Sunday, September 30, 2007


As anyone who's talked to me at all in the last 6-9 months (or followed this blog pretty closely) knows, I've kind of become obssessed with urban planning. In fact, this time 2 years ago, before I decided definitively to go back to school for psychology, I briefly considered (very briefly) looking into some kind of degree having something to do with urban planning or engineering. Obviously, just because I'm interested in something doesn't mean its my forte, or what I'm good at, but even figuring out a way to apply my psychology (and theoretical doctorate) to urban planning would be exciting (the Psychology of Urban Density? - I think that's already been done, and quite well, but maybe teaching a college course around that book might be really cool).

Anyway, I digress. I've been very closely following Austin's "urban density" craze the last year or so, and while I have no real context with which to judge it, it seems like, for the most part, they're trying to be fairly smart about it (though not pursuing an aggressive public transportation initiative makes me furious, but I guess that's to be expected in a city where people think they're progressive just because they shop at Whole Foods, even though they drive SUV's and live in the suburbs). I got into an argument about this once with someone at the hospice (a volunteer there) who was a fairly elderly man who had just purchased a condo in the new Spring Condominiums that just broke ground (and killed an incredible art space next to the railroad tracks, just BTW), who said that Austin was actually modeling its urban plan after Vancouver's, who went through (and is still going through) tremendous growth in the 60's, I believe. Their physical space is limited by ocean and mountains, but they adopted a strictly vertical plan to do away with sprawl, with tons and tons of provisions, including low-income family housing (which is my second biggest gripe against Austin's plan, and why I think it'll never work in the way they claim it will). But Vancouver has been so successful, its designer regularly travels all over the country giving presentations to city planners about the best ways in which they can accomplish the same things. Portland is often cited as being the North American city that has most successfully implemented anti-sprawl measures set forth by Vancouver, and the two cities have even started competing with one another to "out-denisfy" the other, with Portland most notably building whole neighborhoods out of delapidated industrial areas and connecting all of them with sky pods, making each neighborhood no more than a 15-minute ride away from any other neighborhood. (How fucking cool is that??!?!)

Portland's ariel tram!

Anyway, very long story short, I was doing some Googling tonight, researching what Vancouver has done, and how they did it, and what the results have been, and I came across what is to me, a totally fascinating blog called All About Cities, written by a young professional woman living in Vancouver who loves the "economy, society, communities, people, businesses, organizations, infrastructure, civil society and government of cities." And it's a great little blog. Really smart, fascinating stuff (her latest entry on immigration in Detroit is interesting). Anyway, from her blog, I found another seemingly cool one (though not nearly as frequently updated) written by a guy right here in Austin, with much of the same focus. It's called The Austin Contrarian.

Crowded Vancouver waterfront.

And starting Wednesday, I really am gonna start riding the bus to school. I picked Wednesday kind of arbitrarily (I had my reasons, but they're both complex and dumb, so I won't get into them), but it needs to happen. That commute everyday is ridiculous, my car is getting old, I hate traffic, and according to Cap Metro, the ride is only about 30 minutes. That's only marginally longer than it takes me to drive it. And on the bus I can read.

Amen to that!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Tim Hardaway: Gay advocate?

I'm sure everyone remembers Tim "I hate gay people" Hardaway, who thoughtlessly uttered these 4 words after pro basketball player Don Amechi (sp?) came out of the closet. He said that in response to a question about how he would feel about having other gay players on his team. Obviously, he caught a lot of flack.

Turns out, the flack actually did some good. In an effort to uncover and get to the root of his own discomfort with gays, Hardaway started volunteering with the YES Institute in South Florida, which is a non-profit group working to end suicide, and create acceptance, among gay, lesbian and transgender youth.

Says Hardaway, "I just wanted to go in and get educated, that's all. Get educated on what I said and why I said those things,'' Hardaway said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press. "I'm working on understanding it now. I'm not really trying to make amends. I've been there trying to get help.''

Hardaway has declined many interview requests in recent months, saying he didn't want to make his work with advocacy groups seem like a publicity stunt or a quick-fix to an image problem.

"I had no idea how much I hurt people...A lot of people.''

This strikes me as totally sincere, and the actions of someone who actually has a tremendous amount of empathy, who was just ignorant and afraid. Paradoxically, I think it takes a person who's pretty secure with themself and open to new ideas to do this. Nobody's perfect, and if it takes getting beaten up publically for someone to finally step back and realize that their opinions might be ignorant and hurtful, so be it.

However, sometimes I have to concede that I'm also wrong about some things. Including the video last week of San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders tearfully admitting that he was wrong about civil unions and that gay people deserved all the rights and responsibilities of marriage just like everyone else. I got into an argument with a friend last weekend about this video. He was very moved by it; I was not so moved by it. Like the Hardaway thing, it also seemed very sincere and real to me, but my reasoning was, "Wow, the guy finally realized that gay people are actually real, and their relationships are just as valid as straight people's. Why should we give him a medal for that?" I thought, well, he finally came around to thinking what is correct, so who cares. Good for him.

