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!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Case for Letting Malibu Burn*

Since 1970, Malibu has suffered no less than 5 wildfire holocausts due to its thick chaparral undergrowth. The 22-mile coastline is the wildfire capitol of the world and it is a natural phenomenon. A fire large enough to char more than 1,000 acres occurs every two and half years.

Malibu was settled in the 1880's by millionaire Frederick Rindge, who, in his memoirs, described a constant battle with wildfires. His dream ranch was destroyed in 1903 by a wildfire from Calabasas that raced to the sea in a few hours. These fires are due largely to the alignment of Malibu's canyons with the annual "fire winds" from the north: the Santa Anas, which are strongest between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. Environmentally, wildfire is necessary for recyclying nutrients and for seed germination in Malibu's vegetation, which is a mix of chamise chaparral, coastal sage scrub, and live oak woodland. These provide fuel for fire. Which is necessary to the natural ecology of Malibu. The more these fuels build up, the stronger, hotter, and more dense the conflagration will be once it starts. Unfortunately for residents of Southern California (and the rest of us who have to constantly foot the bill for these "disasters," since they receive federal aid to control) total fire suppression has been the official policy in Southern California since 1919. Prescriptive burning, as controlled burning is known, is vehemently opposed by homeowner's associations in the mountains, and one Topanga Canyon resident even sued the Fire Department of Los Angeles because "blackened hillsides and ash in the swimming pools bring down property values," and would make it impossible for him to sell his house.

To prevent complete devastation on the level that we're seeing this week, all undergrowth should be burned off every 5-7 years, as it would naturally. However, since Malibu is very wealthy, very Republican, very political, and very coveted by developers and landowners, this will never happen. Due to overdevelopment, the risks are too great, and no fire department wants to have that kind of liability. What used to be a secluded and wild landscape dotted with small bohemian colonies, has now become an unstoppable hell of a firestorm for increasingly wealthier and more detached white people escaping from the urban squalor of Los Angeles.

Once development began in Malibu, in 1929, one year later, Malibu suffered what is still its greatest blaze. A 5-mile wall of flames threatened quite quickly to swoop down and attack the city, but was stopped only because the Santa Ana winds subsided and the fire died. This should have been a clue as to why development in Malibu was a bad idea. But instead, 10,000 more acres were inexplicably opened up to development, and the years 1935, 1936, and 1938 each saw more devastating fires that destroyed over 400 newly built homes. Post WWII, another 150 homes were burned up in another November fire, but the Hollywood hipsters and elites kept coming anyway. Over Christmas week of 1956, another conflagration destroyed another 100 homes, and the Eisenhower administration declared it "the first major fire disaster of national scope." Two more fires one month apart, in 1958-1959, inspired the naming of Malibu a federal disaster area with federal tax relief for its victims, as well as preferential low-interest loans, the Eisenhower administration inadvertently began public subsidization of "firebelt suburbs." Each blaze was followed by immediate, and taxpayer subsidized, reconstruction on a more exclusive scale than before, since the victims now had more money than ever to rebuild.

In an ironic twist, the only constraint on development was a limited supply of water to the area (since all of Los Angeles steals all of its water from the Rocky Mountains anyway). By 1969, every acre of Malibu was under private ownership, including most of its beaches. Eventually, as space became more scarce, the developers began building higher and higher into the mountains until 1970, when a 20-mile wall of fire barreled over the ridgelines of the Santa Monica mountains, igniting the Pacific Coast Highway and blocking all escape routes for residents, and 10 people died along with 403 homes (including one owned by Ronald Reagan). Furious residents berated the local government for not doing more to help them, while developers continued their developing, which only provided fuel for 3 more fires in 1978, 1982, and 1985. The 1978 fire also set a speed record, covering 13 miles of very rugged terrain in less than 3 hours. (Incidentally, this fire covered the exact same path as the 1970 blaze, which had taken twice as long, 6 hours, to cover the same amount of ground.)

The last major Malibu fire was in 1993, just following the Rodney King riots, and a springfall of heavy rain that created dense undergrowth for fuel. This incinerated 39,000 acres, but also sparked a second fire that consumed Laguna Beach "like it was soaked in gasoline." It injured 65 firefighters, destroyed over 366 homes all worth over $1 million and caused $435 million in additional damage. A week later, a 3rd fire broke out on Mount Calabasas, leading to a 30-foot wall of fames, fanned by 70-mile-per-hour Santa Ana winds. Firefighters were called in from as far away as Oregon and Oklahoma, and the fire only stopped 36 hours later when it literally ran out of fuel by reaching the ocean.

At the time, the Clinton Administration and FEMA promised all the aid necessary to "rebuild homes and lives," while insurance adjustors set up shop on the blackened beach. The county promised tax relief, and a group of German architects promised to work for free in the rebuilding.

Meanwhile, development has continuted unabated. The population of the main fire corridor, the Thousand Oaks-Agoura Hills corridor, has tripled from 1970, and two new megadevelopments totaling 42,000 homes were completed around the year 2000.

In a later post, I will detail how the real victims of all of these fires are the inner-city immigrants, garment workers, and poor, and how Malibu homeowners continually flaunt any environment or fiscal responsibility for their homes and neighborhoods being destroyed.

