Thursday, December 27, 2007

VMU in Rogers, Arkansas??

I got into a conversation recently with my ex-boyfriend, whom I went to high school with, but who now also lives in Austin, about all the growth occurring in our hometown of Rogers, Arkansas. When he and I were both born, it was a tiny little empty town of less than 4,000 people, but is now the fastest-growing region of the country, and the town itself has now capped 50,000 official residents. It's only one in a series of what used to be small, distinct towns that have all grown together into one, sprawling suburb of more than 200,000 people. It starts with Bentonville, Wal-Mart headquarters, then turns into Rogers (where Wal-Mart was actually founded, but lays claim to little else), then becomes Springdale, a mostly poor, and fairly trashy farming and agricultural community that is now pretty much exclusively Mexican, which in turn segues into Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas, and the place most people would probably consider the cultural and liberal seat of not just Northwest Arkansas, but probably all of Arkansas. (It's actually very much like Austin, with a similar feel and geography, but with only about 80,000 people.) All these little towns are connected by HWY 540 (aka, the "bypass" to those in the know).

But I digress. In the last few years Rogers has exploded really more than any of these other towns for reasons I have yet to figure out (especially considering it's a dry county, which yes, means you can't buy alcohol anywhere in Benton County). Every chain store and restaurant you can possibly imagine (and some you can't....) have moved in, with shopping centers, gated communities, and suburb upon suburb upon suburb sprouting up in every direction, with names like Camelot Estates, except they all look the same, all the houses are fucking ginormous, and at last inspection, most of them remain largely empty. Town has really started moving south, out by my parents' house, which used to be in the fucking country, and last time I was here I rode my bike through a large, turny, sprawling neighborhood out behind my parents' property (5 acres that they're holding onto for dear life!) that was complete, but every single house was empty. It was really eerie, and felt weirdly post-apocalyptic or something.

Anyway, I was talking to my ex about all of this, and I was arguing that though it was all very nice and good for the people living here and the economy and all that, I just really despised all of it. I remember once upon a time not so long ago, that with the exception of Wal-Mart, almost every business in Rogers was locally owned and unique. Getting a Burger King was a novelty when I was about 6, and for the most part, it was all neatly contained. You had the historic downtown area, with lots of neat little shops, a few apartments, the library, and lots of tiny old houses with big porches and bigger character. A couple of streets branched off from downtown, both north and south and east and west, but that was about it. As of today, with the exception of a smattering of authentic Mexican restaurants, downtown is the only part of town that has retained any character, walkability, or local flavor (there's even a really hip coffee shop with Morrissey posters and hipsters and shit).

The old Peachtree Hotel downtown, now a retirement community.

It's hard to make people like my family understand why despite "having everything you could ever want" this place feels more like hell to me than ever (so I don't try, I just let it go, because why bother). My ex was arguing that despite the plasticity, sameness and sprawl of it all, the growth meant that attitudes were changing. When we were in high school, if you went to the movies with blue hair, or were 2 guys walking around downtown together after dark, you were taking your lives in your hands. Not so anymore, and I see his point. If you go to the movies now, you see all kinds of people, from frat boys, to soccer moms, to young, punk rock kids, to even (gasp!) black people! (I kid you not, you wouldn't have seen a black person in Rogers more than 5 years ago.)

While I agree with him, I find it frustrating that you have to trade one for the other. Or do you? Austin is a town that has proved you can grow but still retain local flavor and character. Maybe I'm romanticizing Rogers' past after all.

There are signs of good things, though. The new centerpiece of the city, the Pinnacle Promenade, an outdoor, pedestrian mall filled with stores like Banana Republic and Sephora, is creating a density all its own. It's right next to the highway (and about 2 seconds from my parents), has an interesting, playful design (it's all very art deco and actually sort of attractive), and is driving up real estate. They're building a huge, new state of the art hospital (and turning the old one near downtown into a solely mental health facility), a Westin hotel, and among other! (Granted, the ones going in right now are above a bank and a gas station, but the impetus is there.) Signs are sprouting up in large pastures near my parents' house advertising space for vertical mixed use, and apparently, some people are even starting to pressure city council to start looking into public transportation! That'll never, ever happen, but at least people are thinking about these things.

An outdoor scene from the Pinnacle Promenade.

Being at home sometimes is exhausting and enfuriating as I watch all of this happen. If I have my way about it, I'll never live here ever again, so I have no emotional attachment to it, and the people here seem to like it, so I guess I should just stop worrying. But when they put in a new Wal-Mart and shopping center about a 5-minute walk from my parents' house and call it Tuscany Square, and make it look like what I can only presume is some stupid developer's version of Venetian, except it's hideously ugly and stupid, and isn't even the correct region of Italy to call Tuscan, it makes me so depressed I can't stand it. Maybe not because I see every ounce of character this city ever had being sucked away, but maybe because I know that this happens everywhere. And people like it. And they think it's cosmopolitan and urban, and hating it makes me feel like such a self-righteous schmuck, but I do hate it. And it takes 45 minutes to get anywhere, even though the town is about 7 miles wide. I mean, is there no foresight? I guess the land is limitless, but don't they realize the resources aren't? The whole area is one giant, faceless suburb not even in search of a city and it all makes me feel so disconnected from everything (including my past) that it actually creates anxiety for me when I'm here.

I guess that's why for the most part, I try not to leave my parents' house when I visit. Which suits me just fine.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Vacation

Today I became furious with my mother in Borders because she said I wasn't spending enough money on my sister-in-law. Because clearly it's not the thought that counts, it's the amount you spend.

Not that I'm keeping score or anything, but last year, my sister-in-law and my brother together bought me a t-shirt. Which is fine. It's a lovely and thoughtful t-shirt (the Colbert Nation t-shirt), but I'm not allowed to buy a $6 book (even though I knew what I wanted to get her before I saw that it was on sale) because it makes me cheap?

And people wonder why I hate Christmas. Why can't I just buy what I want to buy people regardless of how much it cost?

Tonight I fell asleep in church and my elbow slipped off the end of the rail and I almost fell off the pew.

My sister-in-law spilled communion juice on the pastor and he didn't finish blessing her because he was so irritated. We both were laughing hysterically and couldn't stop.

Last night my mother became visibly (and verbally) angry with me for saying that when I decided to have kids I just want to adopt black foster kids with AIDS that no one else will take. Because someone has to love them. I guess that's not what Jesus would do.

Today at my grandma's house I found an old board game from the 80's called Therapy, where each player uses a couch to move around the board and has to answer personal questions about the stages of life and analyze the other players. And it's kinda racy.

If my friends in Austin think they're going to get out of playing this game with me, they're sadly mistaken.

Tonight I've had 3 glasses of whiskey, and earlier today my father walked in on me jerking off in my room.

That's embarassing but expected when you're 12, but when you're 30, it's just humiliating and pathetic.

Tonight Tom made me laugh.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Crush Alert

Why I no longer get crushes on celebrities: Maybe I'm far too much of a geek.

His blog is here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I certainly don't think he should be president

but I'm liking Ron Paul more and more every day.

If you have no other choice

Last night I went to I Love Video with the intent to rent Night Train Murders after hearing Eli Roth talk about what a huge influence it was on Hostel 2 on the commentary of that movie (which is great, by the way; I highly recommend it), but instead impulsively rented a little documentary called Follow My Voice, about recording a tribute album to Hedwig and the Angry Inch by a bunch of indie rock hipsters (Sleater-Kinney, Ben Folds, Frank Black, Jonathan Richman, Polyphonic Spree, They Might Be Giants, Cyndi Lauper, Yo La Tengo, The Breeders, Stephen Colbert, and a few more).

Mixed in to behind the scenes recording of the record, however, are video diaries of several teenagers attending the Harvey Milk High School in Manhattan, which is a school composed primarily of gay and transgender students (and what proceeds of the CD are benefitting), but open to anyone who wants to come there because they don't fit in at a regular school, or they feel threatened, or whatever. At first the video diaries kind of annoyed me, and I thought they were boring, and I just wanted to see more bands doing awesome songs, but the longer the movie went on, the more it roped me in. I started to see a structure to the film, which is that it was taking the themes of the songs and weaving it into the themes of the kids' diaries to, essentially, create the structure, or plot, of the documentary. It's subtle, and doesn't always work, but when it does work, it's incredible. I got all choked up watching a transgender teenager getting her hair done for prom, while the Polyphonic Spree performed "Wig in a Box" (perhaps my favorite song from the whole movie), which is totally ridiculous, but it just works.

