growing rapidly (it had the largest circulation of any progressive magazine of the time) and being recognized with awards for its pathbreaking mix of investigative journalism and progressive culture coverage. Mark Dowie‘s piece on the exploding Ford Pinto pretty much ensured no advertising from the auto companies (the mag didn’t take another ad from Ford until 2006), and its special report on tobacco industry lobbying inside the Beltway put the kibosh on that revenue source, too. Read the rest of this entry »

MLK on jazz and life

14 December 2010

“God had wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create, and from this capacity have flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and of joy that have allowed man [sic] to cope with his environment in many situations.

Jazz sings of life. The blues tell the stories of life’s difficulties, and if you will think for a moment, you will realize that they take the harshest realities of life and put them into music only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph. This is triumphant music. Modern Jazz has continued in this tradition singing the songs of more complicated urban existence.

When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of earth which flow through his instrument…”

Martin Luther King in the forward to the program for the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival

(h/t – and the entire text at – Downbeat Magazine, January 2011)

Thinking about the Quixote Foundation’s “Spend Up!”

27 April 2010

This is a big week for fundraising conferences, what with the Council on Foundations get together in Denver (MoJo’s own David Corn was out there talking about gun violence issues). Judging from the twitter stream from @QuixoteTilts, the gathering of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (#epip10)  just prior to the CoF meeting was a rollicking good session, with some pretty fundamental questions put on the table about the who’s, why’s and wherefore’s of philanthropy.

It’s no accident that the Twitter voice of the Quixote Foundation was there and delivering a pretty interesting comment flow for the rest of us. As even a cursory look at their website will tell you, Quixote points its lance at the big questions, pointing its grantmaking at what it believes are the key opportunities for change. Full disclosure: Erik Hanisch, who with his wife Lenore and their great staff run this show, sits on my board of directors; Quixote is a grantmaker for Mother Jones. Read the rest of this entry »