*taken from the incredible book, Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster by Mike Davis, one of my favorite "urban issues" writers.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Under the bus

The blogs are buzzing this morning about the news that Barack Obama has tapped none other than notorious "ex-gay" homophobe Donnie McClurkin (and a little more here) as part of his make kissy-face with the wingnuts tour, aka, the Southern Gospel Tour. Apparently getting scared of his lack of support within the black community due to their (possibly correct) suspicion that he's not quite qualified to be president, Mr. Obama is touring the south with his gospel choir, preaching the almighty word.

I knew it would happen sooner or later; an ambitious politician can only pretend to not care about courting the fundamentalists for so long before they have to give in. Is it not enough to try to sell yourself to the other 75% of the country that isn't completely insane? I guess I have little beef with the tour itself; what gets me is the choosing of this guy to represent Obama. I mean, is he the only singer that fits the bill? Couldn't someone a little less controversial have been chosen? And did no one on Obama's staff say, "Uh, hey dude, you might want to reconsider this guy, because it sure is gonna piss a lot of people off." If the comments I've been reading by enraged readers on various blogs are any indication, this will be a huge detriment to Obama's already somewhat shaky support with the gays. (Also let it be known that I think some of those people are pretty hysterical and self-absorbed.)

As I've said before, I'm not a one-issue voter, and I suspect at this point that he would be a powerful leader. I don't think Obama is a homophobe, nor do I think he would cynically claim to support a marriage amendment, but it speaks volumes to me about what kind of a person he is. I'm far from certain about Obama as it is, and this is just one more reason for me to keep my tentative distance. It kind of bums me out. I really wanna believe in the guy.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Own It

I was tagged by Stacy.

List 5 things that certain people (who are not deserving of being your friend anyway) may consider to be “totally lame,” but you are, despite the possible stigma, totally proud of. Own it:

(Well it's funny that she should tag me for this today, because just last night I had a conversation with Tom and Meredith about how we no longer believe in the idea of "guilty pleasures," since, if it's something we like, then obviously it's a part of our essence, thus, we shouldn't feel guilty about it. I like that. So here goes.)

1. I love McDonald's. It flies in the face of everything I believe in, as far as health, politics, sustainable and nutrient food growth, and all that shit, but I just can't help it. I use it as a treat. If I've eaten really well for awhile, or I just feel really bad, I eat McDonald's. It's disgusting, and I hate it afterwards, and I always feel incredibly guilty when I eat it, like a drug habit I have to hide, but man, I love it going down.

2. I love Will & Grace. I think it's brilliantly hilarious, and could watch it all day long. It's one of the few (if the only) shows I've ever seen that actually makes me bellow out laughing when I'm watching it alone in my room at 11:30 at night. Once I got over my indignation that the whole show is just one giant hideous stereotype, I started really enjoying it.

3. I get really big crushes on TV characters (yes, I'm almost 30 years old....). Not on the actors. On the characters. Both on narrative shows and reality shows.

4. I want to have the kind of life that makes people jealous. I want to be envied and admired, and I hope that, in at least some small way, every man who's ever broken my heart forever regrets not ending up with me. I also hope they all get fat and I only get better looking as I age.

5. I still fantasize about being a rock star and practice my perfect guitar stance in the mirror. At least once a week.

I tag Tom and Mandy.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The United States of Suburban Green Zones

If you want a glimpse into the future of the United States, claims Naomi Klein in the October issue of Harper's, look no further than present day Iraq. In Baghdad's Green Zone, what would normally be considered government-funded entities (the collection of sewage, sanitation systems, electrical grids) have all been replaced by the private sector. Because Iraq's government is essentially non-functioning, Iraq's wealthy have turned to private actors to fulfill their needs, while the poor in Iraq continue to live without hospitals, any basic services, and in a hail-storm of constant violence.

With more and more of the United States' government's responsibilities getting assigned to private contractors, thus resulting in more and more inaction on the government's part, the "market forces" are taking over. And how.

A perfect example of this is what happened in a wealthy, Republican suburb of Atlanta. Tired of seeing their taxpayer dollars subsidizing police and schools in poor and violent inner-city neighborhoods, the suburb voted to incorporate itself into its own city, Sandy Springs, but had no government infrastructure. Well, within months, a government was outsourced and created from scratch. It only cost the residents of Sandy Springs $27 million a year. This experiment was so successful, however, that all the wealthiest suburbs of Atlanta began to follow suit, eventually with the cities planning to form their own county. Obviously, this has met with fierce opposition in the Fulton County (where Atlanta resides) government, as the loss of tax revenue from all of those cities will eventually make the inner city collapse.