All in all, it turned out to be a really inspiring film, and the scene towards the end, when the high school finally opens as a fully-accredited high school in New York, and the police have to set up fencing to keep back the protestors, but the kids walk through anyway, beaming, as they are also cheered on by many, many supporters, just warms the heart and really gives one hope. (It's also quite reminiscent of footage of the integration of Central High in Little Rock back in the 50's, which is some of the most amazing stuff I've ever seen.)

Okay, I know I'm not being very eloquent here, but I just woke up. If you love Hedwig, or just love rock-n-roll, or just love great documentaries, check it out. You can buy the CD here, though I'm not sure the proceeds are still going to the school, since I checked the actual web site of the record label, and it no longer exists.

In the meantime, enjoy some "Wig in a Box" from the movie!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

buzzes like a fridge

I started reading Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel this week, for the second time. Not because I thought it was so great the first time I read it, but because of the opposite. I was 18, in my freshman year of college, and I just didn't get it. I totally lost patience with it, despite plowing through it, and thought it was the whiniest, most self-absorbed piece of tripe I'd ever read. More than once, I wanted to throw the book across the room, and scream, "Get over yourself!!" So when I saw it on a friend's bookshelf this week, I decided to give it another chance, with 12 years and a whole hell of a lot of life experience to bring a new perspective to it.

Well, I still think it's a pretty terrible book. I still think it's whiny and self-absorbed, and the girl can't write particularly well, but it's definitely striking a different chord with me this time. This time, those things don't make me lose patience because I think I can relate to it a lot more. Not least the feeling that when you're depressed, or when you think you're genuinely losing your marbles, you do become pretty self-absorbed, sometimes by necessity. I pick up on the wisdom a little more this time around, and think that she's got some pretty insightful things to say, not just about depression and hysteria, but about the way our society treats mental illness and the people who suffer from it.

One aspect I particularly enjoy is her juxtaposition of the way depression is viewed against the way drug abuse is viewed. Drug abuse is so tangible, it's so - for all intents and purposes - socially condoned and glamorized. Drug use is seen as something people need to be rescued from, that can be fixed. All manner of inappropriate, destructive, thoughtless, and dangerous behavior can be explained away in drug abuse, and as long as the abuser gets help eventually, generally it's all forgotten and chalked up to the drug. It's not the person's fault, it's the drug. As long as no one dies, it's live and let live.

But anyone who's depressed, or has any kind of personality disorder doesn't get the "get out of jail free" card that drug users get. When Wurtzel was a teenager, slashing up her legs with razors and taking overdoses of allergy medications at summer camp, she was told she had no reason to feel so bad, that all she needed was exercise and more socializing, and the problem was mostly ignored. But, she claims, if she'd been going to parties and snorting coke or shooting up heroin, her parents would have had her in the best treatment facility they could afford before the sun was up.

Drug abuse is seen as a disease, whereas personality disorders are seen as flaws. She even hypothesizes that maybe one reason so many people take so many drugs is not necessarily because they just want to be taking drugs, but because it's the only tangible way, short of a serious suicide attempt, to make people understand how awful they feel and that they might just need some serious help. See, if I take drugs, and engage in a slow but serious physical self-destruction, then maybe someone will take my pain seriously.

It's not an argument, I have to say, that I disagree with.

Just because people can hold their lives together, and keep a job, and do their schoolwork and pay their bills, doesn't mean they don't feel like they're crumbling on the inside. It doesn't mean that they're not still constantly filled with a despair so overwhelming that it feels like a physical presence upon, or within, their body, like a slow-growing cancer. Just because a person can get through the day without bursting into tears every time they actually feel like bursting into tears, doesn't mean that life doesn't fill them with an abject terror and sadness that never ceases, no matter what they do, or don't do. It just means they've learned to work around it, fit it into their schedule, fold it into their daily routine. Make it a part of who they are. Some people don't have the luxury of a total breakdown, and I guess in some people's eyes, if you can actually detach yourself from your life enough to say, Well, maybe if I have this breakdown this weekend, like I really want to, it will put my school career in jeopardy or push my poor mother over the edge, so I can't do it. I have to suck it up and keep going, no matter how impossible it may seem or feel, well then, you're not really that bad off.

But god forbid anyone should go out on weekends and do some blow, or need a drink in the morning to face the awful world and the aching dullness of their life.

Those are the people that have serious problems. And sometimes, they're the ones that get the help, often from the intervention of other people. Because it's physical.

Those other people, well, they just need to get some perspective, I guess.

Or so it goes.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Hutto Immigrant Detention Facility

The other day, my friend Deneice showed me a cool documentary she made for her broadcasting class at school, about the Hutto Immigrant Detention Facility, 45 miles north of Austin. For those that don't know, it's basically a holding facility for undocumented immigrants that are picked up until something can be done with them. It's run by the Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit adult corrections company.

The problem with this place, primarily, is that they hold children there. Entire families are crammed into retrofitted cells (the whole building used to be a medium-security prison), and are locked in. The children are allowed to go play for a little bit each day, but only in a small playground surrounded by razor wire and armed guards. They are disciplined by guards who threaten to separate them from their parents. Pregnant women are also held, with little to no prenatal care.

A cell for an immigrant family.

Is this really what immigration control in the United States has come to? Imprisoning children and threatening them with isolation and violence?

The ACLU, naturally, filed a lawsuit earlier this year and won, requiring the "facility" to make some much-needed improvements. On the link, Barbara Hines, at the bottom right, who has a podcast you can link to, was also interviewed for Deneice's documentary.

My award-winning philosophy paper about Nietzsche*

(Probably not my best work, but considering the vagueness of the assignment (find a text that's confounding, make sense of it, and tell the professor about how you made sense of it in less than 40 pages and make it intelligent), I think I did all right.)

The falseness of an opinion is not for us any objection to it: it is here, perhaps, that our new language sounds most strangely. The question is, how far an opinion is life-furthering, life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps species-rearing; and we are fundamentally inclined to maintain that the falsest opinions (to which the synthetic judgments a priori belong), are the most indispensable to us; that without a recognition of logical fictions, without a comparison of reality with the purely imagined world of the absolute and immutable, without a constant counterfeiting of the world by means of numbers, man could not live – that the renunciation of false opinions would be a renunciation of life, a negation of life. To recognize untruth as a condition of life: that is certainly to impugn the traditional ideas of value in a dangerous manner, and a philosophy which ventures to do so, has thereby alone placed itself beyond good and evil.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Coming from a place of extreme nominal understanding regarding Nietzsche and his works, the idea of the Will to Power so prominent throughout them is interpreted by myself as the rising up of the oppressed. That is the first thing that comes to mind, though it also represents the power of the powerful. It means, to me, that within every human being lies not only the desire, but a desperate need (indeed, one’s life depends on it) to, at the very least, be in control of their own destiny. At its worst, it is the idea of dominance over growth, moral law enacted simply for the sake of control, not for the sake of personal growth, discovery, or revelation. Or, put another way, it is the enacting of the control of your own outcomes against the dominance of others.

While watching footage of the World Trade Centers’ collapse six years ago, and individuals jumping to their deaths to escape the fiery hell of the burning buildings, I heard a psychologist on the news say that the suicides of those people was in fact a very healthy reaction to an inevitably life-threatening situation. By assessing the crisis rationally, and understanding that they were doomed no matter what, they chose, probably with some combination of panic and level-headed matter-of-factness, their own method of death. Granted, their options were limited, but when faced with the agony of melting, or with the certainty of falling, they chose the certainty. They took control in a hopeless situation where their options were limited, and nonetheless willed themselves to have the smallest modicum of power in a powerless situation. I don’t know why, but while reading the passage by Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil, this is what came to my mind.

Robert Cavalier, of the Carnegie Mellon philosophy department, describes the “will to power” as a necessary simplifying of the chaos of nature, and by extension, the chaos of man. He argues that it is precisely this simplification, or “structuring,” that gives individuals power, whether real or perceived. A common psychological theory is that human beings create a narrative for their lives; they take events of their lives and structure them to tell a story that makes sense to them. It is not uncommon, the theory goes, to slightly modify and reinterpret reality so as to make sense in the larger “story” and stream of plot that has been created. Events that confound the storyline, or don’t fit into the larger picture, or are simply unwanted, are often discarded, either consciously or unconsciously, if it makes the story too complex or too untidy. Thus, in the most rudimentary, but also complex way possible, a person has taken control of their life and molded events to fit their own larger picture.