Then when I heard about Hardaway today, and got a little choked up, it occurred to me that these situations are quite similar, and why did I have an immediate emotional reaction to one, but felt sort of resentful toward the other, when basically, it's the same thing? Well, I did a lot of thinking about it, and came to a couple of conclusions.

1. Hardaway is a basketball player whose actions are ultimately pretty inconsequential. Jerry Sanders is a politician who affects public policy. In the past, he's used his position as a public "servant" to authorize discrimination. In my opinion, personal morality should never determine public policy on a legal basis. Which is what I find so infuriating about the anti-gay marriage crowd. Their arguments are based entirely on religious "morality" and the "ick factor." Not one of them, ever, in the history of this debate, has been able to offer a viable legal, or constitutional, reason, why gay marriage shouldn't be legal. Yet they all claim to believe in democracy and freedom. Bullshit. If they truly believed in democracy, they would swallow their personal beliefs in favor of doing what is legally correct, despite how they actually feel about it. That is the very definition of the separation of church and state. Don't believe in gay marriage? Fine. Don't go to a church that sanctions it. But you can't argue that there is a single legal defense against it. You just can't.

2. For the mayor of San Diego, it took his daughter being a lesbian to finally change his mind about gay marriage. Which is great; at least he changed his mind, thank Jeebus for that. But what if his daughter hadn't been gay? Would he still be able to turn a blind eye to discrimination and not have to feel any empathy, or see the fallacy of his legal reasoning? Who knows. And the same argument could go for Hardaway. It took getting kind of publically crucified for him to change his mind. But nevertheless, nothing was really at stake for him. He changed (at least seemingly) because he was simply internally troubled by his own stance. He could have just said, "Fuck all ya'll, I can hate gay people all I want to." And he probably did at first. But something inside of him knew that was wrong, and on his own volition, with nothing to gain (not even a daughter's love), he sought out an answer.

3. At least Hardaway was honest in his bigotry. Sanders claimed to believe that gay people were just like everybody else, and deserved equal rights, yet he denied equal rights to them. Purely because of the "ick factor." (Or political prosperity.) It's totally hypocritical. I'm always more willing to respect positions that are at least honest in their ignorance and bigotry than in positions that are bigoted, but still claim to not be. It's trying to have things two ways, and it's either dishonest, or whoever holds the opinion (such as having no problem with gays, but being opposed to gay marriage) is remarkably unself-aware.

I know I'm kind of arguing silly semantics here, and ultimately, both men did, and are doing, the right thing. And I'm glad for that. But the whole Sanders thing still kind of bugs me.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Last night I had a dream that someone shot me in the head.... my Grandma's front yard, no less. I won't say who, because it was someone I know (and no, it wasn't my Grandma), but they were chasing me, and I knew if they found me that they were going to do unspeakable things to me (I think in the dream I knew why, but now I have no idea). Well, they jumped out from behind a tree and tackled me. I didn't know what they had in mind, so I said, "I'd rather be dead than....something something something." (I don't remember what I said.) So this person said, "All right." Then shot me right in the temple.

I felt the bullet go in; it was incredibly hot, like a poker being shoved into my brain, and I panicked, and I was furious, but only for a second. Then everything was black, and I was on the ground, and I could literally feel the life flowing out of me onto the grass. The only way I can describe how it felt was if you had visible black dots all over your body, and they slowly ran off your skin, leaving it white and empty. This actually felt strangely good, like climbing into crisp, cool sheets on your bed on a hot summer night. Then I just...went to sleep. I remember feeling relieved in the dream, thinking, God, I'll never see so-and-so again (I actually thought about one person), then thinking, "Oh well, this feels fantastic." Then nothing.

After that, I could see my body on the ground, and my corpse was smiling, and, (God, I hate typing this, because it's the most cliched thing ever) I did feel peaceful beyond words. I didn't even feel ill will towards the person who had shot me, who, by the way, was just sitting there, on their knees, staring at my body.

Then I woke up. I didn't wake up with a start, or feel freaked out or anything. I just felt perplexed, and I've been thinking about this dream the entire day.
You know how they always say that if you die in your dreams, you die in real life, and that's why you always wake up before you hit the ground, someone pulls the trigger, whatever? Well, clearly that's not the case. I feel like last night was probably a fairly reasonable fascimilie of what dying is really like. Carl Jung, in fact, who was a pioneer in the psychological study of dreaming, said that dying in dreams is often very pleasant, and people sometimes find themselves disappointed when they wake up.

What I will say is that my allergies have been killing me the last couple of weeks, and today has been the worst day so far. My head has felt like it's about to explode all day, and last night I had a lot of trouble going to sleep because I couldn't breathe and felt so awful, and my throat was sore and scratchy. Maybe those things are connected, who knows?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sometimes bigger is better

In chapter 3 of The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt (who has an interesting web site), he talks about the solely human virtue of reciprocity and why it's an evolutionary advantage. He begins by talking about how the law of ultrasociality - living in large cooperative societies in which hundreds or thousands of individuals reap the benefits of an extensive division of labor - has evolved at least 4 times in the animal kingdom: among "hymenoptera" (ants, bees and wasps), among termites, naked mole rats, and among humans. What may seem counterintuitive to the concept of "survival of the fittest" actually makes a lot of sense if you consider the risks. The only way for a species to continue to survive, reproduce and evolve, if you will, is to leave surviving copies of their genes. Which means making sure that everyone carrying a copy of your genes not only survives but prospers. That means siblings (which share 50% of your genes), as well as your children. Nephews and nieces carry a quarter of your genes and your cousins one-eighth. So, obviously, on those terms, reciprocity would play a vital role in the continuation of the species.