As the world continues to become more and more politically and ecologically unstable, and terrorist attacks and devastating natural disasters on par with Katrina and the Indonesian tsunami become more commonplace, the privatization of every goverment field will be routine, and we'll be the worse off for it. It's already happening: in New Orleans last summer as schools prepared to reopen, nearly half of the city's students were attending new charter schools with small classes, well-trained teachers, and bountiful resources. But students have to be admitted, and the rest of the city's students that were not admitted were stuck with their inner-city schools that were overcrowded, had more guards than teachers, and no money. Subsidized housing was bulldozed and the city's largest public-health hospital still remains closed. In the meantime, the city's wealthist neighborhoods have rebuilt and walled themselves off from the rest of the muck. Within weeks after Katrina, these wealhty neighborhoods had water and emergency generators, open private hospitals, and privatized security provided by a corporation called DynCorp. After Katrina, the companies that received the highest and best contracts to rebuild the Gulf Coast were the same companies receiving the highest and best contracts in Iraq: Halliburton, Fluor, Shaw, and CH2M Hill (who, incidentally, is also the same company that built Sandy Springs' new government from the ground up).

In 2006, the Red Cross signed a disaster-response partnership with Wal-Mart, and Blackwater, with its own corporate overhead, has created its own army, literally. They have 20,000 soldiers and a military base in North Carolina, in addition to having the ability to respond to massive humanitarian operations faster and more efficiently than Red Cross. All through money it's received from government contracts in Iraq.

In 2002, CEO's from 30 of the world's largest corporations (includin Fluor and Chevron) came together to call themselves Partnership for Disaster Response, and view non-profits as well as the U.N. as direct competition for disaster resources.

This is where the "free-market" comes into play. When the government is no longer able to foot the bill for terrorist attacks and disasters, and it becomes stretched too thin, these private forces will step in to pick up the slack. But at what cost? Wealthy individuals and corporations will be the first to "bail out" of the current infrastructure, and security will become like health insurance is now: dependent upon where you live, who you work for, and how much you can afford. They will form suburban collectives (Sandy Springs), with their own private militias, walls, backup generators, and possibly economies. In other words, suburban Green Zones. While the poor and lower-middle class will be left to wither with no government support, basic resources, and crumbling, war-zone cities.

Ultimately, as disasters around the world continue to translate into bigger and bigger profits for the private sector, the United States will plunge into what I can only assume is a libertarian's wet dream. You can have anything, as long as you can buy it, and if you can't, well that's too bad for you. The government will no longer be relevant (at least as far as any kind of disaster relief or public works are concerned). Isn't that what the "free market" is all about? Natural disasters have increased by 560% since 1975 (and climate change isn't real??), while wars waged over natural resources will not only continue, but will increase terrorist attacks on a global scale (the number of attacks has increased sevenfold just since the start of the Iraq war).

I don't know about you, and maybe I'm just naive, but I'd rather live in a country where there was an occasional terrorist attack than in a country where the welathy voluntarily lock themselves up, cities become functionless wastelands, and the whole nation becomes a walled fortress to protect against the threat of jihadists and immigrants.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

itunes, mytunes

So, I was perusing my itunes library earlier and thought that my list of most played songs was interesting. I use itunes primarily to download singles, mostly one-offs by people I like but would never buy their records, but sometimes by people I also like, but just download a song for whatever reason. I also load records onto it for the purposes of making mix CD's, and for putting it on shuffle in my kitchen when I'm cooking or cleaning.

I thought you might enjoy a little glimpse into my listening habits when it comes to singles on itunes.

Most Played:

Why not me - the Judds (18 plays since download)

Samson - Regina Spektor (18 plays)

Who You'd be today - Kenny Chesney (16 plays)

Goodbye Yello Brick Road
- Elton John (16 plays)

Streets of Philadelphia - Bruce Springsteen (15 plays)

fart (courtesy of Tommy Strugis) - (15 plays)

Breathe Me - Sia (14 plays)

Bye Bye Bye - NSYNC (13 plays)

Loving Blind - Clint Black (12 plays)

Maneater - Nelly Furtado (12 plays)

Stars are Blind - Paris Hilton (11 plays)

Smoky Mountain Rain - Ronnie Milsap (11 plays)

A Little too late - Toby Keith (9 plays)

Doll Parts - Hole (8 plays)

Fidelity - Regina Spektor (8 Plays)

Africa - Toto (8 plays)

Beautiful Life - Ace of Base (7 plays)

Transatlanticism - Death Cab for Cutie (7 plays)

The Seashores of Old Mexico - George Strait (7 plays)

Crying - Roy Orbison (6 plays)

That Time - Regina Spektor (6 plays)

Early Winter - Gwen Stefani (6 plays)

All my rowdy friends - Hank Williams, Jr. (6 plays)

Blue in the Face - Alkaline Trio (5 plays)

The Adventure
- Angels & Airwaves (5 plays)

I know, that's a ridiculous list. I can't believe I even admitted to some of those..... I'm also not sure how accurate it is. For instance, I downloaded "Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley after they used it on the season finale of The OC and I bawled my eyes out, and I know I've listened to it more than 4 times, but that's how many times itunes says I have. Weird. Not sure how all that works. Irregardless, I don't think that list is too off the mark on the number of times I've listened to those songs.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Making of Meaning

I wasn't really sure what to expect when I had to sign up for an Intro to Philosophy class this semester; were we going to spend an hour every morning talking about whether the desks we were sitting in were really there? If so, I hoped somebody would just go ahead and shoot me and put me out of my misery. Luckily, this turned out not to be the case, and despite being a freshman "Cultural Foundations" course that everyone has to take regardless of major, it fits quite nicely into my psychology education. My professor has structured his syllabus around one specific subject, and that is learning. How do people learn, is essentially the question he sets out to answer through the semester. At the end, our final project is a 5-page paper about our reaction to a piece of art, and most importantly, how we came to that reaction. It can be anything: a book, a film, a symphony, or a painting. Whatever, as long as it is something that challenges or confounds us in some way (maybe I should write my paper about this movie....).

