Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Billie Holiday's birthday today

From Sam Harris's interview with Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs:

...In 1939 Billie Holiday first sang “Strange Fruit,” the famous anti-lynching song. That night the Federal Bureau of Narcotics told her to stop singing the song, because according to [Harry]Anslinger, it represented everything that was wrong with America...

But a fascinating thing about the jazz world is that it had an extremely high degree of solidarity, and no one would snitch. The one exception was Billie Holiday’s scumbag pimp husband, who did, in fact, inform on her to Anslinger.

The Bureau gives this order to Holiday to stop singing her anti-lynching song. She had grown up in Baltimore when it was a segregated city, and she had promised herself as a little girl that she would never bow her head to any white man. So she said, in effect, “Fuck you. I’m an American citizen and I’m going to sing my song.”

That’s the point at which Anslinger resolved to break her. He hated employing African Americans, but you couldn’t really send a white guy into Harlem to stalk Billie Holiday. So he employed this African American agent named Jimmy Fletcher. 

Fletcher followed her around for two years, and Holiday was so amazing that Fletcher fell in love with her. For the rest of his life he was ashamed of what he did. He busted her, and she was put on trial. She said, “The trial was called ‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday,’ and that’s how it felt.” And she went to prison.

But the cruelest thing is what happened next. She got out, and there was hardly anywhere she could sing anymore, because you needed a license to perform anywhere where alcohol was served. Her friend Yolande Bavan said to me, “How do you best act cruelly?...It’s to take something that’s the dearest thing to that person away from them.” That’s what we do to addicts in Britain and America every day—we give them criminal records that cut them off from any access to the legal workforce.

Billie Holiday relapsed on heroin and alcohol and fell back into a very bad addiction problem. In her early 40s she finally collapsed and was taken to the hospital. 

She was convinced that Anslinger’s men were going to come for her in the hospital, and she was right. She said to one of her friends, “They’re going to kill me in there. Don’t let them. They’re going to kill me.” 

I spoke to the last surviving person who had been in the room with her. Holiday was handcuffed to the bed. The police knew she had liver cancer by this point, but they handcuffed her to the bed and didn’t let her friends in to see her. They took away her record player, her candies, and everything else. One of her friends managed to insist that she be given methadone because she had gone into heroin withdrawal—which is very dangerous when you’re as weak as she was. Once on the methadone, she started to recover—but then they cut off the methadone and she died...

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San Francisco's definition of "Transit First"

San Francisco Citizen objects to Supervisor Wiener's calling bikeshare "transit." He provides a dictionary definition of transit to support his argument. But the reality here in Progressive Land is that City Hall has defined "transit-first" so broadly it means whatever transportation "mode" anyone uses, including bicycles---except of course for "individual automobiles." Below is the definition in the city charter (emphasis added). In short it's perfectly legal for the city to do whatever it wants to make driving in the city more difficult and expensive:


(a) The following principles shall constitute the City and County's transit-first policy and shall be incorporated into the General Plan of the City and County. All officers, boards, commissions, and departments shall implement these principles in conducting the City and County's affairs:

1. To ensure quality of life and economic health in San Francisco, the primary objective of the transportation system must be the safe and efficient movement of people and goods. 

2. Public transit, including taxis and vanpools, is an economically and environmentally sound alternative to transportation by individual automobiles. Within San Francisco, travel by public transit, by bicycle and on foot must be an attractive alternative to travel by private automobile. 

3. Decisions regarding the use of limited public street and sidewalk space shall encourage the use of public rights of way by pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit, and shall strive to reduce traffic and improve public health and safety. 

4. Transit priority improvements, such as designated transit lanes and streets and improved signalization, shall be made to expedite the movement of public transit vehicles (including taxis and vanpools) and to improve pedestrian safety. 

5. Pedestrian areas shall be enhanced wherever possible to improve the safety and comfort of pedestrians and to encourage travel by foot. 

6. Bicycling shall be promoted by encouraging safe streets for riding, convenient access to transit, bicycle lanes, and secure bicycle parking. 

7. Parking policies for areas well served by public transit shall be designed to encourage travel by public transit and alternative transportation

8. New transportation investment should be allocated to meet the demand for public transit generated by new public and private commercial and residential developments. 

9. The ability of the City and County to reduce traffic congestion depends on the adequacy of regional public transportation. The City and County shall promote the use of regional mass transit and the continued development of an integrated, reliable, regional public transportation system. 

10. The City and County shall encourage innovative solutions to meet public transportation needs wherever possible and where the provision of such service will not adversely affect the service provided by the Municipal Railway. 

(b) The City may not require or permit off-street parking spaces for any privately-owned structure or use in excess of the number that City law would have allowed for the structure or use on July 1, 2007 unless the additional spaces are approved by a four-fifths vote of the Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors may reduce the maximum parking required or permitted by this section. 

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Bicycle Coalition's diminishing dues

A reader send this:

  Year    Membership dues ($)  


Rats are jumping from the SFBC ship. Found SFBC IRS files for the past few years. One item is revenue from membership dues.

Their membership is $35 per person.

According to the table, there is about a 78% drop in paid membership dues from 2011 to 2013.

They haven't been bragging for some time how they are 12,000 people strong.

Rob's comment:
Yes, it's apparently official that the Bicycle Coalition's membership is now down to 9,315. For years it seemed like every time Leah Shahum was interviewed the membership swelled by 1,000. Those days are clearly over.

Along with how the MTA is sitting on the latest bicycle count report, these numbers show that the city's bike movement is now on the decline. But big bike projects continue to shamble zombie-like through city neighborhoods. In spite of the city's moribund bike movement, the neighborhood-damaging Polk Street bike project and the Masonic Avenue bike project are being justified by lies about safety.

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