Read this first.
Living in the Information Age comes with a few modern day hazards.
With such an endless plethora of information available, it is easy to assume the easiest answers, within arms reach are the right ones. We want the first result of a single Google search to be the definitive answer on whatever has piqued our curiosity.
The limits of human curiosity, and thereby, creativity, are infinite, which is why AI, however advanced- even self-aware- will never be able to predict and therefore reproduce.
One moment, it’s the poetry of Peter Blue Cloud and Gregory Corso; the next, it’s how the yen is currently holding up against the dollar (not well) and the plight of women in post-Taliban Afghanistan (worse still).
The Information Age, in addition to creating a great many instant “experts” on any number of intensely complicated topics from virology to Middle Eastern geo-politics of the late 19th and 20th century, has other shortcomings.
Namely, media bombardment isn’t doing much for out attention spans, which were admittedly never that great to begin with. A mountain of information crashes down on us each day in the form of headlines, news reports, status updates, trends, pings, dings, tags and notifications from every app imaginable.
How to separate the quality content from the dross; how to discern the truth, how to find meaningful work in journalism and social commentary: These are the challenges of our time.
With all the information out there, we still don’t always know what to believe and we still get it wrong- all the time.
We also get inundated with information on any given subject with articles ranging from papers published in prestigious medical journals to top ten lists published by the latest media outlet to run aground into penny stock territory.
Seriously: How low can BuzzFeed possibly go?
We are also at the mercy of bad or incomplete information. For instance, if you’re looking for the poetry of Gregory Corso, don’t fall for the first abridged version of his best work you meet, mistaking it for the full experience.
Sometimes we have to go deeper to get real answers about something.
If you only have 10 minutes to read today, stop here and make it this piece written by Nellie Bowles and published in The Atlantic on June 8, 2022.
In “How San Francisco Became a Failed City: And how it could recover,” Bowles will- somehow, whatever your current preconceptions about San Francisco- make you, “love San Francisco, a little bit, like I do a lot, in order to hear the story of how my city fell apart- and how it just might be starting to pull itself back together again.”
From the gold rush, to the hippies, to, “The cliffs, the stairs, the cold clean air, the low-slung beauty of the Sunset, the cafes tucked along narrow streets, then Golden Gate Park drawing you down from the middle of the city all the way to the beach,” all, “whimsical and inspiring and temperate; so full of redwoods and wild parrots,” and, “brightly painted homes and backyard chickens.”
“But it’s maddening,” the author then admits, a bit grudgingly; “because the beauty and the mythology- the preciousness, the self-regard- are part of what has almost killed it.”
In the piece, written the day after San Francisco voters chose, overwhelmingly, to recall progressive district attorney Chesa Boudin, Bowles lays out the reasons, “San Fransicko,” (as some have dubbed it) is dying as surely as Seattle.
“They did it because he didn’t seem to care that he was making the citizens of our city miserable in service of an ideology that made sense everywhere but in reality,” Bowles wrote of the Boudin recall vote. “It’s not just about Boudin, though. There is a sense that, on everything from housing to schools, San Francisco has lost the plot — that progressive leaders here have been LARPing left-wing values instead of working to create a livable city.”
“And many San Franciscans have had enough,” is a sentiment Bowles and plenty of other SF residents and former-residents have been expressing lately.
Some of the shortfalls Bowles notes have plagued San Francisco, and other large cities, for decades: Rampant homelessness in spite of increasing amounts of tax dollars spent to alleviate the problem; open-air drug markets and drug abuse.
But those problems, like others, have been magnified over the past three years. San Francisco residents are growing increasingly uncomfortable with the incongruity of claiming to care about people experiencing homelessness while watching them die slow and agonizing deaths on the streets of San Francisco.
“A couple of years ago, one of my friends saw a man staggering down the street, bleeding,” wrote Bowles of the city she obviously still holds in very high regard. “She recognized him as someone who regularly slept outside in the neighborhood, and called 911. Paramedics and police arrived and began treating him, but members of a homeless advocacy group noticed and intervened. They told the man that he didn’t have to get into the ambulance, that he had the right to refuse treatment. So that’s what he did. The paramedics left; the activists left. The man sat on the sidewalk alone, still bleeding. A few months later, he died about a block away.”
These are old criticisms of San Francisco; but there are new ones. The city is facing a drug crisis unlike the kinder, gentler drug problems of the past. Fentanyl has come to San Francisco in a major way.
There is also the rampant crime which has coincided with San Francisco’s other problems. San Francisco’s defenders point out that its rate of homicide remains relatively low.
“Burglaries are up more than 40 percent since 2019,” Bowles points out gently. “Car break-ins have declined lately, but San Francisco still suffers more car break-ins — and far more property theft overall — per capita than cities like Atlanta and Los Angeles.”