Anyway, the professor's hypothesis is that few people ever really learn anything beyond what he calls a "nominal understanding," which is the ability to speak about something well enough that you sound like you know what you're talking about, but really don't. Even most PhD's, he proclaims, only have a nominal understanding of whatever field it is in which they toil. He enjoys giving an example (and this works especially well at academia wank-fest cocktail hours, apparently) of the best way to shut down conversations: when someone starts chiming in with their opinions on something (say, middle-class tax breaks or minimum wage) just look at them quizzically and say, "I didn't know you've been studying microeconomics for the past 10 years." It works for smaller things too, like going to the movies. When your buddy starts complaining about the film, or critiquing it in some way, look at him and say, "I didn't know you were an expert in film theory." Naturally, my professor says, don't do this if you want to have any friends left, because it just makes you an asshole, but people can't really respond to it.

Yes, he's quite full of himself, but he's grown on me over the semester. I like the way he teaches, and that he comes at it from a mix of philosophical, psychological, and sociological perspectives. American schools (and most schools, in general) don't teach you how to think, they teach you how to memorize and be a robot. Everyone knows this already (at least those of us who think), but he argues that most students could easier write a paper on their favorite sport than they could about how they think about things (thus, our final paper). Students know their own minds and selves least of all.

Our first reading in the class was a paper published in 1981 by William G. Perry, a professor in San Francisco who had, through extensive research, outlined the 9 steps people go through in cognitive and ethical development. Most people, he claims, don't get past about step 4 or 5.

Step 1 is rote regurgitation of facts and numbers told to you by your teachers, because they are the "authorities" and they know the answers. Eventually one begins to understand that even the authorities disagree on some things, and they can't all be right, but eventually they'll get to the truth. By step 4, most people have begun to discover relativism, and realize that many people and opinions can be correct, but that they (and theoretically the student) must support their opinions with data, or some kind of supporting opinion. Eventually one questions their own opinions, beliefs, thoughts, ethics, etc., and by step 9, one has theoretically made one or many commitments (philosophical and ethical) and they must balance and be supported. The description of step 9 is thus:

This is how life will be. I must be wholehearted while tentative, fight for my values yet respect others, believe my deepest values right yet be ready to learn. I see that I shall be retracing this whole journey over and over - but, I hope, more wisely.

It seems quite similar (to me, at least) to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which basically states that one cannot be self-actualized until their physiological and esteem needs have been met. But at which point, one is then free to be the best, most productive person they can be. Naturally, one must have food (basic facts) before one can think too much about their priniciples and contributions to the world (self-actualization). Grossly simplified, but something along those lines.

How many people do you know could even tell you what their values are if you were to ask? And if they could tell you, do you think they'd be correct? It's rare that one's true values correspond to what they claim their values to be. And thusly, they don't know themselves or their own minds.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I've run out of comments.

One more GOP leader bites the dust in Wisconsin, this time due to contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and child enticement.

The Brown County Republican Party chair has been charged with performing sexual acts on a boy under 18 and giving marijuana to a minor, according to court documents.

Donald Fleischman faces felony counts of child enticement and exposing himself to a child along with two misdemeanor counts for contributing to the delinquency of a child and one misdemeanor for exposing himself to a child, according to the criminal complaint.

All I'll say is that I think the worst part is that the boys were from a home for troubled youth. They were runaways, and he exploited that.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Why French philosophers shouldn't make French films

Having just suffered through Twentynine Palms by Bruno Dumont (which, incidentally, took me 4 viewings to get through), I have just one thing to ask: what the fuck is wrong with French people? If the cinema that gets exported from France is any indication of their national mood, no thanks. Or maybe I'm just watching the wrong movies, but my god, it is so unpleasant.

Aside from some 60's new wave stuff, I think I've only ever seen one French film I liked. Ever. And what is their obsession with showing women going to the bathroom?

Twentynine Palms is like some kind of existential trip to hell if hell is other people. Two of the stupidest and most irritating characters ever laid to celluloid drive a giant red Hummer through the desert outside Palm Springs, ostensibly to scout a location for a photo shoot, but not a single photo is ever taken of anything. Furthermore, the "couple," or whatever they are, seem to despise each other. One moment they're laughing, the next she's storming out of the hotel room and running into the street, the next he's raping her mouth and jizzing all over her face and she's crying because she loves him so much. Then they fight again, then they get ice cream, then they fuck in the hotel pool, then they drive through the desert again and fight about something, then he practically rapes her on a rock, then she cries, then they have dinner and laugh, then they fight again, then they fuck in the hotel room and she cries. Ad nauseum.