This non-reality is something that I think Nietzsche understood a long time ago, and is largely what he is attacking in Beyond Good and Evil. For something to be “beyond” what it is a part of (such as Nietzsche arguing that evolved morality is beyond both conventional good and evil) that “something” must transcend what it is a part of. To Nietzsche, at least in my interpretation, conventional religion and morality (particularly Christianity) is part of this false story, this created myth, that people tell themselves to feel powerful in a chaotic and scary world. For Nietzsche, I think, this is what “conventional morality” amounts to: a gross simplification in the face of overwhelming ambiguity. For to embrace that ambiguity, or uncertainty, the individual has to come to terms with what they could lose: a solid foundation of assuredness, and possibly even themselves. Some say that faith itself, particularly religious faith, is an acceptance of the uncertainty of the world of the divine, but that may only be true for the most spiritually evolved among us. More often than not, religious “certainty” supplants faith, in order to create a rigid ideology, the mortal enemy of true spiritual evolution and faith. Ideology exists only in the face of insecurity; dogmatic devotion to an impossible ideal replaces genuine seeking. Real answers can only be discovered if one is willing to risk experimentation and questioning without ever discovering a truth, or certainty. This openness, this freedom, is the exact opposite of fundamentalism. Nietzsche disdains these self-perpetuating and stifling lies, but concedes that they are perhaps necessary for society as a whole to continue to function. For without them, he says, “…the renunciation of false opinions would be a renunciation of life, a negation of life.” But why?

Children generally grow up absorbing the beliefs and behaviors of those around them, especially parents or caretakers, rarely questioning the script and role they’ve been delivered since the day of their birth. Traditions are passed down and expectations are expressed, either overtly or indirectly. Until they know better, children see their parents as God, and everything they do, from their language to behavior, is taken note of and digested by children. Some people continue on through life indefinitely drifting, never truly questioning anything, or repressing doubts, for fear of upsetting the status quo, or unprepared for the strength it might take to become autonomous. Others, however, through choice or circumstance, make a resolute decision to embrace uncertainty and the falling away from, or “dying,” if you will, of their old or comfortable life. Some don’t have a choice: they’re given their script as they’re about to walk out onto the proverbial stage, and their script is written in an indecipherable language. Try as they might to learn the new language, quickly and without error, they simply can’t. So they’re pushed on stage, and they either flounder or they improvise.

When a person throws away their script in order to write a new one, they make a deliberate choice. They’ve taken what they see as false opinion and renounced that life, negated its worth, at least to them, and effectively killed it. This is the death that Nietzsche refers to. In order to evolve, old ways must die. Usually the script is never complete unless one prematurely pronounces it so; true “being” is an endless becoming, a never-ending journey for truth and self. The “they-self” concept of how one has created an identity in relation to what others expect of them is gone, replaced by a resolute choice to become, or create, something new.

Growing up, I always felt different, from day one. It was difficult for me to relate to other kids, especially boys, and I had no interest in sports. Friends came and went, and the majority of my relationships with other kids were short-lived. It wasn’t until puberty, really, and the budding of sexual desires, that I began to fully understand what it was that set me apart. Despite my growing attraction to other boys that was both confusing and exciting, and my growing disinterest in girls as anything other than companions, I still held on to my prescribed script for dear life. Letting go of my future storyline was too scary, too unknown. I fell into a vicious pattern of self-deception: still told myself I would get married someday, I would have children, and a family, and I would live the life that I was expected to live. I mean, what else was there? Despite being an avid reader with a huge imagination, the only world I truly knew was rural Arkansas. I knew there was more out there, but I didn’t understand it. Falling in love with my best friend at 16, and having him return those feelings, was the final nail in the coffin of my old life. It took another good 5 years to become comfortable with the idea of letting the old life truly die, and to have the courage to construct a new one in the way I saw most appropriate, but with that final decision, the new world was created, and my own moral and intellectual limits of my effective freedom were killed.

In many ways, I continue to define myself by what I am not, by my opposition to what I find most distasteful: complacency, blind religious faith, a denial of the true self. I seek to see reality in everything, and to view any adherence to mythology as a weak-willed embrace of a false certainty in the face of a vague and scary uncertainty. But the uncertainty is the reality, multiplicity the true liberator of the human psyche. Without a recognition of “logical fictions,” Nietzsche claims, man would die in his own meaninglessness. To have to discover your own path, and create your own destiny, as the existentialist believes we must all do in the absence of God, would provoke too much anguish and self-doubt in all of mankind, and surely lead to the death of life. But what I believe Nietzsche is arguing is that, if mankind as a whole could abandon these false notions, this “constant counterfeiting,” then as a species, we could evolve beyond our conventional and tired notions of morality, of even viewing morality in terms of good and evil. A transcendent morality might take its place, one in which all beings were equal and autonomy could be prized and strived for, instead of feared, denigrated, and eventually murdered.

*By "award-winning," I mean I got an A.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Another Austin blog

This one's about condos: Austin Towers. It's self-described as a guide to condo shopping in Austin, but it also provides lots of commentary, insights, and general information on the changing face of central Austin. And since I'm totally obsessed with all this shit, I really like it. I actually spent hours on it the other night just clicking around on all the links.

One recent post I really enjoyed was about Austin's density problem. Density is measured by the number of people living per square mile, and Austin came in 20th in the top 25 with only 2,610 people per square mile (as opposed to New York's nearly 27,000 people per square mile, followed by San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia in the top 5). The count was taken in 2000, though, so I'm sure it's improved since then, but no one can argue that Austin isn't suburban. If you need any further evidence, look to the fact that many proprietors of failed businesses in the 2nd Street District blame their failure on a lack of good parking.

Anyway, that's what all this crazy condo business is looking to improve, so let's hope it does.

Urban Roots

Urban Roots is a program developed by Youth Launch, an Austin-based nonprofit, to educate Austin's inner-city youth about growing food and healthy eating. I spoke to a representative at the farmer's market this morning, and he said they plan to break ground by April of 2008, and get kids planting food and tending a garden. It's designed to teach the kids about sustainable agriculture, and they will donate I think he said 25% of the food to soup kitchens and keep or sell the rest.

This week, December 8-13th, they are teaming up with Edible Austin and a whole host of local restaurants to help raise money in what they are calling "Eat Local Week." The restaurants on the list have all agreed to have one meal on the menu that's made entirely from locally-grown food, and that $1 from every meal sold throughout the week will be donated to the Urban Roots program.

So Austinites, if you go out to eat this week, think about visiting one of the sponsoring restaurants and buying the local meal. The list of participating restaurants and markets is here.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Boy Scout Ambivalence

By now I'm sure everyone's heard that the Boy Scouts got kicked out of their headquarters in Philadelphia for refusing to change their anti-gay bigotry. I understand the city's position and I don't sympathize with the Boy Scouts at all, but something about this kind of rubs me the wrong way.

Municipal officials said the clash stemmed from a duty to defend civil rights and an obligation to abide by a local law that bars taxpayer support for any group that discriminates. Boy Scout officials said it was about preserving their culture, protecting the right of private organizations to remain exclusive and defending traditions like requiring members to swear an oath of duty to God and prohibiting membership by anyone who is openly homosexual.

This week the Boy Scouts made their last stand and lost.

“At the end of the day, you can not be in a city-owned facility being subsidized by the taxpayers and not have language in your lease that talks about nondiscrimination,” said City Councilman Darrell L. Clarke, who represents the district where the building is located. “Negotiations are over.”

I don't know much about the Boy Scouts; as a kid I was never remotely interested in joining (I was in the Webloes for one year, but my best girlfriend down the street couldn't be in them, so I quit), but I know that for a lot of kids, it's a lifesaver. I would prefer that their lifesaver not be such an intolerant lot, but nevertheless, sometimes I think there are things that trump being progressive. Of course, if the city is going to take a hardline approach to this stuff, it can't go around making exceptions, especially for religious groups, which, in any other circumstance I'd say kick the free-loading bastards out.

Philadelphia has an astronomical crime rate and ridiculous poverty levels, and at least according to a Boy Scout spokesman for the Philadelphia chapter, having to pay the full rent on the building (which the city estimates at $200,000 annually) would require that they cut funding for summer camps for low-income, inner-city kids. Maybe that's not true, or maybe it's irrelevant. It seems too bad, though, that it has to be either/or. The whole situation kind of depresses me.

But what I guess is really too bad is that the Boy Scouts have to be such bigots. That doesn't serve anybody.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Coulda been....

