Natural and Unnatural Envelopment

It’s August in San Francisco and the fog has been unrelenting. If you live in the westernmost neighborhoods I doubt if you’ve seen sunshine for weeks. Here in the banana belt (the Mission) we have been socked in most of the past two weeks too, though late afternoons often give us a few hours of sweet sunshine before the howling, bitter cold fog wind comes roaring back over the hills, eventually swallowing even our bucolic urban tropicalia… It’s the best thing about San Francisco, and maybe the worst thing too… Fog, beautiful cool fog, the best built-in air conditioner one could hope for… but the same frigid grayness also makes the city’s streets weirdly desolate and cold most evenings during the summer.

A lot of us have to get away each summer, to soak up some real heat, to remember how to sweat in the humidity, and to feel like it was really summer! We went off to Montreal and the New England in late June, so that was enough for me to come home and feel deeply gratified by the fog. And it’s been intensely beautiful to watch it spill over Twin Peaks every afternoon and slowly meander towards us as the sun sets–every so often actually peaking through the layers of fog to illuminate a bright orange or purple streak of sunset above and behind it all (I suppose the East Bay hill dwellers are enjoying the beautiful sunsets over the cotton-covered San Francisco).

Fog envelopes us and it cools and calms. It also blocks the warmth and sunshine. I’ve been pondering for a while the role of air conditioning in destroying street life, the kind of daily existence where you had to go on to your front stairs to get respite from the stifling heat… but here in SF where it’s cool most of the time, it’s usually too cold to have anything like a real street life anyway. But I’ll be working that up into a more thoughtful essay one of these days.

Meanwhile, a less natural form of envelopment is all around us, and a whole new augmentation of it might be forthcoming soon. I speak of the tangled web of electronic waves engulfing our shared urban spaces. Yesterday’s interesting announcement came from the Mayor’s office, a plan being floated to provide free, citywide WiFi connectivity with free internet access.

I have never been a fan of Gavin Newsom, and really don’t trust the guy at all. But I called City Hall yesterday when I read the news to express my strong support for a publicly-owned, citywide free WiFi system. I also made it a point to tell the woman taking my comments that I would be incredibly pissed off if it turns out that this is just a bait and switch by Newsom and he later turns around and gives it all back to Comcast, the Horrible.

My pal Ralf has the SFLAN going, and he told me a few months ago that the new broadband WiFi technology was probably still a couple of years away, but I think he could put up a citywide system himself for a fraction of the cost that’s being bandied about.

Not sure about the long-term health hazards of such a system of electronic waves, but I doubt if it’s much different than the cacophony of cellphones and wireless nodes and microwave ovens and blinking DVD players we’re already surrounded by. Which may be cooking us all anyway, but I’m a huge enthusiast for any initiative that takes us in the direction of publicly-owned and -managed utilities that break the stranglehold of such rightist corporations as Comcast and SBC. I have been dreading for years the time when they have such a complete monopoly that they can restrict use and access overtly, not just to diverse cable tv programming (how come we can’t get the new Telesur broadcasts from Venezuela? other kinds of news and views from the rest of the world?), but to whole swaths of the internet. Maybe they’re doing that already and it’s just not obvious. 70-some channels of dreck filling my cable box is an insult to my intelligence and an insult to the potential of global communication (rather than pure propaganda and brainless infotainment).

I suspect Newsom is floating this proposal as a way to pressure Comcast into making more concessions. The Board of Supes just delayed again the vote on the new behind-closed-doors deal struck by Newsom and Comcast to extend their really abhorrent ‘deal’ for another four years in exchange for a few million bucks into the SF general fund. What a horrible deal that will be if it passes! Why can’t we have a franchise agreement that allows us as consumers (a role I generally would rather not assert for any reason!) to choose which channels we want on our BASIC package that we’re already paying an extortionate $45 a month for? Why do I have to accept the disgusting choices made by some Christian idiot of which channels get included in the basic package?

We are engulfed, surrounded, and enveloped by shit. A deep, pulsating, swollen mass of pure shit. There may well be a few beautiful flowers trying to grow out of all this cultural crap we’re bombarded with, but how could we do anything to help them flourish if we don’t have any way to choose them? The cable franchise deal is the current moment where we could open up some space for our preferences to reshape the climate we’re enveloped by… Will our ever-more tepid board of supervisors rise to the occasion and reject this awful package, insisting on a whole new paradigm for our enforced passive consumption of kultcha?…. I wish!

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