Lest you think I'm exaggerating, I'm not. Then at the end they get attacked by rednecks who smash the dude's face in with a baseball bat while they rape his ass, and strip the woman and beat her up and make her watch, but don't rape her, then the couple goes back to the hotel, where the guy flips out, scalps himself, and stabs the girl repeatedly in the stomach on the bed. And all that last bit of violence literally happens in about the last 4 minutes. The End. Nothing. Null. Void. Delete. Life is hopeless and pointless.

Bruno Dumont believes in nothing and in his desperate and pathetic world, people are nothing but meat and orifices to fuck. He now belongs to that esteemed club of Lars von Trier, Catherine Breillat, Passolini, Gaspar Noe, and perhaps Michael Haneke (though I'm willing to cut that guy some slack, because at least he has a brain): artists who so hate themselves and everybody else that they're willing to sacrifice their own humanity just to make everyone else suffer too. Maybe some day they can all have dinner parties together in hell and torture and rape each other repeatedly for entertainment.

If you were a hotel, I'd lean on your doorbell (and I'd call you my home)

Having accidentally slept until 11:30 yesterday morning, I awoke in a panic. "The day is half gone!" I thought to myself as I flew out of bed. I guess I needed the sleep, but I also didn't go to bed until 3 Friday night, which is also pretty unprecedented for me these days.

Nonetheless, I concluded almost immediately upon getting up and eating 5 scrambled eggs, that the best way to take advantage of the day, and the weather that finally seems to have broken and turned to what people in Central Texas call Fall, was to take a very long bike ride around the city. I rode for almost 3 straight hours, stopping only for about a 20 minute break on the pedestrian bridge downtown.

I left from my house (none of this will mean anything to anyone not familiar with Austin, sadly) and rode down through Pease Park, then west on 5th Street, where I went and inspected the construction of the Monarch Condos up close. I'm pretty fascinated with how they build those big tall buildings so they don't fall down and stuff. But boy, the city really needs to do something about Shoal Creek; it's really an eye-sore, and it's too bad. Then I went and did the same thing at the 360 Condos on Second street, near La Zona Rosa. I really, really wished I'd had a camera of some kind with me to make some sort of photo essay about the construction of fabricated neighborhoods.

As I was riding down by the new Ballet Austin building on Second Street, I looked in the windows and a very cute guy was sitting there, staring back out, and smiled at me. I smiled back and kept going. It was a sweet little moment.

Next was pedestrian bridge on the hike-and-bike trail, which, along with the Greenbelt, are 2 of the best things Austin has to offer, at least in my opinion. Then I rode around Zilker Park, dodging all the people with little kids on their own bikes with training wheels and flags, the hippies smoking pot and their ugly dogs, the soccer players, the guy teaching his girlfriend how to throw a football, the kids playing on the big hill in the middle of the park. Then I went and explored the new Town Lake Park on the south side of Riverside (which, inexplicably, I can find neither a web site for, or pictures of....), which is gorgeous and really nice. It has one of those cool little fountains that kids can play in, where it shoots the water up in different intervals from the ground, along with a large, round hill that has a fantastic view of downtown.

Then I rode back across the First Street Bridge, up Congress and the Drag, then back home. It was a beautiful day, and I had a lot of fun exploring Austin again, which I haven't really done on my bike in years. Back in the day, I used to do that, with my boyfriend and a friend, almost every Saturday afternoon. The three of us would set out in the mornings and be gone, on our bikes, half the day, riding all over town. Just like when we were little kids. It reminded me a lot of those days. Not in a sad way; in a good way. It was a really nice day. I felt really reconnected with Austin, and I'm actually glad I went by myself. I think I'm gonna start trying to do that every Saturday. But if anyone would like to join me, please feel free. And next time I want to go look at all the construction on the east side of downtown between 35 and the Congress bridge.

UPDATE: Apparently, there are lots of pictures of Town Lake Park (and quite nice ones) on Flickr. Courtesy of Mandy. Thanks!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Stupid bitch-face booed on the Daily Show

And by "bitch-face," I mean Lynne Cheney. You can watch her interview here. I saw this interview when it aired a few days ago, and I have to say I was pretty impressed by both Jon Stewart's manners and tenacity, as much as by the fact that Lynne Cheney, though a stupid bitch untouched by any kind of reality, also seems to have somewhat of a sense of humor. I was impressed she even went on the show, frankly. You have to give her some kudos for that.

Andrew Sullivan, however, had an interesting response to her answers to Stewart's questioning of this Republican administrations's vile anti-gay politics:

"You know, when we were growing up, the idea of people being gay simply wasn't something we ever thought about. And lo these many years later, we know that some of our classmates were, and it is interesting. It’s been this real evolution in our society. I think we've become more an evermore inclusive…and we’ve become more interested in the different ways that some kids are interested in dating early, some aren’t interested in dating until later in high school, and we no longer, I think, try to press everyone into a single mold, and that’s good," - Lynne Cheney, on the Hugh Hewitt show.