This past week I've been working on my final philosophy paper which is about a section of Beyond Good & Evil by Nietzsche. My paper is sort of a dissection of the concept of will to power and how "conventional morality" is for weak people (thus, the title of the book). It's not my best paper, that's certain, but the assignment was rather vague, purposefully. But it's not a terrible paper, either, and the fact that I could probably write another 50 pages doesn't help (the length limit was "under 40 pages; however long it takes you to write something intelligent. And I'll be the judge of what's intelligent."). That's the problem with philosophy and why philosophers are all just a little bit crazy: the constant asking of questions while never really getting any real answers. An entire life of "what-if's" and "how about's" seems like it could drive a person mad. Psychology's not much better but at least you can apply practical uses from psychology and you can do testing. Some answers are better than no answers. Although I'm sure any philosopher worth his salt would argue with me until next week that no answers are ever found in philosophy. And also that that's not the point.

I feel like my life is a constant series of "what-if's" as well, only I don't call it philosophy, I call it being obsessive. Does everyone do this? I don't know: readers, do you all constantly do this as well?

Like, I think things like:

- What if I had ended up going to Sarah Lawrence instead of moving to Dallas, which is what I really wanted to do? I never could have gotten in to Sarah Lawrence, and even if I had, I never could have afforded it, but what if I had? What would I be doing now?

- What if I had stayed in Arkansas instead of going to college in Dallas?

- What if I had moved to Los Angeles after I got out of school instead of moving to Austin?

- What if, about 9 months after moving to Austin, I had packed up again and moved to New York, like I very nearly did? Collier was moving back and needed a roommate and she asked me if Travis (my boyfriend at the time) and I would be interested in taking the extra room? I was all for it, but naturally, Travis wanted nothing to do with it. I almost broke up with him and left anyway, but he'd just moved to Austin from Arkansas to be with me about 4 months prior, so of course I couldn't do that. Only a total douchebag would do that.

- What if I hadn't met the friends that I met? What if I met them now, instead of years ago? Would we still have hit it off, or is meeting people always a result of a very specific set of circumstances that brings you together at a specific time?

It's all sort of terrifying and endlessly exhausting to think about, but I always do.

Sorry the posts lately have not only been slow, but also incredibly lame. School's over after this week, so hopefully I'll get back on track. These last 3 weeks have almost killed me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Holy Grail of Friday Night Lights sightings.

Well, in all honesty, the true Holy Grail might be a slight toss up, but nonetheless, at work last night, I saw none other than Zach Gilford, aka, Matt Saracen.

I was at my register, and he started to get in my line, but then saw an open register and went to that one. My heart leapt, I stopped what I was doing for a second and watched him go, the way I might watch an ex-lover who has seen me in public and walked the other way. I knew it was him; there was no doubt. I quickly finished with my customer, then shut off my light and left my register to find some excuse to walk over to where he was.

Had he come through my line, I would have stuttered something retarded about how I wanted to have his babies; I wouldn't have been able to avoid it, I was so star-struck. But seeing as how he was now with someone else, and there were other people in that line, I couldn't just walk up and melt in front of him and get his shoes wet, so I had to devise another plan - which became taking his cart from him.

He was clearly looking for a place to leave it, so I cheerfully said, with lots of eye contact, "I can take that for you." He sort of pushed it towards me and mumbled, "Thanks."

He's not very friendly, that one. He had a standoffish vibe and shifty eyes. I think he noticed my staring at him.

Maybe Coach Taylor was just extra hard on him at practice yesterday and he had to stop at the store on the way home and get groceries for his grandma and he was just tired. The irony, though, is that I don't know a single person outside of my group of friends that watches that show. When Scott Porter came through my line that day I asked nearly every single person in the service department if they watched they show or knew who he was because I wanted to share my excitement, and not one single person did.

You hear that, Saracen? You're safe there. No one knows you. I'll take good care of you. Just come back.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Too Many Movies?

A few minutes ago I'm sitting at my desk in my bedroom, happily playing email Scrabble, when I hear footsteps underneath my window. Ask anyone who knows my backyard, and they'll tell you it's creepy at night. It's gigantic, and extremely dark, and lined with shrubbery around the entire fence that protrudes a good 10 feet into the yard.

I know I heard the footsteps, because my desk is right up against the window and my window is open. So despite the fact that I can't see shit because it's too dark (I never shut my blinds), I hear them and I stop. I perk up. The footsteps stop, then I hear them again, very distinctly the sound of two heavy feet walking on the dead leaves, going in the opposite direction. And it truly sounds like they're about 4 feet from my window. I have a door in my room that goes into the back yard as well, so first thing I do is look over at the door to make sure it's locked.

My roommate Garrett has a telescope he likes to take out into the backyard sometimes, so I leave my room and go knock on his door, thinking maybe it's him outside messing around, but he answers from inside his room, so obviously it's not him. However, he decides to go investigate with me.

I grab a hammer and a flashlight and we go outside. We scour the entire backyard and of course find nothing, but I swear to god it was not my imagination. Yes, I looked at about a hundred videos of ghosts today and watched Session 9 tonight, which was creepy as shit, but I heard it, and I stand by my story.

Both sides of the backyard have big gates, and the one on the north side is always standing open, and fairly secluded by a garage apartment (and that person has moved out, so I know it wasn't her; it's empty right now), but it's still there. Yesterday I saw two homeless people walking down the street, the state hospital is 3 blocks away, and a couple months ago, as I rounded the corner onto my street riding my bike home from work late one night, some cops had the entrance to the street from the main road blocked off and several cops were walking up and down my street with their flashlights. I didn't ask any questions; I just went inside and made sure all the doors were locked.

So even though it was probably nothing, it's not completely ridiculous that someone could have been in the backyard. And I'm still sleeping with the hammer next to my bad tonight.

Ghosts caught on tape

I'm supposed to be doing homework right now, so naturally, I'm fucking around on YouTube as usual. I googled the Poltergeist trailer, which kind of sucks, then started looking around for video footage people had posted of ghosts caught on tape. Not sure what to think about these, but they sure gave me chills, and made me look over my shoulder.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Television Killed the Cinema Star

An early October issue of Entertainment Weekly that I was reading in the breakroom at work tonight had a fluffy, but mildly interesting article (isn't that every article in EW?) about why no gay movies have been made in the 2 years since Brokeback Mountain was such a critical and economic success. Particularly, it noted, since gay characters have become so ubiquitous and popular on television. The article offered several theories for this, like that studio producers and executives tended to be old, white men who have had their jobs for decades compared to TV producers, which have a much higher turnover rate and tend to be much younger and more diverse, and that there simply aren't any good "gay scripts" out there (which I tend to have a hard time believing; or, well, after programming the Austin Gay and Lesbian Film Festival for 2 years, maybe I don't....).

Whatever the case may be, they had a quote from Alan Ball saying that one reason he saw for this was that so many gay films tended to be about issues (AIDS, coming out, discrimination), and that being gay was the main thrust (ahem) of the story. Whereas on television, you have hours and hours and hours to slowly and subtley reveal a character's true, well, character, and make relationships so much more nuanced and realistic.

This is what drew me into television to begin with, and why I think really incredible television shows have pretty much killed my love of movies. Anymore, 2 hours simply isn't enough time for me to invest in characters that I like. I've never been terribly interested in plot, which could explain why I generally hate mysteries, thrillers, and action films. A good story is nice, but I enjoy television and film for the characters and the richness and intimacy that watching people develop over years can bring you.

All of my favorite shows (Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, Nip/Tuck, Friday Night Lights) have all been character-based, and about extraordinarily complex and nuanced characters (well, maybe not Sex and the City so much, and only the first 2 seasons of Nip/Tuck; seasons 3 and 4 got very plotty and stupid and totally sucked). And not only that, they've all been set in very specific "worlds" (high-fashion New York; a funeral home; a high-end cosmetic surgery hospital; small-town Texas) that generally have very prescribed ideas about how things should be, and all feature characters either creating or breaking those molds and boundaries. So, in another sense, I guess all of those shows have also been about identity and defining oneself within the confines of whatever world it is the characters are existing in.

With movies everything has to be so glossed over, so quick, so surface. With television shows, relationships can begin and end in real time; people can grow up, or change, in such slow and realistic ways, that when you go back and visit them again at the beginning of whatever show it is compared to the end of the show, you can really see the progress and change, whereas you might not have really noticed it while watching the show. In TV shows, characters don't have to have revelatory epiphanies and a conclusion like they do in movies. That's not real life. I'm not knocking movies here, I'm simply saying for my money, movies just don't cut it for me anymore. I like to be able to grow with my characters and become intimately involved in their lives. (To this day, I still maintain that I've never seen a movie that can rival Six Feet Under for me.)