Haidt goes on to explain, though, how this concept only really works in manageable groups of a few dozen, or perhaps a hundred. Beyond that, you've moved too far out of the gene pool to risk your own genes to help. Human brains, apparently, have evolved to live in groups of roughly 150 other people. Beyond that, the number is too large to be manageable or beneficial. And this is where size comes in. Brain size that is. Humans have the largest social circle of all social animals. Chimpanzees, our closest ancestors, live in groups of around 30 and spend "emormous amounts of time grooming each other." According to what scientists have deduced from the human brain size (which Haidt explains, but it's complicated and would take up too much time, so just take my word for it that he offers the science), it's capable of roughly the 150 number. Which, when further research into city dwellers' social lives investigated, is the approximate number of friends and acquaintances that the average urbanite claims (or can know directly, by name and face, and how everyone is related to everyone else). Obviously, humans can't spend all their time grooming 150 other people in their social circles, and this, hypothesizes Haidt, is where language came in; as a replacement for physical grooming. Which I would also love to get into, and why gossip, Haidt argues, is also an evolutionary act, which he spends the next part of the chapter getting into.

I don't know, maybe this stuff is totally apparent to everyone else, but when I start reading this evolution stuff, I just find it utterly fascinating. It's not something I've given a lot of thought to in the past, and maybe there's some deep, dark recess of my psyche that doesn't believe it, so when I read about bold-faced evidence of not only how humans evolved, but why, it kind of blows my mind.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"The biggest middle finger in the world."

A sort of interesting article about George H. W. Bush's pool boy at the Bush's Maine compound.

Granted, the stakes are high at that level. Razsa recalls one day when former first lady Barbara Bush was on her way over, and it looked like there wouldn't be time to bring the pool's temperature up to her desired 82 degrees in time. The family's caretaker was in a panic, he says.

"He kept shouting, 'Barbara will go crazy! Barbara will go crazy!'" Razsa recalls. "This is the same woman who after Hurricane Katrina said (of the Houston Astrodome refugees), 'You know, they're underprivileged anyway, so this -- this is working very well for them.'"

That woman defines class. I really think she must be one of the worst people in the world.

Monday, September 24, 2007

There are no homosexuals in Iran.

At least not according to President Ahmadinejad. Maybe that's because, as Andy at Towelroad also points out, they just "get rid of them."

I'm all for free speech, and even a little provocative anti-Americanism speeches at some universities once in awhile, just to keep people on their toes, but seriously, what the fuck was Columbia thinking?

**UPDATE: All of this makes a little more sense to me now after having viewed Columbia's President's "introduction" yesterday. I'd only heard antecdotes about it yesterday, but not heard the whole thing.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

More freaking bags......

Stacy sent along this nice link to me to today regarding a group of Austinite's efforts to ban plastic bags in our city, and further educate consumers about the wastefulness of all disposable bags, and urge the use of cloth and compostable bags.

Ironically, at the time of the press conference on Monday, I'm going to be at work, so I can't go. Dammit. I'm still all in favor, actually, of keeping paper bags (or maybe both) and just slapping a huge tax on them. But that'll probably never happen. Anyway, it's a nice step in the right direction.

Actually, no, I take that back. I don't think either of them should exist at all. If you come to the store without bags, too bad. Looks like you're stuck carrying it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Rogers, Arkansas in the Fall

To say that central Texas has an autumn would be to seriously stretch the limits on what is considered "autumn." But it's that time of year: the only time of year I ever get homesick for Arkansas, the Ozarks, the Boston Mountains in October. It's around this time that the leaves begin turning, the temperature starts dropping (especially at night, and sometimes, but rarely, it even snows in October), and there's just that indescribable smell in the air. The smell of impending cold, the smell of dead leaves, and late in October/November, you start smelling burning leaves all the time; it's a smell I'll never ever forget, as long as I live. Burning and dead leaves, probably, is the smell of autumn to me.

It's that time of year that always signaled a change (all the time growing up, it's associated with going back to school and starting a new year), and even having lived a Fall-free life in Texas for 11 years now, my body always starts feeling different this time of year. It's ingrained. Growing up with 4 very distinct seasons, your body learns certain rhythms and patterns that I don't think it ever lets go of. I get very nostalgic this time of year, very bittersweet. I get incredibly happy, but in a sad, wistful kind of way. It's hard to make me angry in the fall when I'm surrounded by the luscious, unbeatable beauty of the turned trees, with just about every variation of every "earth" color you can think of, covering the treeline, covering the ground, the air so crisp and fresh, the smell of smoke from bonfires and piles of raked leaves always in the air. Even now, in Texas, I can still feel it sometimes if I stand real still, or wait until the sun goes down and stand on my front porch and imagine that I can smell the trees, or that it's going to be cold when I wake up in the morning, but warm by afternoon.