Cheney's view about the Republican party's brutal treatment of gay men and lesbians, reiterated on the Daily Show last night, is that she disagrees with it and has said so publicly. And that's supposed to be the end of the matter. That her own daughter is denied even the ability to form a legally-secure private contract with her wife in Virginia where they live - thanks entirely to the Republican party - is somehow glossed over. I have to say I don't buy it - and Hugh Hewitt's attempt to portray himself as tolerant of gays is also a cop-out. He isn't. If he had his way, my civil marriage would be shredded. The Cheneys routinely support and give credibility to and rely upon people who demonize their own family, and embolden forces that make life intolerable for many people in this country. A few platitudes, almost always uttered to get themselves off the hook in decent society, do not count as courage. And their invocation of privacy to protect themselves from legitimate questions about their rank hypocrisy is b.s. of the most refined variety.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

New Perspectives

It's pretty amazing how much my perspective has changed since I started riding the bus to school a little over a week ago.

No, scratch that; my perspective hasn't changed, but I really like it. And you know what? I haven't sat in traffic for more than about 10 minutes in the last week and a half. I filled up my gas tank almost 2 weeks ago and have only used about a quarter of a tank since then. I went 2 entire days last week without even getting in my car at all. And I can feel it. It's an unusual feeling, hard to explain.

I feel more like I live in a city, in a place where all the different places are connected. Riding calmly on the bus for an hour each day has made me notice things I've never noticed before, in almost 9 years of living here. Nothing important, just small architectural details on buildings I've seen a thousand times by car, the way certain things look and fit together. I feel calmer and less stressed. I hate Austin much less than I did 2 weeks ago (even if the buses don't, however, actually seem to run on any kind of actual schedule or anything....), and already it kind of feels like a different city. It's weird. Now as I sit at the window and look out, or read a great novel instead of curse traffic, or spend 30 minutes doing homework, I feel really sorry for all the people trapped in their little cars, honking, and speeding, and getting stressed out. Or maybe they're not getting stressed out, maybe I'm just transferring. Regardless, I can't believe I didn't start taking the bus years ago.

This morning I could barely get out of bed. It took every ounce of willpower I had, and I reset my alarm for 20 minutes later and thought, "I'll just drive today, fuck the bus." And went back to sleep. When my alarm went off an all-too-brief 20 minutes later, I slowly meandered into the kitchen to make coffee and start some eggs. When I sat down to eat, however, I realized, "Shit. I don't want to drive to school today." I got anxious just thinking about the deathtrap that is 35, especially during morning rush hour. So I quikly ate, and bounded out the door, trying desperately to still catch a bus that would get me to class on time. And I made it, with only about 2 minutes to spare, but I was very grateful I didn't have to drive this morning.

That's how I know I love the bus. I love my mornings, and if I'm willing to sacrifice 15 minutes of drinking coffee and staring out the window or petting my cat, that means I really, really hate driving to school. It was nice to have that epiphany this morning. And Austin is fucking beautiful in the mornings.

Wherever you are....

Today is National Coming Out Day! So be sure to tell your local congressperson or senator they don't have to pass those nasty laws anymore - today they should just embrace who they are! (Or embrace the man in the stall next to them....)

Not really coincidentally, today also marks the 20th anniversary of the 500,000 person march on Washington for gay rights and to demand government action towards the AIDS crisis.

We can cry all we want to (and we should) but it's pretty amazing to look back at how far we've come as a society in just 20 years.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bragging Rights

So, I'm not a big fan of talking myself up, at least not in a public forum, but I had a great day today. My writing is one thing I am really proud of. It may not come across in this forum so much, since I write everything here in a hurry, and usually only once, but when I take time with a piece, such as a research paper, and put my heart in it, I can write like nobody's business. And it comes very naturally to me. The last two research papers I've had to write for school I wrote about two days before they were due, in one sitting. And I got perfect scores (what professor gives perfect scores on research papers??) on both of them.

So anyway, I've been working my ass off on grad school applications the last 2 or 3 months, primarily on my Statement of Purpose essays. I've been writing, re-writing, sending to friends, writing again. They have to be perfect. It's almost getting to the point where I feel like I'll never even actually send them in, I'll just keep rewriting the essays for years and years. I had an appointment with the writing center at school today, a free service with professionals who look over whatever papers you're working on and critique them for you. I took in two essays for my top two school choices (really the only two I want to go to) today to have the grad school essay person look at them. He had very little to say, except that they were "exceptionally strong" essays, with the perfect balance of professional and personal, and a real voice that didn't sound phony at all. He made a few marks here and there for word choices or grammatical changes, but otherwise, said that there wasn't much to be improved upon. When I was leaving, he said something to the effect of, "It's really nice to see a student who's really figured out what they want and going for it. Good luck."

So I left there already feeling like a million bucks, then went to see 3 of my professors to drop off letters of recommendation forms, envelopes, and instructions. I had a little sit-down with two of them (one of them wasn't in), and both of them talked to me for several minutes about how great I was, what a strong student I was, how mature I was, and pleasant to have around, and that any grad school would be honored to have me there. And I know these professors. One of them is who I went to Mexico with, and got drunk with on a few occasions in nice restaurants in Monterrey, where he just kept the wine coming and we'd talk for hours, about politics, relationships, the world, other students. The other one I've had many classes with, and have known for my entire school career thus far, and she loves me. She takes me out to lunch and shit. So I know they're not just blowing smoke up my ass. And I know I'll get some kick-ass letters from them. And from the third one, too. She told me last semester, "When you start applying to grad schools, make sure you let me write one of your letters for you."

