Civic fictions at conferences

Because of the Amina and Paula Brooks controversies and my part in unraveling them, I spent the last few weeks talking with media and giving talks about online hoaxes, identity, sockpuppets, and astroturfing.

I did an impromptu lightning talk at Noisebridge‘s 5 Minutes of Fame, making my slides right there on the spot. That was a lot of fun — because of the informality of that crowd I was very frank and could have a (bitter) sense of humor about the whole thing.

At O’Reilly’s FooCamp, I gave the talk I had planned on How to Suppress Women’s Coding. But as the Amina story unfolded over the weekend of Foo Camp, I was talking with more and more people about what was going on and at some point actually had a bit of a nervous breakdown on Molly Holzschag and Willow Brugh because of the constant stress and uncertainty about how to proceed and what I was choosing to do. I added in a discussion session “Lesbian Sockpuppet Detective Story” to talk about online identities and think that it went fairly well. People had very good stories about how they detected and fought astroturfers and sockpuppets. Anyway, I could write a giant post for every conversation I had at FooCamp! And might do that — I have pages of notes.


Three things really stood out for me as themes of Foo Camp: Big (open) Data and Visualization; our collective imaginary picture of Oof Camp (the “bad guys” doing the opposite of Foo Camp, working to do things we would disapprove of or find deeply unethical) alongside an examination of what we do believe is right and “our” geek culture; and women in tech talking with each other in public about sexist patterns and strategies to deal with them, which isn’t new, but which seemed to me to be scaled up and comfortable beyond what I normally see at mixed-gender tech conferences. On the women in tech front I think Foo Camp and O’Reilly might be progressing, a sense I’ve had building slowly over the last few years. It seems glacial to me but still positive. In short, I didn’t feel tokenized, I felt respected and valuable, I made tons of great connections with women and men, there were lots and lots of women there kicking ass, I didn’t know all of them, and as an extra bonus, nothing creepy happened at all, at least to me. Huzzah!

Media Lab

After FooCamp, John Bracken gave me a last minute invite to the Knight Foundation/MIT Future of Civic Media conference. This was an absolutely fantastic conference. I loved the MIT Media Labs spaces and all the projects I heard about. Ethan Zuckerman led a panel called Civic Fictions, with Dan Sinker, me, and Andy Carvin. The audience questions and discussion went off in some fairly deep and interesting directions. Here’s a video of the panel with a link to a bare-bones summary. I’ll try to transcribe the entire thing soon.

Civic Fiction: MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

Dan Sinker talked about writing the @MayorEmanuel Twitter story: 40,000 words of satire in 2000 tweets. I later read the entire MayorEmanual saga which was hilarious & compelling. His analysis of identity and online media and history at the end of his talk blew me away which is part of why I want to transcribe the entire panel. Also, Dan absolutely rocks. We had a fun conversation about being unable to describe ourselves neatly or give any sort of elevator pitch to explain why we were interesting to the suits and … well you know.. the actually legitimate people. Dan has a long history of zine making as the founder of Punk Planet and has done countless fabulous things.

Ethan introduced the panel and told his own story of heading up Global Voices & having to determine whether people were “real” or not, including his doubts from years ago about the blogger Sleepless in Sudan and his relief at finally meeting her. I remember him bringing up Sleepless as an example of deep uncertainty in the discussion at my talk on online fictional personas at SXSWi in 2006.

I told some of the Amina/Paula story, my part in it, how I worked with other investigators, bloggers, and journalists to figure out and expose what was going on. In the discussion afterwards I was most happy with my answer to (I think) Waldo Jacquith‘s question about history and truth. I mentioned Songs of Bilitis partly because it’s the first thing that popped into my head. But it’s a good example of a historical literary hoax that was then actually used by lesbians as a name for the first lesbian rights organization in the U.S., the Daughters of Bilitis.

Andy Carvin then talked about his involvement with the Arab Spring and the Amina hoax in that context. When Amina was “kidnapped” by security police and her identity began to be questioned, all his Syrian contacts went silent for over a week. Andy’s thoughts were great to hear and I really enjoyed talking with him and respect his particular skills in Firehose Immersion.