“It has become no big deal to see someone stealing in San Francisco,” Bowles writes. “Videos of crimes in process go viral fairly often. One from last year shows a group of people fleeing a Neiman Marcus with goods in broad daylight. Others show people grabbing what they can from drugstores and walking out. When a theft happens in a Walgreens or a CVS, there’s no big chase. The cashiers are blasé about it. Aisle after aisle of deodorant and shampoo are under lock and key. Press a button for the attendant to get your dish soap.”
“It was easier to ignore this kind of suffering amid the throngs of workers and tourists,” Bowles admitted. “And you could always avert your gaze and look at the beautiful city around you. But in lockdown the beauty became obscene.”
“The city couldn’t get kids back into the classroom; so many people were living on the streets; petty crime was rampant,” Bowles wrote for the Atlantic. “I used to tell myself that San Francisco’s politics were wacky but the city was trying — really trying — to be good.”
“But the reality is that with the smartest minds and so much money and the very best of intentions, San Francisco became a cruel city,” she wrote despairingly. “It became so dogmatically progressive that maintaining the purity of the politics required accepting — or at least ignoring — devastating results.”
But, as Bowles points out, there have been signs of progressives taking back San Francisco from the ideologues who have perverted it.
Before Boudin’s ouster via recall, three of the San Francisco School Board’s most dogmatically leftist members were also voted out via overwhelming recall.
“The anger directed at Chesa Boudin probably could have been contained,” Bowles contended. “The petty crime was frustrating, but it wasn’t what lit the city up for revolution. The housing crush is miserable, but it’s been that way for more than a decade now. The spark that lit this all on fire was the school board.”
Just as in faraway Virginia, “the population ready to rage was San Francisco’s parents,” according to Bowles.
“The city’s schools were shut for most of the 2020–21 academic year — longer than schools in most other cities, and much longer than San Francisco’s private schools,” conceded Bowles. “In the middle of the pandemic, with no real reopening plan in sight, school-board meetings became major events, with audiences on Zoom of more than 1,000.”
Though the school board lacked the power to reopen schools to in-person learning, “many parents were appalled to find that the board members didn’t even seem to want to talk much about getting kids back into classrooms,” wrote Bowles. “They didn’t want to talk about learning loss or issues with attendance and functionality. It seemed they couldn’t be bothered with topics like ventilation. Instead they wanted to talk about white supremacy.”
San Francisco parents were treated to one hour-long debate on whether or not a white male teacher, who also happened to be gay, was intersectional enough to warrant a spot on the parent committee (he wasn’t). Another spirited debate centered on renaming 44 schools with names linked to injustice like Abraham Lincoln and Diane Feinstein.
The school board discussed other issues very important to school board members- “In February 2021, board members agreed that they would avoid the phrase learning loss to describe what was happening to kids locked out of their classrooms. Instead they would use the words learning change,”- while assiduously avoiding any discussion of issues important to parents or students.
While casual ease, dismissiveness, and the occasional middle-finger emoji fired off in response to a concerned parent, school board members Gabriela López and Allison Collins led the charge against reopening schools, standardized tests, and discussing learning loss.
In February 2022, both, along with their fellow progressive board member Faauuga Moliga, were all recalled by a landslide; 76% voted to recall Collins, 70% voted to recall both López and Moliga.
“Collins and López slammed their opponents as agents of white supremacy, but the turnout was diverse, and impressive, especially for a special election: More people voted to recall the board members than had cast votes for them in the first place,” explained Bowles in The Atlantic.
Is this recall, followed by Boudin’s, a sign of things to come?
“Before the school-board vote, the last local recall in San Francisco was in 1983,” Bowles points out, hopefully.
Bowles adds that San Francisco Mayor London Breed appears willing to stop the decay besetting the city, even if it means angering far-left progressives.
“Just a few years ago, she [SF Mayor London Breed] had proudly embraced the ‘defund the police’ movement; no longer,” Bowles wrote. “This spring, after the city’s gay-pride parade banned police officers from marching in uniform, Breed announced that out of solidarity, she wouldn’t march either.”
Whether or not these signs are of San Francisco’s coming renaissance remains to be seen. But whatever happens now, it is clear that something is happening in San Francisco. The city may not be voting Republican any time soon, but fed up San Franciscans are hardly through having their say with failing public officials.
“The fentanyl epidemic and the pandemic cracked something,” explains Bowles simply. “With the city locked down endlessly, with people dying in the streets, with schools closed, it was slowly becoming okay to say ‘Maybe this is ridiculous. Maybe this isn’t working’.”
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)