(Then after all that goodness, I got to go see a matinee of an incredible movie with one of my very favorite people.)

I've been feeling very pessimisstic about grad schools lately, and fearful that I won't get in anywhere. Which I think is natural, but I feel a lot better about it after today. And all those days when I'm exhausted and frustrated and broke and just kind of over it all, and I've been at school for 4 hours, then I have to go to work for 9 hours, and come home and do homework or write a paper, now feel really, really worth it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Times Change

Last May, the Oregon legislature approved two enormous civil rights bills for gay folk, the first being a broad anti-discrimination bill in employment, and secondly, a "civil parternships" bill which grants gay couples every single legal benefit of marriage in Oregon, just without actually calling it marriage. Only Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, California, New Jersey, Maine, Washington, and Hawaii have civil partnerships benefits to gay couples, but none go as far as Oregon's, except obviously, Massachussetts, since they allow outright marriage. This was an especially bold move for the Oregon legislature, since voters in that state voted to constitutionally ban gay marriage there as recently as 2004. One wishes every liberal-leaning politician could be so brave (or honest).

Both bills in Oregon are due to kick in starting in January of 2008, but not without a fair amount of protest. Former senator Marilyn Shannon, leader of the hate group Defense of Marriage and Family Again (one assumes the "again" to reference their activism when gay marriage was on the ballot in 2004), has spent the last 5 months desperately trying to get enough signatures on a ballot to present to the legislature to force both gay-rights laws into a public vote and override the legislative decision. All that was needed was 55,179 signatures, and in a state with a population of almost 4 million, guess what? They couldn't get enough people to sign it. Being only 116 signatures short, one wonders how hard it could possibly be to get just 116 more. Either they didn't try hard enough (which I sincerely doubt), or the interest among the general population in continuing to waste time spreading hatred and discrimination just isn't there.

What a differenc 3 years, a war, and a completely corrupt and perverted "family values" Republican party can make, huh?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Why live in the world when you can live in your head?

In The Happiness Hypothesis, which I previously wrote about here, he has a whole chapter on Virtue, and how in the West, we've gotten away from teaching our children to be Virtuous in favor of being Moral. The difference being that teaching kids to be "moral" focuses on dilemmas and quandaries, whereas teaching kids to be "virtuous" focuses on actual character. As the author says, "where the ancients saw virtue and character at work in everything a person does, our modern conception confines morality to a set of situations that arise for each person a few times in any given week: tradeoffs between self-interest and the interest of others." We define morality by how often (and how much) one gives to charity, helps others, does nice things, and generally isn't a total bastard.

The author cites Ben Franklin, who apparently wrote books about virtue, in his own metaphor for virtue: it is like a garden of "excellences" that a person cultivates to be more effective and appealing to others. In other words, are you willing to put in the work now (planting, sowing, tilling, etc) toward your own well-being later on (harvesting, reaping)? Becoming virtuous, like most other things worth doing or being, takes work and dedication, and growth. One isn't born virtuous, one must become virtuous. (There's a whole other chapter on the growth capacity of suffering, and whether emotional suffering and despair is actually necessary for adequate and complete spiritual growth, or if that growth is possible without it. In other words, can you become enlightened without first being engulfed in darkness?)

I'd honestly never considered the idea of virtue as not particularly being about morality before, and how the two can be such separate notions. It got me thinking, though, when the author lists what two other researchers have uncovered what they believe are the 6 top Character Strengths, each with its own bullet points, but I'll just hit the high-level virtues:


(You can test your own character strengths at Authentic Happiness, which I did here, back in January.)

One "virtue" that I personally feel they've left out (and the authors invite people to argue with them; it's by no means considered a definitive list) is thoughtfulness. That seems to me a rarity these days. Not among people I know of course (natch), but it's interesting how it seems people can be mostly very kind and good-hearted but just also completely wrapped up in their own head all the time, rarely considering the consequences of their actions on the people around them. Simple courtesies that seem to be always missing.

I guess I was just raised in a hyper-vigilant household about being thoughtful. Both of my parents went to extreme lengths to make sure that as I was growing up, I always considered every action I took and how it would affect the people around me. I was frequently shamed into empathy and deliberate thoughtfulness when I had hurt someone, or had even been capable of hurting someone, through something that I did. Or whenever I had simply inconvenienced someone, or been demanding, or careless, or whatever. It was rarely not pointed out to me. (And lest anyone recoil at the "shaming" of children, there's nothing wrong with teaching children to feel ashamed of shameful actions; imagine a world where adults never felt shame for anything!)

To illustrate just how far my parents took this, once, when I was in high school, my mother caught a friend and me having sex one night (and this friend, yes, was a boy). She didn't confront me that night, but the next morning she did, and when I flat-out lied and told her I wasn't gay (I wasn't even ready to admit it to myself, much less both of my parents in an interrogation), that I was "experimenting," but that I thought my friend was gay, she said, "Well how do you think that makes him feel? Do you think he'll feel good about having his emotions used like that?" (In an especially ironic twist, this "friend" later became my boyfriend for years, but then later also became straight, while I continued being as queer as a $3 bill.)