At these sorts of talks we keep discussing ethics. Many people appear to *want* to do such projects, to tell compelling stories for a political purpose to mobilize particular audiences to have empathy & take action for marginalized people. Some people want to try it, or perhaps have already done it and want to hear that they didn’t do something wrong — or maybe just want to believe that something good came of the attention to bloggers in Syria that the Amina hoax brought. There is also a strong thread of “but… what about creativity and post modern identity?” running through the attempt to save something good out of all this.

It was a great conference and there was only one mildly ew-tastic drunk guy who I had to work to escape from (Larry, you gotta hold your liquor better, dude, and not talk about your junk like that to strange feminist ladies well-known for blogging everything.)

I came out of all these talks thinking that many more hoaxes and large-scale astroturfing situations are coming. Elections and political movements are going to be even more confusing. I think there is a field emerging for analysis of online identity, personas, authenticity, and so on — in fact perhaps an academic discipline which might best be part of journalism/new media schools. “Internet Sleuth” will become a profession that needs much better tools than we have now. As better “persona management” tools are built, we need better and easier to use tools to detect those personas — open source tools in the hands of everyone not just government and huge corporations.

I did think of a few great and inevitable ways that civic fictions could exist without being immediately offensive and appropriative. Here are two.

We could have fictional universe reporters intertwined with our own. Basically, crossover fanfic reporting in first person, crossing some media nexus of fiction, preferably a politically complicated one, with breaking news. Harry Potter, for example. If you had freaking Harry Potter, on location, or better yet several Potterverse characters reporting on breaking news, you would attract entirely new audiences to the news. It would provide ways in for young people to talk about politics and to think about politics in a context of stories they’ve thought a lot about. I mention Potterverse because it’s popular, but also because its story *is* politically complex as a story of child soldiers and armed resistance to dictatorship. Well, anyway, that could be horrible and disrespectful if done clumsily, but I think it *will happen* probably with TV show franchises.

We could have civic fictions that consciously and collaboratively explore a real situation. I thought of one for the town I live in, Redwood City. Redwood City has very strong ties with a specific town in southern Mexico, Aguililla. I’m not sure of the real numbers but I’ve read that 40% of the population of Aguillia has at some point lived in Redwood City in a migration, remittance, and return pattern that has lasted for at least 40 years. People could have *many* reasons for not wanting to tell their personal or family stories of migration and return. How interesting it would be to write a collaborative soap opera or epic stretching over time, twittering and blogging it in a network of friends and family (all fictionalized) perhaps bilingually in Spanish and English (or trilingually since not everyone in Michoacan has Spanish as their first language) to show some of the issues and drama in people’s lives — and perhaps to show the relations, friendships, and tensions between Aguillia emigrants and the other residents of Redwood City and Menlo Park. Good idea isn’t it? Maybe someone will take it and run — or do a similar project in their own home town. Keeping in mind firmly the principle of “Nothing about us without us“.

After I got back from Boston I said I’d do an Ignite talk for IgniteSF but then flaked at the last minute out of exhaustion.

Many people have asked me if I’m still investigating hoaxes and if I found more Fake Internet Lesbians. I did find a few including Becky Chandler the sassy libertarian post-modern feminist in short-shorts who wrote a book on how it’s great to spank your children, but other people have already debunked her and exposed her as a creepy porny p*d*phile spanking-fetishist dude, and looking at that whole case made me throw up my hands in complete disgust. Plus, I really had to get back to my real work projects.

I have to mention my employer’s awesomeness in all of this: As soon as the Amina thing started eating my life, I let my boss and co-workers know about it and BlogHer basically gave me permission to do all the media stuff, radio interviews, talk with reporters, go to the MIT conference, and continue the bloggy sleuthing I was doing and delay my Drupal development projects for a couple of weeks. They were very supportive! But now I am back in the saddle and mucking around with code again, which is VERY SOOTHING.

Coming up in August in San Diego at the BlogHer ’11 conference, which is basically 3000+ women who blog and are heavy social media users hanging out with their laptops, I’m going to be speaking on a panel called “Viral Explosion”, giving a Geek Bar workshop talk with Skye Kilaen on what to do if your blog is hacked or if you lose your data — basically on security and disaster recovery — and then one more talk on Internet Sleuthing on You Know What and You Know Who and the tools I used to track all of it (like Maltego, which I recommend you try), a private wiki, and good old index cards. I’ll post again about BlogHer ’11 and these talks and all the kick ass geekiness that happens at BlogHer conferences!