Which goes back to Alan Ball's comment. A lot of emphasis in the gay rights movement has been placed on being "out" and visible, and how that, more than anything, has helped the cause. Because the more people that know gay people, and realize that they're not all AIDS victims, or serial killers, or political activists, the more the regular population will see them as just being regular people. If a middle-aged soccer mom in Iowa who's never known a gay person can watch Six Feet Under and watch David struggle with his sexuality over 5 years, and become really attached to him, and the show can humanize this character and make the anxiety and fear of that struggle very real to this woman, in a way that a film never could (despite how great Brokeback was, it was still two very famous, heterosexual actors playing dress up, and that's impossible to forget while watching it), then I say, bring on the TV.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No alarms and no surprises

Today Sullivan had a piece up about the link between self-esteem and materialism. No big shock there: people with low self-esteem tend to be more materialistic because they look for fulfillment and extrinsic value outside of themselves. Also no big surprise: the more technologically advanced and wealthy society as a whole has gotten, the more society as a whole has gotten depressed:

In the book “Happiness: Lessons From a New Science”, Richard Layard exposes a paradox at the heart of our lives. Most of us want more income so we can consume more. Yet as societies become richer, they do not become happier. In fact, the First World has more depression, more alcoholism and more crime than fifty years ago. This paradox is true of Britain, the United States, continental Europe and Japan.

Statistically people have more things than they did 50 years ago, but they are actually less happy in several key areas.

In The Velvet Rage, the author Alan Downs posits a hypothesis that one reason gay men have always been known as style arbiters, and classy trend-setters is because of their internalized shame. To make up for the fact they are an inherent "failure" in the gene pool by being born gay, they make up for it by having impeccable taste and being the "best" in what they do. Ever wonder why so many gay men are such judgmental overachievers? Downs says that's why. Because they grow up with such shame and so little self-esteem they overcompensate by offering extrinsic reasons to be respected. They go to the best schools, excel in their jobs, make more money, have the most impeccable and discerning tastes. I think there may be some truth to this, but I also think one point Downs might miss is that growing up gay (or as any kind of minority), rather than wanting to be part of the mainstream, more often, I think, people (especially adolescents) deliberately remove themselves from the mainstream and find things of their own to latch onto. In other words, since they already feel separated from the crowd by their own inherent being, they simply intentionally further distance themselves to create their own worlds. Which just, by nature, includes things that are superior to most things that are more mainstream.

In The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt, which I have previously mentioned here and here, Haidt offers some evidence that's been found to suggest that individuals' happiness levels are fairly static over their lifetime. While events happen and we may have even prolonged moments of sadness (a nasty breakup or divorce, or death) and happiness (a wedding, a great job), eventually most everyone's levels of "happiness" get back to a normal level and never really change much. Which is to say, that wedding may make us ecstatically happy for 6 months or so, but eventually that will level off and we'll be no more happy after that than we were most of the time before the wedding. Some studies suggest that happiness or depression levels, like most things, are largely genetic.

The major study that Haidt cites was composed of people who had won millions of dollars in a lottery, and people who had been in terrible accidents and become paralyzed. It was longitudinal (meaning they followed them for several years) and found that even after winning $20 million in a lottery, most of those winners adjusted their happiness levels accordingly, found a new standard of happiness, and then went on being upset or depressed or just as happy about the same things they were before they won the money. Their lives didn't improve particularly, quantitatively, and there have even been "lottery winner support groups" popping up all over the country by people who have actually had their lives so disrupted that they can't adjust. (Haidt also points out that despite often having their lives uprooted in many ways, none of the lottery winners regretted having won.)

By contrast, most people would say that being in an accident and becoming paralyzed would be the worst thing ever, but again, statistics prove them wrong. After what is often a lengthy adjustment period, most people in this situation reported being no less "happy" than they were before the accident, and some even reported a much greater appreciation and newfound love of life, thus greater levels of happiness. But this also applied only to individuals who considered themselves fairly happy and well-adjusted to begin with before their accidents. Obviously, having a strong social support of friends and/or family played a large part in this.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Feeding the War Machine

A recent blog post by a friend about what is coming to be commonly known as the "healthcare crisis" inspired me to add another chapter to the saga.

Roughly 15 years ago, my older brother (who was 18 at the time) was in a terribly debilitating car accident, was in a coma for 9 weeks, and upon awaking, spent months and months in physical therapy. He had to learn how to do everything again: eat, walk, talk, even sit up straight. After 3 months in rehab at Baylor in Dallas, his total hospital bill topped out at well over $100,000. And that didn't count the weekly rehab he still had to get once he moved back home to Arkansas. Luckily, he was covered on my mother's state insurance (she's a public school teacher) and very little of that actually came out of my parents' pocket. But imagine if one or both of my parents hadn't had good insurance, or my brother hadn't been covered? That would have been the end of my parents. There's no way they could pay that bill without losing everything.

Eventually he's able to work again, but only part-time, and he collects Social Security. Due to only working part-time and being disabled, his only real insurance is Medicare. He could, especially now, work far more than he is, but due to receiving Social Security, he can't make more than a certain amount of money each month, which is basically poverty level. Otherwise he loses his Social Security. And if he loses his Social Security, he loses his Medicare, his only form of insurance.

Somewhere along the way, he contracts HIV. (We won't even go into how his brain injury impairs judgment and inhibits control of impulsive behavior; that's another post, or a book). For years he's fine, but at the beginning of 2005 (or 2006, I'm not sure), he sees a spike in viral loads, and his T-Cells drop. Which means it's time for the dreaded "cocktail." Luckily, the cocktail works, with little to no side effects, which is rare, but all the drugs combined cost over $3,000 a month, which, with a small co-pay, is covered by Medicare.

Well, about 6 months after he starts on the cocktail, he receives a letter from Social Security informing him that he's been being overpaid because he makes too much money, and he now owes them $30,000 in back payments. End of payments to the brother; now he owes them.

2 weeks later he receives another letter informing him that he will still get his payments, but they're going to subtract $50 every month to begin reimbursing their $30,000. (Uh, how long you think that'll take? Anybody care to do the math?) Then 2 weeks after that he receives another letter saying he's still going to receive payments but they're going to take $100 out every month to begin reimbursing their $30,000.

Also, because of this, he gets kicked off Medicare. Bye-bye cocktail medicine insurance. Now, in order to pay for those drugs that cost $3,000 a month, it has to come out of somebody's pocket.

Needless to say, my parents are scrambling furiously to try to figure out how this happened, what to do, and how to get him reinstated on Social Security. Clearly, no one seems to be in charge, and their policies for dealing with my brother are changing month to month. Finally my parents start working with a counselor, who tells them to save all of my brother's pay stubs, public transportation receipts (he can't drive due to his injury) and all paperwork pertaining to the HIV meds. She says to send them to her every 6 weeks. So they do. And this works for awhile. She gets him all reinstated, and everything's back to semi-normal.

One day, my father gets a huge package in the mail from Social Security and opens it. It's a package of all the stuff he's been sending this counselor for the past 12 weeks or so, with a note attached from someone else saying, "So and so doesn't work here anymore. What is all this stuff and what am I supposed to do with it?"

And everything started all over again. (For the record, my brother gets his drugs covered again, with co-pays, and after a $4,000 annual premium due up front at the beginning of each year.) But my family has been fighting this for years, and it's still not resolved, and now lawyers are involved (I think it ended up that he's back on SS, but still owes the $30,000, even though all the previous rules were followed). Who knows how long this could continue to drag on, with no small amount of financial and emotional drain.

The biggest problem in all of this to me seems to be a serious lack of oversight. If Social Security and Medicare are both federal agencies, and no one is there to manage them or hold anyone accountable for anything, then how is universal coverage going to work? I have my doubts about universal coverage, despite how badly I want it, and think the citizens of this country deserve it. I also have my suspicions that under a different administration, and were we not in the middle of a ridiculous war that's draining every federal resource there is, this kind of stuff might be handled in a more pragmatic and efficient way.

But also, if the United States had a more formalized version of universal care (and maybe an addendum to this could be a caveat for parents to cover their adult children if the adult children are disabled), then the Social Security wouldn't be so important to my brother, and he could A) work more, and B) probably ultimately be less of a drain on federal dollars (depending on how his federally subsidized insurance coverage would work, and how prescriptions fall into that).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Density Bonuses

Probably not one person reading this blog gives a shit about this at all, but the Austin Contrarian has a nice post up today about why the city should possibly forego density bonuses in the future. It's a discussion.