The War Eagle Mill I need it again, and I need it bad. I need to be able to feel the time passing, not just know it intellectually. That's the best thing about seasons. Your year is divided up into 4 distinct quadrants, each with their own gifts and drawbacks (except Fall; there is no drawback to Fall. It's perfect), but you know that the time is passing. You can feel each season merge into the next, and when that merge is complete, and the new season has officially taken over the old one, you know that too.

I don't know why I feel it so acutely this year, or why I feel like I need to feel that change this year, and since I'm not feeling it, it's really depressing me. Maybe I should take a weekend to go home and drive up through the mountains, and see the trees, and take big lungfuls of air and bring it back with me.

Very early Fall; there's still too much green.

If you grew up somewhere without seasons, you'll never understand the circadian rhythms it creates in your body, and how much your body and emotions miss it when you don't have it anymore. You look for it in any way that you can find it, but usually come up empty. Nothing can replace it.

I should have been a water polo player....

I'm not sure when the New York Times became a skin mag, but hey, I'm not complaining!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

One of my very least favorite words


It's so precious. It's too cute. It sounds like something a 5-year-old would say.


It sounds like snotty, bratty, cootie, puny, whiny. Why do so many negative-sounding words end with a long "e" sound? (But I guess so does happy, funny, pretty, etc.)

Mostly, though, I hate what it means. I hate it when I'm at a party full of artist types, and one of them starts talking about lamb chops, and another one says, "Oh, you must be a foodie!" And the one talking about lamb chops replies, "Oh, I'm a total foodie. I love food and cooking."


There's nothing wrong with food and cooking, but don't call yourself a fucking foodie.

I don't know which price-gouging, elitist supermarket coined the term first, or if it's a regular word that's been around for a long time, but I despise what it implies.

I hate that it implies a lifestyle of picking only the best organic produce flown in from the indiginous regions of wherever, and only the most choice and select meats, wines, cheeses, and chocolates.

I hate that it implies only wealthy people, or people of a certain privilege, should have the right to eat healthy, uncontaminated, and "sustainably grown" food, even though that term actually means very little when you're dealing with corporate supermarkets scouring the world for food they can use to sell a lifestyle and an image.

I hate that it's a term only privileged people use. I can assure you that poor people who grow their own food, or who actually care about where the food they purchase comes from, or struggle to buy food for their children that isn't filled with preservatives, sugar, chemicals, and processed beyond anything recognizably natural, don't call themselves "foodies." They call themselves people struggling to feed themselves and their families something natural and nourishing.

There's nothing inherently wrong with a consumer culture that's based on conservation and sustainability, but let's not kid ourselves. It's still a consumer culture, and it's still all about bottom-line profit above all else (Whole Foods and Central Market both made gross profits in the billions last year), and it all just kind of makes me want to throw up. I'm just as guilty as anyone else. I love those stores. I love the products, I love the ambience. But I'm also privileged and don't have a family to support. Anymore, when I pay $1.79 for a box of organic macaroni and cheese, or $2.29 a pound for a red bell pepper, when they're $1.17 each at Randalls, it just makes me wonder what the fuck I'm doing, and really supporting. And why.

More and more lately, though, I've become interested in growing my own vegetables and volunteering at some local community garden. I found this great web site tonight, all about Austin's local community gardens, and how to create a truly sustainable food source. It's by putting it in your backyard. I think I want to start volunteering there. In all my free time....

I probably don't know what the fuck I'm talking about with any of this, but I sure do hate the word "foodie."

Tag, I'm it!

I was tagged by Meredith.

Make a list of five strengths that you possess as a writer/artist. It’s not really bragging, it’s an honest assessment (forced upon you by this darn meme). Please resist the urge to enumerate your weaknesses, or even mention them in contrast to each strong point you list.

First off, I'm very flattered to have been tagged, as I don't really consider myself much of either, but here goes:

1. First of all, I feel that I have a pretty acute sense of insight into human nature, emotion, frailty, and motivation. In other words, what I lack in intelligence, I think I make up for in wisdom.

2. I like to think of myself as pretty intuitive. I can pretty easily read people's emotions, and pick up on vibes, non-verbal cues, etc. This is handy when creating "subtext." (Also, this probably comes in real handy when being a parent.)

3. I don't consider myself much of a creative writer anymore, but when it comes to non-fiction writing, being in school has helped me tremendously. I'm much better at putting together a case, argument, history, what-have-you, for whatever I need to talk about. Given enough time. I'm not great at doing it off the cuff, but I don't think most people are. But give me a few hours, some research materials, and I can make a pretty good case for just about anything, I think.

4. I'm constantly questioning and analyzing, and rarely is an answer sufficent enough. This, by the way, could also be seen as a fault, especially as it applies to real life.

5. I've never really had that crippling fear of rejection that most artists get. I've always pretty much created exactly what I wanted to create and put it out there, and didn't really care much if people criticized it. I make art I would want to see/read, and that's good enough for me. In fact, most of my artistic ideas come from things that I want but that I either can't find, don't exist, or someone has already done, but not in a way that's satisfactory to me.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Sadly, I think this is the fake Romney....