Holding a vicious iguana by the tail

I just finished reading Galápagos: World’s End by William Beebe, written in 1924 about his expedition as a naturalist to the Galapagos islands. Bits of it were so boring I used the book to fall asleep every night for a week. Then something awesome would crop up. Some chapters of the book was written by “the Historian of the Expedition”, Ruth — and I suspect she had her hand in elsewhere too. She was diving into shark infested lagoons, freaking out over weird moonfish, swimming with sea lion pups, and cutting her feet up over sharp lava as she caught and collected and dissected damn near every animal on the island. When I hit this photo of Ruth Rose I finally had to go look her up, feeling that her story or diaries must be entertaining all the way through. She was the expedition historian so I figure much of the notes and writing is really hers, though the book wasn’t hers. She did a ton of the labor of hunting and collecting. And she fell in love with the cinematographer. I’d like that story!

A Giant Land Iguana Captured by the Historian of the Expedition
A Giant Land Iguana Captured by the Historian of the Expedition

I like her bathing suit too!

Ruth Rose (Jan. 16, 1896 – June 8, 1978) was the daughter of Edward E. Rose. In 1926 she meet (and later married) cinematographer Ernest Schoedsack when they were both working on a New York Geological Society expedition to the Galapagos Islands. Together with partner and fellow producer director, Meriam C. Cooper, and animator Willis O’Brien, they made “King Kong”, released in 1933. Rose shared in many of Schoedsack’s and Cooper’s wildness film productions, and worked as a writer or script doctor on King Kong, Son of Kong, She, The Last Days of Pompeii and Mighty Joe Young.

The people marooned on the Galapagos have the best hardships. Raw seal, blue-footed booby blood, turtle fat and meat and the 2 gallons of water that come out of a turtle’s crop. Sealskin moccasins 6 layers thick that are still cut to ribbons in one day of walking across the lava. And in the story told by the taxi-cab driver near the end of the book, while Beebe has returned to New York, was brilliant – his crew went three months without cooked food, until the assistant cook took off one of his filthy shirts and a squashed box of matches fell out of the undershirt’s pocket.

Front View of Head of One of the Vicious Giant Land Iguanas
Front View of Head of One of the Vicious Giant Land Iguanas

Most of the bits written by Beebe switch ghoulishly from admiring the pretty and rare animals to butchering them. He’ll watch a hawk and her young all day long, romanticizing away and blaming the buccaneers for eating all the giant turtles to extinction, and then 2 minutes later he’s dissecting the nest of hawks and gnawing some roast iguana tail while loading up the cargo hold with 400 lbs of turtles, finishing off the despoiling of the islands in the name of imperialist science.

William Dampier and Raveneau de Lussan both sound interesting to look up later!

Monday night at Noisebridge

Last night Oblomovka and I showed up at Noisebridge. I’ve been a supporter of Noisebridge since it started, donating at first and then joining as a dues-paying member. I figured even if I only have time to go by there once a month for some happy co-working on the couches, I want the space to exist and am proud to help pay for it. I also lurk on the Noisebridge-discuss mailing list and follow all the fascinating drama, which while not much different than any other community politics, is interesting as I get to know people’s names, what they’re working on, what they care about, and how they think anarchist politics should go down in a hackerspace.

So last night I went to hang out and to take a look at my Adafruit SpokePOV kit, which is half-finished there on my shelf of tools and stuff. These SpokePOV thingies are LED panels that bolt onto bike or wheelchair spokes, like HokeySpokes, but are programmable. When we first started making the kit, we didn’t have the USB connector parts for the controller that lets you program the spoke lights. Anyway, I happily started soldering away. I love soldering irons. They make me think of all the nice times I spent messing around with stuff from Radio Shack with my dad when i was little.

spoke POV project

I didn’t get very far as I got distracted by Oblomovka and Moxie talking about ideas for ways to improve Noisebridge. I think that Noisebridge would benefit from heavier use and an influx of new people. It’s a very new space. It needs more signs on how to do things, even super-obvious things. Laminated instruction signs on the walls, on cabinets, and so on, are crucial. I’m thinking of making some for self-guided tours. Defining jobs that need to be done is crucial. For example, I could make a sign that explains how to take out the trash and put it above (and on) the trash cans.