For those unawares, "density bonuses" are what the city requires for developers to build high-rise buildings downtown (there's been a lot of talk about them recently, obviously). Right now, the legal limit for height is set at, I believe, 8 stories. For anything beyond that, the developer must offer density bonuses, like make a certain percentage of their building middle-income, or donate to a community non-profit, or invest in some kind of something that makes Austin unique, like supporting a musical venue or something. Sounds great, right? It's a win-win for everybody. And it keeps building somewhat regulated and not totally out of control. The Austin Contrarian makes some tentative arguments otherwise. Which are compelling, and have mostly to do with taxes and economics, which I know nothing about, though I find his post very interesting. And informative!

Personally, my favorite condos downtown are the two condos that are old buildings that have been modified. Brazos Place and the Brown Building are the first places I would look if I was looking to invest in downtown. I like the boxy architecture, and the fact that they're not too tall. And the Brown Building is really historical and beautiful. I love its windows.

I guess I must be a renegade....

Today the NYT tackles armpit odor and why it's just yet another in a long list of items that Americans are overly concerned about. Apparently the deodarant market is a $2 billion industry, when in fact, most people, the article claims, would be fine just washing once or twice a day.

As anyone who knows me can attest, I stopped wearing deodorant a long time ago. When I was about 19, actually. I still own some. I've had the same bar of Sure in my bathroom for probably 5 years. If not longer. Occasionally I'll throw it on if I have to be somewhere important, but even then, it's about 2 swipes per pit, max. Bottom line: I hate the way deodorant smells. Even the unscented stuff smells like powder. And quite frankly (and I can't speak for anyone else here) I quite like the way my armpits smell. It makes me feel manly or something. I don't know; but I must prefer to stink a little then to smell like a nursery.

Later on in the article, they do address another reason I hate wearing deodorant:

What’s more, trying to erase our God-given odor might sabotage Cupid.

“There is experimental evidence in humans to suggest that we may have some mating preference for those who have a different immune system then we do,” Dr. Preti said. “The scent caused by underarm bacteria is part of what signals a different immune system.”


For those who managed to avoid underarm products, the idea of using them is anathema. “I never use deodorant,” said Ken Friedman, an owner of the Spotted Pig, a restaurant in the West Village. “I like girls who don’t use anything. They sort of smell like sex.”

I hear ya, brother. This may be too much information (though I think I've mentioned it in here before), but I love armpits on men. It's one of my favorite parts of the body. Unless it's ridiculous and excessive, I love the way they smell, and I love the way they look. Science is proving more and more that pheromones play a leading role in whether or not we're attracted to people (you can't tell me that you can feel animal, lustful magnetism toward someone whose smell doesn't turn you on, no matter how great you might think they are, and I can say for a fact that I've never had good sex with someone whose smell I wasn't attracted to), and hey, if I can excrete a little of those pheromones to turn people on, and they can do the same for me, well, that's a lot of time saved, in my opinion. It's just practical. And let's face it: we're all just animals, right, going around metaphorically (or not) sniffing each other's asses. Am I wrong?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Root Shock

The Housing Act of 1949 was designed to address inner-city “blight,” which was loosely defined as any building or neighborhood that had lost its “sparkle,” or, more pragmatically, its profit margin. It was developed post-WW II specifically to initiate “progress” in the cities, and switching from the economy of war to a more productive economy.

Once the blighted land was identified, the areas (neighborhoods) could be seized by the government due to imminent domain and, thanks to federal subsidies, sold to commercial developers at a fraction of what it was worth. And the people who lived there? Well, they were compensated mildly and sent on their way. If you haven’t yet figured it out, the people this most affected were poor black people. By June of 1967, less than twenty years after “Urban Renewal” had become the modus operandi of American cities, over 400,000 low-and-middle income residential units had been demolished to make way for office buildings and cultural institutions, while only 10,760 low-rent housing units had been built to replace them.

This is the very issue that Mindy Thompson Fullilove, M.D. addresses in her book, Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It. She traces the people and neighborhoods, and subsequent destruction and displacement due to urban renewal, in 3 American cities: Pittsburgh; Roanoke, Virginia; and Newark, New Jersey. According to the National Commission on Civil Disorders, a “seminal work on segregation in the United States,” inadequate housing was the number three grievance among people surveyed in 15 cities in the 1960’s, the United States’ most active decade for rioting and civil unrest.

Many factors that you see today that contribute to the sprawl and dismemberment among cities can be attributed to urban renewal. In an attempt to shield the wealthy whites of the city from the poor blacks, housing projects were often physically separated from the rest of the city by massive highways, or sometimes, literally even walls. More often than not, however, whole neighborhoods (sometimes referred to as slums) were simply bulldozed to make way for nicer, “whiter” homes, office parks, arenas, universities, museums, or simply left as empty, vacant land. Blocks were taken out to run highways right through the center of cities. Pittsburgh, for instance, destroyed an entire thriving city-within-a-city called the Lower Hill, right next to downtown to construct the civic arena and three connecting highways, thusly not only driving out all the blacks, but contributing to a crumbling and disconnected infrastructure for the wealthier white people as well. In addition, most of the inclines (Pittsburgh's main mode of public transportation at that time) were all deliberately ripped out to inhibit the passage from the "lower" neighborhoods (the inner city black ones) to the "upper" neighborhoods (the white ones on top of the many hills surrounding Pittsburgh). Thus ensuring that a car culture would inevitably take route, encourage even more "white flight," and thus rip out the beating heart of the city.

While most people would look at these neighborhoods as poor substitutes for a healthy urban environment, in speaking with the residents themselves who were uprooted by this process, Dr. Fullilove finds a heavy emotional toll. They weren’t perfect neighborhoods, to be sure, but the neighborhoods belonged to these people, from the crumbling houses, to the jazz clubs, to the restaurants and markets, they were largely self-contained and black-owned. People spoke of true community, where you knew every single person within a 4-block radius; if someone was sick, their neighbors took care of them; everyone’s children played together, stayed in the neighborhood (where else would they go?) and were watched over (and disciplined) by every adult. If unemployment struck someone, the neighbors and family pitched in to help until the person got back on their feet, and all the businesses catered to the blacks: their family, friends, and neighbors. In other words, it was cohesive, and it was a system that worked, gave people a sense of efficacy and belonging, and provided a valuable social safety net at a time when black people had very little going for them in American society.

Contributing even further to this disconnect was the slow flight of production from cities to the suburbs. Once the people from the inner cities were gone, the factories and blue collar jobs also moved further out, or closed their doors altogether. Thus, the displaced now not only had to abandon their homes and neighborhoods, they lost their jobs. (And forget about all those black-owned businesses ever reopening in new, often more affluent neighborhoods.)

Dr. Fullilove spends considerable time getting to these uprooted people, including a black, gay, HIV-positive, slightly scizophrenic homeless man, who grew up in dire poverty and sexual abuse at the hands of his family, but survived only through the care of his Philadelphia neighborhood and neighbors and community institutions. Dr. Fullilove revisits the site of his old densely crowded neighborhood, which was demolished years ago to make room for empty space and a Hertz rental car facility ("where it Hertz to rent a car," the man jokes).

It is a book of despair, but also of hope, with Dr. Fullilove having spent years and years of her life studying the psychology of displacement and uprooted urbanism. She currently leads community projects, workshops, therapeutic conferences, and meets regularly with city council and other governmental leaders in various cities across America. She offers a specific and goal-oriented program on ways to avoid these further catastrophes and help rebuild and restore the hearts and souls of America's cities: their neighborhoods.

Gaymongering (or should that be AntiGaymongering) no longer makes the cut in Kentucky

Robotic phone calls (some of which were voiced by Pat Boone!!) called Kentucky constituents this past week in the run-up to the election for governor, with the incumbent, conservative Governor Ernie Fletcher far behind his more liberal-leaning Democratic opponent, Steve Beshear. The calls seemed to be a last-ditch effort to smear Beshear by using some previously tried and true scare tactics of the Republican party: the Gay Card. The calls accused Beshear of receiving major support from out of state gay activists and of supporting gay marriage and anti-discrimination laws.

Though he denies having had anything to do with the phone calls, incumbent Fletcher accused Beshear of having "San Francisco values" and linking him to the "homosexual lobby."

Nevertheless, yesterday the voters spoke and Beshear unseated the incumbent in a "landslide," taking 60% of the vote.

The election was clearly a repudiation of Fletcher, who was seriously damaged by a scandal over his administration's hiring abuses in the state merit system. Fletcher refused to testify before a grand jury, was indicted on three misdemeanor counts -- later dismissed -- and pardoned those around him who had been charged.

"The people of Kentucky have spoken, and they turned the reins of the government over to us," Beshear -- surrounded by his wife, Jane, and the rest of his family -- told a roaring crowd at the Farnham Dudgeon Civic Center in Frankfort last night.