Thus, an example of where shaming is necessary to teach a lesson about being thoughtful. Maybe that's a dumb example, but I never forgot that; it made a big impression on me. Thoughtfulness goes beyond being merely polite. It's a deliberate mindset. It's just confounding to me that so many people lack it.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Damn you, Goodreads!!

As if it isn't enough that I get 85 spam emails a day from fucking MySpace, from all kinds of girls that want to "talk" to me, but now I'm getting them from Goodreads??!?!

Has this started happening to anyone else? I don't know why I figured Goodreads would be immune to that, but I did.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

One more Austin/Urban/Transportation blog

Mike left me a little comment in my bus-taking post and pointed me toward his blog, M1EK's Bake-Sale of Bile (appealing, no?), mostly about Austin transportation. It's a great read. Check it out.

"There are gay men who are happy to assist heterosexually-identified men in all sorts of ways."

Dan Savage was on Colbert last night. A couple of Stephen's expressions are pretty priceless. It's all worth a little giggle.

You can look at the clip here.

(If for some reason the video that comes up isn't the right one, just type Dan Savage in the search bar and it's the first one that appears.)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Last night at work, a shaggy, skinny hipster came through my line, wearing a George Strait Tour 1986 t-shirt that was about two sizes too small, even for his emaciated frame, but it was a nice shirt. Blue, with just simple white writing, in George Strait's trademark cursive logo.

"Hey, I like your shirt," I said to him, partly serious, but also partly testing him.

He looked down at it to see which shirt he was wearing. "Oh thanks," he said, smiling a little.

"Have you actually had that since you were a kid?" I asked, innocently enough.

He smiled, bigger this time. "Ah, no, it's just...from a thrift store or something," he stammered.

"Oh," I said, "so it's like, ironic?"

He shrugged sheepishly, cleary a little embarrassed. "Yeah, I guess."

I nodded. "Oh," I replied, "that's really cool." The sarcasm was dripping.

I kind of felt like a dick, but I also kind of didn't.

Round and Round

So today I finally did something that I've been threatening to do for a long time, and hypocritically not doing: I took the bus to school! I have to say, it was sort of alarming how much anxiety I had over it. I didn't sleep well last night at all, I woke up really early this morning, nervous, and I had bizarro anxiety dreams about it last night. So, shame on me, I now have a little more empathy for people who are somehow intrinsically "afraid" of public transportation. I'm absolutely 100% in favor of it, and it still took me this long to finally embrace it in my own city (at least on a practical level).

Anyway, overall, it was a very pleasant experience. It means I have to get up about 40 minutes earlier in the morning (and for someone who's already a fairly early riser, that's painful, but I'll get used to it). My biggest gripe this morning was that the nearest bus stop for me to get on the bus I need is over a half-mile away. Which isn't bad in nice weather, but if it's raining, or 35 degrees outside? No thanks. Until I realized that there's a nice little "park and ride" lot right there next to the covered stop. So that alleviates that concern a bit.

So my total round-trip this morning from walking out my front door to walking onto campus was 38 minutes. My normal morning drive time is between 20 and 25. On the way back, the total round trip was about 53 minutes. My normal driving time back is between 25-40, depending which way I go. Which, I suppose, all added up is a pretty considerable amount of time, but if I subtract the stress of driving (every afternoon I get home frazzled, hot, pissed off, and anxious), the wear and tear on my car (I could have been saving roughly 10 miles on my car every day for the past 2 years and I haven't been doing it??!?), gas money, and time on the bus I can spend doing things like reading (both for pleasure and school), I think it's a pretty fair trade-off.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Their music kind of makes me want to kill myself.

Nonetheless, I'm very excited about the new Sigur Ros documentary. You can look at the trailer here.

Yes, I'm certain that God created bananas with "ease of entry" in mind....

Fundamentalists are funny.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Parking Lots

As a continuation of the previous post, Salon (coincidentally) had a great article this morning on the plague that is parking lots in urban areas. Which, interestingly enough, is one thing I found in my research last night that cities like Vancouver and Portland were working to get rid of: vast, desolate, land-suckers which are anathema to density and intelligent land use.

In the 1920's a government regulation, the "minimum parking requirement" law, went into affect for new buildings. Today the American Planning Association has a 181-page book detailing all the parking requirement for cities.

Some cities, though, like Vancouver, Portland and Seattle, are flagrantly violating or ignoring laws on the books in order to create tight, active, walkable urban spaces without huge swaths of land being used for parking. It seems to be working. Many cities have also been taking empty parking lots (mostly in downtown areas) and simply building directly on top of them, leaving sidewalks, but building all the way to the street to not only fill in space but conserve resources.

The picture above is actually one that I found last night. This very same Safeway in Portland used to sit on a huge, dark and mostly empty parking lot. Then they rebuilt the store with housing on top and next to it, thus creating a much more economical and practical (not to mention aesthetically pleasing) use of space.

Anyway, the Salon article is worth a look if you care at all about this kind of stuff.