As I was talking and soldering, people were coming in for the Monday night Python class. I usually love giving tours to new people, but I was on crutches, not in my wheelchair, so didn’t want to walk around that much. It was nice sitting near the entrance though, to hear how people shyly introduced themselves and asked for tours, and then ended up talking about their own projects and getting into long discussions.

Then I ended up hanging around with the people working on the Noise-bot wheelchair. Jake was taking the battery off and attaching some new connectors to it. I don’t remember all the details. The powerchair has a wireless card duct taped inside a clear plastic soda bottle, attached to the seat back handle. Stylish! In the back above the battery, there’s a laptop, which you can log into remotely to drive the chair by communicating with the joystick controls. I think this is the same chair that Jake and the Puzzlebot people used to make the brain-controlled chair. He explained what he was doing and how the chair works to me, a high school sophomore who was there for the first time, some people from Instructables, and anyone else who came by. We all tried driving the chair, which was quite powerful and fast.

Here’s the back of the chair, with the laptop:

wheelchair robot

And here’s Jake driving the chair.

wheelchair robot at Noisebridge

Jake could use someone to work on the software interface to drive the chair. It’s controlled from the laptop, so any language you want to work in is fine. Currently it works with a continuous keypress, so if you are hitting “j” the chair keeps moving forward. I ducked and ran from this project, even though I love it. Must not say yes to ANY more projects!

I then talked a bunch with Zeph who has been helping out with the chair.


She showed me her work with The Beehive Collective, making narrative political posters that are extremely amazing. Where people aren’t going to give you the time of day if you spout a lot of information about, say, coal and energy sources and ecology and pollution and globalization and economics, they’ll get into long opinionated conversations if they look at this poster, The True Cost of Coal.

The True Cost of Coal - Thumbnail

I just ordered one of these posters! Since I live on a boat, I don’t have room for it, but hey! I can put it up on the wall somewhere at Noisebridge!

I showed some of my projects, and the Happiness Hat, and Hypatia’s north hat and Lilypad Arduino resources page, to Zeph and she showed me a video of her weird mechanical project called Twitch. It used tattoo machines and a lot of wires and bits of machines to build feedback loops and create creepy organic-feeling random movement.

We must have talked for an hour before I realized that we had known each other in about 1990 from various feminist communities in San Francisco and from zine-making. We were both using different names then. We had each other’s zines and had some friends in common. Neat!

I kind of want to start a Lilypad Arduino group at Noisebridge. But do I have time? I’d like it to be for women, well, for non-100%-male-identified people, and to be exploratory rather than the Lecture of Experts. Anyone want to learn Arduino stuff with me?

As I was leaving I ran into John Benson who is truly fabulous. We met at Maker Faire, where I was giving a talk on DIY for people with disabilities. At that talk he told me all sorts of stuff about his own work in Berkeley, fixing wheelchairs for the last 20 years or so. He worked for Ed Roberts for a while and he had a workshop in Berkeley working with various nonprofits. I was so happy to see him, as we had lost each other’s contact info! So, it sounds like now, rather than move into the Ed Roberts Campus — the rent being quite high — he has gotten funding from the city and has a workshop space where he repairs donated equipment and gets it to people, and makes stuff for people who are part of Through the Looking Glass – stuff like baby bike seats that attach onto the backs of wheelchairs. At some point I got all fired up and started to rant about people not documenting their skills and their accessibility and mobility hacks. I may have pointed at John dramatically and demanded, “WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DIE!? Your knowledge dies with you!” John held up his camera and said “That’s why I have this!” I totally blushed.

Invisible dishwashers

Still on my hippie history kick, I just read T.C. Boyle’s novel Drop City and with it, Peter Rabbit’s rambling little history also called Drop City, which is in theory “a novel” but which I would instead call “some bullshit”. Tim Miller, a religious studies prof at the University of Kansas, has also written a bunch of stuff about Drop City and other utopian community experiments – web pages, papers, and books.

As I piece together the different histories it looks to me like the early Drop City functioned pretty well at first and was not as half-assed as the fictional Drop City in Boyle’s novel. At least not until they became a waystation and recovery center for dropouts and fuckups. The tyranny of structurelessness gave them a lot of trouble though. Burning Man folks seem to have gone to considerable effort to have learned from all these lessons, with good success.