An interesting archaeological artifact. (via: Towleroad)

Friday, September 14, 2007

"Suck it, Jesus."

Apparently Fox News is all upset that Kathy Griffin finally said something funny.

Upon her Emmy win, she said, "A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus...Suck it, Jesus. This award is my God now."

Fox News' religion correspondent (a superfluous and useless job if ever there was one) Lauren Green tries to make an argument that it's only because of Jesus that Griffin won her award, but only ends up making the argument that Jesus gave Griffin the right to say what she said. There's a difference. I guess I could quote what Green wrote so you don't have to read it yourself if you're interested, but I'm already bored with this story. I just wanted to write that Kathy Griffin quote.

The future of healthcare?

I must say, I've come to the decision that perhaps healthcare should be a state issue, or even a city issue. Roughly a year or so after Massachusetts vowed to proved healthcare for all of its citizens, San Francisco is now rolling out a plan to insure all of its city-dwellers, sometime within the next 2 years.

Healthy San Francisco provides uninsured San Franciscans with access to 14 city health clinics and eight affiliated community clinics, with an emphasis on prevention and chronic diseases. It is, however, not the same as insurance because it does not cover residents once they leave the city.

After a phased start-up, the city plans to bring private medical networks into the program next year, expanding the choice of doctors. Until November, enrollment will be limited to those living below the federal poverty line ($10,210 for a single person; $20,650 for a family of four). Then it will open to any resident who has been uninsured for at least 90 days, regardless of income or immigration status.

It's progressive, it's expansive, and ultimately, it's totally voluntary (you don't have to live in San Francisco if you don't like it). It seems a bit ironic that it's happening in one of the most expensive cities in the country to live in, but maybe only a city with a lot of wealth could afford this type of program. But I like the sound of it. I'll be curious to see how it all pans out.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Blame Canada

After a 9th grade student in Nova Scotia was preyed upon, bullied, called a "homosexual," and threatened with violence for wearing a pink shirt to school, these two heroes (in above picture) took action.

The next day, Grade 12 students David Shepherd and Travis Price decided something had to be done about bullying.

They used the Internet to encourage people to wear pink and bought 75 pink tank tops for male students to wear. They handed out the shirts in the lobby before class last Friday — even the bullied student had one.

"I made sure there was a shirt for him," David said.

They also brought a pink basketball to school as well as pink material for headbands and arm bands. David and Travis figure about half the school’s 830 students wore pink.

"The bullies got angry," said Travis. "One guy was throwing chairs (in the cafeteria). We’re glad we got the response we wanted."

David said one of the bullies angrily asked him whether he knew pink on a male was a symbol of homosexuality.

He told the bully that didn’t matter to him and shouldn’t to anyone.

"Kids don’t need this in their lives, worrying about what to wear to school. That should be the last thing on their minds."

When the bullied student put on his pink shirt Friday and saw all the other pink in the lobby, "he was all smiles. It was like a big weight had been lifted off is shoulder," David said. No one at the school would reveal the student’s name.

See what happens in a country that treats all its civilians like equals and promotes acceptance and non-judgement??!?! The kids all become fruits!

Canada. Pfft....


A baby macaque abandoned by its mother and a pigeon have apparently become best friends.

The Wall

Salon today has an excellent article about the environmental devastation a border fence along Texas and Mexico would create, particularly to an endangered group of ocelots, that used to hunt through Eastern Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, but now number as few as 125. The hateful wall would cut right through the middle of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Nature Wildlife Refuge, and could threaten one of the largest wildlife refuges in the country.

In Texas, 225 miles of fencing will begin to be installed this fall. A large percentage of that fencing will be built in the valley along the unique river bank and habitat that follows the Rio Grande. It would cut across more than a dozen refuges and parks totaling more than 100,000 acres. Critics warn the fence and its accompanying patrol roads will sever critical wildlife corridors on the animals' natural territories. Animals depend on these corridors to reach mates, and seek food and water. If the fence is installed, says Martin Hagne, director of the nonprofit Valley Nature Center, "it will be a huge catastrophe." Hagne is a member of an unusual coalition of environmentalists, local farmers, ranchers and local business interests fighting the fence.

Border fences would also require high-speed patrol roads next to it, and to access it which would have a huge impact on local wildlife. In places, the swath of fence and roads could become 150 yards wide. "Building a 150-foot wide strip of fencing and two roads is going to have a major impact on wildlife," says Ernesto Reyes, an ecology services biologist for Fish and Wildlife in the valley. At the Southmost Preserve, where Najera pointed out the animal tracks, it's easy to recognize an established watering spot. Yet the earthen berm where the security fence would likely be built is just yards away. Animals might have to travel miles out of their way to find a new watering spot. And road kills on improved patrol roadways will increase, Reyes says.

In Arizona, Homeland Security worked closely with the Sierra Club and the local Wildlife Federation, but eventually invoked its power to bypass Federal requirements and upgraded the wall to be "impenetrable, with no consultation whatsoever. Not to mention the tourism dollars it will suck up for areas like McAllen, who take in over $34 million a year in wildlife tourism.