Beshear said his dream is for a time when all children will have health insurance and senior citizens won't have to choose between food and prescription drugs.

"My friends, that time is here and that time is now," he said.

It's enough to make a christian nostalgic for the glory days of 2004.

As if you needed yet another reason not to vote Republican....

It must feel good to be in bed with these people. It's sick that this is seen as a boost to Giuliani instead of yet another strike against the lunatic.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Hillary's environmental plan

David, over at Gristmill, an environmental blog I recently discovered, has a rundown of H. Clinton's recently unleashed environmental agenda. Some of it I don't really understand (can anyone adequately explain environmental "credits" to me, and what all of that means?), and some of it I was just as agog as David and several commenters seem to be.

Like, the continued use of coal, though the whole CCS thing I don't quite get, either. Also, her use of the phrase "foreign oil." I, like several other people reading, don't understand why people keep saying this. Obviously it's a nod to not being so enmeshed in so many Middle Eastern countries for our oil dependence, but does that mean we have to destroy our own in the process? What about moving away from oil entirely? I honestly don't believe deep in my soul that we could send people to the moon 40 years ago, but we still haven't come up with an adequate substitute for fuel. Partly it's our lifestyle, and Hillary's $1 billion subsidy for the formation of more public transportation doesn't bode well for her commitment to weaning America off of its deadly addiction to cars and airplanes. It's cultural, and I'm not sure there is a solution at all, until it all just runs out, and everybody is then totally fucked. Which will then make everyone at the complete mercy of the "market," and only the very, very privileged will be able to travel within, and especially out of, their city.

Urban density is nice, but without adequate and reliable public transportation what does it accomplish? Nothing. It simply turns downtown into an exclusive neighborhood that people still drive out of to go to work in the suburbs. Instead of the other way around. And why is no one building electric bullet trains in the United States that have been prominent in Japan for years? And why aren't more politicians (and corporations) investing in subsidizing local farmers so that more people are able to buy meat, dairy and produce locally instead of having it shipped in? Because they throw all the farm subsidies at corn, which is why every god damn thing in the world has high fructose corn syrup in it. It's been proven that cars and the beef industry are the two biggest polluters that exist. Subsidizing energy efficency is great, but what about the lifestyle itself? This isn't something you ever really see politicans address, and maybe it's for more than lobbyist reasons. Maybe because it's unfixable. Maybe because people's use of public transportation and consumption of food only produced within 100 miles of where they live are issues that can only be addressed by the market. You can't force people to ride the bus (such as it is, with homeless people fighting next to you, not once, but twice in one day) or buy locally produced, and family-farm-grown, milk and meat.

I know, baby steps. And this is the United States. People don't change until it affects their wallets. And at this point maybe we're so far gone that it will take a major catastrophe (or multiple major catastrophes on the scale of Katrina) before people, as a whole, respond.

Thoughts, anyone? Am I a raving lunatic or is any of this making sense?

I'm drunk.

Monday, November 05, 2007

You're a star in nobody's eyes but mine

I think it's starting to finally pass a bit now, but for the last 2 or 3 weeks I've just been feeling really deflated, burned out, exhausted. I've been skipping class, not doing homework that I should be doing, getting behind, spending long periods of time staring off into space, always just wanting to sleep. It's not that I've been depressed, exactly, just sort of listless and unmotivated I guess. I guess I have a pretty bad case of senior-itis. Which is maybe sort of funny, but despite going to Mexico last year, and spending last summer at summer camp, I've been in school for two solid years without a break. Because Mexico and camp were both school-related (especially Mexico), and I still had grades and homework to worry about, even if I was having a good time.

Yesterday, though, I got to register for my last semester!! I think it's gonna be a breeze, too, and I have a nice schedule. For starters, I only have 4 classes, and I've had 5 every semester thus far, so that alone will feel like a vacation. Also, one of those classes is a brand new psychology elective, with only 20 openings, and only open to upper-classmen, called Human Sexuality, taught by one of my two favorite professors. It's been her pet project for awhile now, I guess, and they finally gave her one section next semester to teach it. So I'm looking forward to that.

As for everything else, maybe I'm just not getting enough sleep. My job is wearing on me big-time and I'm really not sure how much longer I can do it. Not to sound so much like a pansy, but the people (customers) make it all so unpleasant. I just don't understand why people have to be so abusive when they buy groceries. And I'm dreading the wretched holidays even more this year than I normally do. I wish we could cancel Christmas this year.

I'm going to Arkansas this weekend to see my folks and nephew and brothers, and some fall foliage. I'm really, really looking forward to it. I think this is the first time since I lived in Dallas that I actually asked my parents to fly me home, instead of them suggesting it. I need to be pampered by my mom for a couple days, and I need to see my nephew get real excited and shout "Uncle Ryan!" and run up and grab my legs when I walk in the room.

And maybe I can manage to not have to think about school all weekend. Oh, wait, no, I have a Neuroscience test next Tuesday I'll have to study for over the weekend.


Oh well.

Friday, November 02, 2007

and nowhere shines but desolate

Immediately after watching Suddenly, Last Summer on Monday, I was struck by the amount of vitriolic hatred it seemed to espouse toward homosexuals, and that I didn't think I'd ever seen such a gratuitous manifestation of the gay man as sexual predator in any film before, ever. Which I found particularly interesting, seeing as how it was based on a stage play by Tennessee Williams, and the screenplay was written by Gore vidal (both of whom, as everyone knows, are very Famous Homosexuals). Another interesting piece of trivia that I wasn't aware of was that Montgomery Clift, who plays the doctor, was also gay, and was apparently treated very badly by the director for this reason.

Despite my 5-star rating on Netflix, because it was so much fun to watch and marvel at, I kind of consider it a film beyond rating, or even beyond criticism. Not because it's so transcendantly good, or stands out as some kind of untouchable artifact from its era, but simply because it's so god-awful. The movie is essentially a geek show, an unbelievably overwrought 2-hour shriek from the very depths of Williams' twisted and tortured psyche, a piece of work rumored to have been written as therapy for himself, which means it probably should have stayed hidden somewhere, locked away in a box.

I am being a little unfair, since I've neither seen nor read the play, which is apparently just 2 long monologues, and it might be quite different. Vidal claims in Vito Russell's The Celluloid Closet that the studios made the screenwriter drop every overt reference to homosexuality in the script, and made the director turn the homosexual himself into a faceless, voiceless shadow (if you've seen the film, you know what I'm talking about). This dehumanizing element of the film is probably most responsible for turning it into the unsettling creepshow that it is.

Over the last few days, though, I've come to start thinking of the film a little differently. (I also can't help but wonder how differently it would have turned out had the studios not imposed such strict censorship.) The film, I think, is basically about a man who is literally consumed by his own unquenchable desires, but rather than blaming the victim (which I did after viewing the film, and which I think is an inherent psychological factor the film exploits) perhaps it could be taken as a parable of what repression can do to a person. Taken less literally and more of a metaphor might be a more balanced interpretation, but nevertheless, the histrionics and melodrama pretty much kill any kind of serious reading of the film. Whether this was simply a product of 1950's movie-making, where lots of shouting and over-emoting was kind of the order of the day, or a deeper symptom of pervasive homophobia and mysogyny is impossible for me to discern.

Nuance and subtlety are not hallmarks of any of Tennessee Williams' plays (at least in the film versions), but they do all contain deeper and more interesting undercurrents than does Suddenly, Last Summer at first glance. A Streetcar Named Desire has a real broken heart at its center (or, more appropriately, 3 broken hearts), and Paul Newman showed incredible depth in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as a man completely broken, both physically and emotionally, on the verge of total collapse. Despite the hysterics and shouting. Suddenly, Last Summer comes off more like a right-winger's fantasy of the moral deprivation of gay men and their lustful, predatory nature. But all the Freudian elements are there for display if one cares to look, and judging by the rash of today's headlines, it doesn't seem too off the mark to concede that perhaps Williams was really onto something in this one. Grotesque though it may be.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Horizon lawsuit continued

Apparently, the lawsuit against Horizon's parent company, Dean foods, has been dropped by the USDA. Despite Cornucopia's claims to Dean Foods' "14 willful violations" of organic standards, the USDA continued to let them operate, and has dropped investigations in response to Coruncopia's 2006 filing.

Some blame powerful friends in Washington, which wouldn't surprise me at all, but I also thought this paragraph was very telling:

“It must pay to have powerful friends in Washington, DC!,” said Dave Minar, a long-time organic dairyman milking 150 cows near New Prague, Minnesota. “The USDA has ignored well-documented concerns about the propriety of these factory-farms for years, allowing large corporate agribusiness to take over a majority of the organic dairy business. This places ethical families like mine at a distinct competitive disadvantage.”