Rabbit, or Peter Douthit, published Drop City in 1971. In his book, he tells entertaining hippie stories and is clearly a complete asshole. Everything is about his own enlightenment while “fucking chickies” and having total freedom to screw around exploring art or something. But not really, since he also says that he spent 10 hours a day answering mail and talking with journalists. Every story seems to start like this, “Then we woke up and had pancakes and all wandered around in the woods freely and came back and had lunch and smoked a lot of DMT and our minds exploded and we had dinner and felt completely free and were freed some more to become total geniuses!” If you can’t see the flaw in these stories you have a hole in your consciousness the size of a planet and have never washed a dish or cooked three times a day for 20 people. So much for the revolution! I’m sure some of the dudes washed the dishes and didn’t act like jerks, or Drop City never would have lasted as long as it did.

John Curl’s Memories of Drop City: The First Hippie Commune of the 1960’s and the Summer of Love from 2008 frames Peter Rabbit as the villain:

. . . a self-absorbed figure who lived in a small dome and failed to do his part in building the others. Instead, he wrote. He styled himself a leader of the leaderless commune and sent out dispatches from Drop City, soliciting the attention of the underground and mainstream press. Time and Life magazines published photos of the domes in the desert. Curl tells us Drop City’s inhabitants were deeply skeptical of this attention, at least until Drop City could really show some success. Ultimately, the massive pressure that was thus invited upon this one plot of land, rickety domes and nonexistent infrastructure, was what caused Drop City to implode.

One amusing inconsistency between Curl’s and Douthit’s histories is that Douthit talks constantly about chickies and he also insults gay men quite a lot. Curl on the other hand describes Douthit cruising the dives and back alleys of nearby Colorado towns in search of anonymous gay sex. There seem to be no lesbians in any of the histories, which is wildly unlikely!

The best story from Rabbit is of a trip the Drop City hippies took to Washington DC to go to a conference of college newspaper editors at a fancy hotel sponsored by Newsweek and The Washington Post. They were invited by an Englishman who I think might have been John McHale but it’s unclear. Alvin Toffler and Buckminster Fuller, artist and futurist Magda Cordell, Phyllis Yampolsky, and a lot of “chickies” including Gypsy Loo, whose role (as described by Douthit) you can guess; a great scene with Eugene McCarthy freaking out on stage confronted with a coffin full of his own campaign buttons and Jerry Rubin, the Drop City hippies putting up a projector with footage of children dying covered in napalm in Vietnam and audio of screams and bombing and gunfire — NLF propaganda movies brought by Ray Mungo — at which point the cops or the FBI or someone showed up to confiscate the movies and arrest people as the college kids freaked out and cried. Douthit claims a bunch of the editors dropped out of school and the ones who were left organized their newspapers as co-operatives. Anyway, despite my lack of respect for the gender politics of these jerks, I have to admire the splendid disruption of this academic conference, and I spent my teenage and young adult years doing stuff like that; unfortunately not on such an epic scale.

There are also a lot of scenes where the Droppers play Indian. Some of them were Native American, like Nani. But most weren’t. They’re always drumming and chanting stuff they just made up to be at one with the land. Rabbit in particular seems very into singing to the deer and so on. In his own descriptions of this he sounds pretty hilarious. In John Curl’s descriptions it goes even further beyond ridiculous Pretendianism into just sad.

Rabbit would leave for the mountains with great fanfare, headband always tied in place around his forehead. He’d always spout the same story he told when I first met him, claiming to hunt by asking permission of the animal; that is, when the deer was ready to be killed and eaten by Rabbit, it would come out of hiding and let him shoot it. This was his version of a Native American custom.

That entire fall he never came back with a deer. Rabbit bemoaned his string of bad luck. No deer seemed ready to die for him.

One day his luck finally broke. He had gone out hunting alone before dawn. Toward dusk he drove back in, honking, yelling “Cacahuate!” out the window, a large animal draped over his fender. It turned out to be a horse another truck had hit down the road a few minutes before he passed by.

In moments of triumph he always yelled, “Cacahuate,” which he claimed was a warrior’s cry that a Taos pueblo man had taught him. I never had the heart to tell him that it means “Peanut” in Spanish.