It's a depressing story, but I realize that people in support of this wall care about very little but their own homogenized cultures and personal comforts. I've always thought it was nothing but a hateful, mean-spirited and hostile symbol, not to mention that most experts deem it totally irrelevant.

Homeland Security argues the Rio Grande fence will deter illegal immigration. Yet the Border Patrol's Rio Grande sector itself has raised questions about whether it would make much of a difference. Its sector office told the Government Accountability Office in 2005 that the rugged geography of the area in the Rio Grande sector, which includes the Lower Valley river corridor and especially the rugged thorn brush country inland from the river, creates its own impenetrable fencing.

"The brush (inland from the river corridor) is so dense with sage, scrub brush and cacti that it has created an inhospitable environment for … smugglers or illegal aliens," the report states. Because there are only two highways leading north from the Lower Valley, the local Border Patrol stated that it could intercept illegal immigration within its existing checkpoints. In fact, from 2000 to 2005, the number of apprehensions reported by the local Border Patrol climbed from 108,000 to 134,000, according to a report by Syracuse University.

It kind of just makes me want to move to Mexico.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Tonight I watched Shut Up & Sing (the Dixie Chicks movie) again, and loved it, I think, even more than the first time I saw it. (It's hard to believe that was almost a year ago....) There were a couple of things this time that struck me, though, that didn't so much last time.

It was still very emotional, and I think towards the end I got even more choked up this time than I did last time, but it seemed less like a personal portrait to me than a snapshot in time. The first time I watched it I think I viewed it through more of a prism of shedding a light on these musicians' lives and this crazy thing that just happened to happen to them while they were out filming a tour documentary already in the first place. This time, though, it felt more like a narrative, like a story, and one that, strangely, I felt like I wasn't totally positive what the ending was going to be. When Natalie gets the death threat in Dallas that basically says if she steps out on stage she's going to be shot, the buildup in that scene is incredible! It would be difficult to write tension like that in a screenplay, and even though I obviously knew that she doesn't get shot, my heart was racing. Watching her deflect her fear and act tough and make jokes about how the suspect is "really cute," but seeing that inside her eyes, she was terrified, is riveting stuff. It's not difficult to make the leap from that scene to the next, where they're recording "Not Ready to Make Nice," and completely empathize with that anger.

Mostly, though, it felt this time like an American time capsule. If ever in the future you know someone who wants to understand what a bat-shit crazy post-9/11 United States felt like, point them in the direction of this film. Just a scant 4 years after those infamous 15 words were uttered by Natalie Maines in London, the world is a totally different place. Bush's approval ratings are lower than any president's in history, and most of the country now concedes that Iraq was a huge mistake and badly bungled. But there was a time, most of us would like to forget, I know, that Bush's approval ratings were sky-high, and most of the country supported the illegal invasion. They were terrifying times that didn't seem possible in America. I've always had problems with the hypocrisy of American culture (yeah, everybody has the same rights and same opportunities and it's the Land of the Free as long as you're white, male, heterosexual and upper-middle class or wealthy), but I really think that those couple of years after 9/11 were the first time I truly felt betrayed by my country, and absolutely mortified at my government. And I'm fairly certain I'm not the only person that feels this way. As frustrating and scary as my country is now, I remember a time, very recently, where it was much more frustrating and terrifying, and where there seemed no hope on the horizon at all. Only more fear, dread, anger, pessimissm, ignorance, and blind faith in god and country.

Now that most of the country seems to have awakened from their fear-induced and lazy slumber (and those that haven't never will), it seems impossible that that kind of panic and scapegoating could ever happen again, but as Dylan said tonight, "Well, they thought that after Vietnam too." The only difference being, I guess, is that Vietnam wasn't precipitated by a domestic attack. But that's a scary thought, isn't it? Even after Vietnam we haven't learned. All it takes is some American bloodshed and it's back to the guillotine for anyone the slightest bit contrary. It makes me very curious about what would happen if the United States were to be struck again. Would people be smarter and less knee-jerk reactive this time around, or would we be stuck with the very same "boot in their ass," don't get out of line or have your own thoughts brain-dead mentality that happened last time? I like to think that even the right-wing hard-liners have learned at least a little from the past 7 years of utter incompetence and chaos, but then again, a 30% approval rating eguals about 90 million Americans.

That might be the scariest thought of all.

A great Grammy performance of "Not Ready to Make Nice" if you can get through Joan Baez's introduction.

And here's the trailer for the movie:

For the Bible Tells Me So

There's nothing particularly new here, but nevertheless, here's a rather moving little trailer for a new documentary about Christianity and homosexuality.

Monday, September 10, 2007

People get "road rage" because driving is just about the most unnatural act ever.

I just went to drop off my rent check. The landlord's office is about 3 blocks from my house, but because it's on one of Austin's busiest roads, and there are no sidewalks or crosswalks, I drive there. And obviously, it's closed at night, so I can't just walk late at night when there's no traffic. Which I would happily do.

Well, today, it took me 15 minutes to drive back home.

Let that sink in.

15 minutes.

3 blocks.

And people really prefer this over public transportation and walkable cities? Really? Could you even begin to argue with those people, or is it like religion, where these people's brains operate in such an inconceivable fashion that it would be impossible to sway them in any way?

