Mob Rule

Flash mobs: serious social movement or quirky entertainment (or both)?

Sean Savage has been following the evolution of flash mobs closely on his Web site,, and shares Zazueta's earnest views on the movement's far-reaching implications. "I see flash mobs as the earliest forms of something very different," Savage explains. "New forms of emergent group behavior are just starting to come into being with the help of communication technology, and that will transform into something drastically different when networked, location-aware wireless communication devices become cheap and widespread. Lion cubs play a lot, to learn the dynamics and the constraints and the repercussions of their powers, building the skills they'll need to use these powers when they mature.

"I think that's what groups of people are semiconsciously doing now with these playful flash mobs."

We see.

Whether one views them as part of a serious social movement or a form of quirky entertainment (or both), flash mobs are perfectly appropriate for this town. Historically, San Francisco has been rife with pranking and performance art organizations. Loosely organized groups of merrymakers -- including the Amateur Press Association, the Church of the SubGenius, Survival Research Laboratories, Billboard Liberation Front, the edgier Suicide Club, Santarchy, and the still-kickin' Cacophony Society -- have been tugging San Francisco's pigtails since the turn of the 20th century. Don Herron, an alumnus of the Suicide Club and the Cacophony Society, observes that "in days of massive tedium, people still want to have fun." Herron says the Suicide Club's mob-esque Interhotelic Battles, where "opposing teams converged on downtown hotels and tagged each other with different colors of glitter," were usually quickly put down by hotel security.

"But the flash mobs," he says, "have honed it all down to the essence."

John Law, a fellow veteran of the Suicide Club and the Cacophony Society, notes that "this need of people to be together, not consuming stuff, goes back to the turn of the century, and flash mobs are just the next step."

If you've always wanted to be part of a raging mob that doesn't involve tear gas, rubber bullets, or stealing VCRs but have some lingering doubts about the Mob Project, consider Law's assessment of like-minded groups to which he's belonged over several decades: "The main purpose of the people in our organizations was to get laid." -- M.J.F. Stewart

Bombs Away

Without really trying, San Francisco's finest have managed to accomplish a political feat previously thought impossible: uniting the U.S. Navy and the neighbors of the Navy's Hunters Point Shipyard.

Things were already tense around the former military base -- home to a massive toxic-waste cleanup operation that has uncovered an ever-increasing number of potential radiation "hot spots" -- when the San Francisco police set off a political bomb. Check that; SFPD officers set off a real, live, actual bomb, and the explosion had political repercussions.

On June 29, police were called to a San Francisco residence, where two unexploded World War II-era munitions had been discovered. The SFPD bomb squad took the relics out to the department's satellite office at Hunters Point Shipyard, examined them, and then decided to detonate the bombs in "open space" on the shipyard.

According to Police Department spokesman Dewayne Tulley, using the shipyard for ordnance disposal is standard procedure.

"They do detonate devices at the shipyard," Tulley says. "Sometimes devices are detonated at the location where they're found, depending on public safety, or they are brought to the shipyard and detonated there. There is no central spot where this is done. It's a huge facility. There's a lot of open space there, but there is no central spot where it is done. It depends on the nature of the device."

Therein lies the problem. Most of the open space near the Police Department's facility is highly contaminated, including the area where the munitions were detonated in June. The location also is near a 46-acre landfill, one of the most environmentally contaminated sites in the Bay Area. Its contents remain a mystery, but it is estimated to contain virtually every chemical used in an industrial setting during the last century, not to mention the possibility that radioactive waste from a former defense laboratory may have been dumped there. The landfill and surrounding area have an ongoing problem of methane gas leaks and, from time to time, fires. Not surprising to shipyard followers, the police detonation ignited a small fire, which Navy firefighters who were on hand extinguished immediately.

It's fair to say that neither the Navy nor the residential neighborhood adjoining the shipyard was pleased to learn of the SFPD's bomb-disposal operations. Relations deteriorated further last Thursday when a police representative failed to show up at a public meeting called by the Navy and representatives of the Hunters Point community to discuss the matter.

Despite its ramshackle appearance, Hunters Point Shipyard is still military property. And the Police Department's lease for space on the shipyard, handled through the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, specifically prohibits activities that might disturb the soil.

"They [SFPD] did all of this without informing the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency or the United States Navy," says Keith Forman, the Navy's liaison to Hunters Point. "We want to make sure something like this never occurs again." -- Lisa Davis

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