The way other sources blame Peter Rabbit for his stepping up their local thing and making it a national news phenomenon made me think of the Riot Grrrl discussions of the media blackout. News media just mentioning “riot grrrl” no matter how badly they framed it or how much they sexed it up meant that young women all over the place were declaring themselves chapters of Riot Grrrl and having meetings & starting zines & doing really difficult conscious-raising work. I then started thinking of some of the bands – say, Tribe 8 – who were living in a more or less communal way as squatters and wondering how to keep telling that history which is mostly told in documentaries & in some novels like Lynnee Breedlove‘s Godspeed. I would love to document & get on the web some of the history of the co-op communities I lived in in Austin in the 80s. I also certainly thought of the radical faeries and what happens when people start to document the Far Out Shit in fringe communities. I’ve turned a documenting eye on WisCon, a feminist science fiction convention, as well. I love to document things and want them documented and I love history; but I also saw how the Far Out gets exploited and packaged up and sold & people’s need to make a living and/or become a counterculture pop star tangles things up. So if you are running around naked in the woods having your own community Experience and some rich dude from L.A. comes in and starts filming it while throwing money around? Bad news! Who am I to say, though? I mean, to say that “my” community is not someone else’s interesting history.

I’m also thinking about the feeling that all the interesting things happened yesterday and what we’re part of is only a pale echo or an imitation. Have you ever been part of something and realized, Oh, this isn’t *just* some goofballs acting like they’re super hip artists because they read some stuff about Paris in 1920 or something, though it partly is, it is *also* the real actual bohemian artists of now and this is what’s happening now. Possibly realizing that, or realizing it and immediately documenting it while you’re doing it, is a sign of being kind of a douche.

I had the impulse this morning to collect the names of the people involved with Drop City from 1965-1971, do a little googling, and draw some connections. Where are they now? I also have trouble keeping it clear who’s who while reading the histories. The 60s communes: Hippies and Beyond was a particularly good source book! I get particularly interested in the ways that the men’s philosophies and names and motivations and actions get recorded, while the women’s stories are elided. One consistent pattern is that women don’t stay in the story unless they’re one of the dudes’ wife or girlfriend. Once they’re not, they kind of shimmer out of the picture. At least out of the dudely picture. Curl did a pretty good job with including the women in Drop City’s history, though. But I’d like to see a memoir from any of the women involved with Drop City! Here’s my cheat sheet of the cast of characters…

* Clark Richert (Clard Svenson ) Painter at K.U.
* Gene Bernofsky (Curley or Curly Benson) Studied psychology at K.U. aka Eugene V. Debs * Betnovskovitch
* Jo Ann Bernofsky (Drop Lady) (Curley’s wife) Artist. (the Bernofskys left in 1967)
* Mary Bernofsky – Curly’s Mom (Mommeleh)
* Richard Kallweit (Larry Lard aka Larry Laird)
* Roberta Started the original farm with Curley
* Poly Ester aka Raggedy aka Bones
* Peter Rabbit aka Peter Douthit (left Drop City in 1968)
* Princess Soft Shoulders (a child?) (Kaitlyn?)
* May (another child – Jo Bernofsky’s)
* The Wop (Alteresio Smith) (Charlie DiJulio )
* Flippen (female)
* Jadal (Lard’s girlfriend)
* Snoopy (Lard and Jadal’s son)
* Reardon
* Fast Eddie
* Ishmael (John Curl)
* Peggy Kagel – Miss Oleo Margarine and her daughter Melissa Margarine aka Frinki (and her two daughters)
* Luke Cool. Taught the droppers how to chop the tops off cars. aka Steve Baer (a dome builder from Albuquerque) aka Luke Bear.
* Burt Wadman
* Susie Spotless (local from Colorado who married Richert)
* Nani
* Crayola (Alteresio’s wife) (plus some children) aka Carol DiJulio
* Patsy Pie (Speed?) Ishmael’s girlfriend.
* Ivan Peacock Rhodes (Orval Teen)
* Albert (The guy from Harvard)
* The President (guy from Chicago)
* Lennie (The President’s horrible rapist cousin)
* Belinda
* Indian Frank
* Bringer of Victory (makes the drugs)
* The 16 year old chick with crabs
* Otis B. Driftwood (The Digger guy from San Francisco)
* Billy B. (the rich guy)
* Maggie
* Jasper
* their kids, Lump and Lori
* The Holy Ghost
* Ed the Fed
* Bipple (folk singer college kid)
* Tom from Kansas
* Karen from New York
* Fran the cripple (aka Star) who magically gets up out of her wheelchair and can walk from taking lots of LSD (I’d like to read her memoir!)