My #1 criteria for the next place I live is adequate public transportation. I seriously can't tolerate traffic much longer. Especially in the heat. I just can't do it.

My worst nightmare.

Oh, Britney....

Say what you want about her, I always thought she was fun. Last night's Video Music Awards performance, however, was.... something else. Wow....

Everyone always yammers on about Britney and Lindsay and everybody else being able to "recover" and "save their careers" after all this stupid shit they do, but has anyone considered that maybe they don't want to save their careers? I mean, they're obviously deepy unhappy people. I'm just saying.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Post-American Landscape

In the July 2007 issue of Harpers, Rebecca Solnit (whom I once quoted here) has a wonderful article about the rise, then fall, and then perhaps second rising of one of America's most despised and feared cities: Detroit. At some point you maybe begin wondering what all the ink is about: she traces its beginnings from the soggy, post-ice age wetlands settled by the French, who utilized local natives to help set up a trading post that became a "strategic site in the scramble between the British and the French to dominate the North American interior." She follows its rise in the early 20th century due to the automobile industry: in 1900, about 250,000 people lived there, but by mid-century, it was home to almost 2 million, but has now fallen back below 900,000 again, with an average 10,000 people leaving the city every year. It was a victim of its own success, however, as the industry it created ate its own urban core (along with all of America's), giving rise to sprawl and suburbia, effectively killing off the industry itself (particularly in a town where one-fifth of the population doesn't even own a car). Of course, Detroit wasn't the only one-industry city destroyed by decentralization and creeping globalization. Cleveland, Toledo, Buffalo, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, New York City, and San Francisco were also all basically dried up by the loss of blue-collar jobs and factories.

All of those cities, though, in one way or another, managed to recover, some of them spectacularly (San Fran and NYC, particularly), but not Detroit. As Solnit says, "The new American cities trade in information, entertainment, tourism, software, finance. They are abstract...the forces that produced Detroit - the combination of bitter racism and single-industry failure - are anomalous, but the general recipe of deindustrialization, depopulation, and resource depletion will likely touch almost all regions of the global north in the next century or two." Our way of life is over; the sprawling suburbs and automobile culture are no longer sustainable, but Detroit, by sheer necessity, may be the first of the cities "forced to become altogether something else."

What is that something else? Agriculture.

So many homes have fallen down and been destroyed, and there is now so much blank and unused urban space (even some of the downtown skyscrapers apparently have trees and plants growing up through them) that people are taking it over and creating urban gardens. Activist and long-time Detroit resident Jimmy Boggs and his wife Grace began to realize that instead of trying to regain a severed tie to capitalism, Detroit should embrace an economy entirely apart from "transnational webs of corporations and petroleum." In other words, turn Detroit's liabilities (urban ruin and unused space) into assets. In their words, that included "small enterprises which produce food, goods, and services for the local market, that is, for our communities and our cities."

One woman, who had been the first black woman on her block and is now nearly the last person on that block, period, bought three lots that surrounded her home and now raises almost all of her own food on them. The three-acre Earth Works Garden, launched by Capuchin monks, grows organic produce for a local soup kitchen. The local 4-H organizations have begun planting and tending small gardens on the ravaged east side. And on the west side, the Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women recently opened. It's a school for teenage mothers "that opens on to a working farm, complete with apple orchard, horses, ducks, long rows of cauliflower and broccoli, and a red barn the girls built themselves." The Greening of Detroit sponsors thousands of community gardens. "Urban farming," says Ashley Atkinson, project manager, "dollar for dollar, is the most effective change agent you can ever have in a community."

It's an inspiring message, and one that more cities (I'm looking at you, New Orleans) should take to heart.

Solnit closes with this insightful passage:

"Everyone talks about green cities now, but the concrete results in affluent cities mostly involve curbside composting and tacking solar panels onto rooftops while residents continue to drive, to shop, to eat organic pears flown in from Argentina, to be part of the big machine of consumption and climate change. The free-range chickens and Priuses are great, but they alone aren't adequate tools for creating a truly different society and ecology. The future, at least the sustainable one, the one in which we all survive, isn't going to be invented by people who are happily surrendering selective bits and pieces of environmentally unsound privilege. It's going to be made by those who had all that taken away from them or never had it in the first place."

A young gardener at the Earth Works Garden.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I'm filled with hatred and it knows no bounds.

A Dead Motherfucker.

D. James Kennedy, megachurch pastor and co-founder of the Religious Right and the "moral majority," ate it today, and the world somehow became a nicer place to be. Some of his choice quotes:

"With other dangerous and contagious diseases, all sorts of efforts are made to identify those carrying the disease, and to minimize their contact with the public. And yet, here we have homosexual rights groups working day and night to make sure AIDS victims ARE NOT IDENTIFIED! Until action is taken, AIDS victims are free to infect anyone." (Newsletter, 1989)

One newsletter from D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries featured a photograph of very young children under the headline "SEX WITH CHILDREN? HOMOSEXUALS SAY YES!" The newsletter asserts "Adult sex with children has been a crucial component of the homosexual movement all along, and officially since the 1993 March on Washington when it was included as a demand (#55) in their famous manifesto." (Hmmm.... how come nobody sent me a copy of the manifesto? It might have made my life a lot easier when I was around 20 or so.)

