Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Holy Grail of Friday Night Lights sightings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Too Many Movies?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghosts caught on tape

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

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Television Killed the Cinema Star

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No alarms and no surprises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Feeding the War Machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Density Bonuses

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

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

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

I guess I must be a renegade....

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Root Shock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Hillary's environmental plan

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

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

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

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

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

I'm drunk.

Monday, November 05, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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


Oh well.

Friday, November 02, 2007

and nowhere shines but desolate

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Horizon lawsuit continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it possible for a building to be gay?

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

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

Eli Roth has got nothing on these guys

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

I'm gonna go read some Freud now.

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

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