More links as I find them:
Drop Everything (article from 2009)
The Ultimate Painting Brief history with a photo of The Ultimate Painting.

Warm Water Cove and Pier 70

Today’s random expedition led me to Potrero Point and Warm Water Cove, a tiny, gritty park one step above a vacant lot in an industrial wasteland. It’s a vacant lot in an industrial wasteland with a bench! I love this park. Right now it’s full of wild mustard, radish, dock, mallow and other great edible plants. The remains of a creek ooze out of a scary tunnel. It’s all surrounded by warehouses, parking lots surrounded by barbed wire, and off in the distance, rusting ocean-going cargo ships. Apparently there used to be weekly punk concerts there run off generators and lots of campers. While I was there today a woman and a dog in a very DIY camper van were doing some housekeeping and enjoying the late afternoon sun, so the camping, or homeless-person-occupancy, probably continues despite the recent community makeover, graffiti cleanup and daily policing. A few years ago people were still fishing from a pier to take advantage of the warm water coming from the power plant outfall (which attracts fish.) The pier’s gone now.

Sounds like a lot of piers have been closed over the last few years, including San Mateo Pier, the longest fishing pier in California.

From there I could see a very interesting building that looked like a lot of cubes piled up on top of each other.

It’s behind the Pacific Gas & Electric Station A, a huge and beautiful red brick building.

Pier 70

Here’s some links to the history of Potrero Point:

* Station A

A block or two north, little alleys wind around the decaying buildings of Pier 70.

* The Noonan Building
* Map of Pier 70 structures – a great map with notes for each building.
* Irish Hill This hill full of houses and apartments for the iron and steel mill workers and their families was leveled and the rubble used to fill in the Bay. I saw a tiny bit of the hill left – you can tell it’s not just a pile of dirt because it looks like a roadcut through serpentinite.

Underneath these industrial buildings is a tide-washed labyrinth of slag pits, cisterns, waste dumps, and wooden pilings. I can’t even imagine the giant amounts of toxic junk still leaching into the Bay.

Building 104, an office building from 1896:

Pier 70

Building 21, from 1900.

Pier 70

Building 11, The Noonan Building, 1941. People obviously live there.

Pier 70

During wartime this shipyard churned out countless ships. Thousands of people worked there in round-the-clock shifts. As the shipyards closed the area became neglected and used for storage for old cars, MUNI trains and buses. It sounds like then there were decades of concern from people in the Dogpatch, Potrero, and Hunters Point communities, plans for redevelopment, toxic cleanup, reclamation, preservation of the historic buildings, and industrial customers who still might use the land for power plants, and ship building or repair. The largest floating dry dock facility in the world was sold to the City in the 1980s for one dollar — probably because the massively polluted land (and ongoing pollution of the Bay) was clearly a liability and someone was going to have to *clean it up* before it got seriously used again.

As I mulled over What Is To Be Done here’s what I thought up. While it’s not being used for much else and it’s polluting and dangerous, full of crumbling buildings and broken glass and probably more asbestos than anyone can imagine, make it a public Dangerous Park. Just let anyone do whatever the hell they want in there and graffiti it up and have punk rock shows and photograph the roofs of falling-down warehouses. But let them know the dangers to their health and safety — just as you’d put up signs to say that a seaside cliff is dangerous because of erosion and high waves. The conditions of entering the Dangerous Park should be agreement that you’re not going to sue the city for whatever injuries result.

Some of the Historic Buildings would be graffitied and fucked up, but maybe some would be improved, cleaned up, cared for by artists and colonized in interesting ways.

I realize this isn’t going to happen and instead it will end up being a squalid industrial center for a while longer until some asshole buys it and Develops it, because the only way that people are “allowed” to be in or live on a toxic waste dump is if some bunch of developers makes an obscene profit off it while covering up any risks with massive lies. But people using crappy in land in some less centralized and profitable way, with accurate information about the problems of that use, is, weirdly, never okay.