It makes one wonder (well, at least it makes me wonder) if perhaps some of this wasn't overblown a little due to an anti-corporation agenda. Which, if it is the case, isn't the worst kind of agenda to have, to be sure. Nevertheless, if Cornucopia is fudging the truth to make the ends justify the means, I have a problem with that.

On the other hand, I have absolutely no doubt that the Aurora farms were in violation of organic standards, and if they've lost significant market share over this, well, I'm not gonna sit around crying for them.

Either way, the whole deal is pretty shady if you ask me, and I'll stick to my Central Market and Organic Valley products. I never really buy Horizon stuff anyway, but I'll definitely be sure not to now. And I did find out that the farm that bottles Central Market's Organics brand milk is a family farm east of San Antonio.

Which made me happy. But I do plan to put in a call to Central Market's procurement office tomorrow to ask if they're aware of all of this Horizon business. If you're interested in calling them yourself, the number is 512.421.1085.

Is it possible for a building to be gay?

Buenos Aires gets its first five-star, all-gay hotel, Hotel Axel. Naturally, it's ultra-modern, sleek, with sound-proof rooms and bowls of condoms. There already is one in Barcelona. And just in case you're wondering, they're "heterofriendly."

I was wondering when these were going to start being built in the states, and then I remembered, oh yeah, there are all kinds of gay resorts that already exist, in places like Key West and Palm Springs. Probably not five-star resorts, though.

Eli Roth has got nothing on these guys

TomDrew has a link today to a Salon post I missed about waterboarding and the United States' use of torture. If this video doesn't alternately enrage and depress the hell out of you (or at the very least, frighten you), then you care nothing for democracy or morality. Or you're just an idiot who doesn't get it.

I'm gonna go read some Freud now.

Maybe they'll put pretty lights on the wall between Mexico and Texas too

Today in Berlin, a reminder of the past, and possibly the future, goes on display.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New Texico

It seems that more and more in our global, idea-driven, technological economy, cities that are nearby each other are relying on each other more and more not just to grow and help one another's economies, but sometimes to survive.

The NYT on Sunday had an interesting article on the area of El Paso/Juarez, and how it is becoming more and more common for people to have a dual Mexican/United States citizenship and live in one city but commute to the other. The tightening of national security laws, though, in the name of terrorism, are threatening to not only disrupt this way of life that has benefitted so many people (and a whole city), but destroy it.

Even as border security has become a political hot potato, El Paso and Juárez remain very much connected. Just several blocks south from downtown El Paso is the bridge that empties into Avenida Juárez, a main thoroughfare.

The populations have grown in both cities as well, spurred largely by the rising number of international companies that have moved to Juárez to take advantage of the proximity to the American consumer market and cheap Mexican labor.

While Juárez is generally still a poor city, housing options have improved as the Mexican middle class has grown. Where there used to be only cheap or very high-end housing, now there are more American-style subdivisions and gated communities, brokers say, and the prices are comparable to similar homes in El Paso.

Home prices have also remained stable in Juárez. “We have a lot of activity,” said Jesús Otero, a principal owner of Century 21 Otero, referring to home sales. He also noted that demand was especially strong for Mexicans who own businesses in El Paso and live in Juárez.

But for dual citizens like Ms. Giner, which side of the border she lives on is a matter of personal choice. “Crossing the border is a normal part of life for us,” she said. “I want my kids to be bilingual and bicultural. It’s important for me that they know the Mexican holidays and culture, not just the language.” Her daughters Cassandra, 9, and Isabella, 4, go to a private Catholic school in Juárez while her youngest daughter, Sofia, 2, who has a rare genetic disorder, receives special care in El Paso.

It'll be interesting to see how terrorism and more vigilante immigration laws are going to start affecting this stuff, not just on the Texas-United States border, but on the United States-Canadian border as well. I'm not really sure what a proper terrorism response should be, but turning the United States into an isolationist country won't do anybody any favors.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Giving up the ghost....

If Huckabee is gaining, and Clinton holds the top spot, I guess that bodes both ill and good, depending on where you stand. (As in, the Republicans are clearly breaking up, but Hillary is still leading, and that's kind of terrifying.)

Sadly, Edwards has slipped to 20%. Is an Obama-Edwards ticket possible at this point? I was really still holding out hope for Edwards in Iowa. Ah well. As long as Obama gets it over Clinton, I'll still be happy. If it goes to Hillary, it's going to be full-on crisis mode for me. You think I was disillusioned when Bush was elected a second time (well, okay, a first time), wait till Hillary becomes President....

Sunday, October 28, 2007

If you were a book

Saturday night, while having gelato with Tom, Dylan, and George, somehow we got into a fairly prolonged and analytical conversation about what book we would be if we were to be a book. We alternated between specific books and authors, but we came to few conclusions. Some of the conclusions we did come to, however, were:

- We couldn't pick what we would be for ourselves; the others had to pick it;

- George would probably be a Henry Miller novel, which he was okay with at first, but then got mad when we chided him about being a mysogynist. Because George is not a mysogynist. Nor is he a homophobe (*wink*). But really George wanted to be a Superman comic;

- I think I was the only person who was truly satisfied with what book I would be. After a lot of careful consideration, Dylan said he thought I could be a Phillip Roth novel. Which made me quite happy;

- Absolutely no one wants to be a Phillip K. Dick novel, nor does anyone want to meet anyone that is a Phillip K. Dick novel;

- I came to the conclusion that what I really wanted to be (second to Phillip Roth) was a Flannery 'O Connor novel;

- At first we thought maybe Tom could be On the Road, but then we decided that was totally boring and generic;

- which did lead us to decide that maybe he could be a Truman Capote book;

- We decided Kurt was a J.R.R. Tolkien novel (even though he wasn't there to contribute/defend himself);

- Dylan is probably a Sartre book (of course!), but possibly Camus as well, even though Dylan doesn't kill people;

- Tom is not poor or Southern enough to be a William Faulkner book (and that if you like Toni Morrison, as I do, then you have to like William Faulkner, though I've never read a single word of a William Faulkner novel);

- I'm not black, or poor, or Southern enough to be a Toni Morrison novel. Nor do I particularly want to be Toni Morrison novel.

Not to sound like a pompous intellectual, but I love that I have friends with whom I can have a lively, in-depth, 30-minute conversation about what books we would be.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Horizon Milk being sued

It's sort of pathetic that I work where I do and it took a customer to bring this to my attention. We get a lot of ranting weirdos in there (my favorite so far is the customer that tried to convince me last fall that the spinach recall was a conspiracy by the government to get people to stop eating organic produce), so I kind of blew the lady off when she wanted to speak to someone to find out "why you're still selling Horizon products!"

Since I was at the information desk, I had internet access, so I started digging around, investigating the ladie's accusations. Turns out, it's true. Aurora Dairy Corporation, which provides Horizon with its milk, is being hit with allegations of "fraud, negligence, and unjust enrichment concerning the sale of organic milk by the company."

Independent investigators at the USDA concluded earlier this year that Aurora--with five dairy facilities in Colorado and Texas, each milking thousands of cows--had 14 "willful" organic violations. One of the most egregious findings was that from December 5, 2003, to April 16, 2007, the Aurora "labeled and represented milk as organically produced, when such milk was not produced and handled in accordance with the National Organic Program regulations."

They have also been accused of exploiting and jeopardizing the livelihood of small family farms by taking advantage of the premium prices consumers are willing to pay for organic prices, while not actually offering organic products.

I've always heard that if you don't buy anything else organic, you should buy your milk organic, because the dairy industry is one of the dirtiest and most insidious. You can get ratings on all kinds of companies at the Cornucopia Institute, which also has a link to another article about Horizon, and gives them the lowest rating possible. I really enjoy Organic Valley, because they're a co-op, and everything is grown locally (how fucking stupid is it to grow organic milk in Colorado or Texas and ship it to Maine or Washington?? For instance.) However, their products also always seem to go bad a good 2 or 3 days before the expiration date, and their stuff ain't cheap. Which annoys me. My favorite milk is probably the Central Market organic brand. I actually never buy Horizon to begin with. I used to a long time ago, but stopped because I just didn't think it tasted that good. I think the Central Market tastes the best of all the milk I've had, including the Whole Foods brand. However, I have no idea where it comes from, and seeing as how Aurora has a farm in Texas, it's possible it comes from them. I need to find out, though I desperately hope not. Maybe it will come from the Organic Valley farmers, and then I'll be in a win-win!