On evolution: it "led to the death of nine million people in Nazi Germany.... The greatest mass murderers of all time [are] all compliments of evolution,"[23] an idea reflected in Coral Ridge's controversial documentary Darwin's Deadly Legacy in 2006.

His church, Coral Ridge Presbytarian, also hosted the "Love Won Out" conference last year, which is a big ole gathering of "ex-gays" who all sit around and talk about how not gay they are for 3 days.

And speaking of not gay, the Republican debate tonight.... I mean, are they serious? All they can do is bash immigrants, bash gays, bash immigrants, talk about who's been to war and who hasn't, talk about September 11th, then bash immigrants some more.

Christ. We're in serious trouble, folks. I'm gonna go eat some leftover chocolate cake, listen to some Madonna, and contemplate the end of the world now. I'll be in my room if you need me.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Gay fiction

It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day, for lack of what is found there. - William Carlos Williams

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been reading a lot of “gay fiction,” mostly from the 1940’s and 50’s. Stuff like The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell (1945), Another Country (1962) and Giovanni's Room (1956), both by James Baldwin, The City and the Pillar, by Gore Vidal (1948), and books that aren’t necessarily about the gay, but deal with overtly gay topics (The Color Purple, 1982), or just have a lot of gay subtext (A Separate Peace, 1959).

I think what’s most striking to me about all of these books, and others like them (as opposed to more recent novels about the exigencies of the AIDS crisis like Nightswimmer or Eighty-Sixed, both of which I wrote about here) is the seamless confluence of bitter cynicism and hopeless romanticism. The characters in these books are all generally miserable and desperately homophobic, rarely admitting to themselves what they are, even as they fall in love, and have sex with, other men. It’s a lonely and miserable world, where admitting that you’re “one of them” requires a deliberate removal from society and living in almost communal circumstances in either Hollywood, New York, or New Orleans (especially N.O. if you happened to be both black and gay, a double-whammy). In one scene in The City and the Pillar, three men are in a bar in New Orleans discussing a white boy involved in an abusive relationship with a “negro,” and one of them says, “Of course, I expect being a Negro in America is enough to make anyone neurotic. So this added bit, this extra kick, is nothing to be surprised at. Then of course many of them are truly primitive, and primitives don’t seem to mind what they do if it’s fun.” This is the world of the homosexual in 1940’s America. At least according to the literature.

It’s expected that most men will spend their lives alone, or in unhappy (and obviously unfaithful, and often abusive) relationships with women, all the while pining away for that one boy from their youth, or that one man, that they can’t get out of their head. In The Folded Leaf, two schoolboys go all the way through grammar school and college together, never overtly having sex (though I suppose this was because it was published in 1945), but who slept in the same bed, and often held hands and only double-dated with girls. Naturally at the end one of them marries and the other is so distraught that he kills himself. In The City and the Pillar, one character goes on a years-long, and country-wide, search for his true love, his best friend from high school whom he feels has deserted him. In both James Baldwin novels, gay love is treated as something so pure, and so consuming and intense, that it can only lead to heartbreak, devastation and death (both literal and metaphoric).

As opposed to more modern gay fiction, which always seems to be about how men are pretty much physically and emotionally incapable of committing to one another for more than 5 minutes, these old books seem to be about men who want to commit, sometimes desperately, but because of society, are unable to. They live on the fringes, with their sleazy bars and social codes, and rot from the inside out from bitterness, and eventually always turn on one another for exposing what they “really are.” Which I think is an interesting juxtaposition, and one worth examining to see how much truth there is in these positions, or if that’s just what creates great drama. Is that really how gay life was back in the mid-20th century (I suspect so, though I also suspect there were more men in relationships and moderately happy than these books let on)?

Either way, if you pay too much attention to the literature, it all seems quite bleak and hopeless, but from an anthropological standpoint, it’s fascinating. Gay men may still be so fucked up emotionally, even these days, that they find it impossible to ever have healthy relationships, but at least it is possible. At least they have the option (well, in a lot of places; not everywhere). Which is an important distinction to make, especially if you’re comparing literature. If things were as bad as all that in the 40’s and 50’s, and if all gay men were that hateful and morose, no wonder they all went fucking ballistic after Stonewall. And in the irony of ironies, all that liberation, happiness and fucking of course led to AIDS a scant 12 years later. But as many have theorized, it was AIDS that truly brought about the gay rights movement. Had AIDS never come along, we might all still live in the urban shadows, our whole social life consisting of bars and bathhouses. I don’t think so, nor am I arguing that AIDS was a good thing, but I think eventually (perhaps not as soon as we did) the gays would have grown weary of all that anonymous cock and eventually grown up, even without some kind of horrific impetus. Humans are hard-wired for companionship and love, even biologically (your brain actually does physically change when you’re in love), and I think that will always emerge, no matter how dark the circumstance.

Great fiction and literature, though, has always been about earth-shattering emotions, failed love and death. That’s why we read it, right? Sometimes, though, it all just becomes too much bitterness and anger, and you just want to pick up a nice Michael Chabon novel.