Colin Kaepernick and the anthem

Before Friday night’s NFL preseason game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers, it was pretty much the usual routine. The “usual routine” before most football games is to play the national anthem, and etiquette and custom in the United States dictates that those physically able to stand for the playing of the national anthem do so. Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand. So much for the usual routine.

This story on contains Colin’s explanation for his refusal to stand for the anthem:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

His team, the San Francisco 49ers, appears to stand by Colin amidst the controversy:

The 49ers issued a statement about Kaepernick’s decision: “The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”

The article goes on to quote a statement released by the NFL,

I am disappoined that there exist circumstances which made Colin’s action of refusing to stand for the anthem something he felt necessary to do. I know he is not the first to do so, but I would like to think with the nation’s minds on football, and this story appearing in places where the relatively large football fan base is looking, that people will finally start talking about this issue.

We have a real problem with racism and racial inequality in this country, and it needs to be addressed. As I said in a recent instant messaging conversation with a friend, I try to be proud to be part of this country, but there are things people do, some of which get international press, that often make that difficult. That said, the freedoms in this country include freedom of expression and freedom of speech, which include things like burning the flag, not standing for the anthem, and not reciting the pledge.

(Quick aside: I personally have no problem standing for the anthem or reciting most of the pledge. Being an atheist, I will remain silent for about 2-3 seconds after “one nation” and pick it up again with “indivisible.” The pledge was written by a minister, who left out the words relating to a deity on purpose. They were added later, by Congress. But that’s another topic for another post…)

Is it a bit ironic that the freedoms guaranteed by the country for which the flag and anthem stand for, include burning that flag and sitting for that anthem in protest? Maybe. But people like Colin don’t protest like that without a good reason. Rather than write him off as unpatriotic, people should look into what kind of statement Colin is trying to make.

Capacity limits and safety in San Francisco and elsewhere

Yes, this article is a bit old, but it’s still pretty timely.

This blog entry on describes the enforcement–or lack thereof–regarding posted capacity limits at bars in the Mission area of San Francisco, CA. Specifically, bars with a posted capacity limit of 49 are in effect unregulated, and often have double or even triple that many people inside at once. From the article:

No one monitors bars with a stated maximum capacity of 49 on a regular basis. The Fire Department is the only city agency that monitors maximum capacity, and it only sends an inspector or a battalion chief to these bars if someone calls to complain. So bars regularly pack in as many people as come to the door.

Let’s look at this. Why 49? Well, the answer may well lie within the International Code Commission’s International Building Code (commonly referred to as the IBC), specifically in section 303.1.2:

303.1.2 Small assembly spaces.

The following rooms and spaces shall not be classified as
Assembly occupancies:

1. A room or space used for assembly purposes with an
occupant load of less than 50 persons and accessory to
another occupancy shall be classified as a Group B occupancy
or as part of that occupancy.

2. A room or space used for assembly purposes that is less
than 750 square feet (70 m²) in area and accessory to
another occupancy shall be classified as a Group B occupancy
or as part of that occupancy.

Okay, so a space for less than 50 people (thus the limit of 49) automatically gets classified as a group B occupancy (which is the same class that is assigned to most businesses not otherwise excluded (post offices, dry cleaners, banks, barber/beauty shops just to name a few). The reality is that most bars should in fact be regulated as a group A-2 and should not be getting a free pass from inspection when they don’t apply for a higher capacity permit.

San Francisco is choosing, however, to not do any follow-up inspections of these venues after they open, thus making the “Maximum Occupancy 49” sign have little real meaning. Another part of the problem is that a lot of bars don’t qualify for a higher occupancy limit because they only have one exit. The city is assuming that the bar owners will never have that big of a crowd, because they lack a permit for a higher occupancy, when in fact exactly the opposite is happening: the bar owners are not getting the permits, either because the facilities are not up to standard or because of added expense, and packing the people in anyway.

Allowing bars to pack double the legal occupancy limit into their space is dangerous and short-sighted. Does it really take disasters such as the Kiss nightclub fire in Brazil and the fire at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island to make it clear just how dangerous it is to exceed the capacity limits? The limit in the IBC, and thus in the laws in cities that have adopted the IBC as a building code, is not like the highway speed limits set for a revenue-based “speed trap.” The limit is there for safety and to ignore it is asking for disaster, sooner or later.

(I will be revisiting this topic at a later date in 2013 or early 2014 in 2016 May.)

Suicide barriers and landmarks: my thoughts on the Golden Gate Bridge

A recent entry on poses the question of whether or not a suicide barrier should be installed on the Golden Gate Bridge:

I just saw a movie called “The Bridge” about all the suicides that take place at the Golden Gate and it was shocking to watch all those people leaping to their deaths…. Average number of jumpers is 1 every two weeks and the grand total now is well over 1200 people ages ranging from 80 to 14. It is the most popular location to commit suicide in the world. Yet, San Franciscans refuse to build a barrier (ala Eiffel Tower, Empire State building) because it would not look aesthetically pleasing.

The article concludes with an incompletely-attributed quote by Eve Meyer from this SF Chronicle article:

“When suicide becomes difficult,” Meyer says, “people do not switch to another method. They tend to get help.

Now the last part of the article is technically incorrect as the plan to build a barrier has been approved but not yet funded. We’ll get to that in a minute.

I admire art, including architecture. The Golden Gate Bridge is beautiful in its present form. But when a landmark becomes known for its suicides almost as much as its beauty, I feel it is absolutely, positively, patently devoid of good judgment to place the preservation of aesthetics above the preservation of human life.

Moving on…

The SF Chronicle article reveals how this could have been avoided when the Golden Gate Bridge was originally built. The original plans by chief engineer Joseph Strauss called for railings of a specific design at a height of 5&12frac; feet, which he believed would make the bridge suicide-proof.

Enter architect Irving Morrow, who was originally brought in to design the plazas and entryways. For some reason, he reduced the height to 4 feet, a decision with tragic consequences for over a thousand people who have chosen to end their lives at the bridge, and the thousands more surviving friends and family, in the decades since. What the heck could he have been thinking? The only possibility that makes much sense to me is that first, Strauss not clear enough in his original plans why the height was set where it was, and second, the change was made for primarily aesthetic reasons. If this is the case, we’ve found out the hard way in the decades since that looks can indeed kill.

So we’ve identified the problem. How to fix it?

This LA Times article from 2008 October documents that the plan to build steel netting below the bridge was approved, and was chosen as the least expensive alternative. From what I’ve been able to find out, it has yet to be built, assumably due to funding issues as documented in this SF Examiner article. The cost is estimated at $50 million with annual maintenance costs well under $100,000.

To say the least, I’m horrified. Funding issues? Maybe the beancounters standing in the way of a decades overdue fix to a flawed, suicide-friendly bridge should give their excuses to the surviving friends and family every time there’s yet another jumper. I’m pretty sure the money would be found rather hastily thereafter. Is $50 million a lot of money? Yes. But there’s no objective way to place a price tag on human lives. The first suicide prevented will make every dollar spent worth it.