Sunday, January 30, 2005

Ashes to Ashes: We All Fall Down and It's Okay

Just because I haven’t posted in the past couple of days doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about you. On the contrary; I’m working on some things, but I keep getting sidetracked from the things I really want to write about. A few days ago, for instance, I was going to write about the Bureau of Labor Stat's desire to stop requiring employers to provide gender data in their monthly payroll reports. But as I was transferring thoughts from brain to fingertip that morning, I heard about the commuter train wreck in Glendale, California, and then my stream of consciousness took me in unexpected directions, mostly related to irony and death. Don't worry, though; I haven't been a totally glum chum.

I started mentally tracking railway accidents in 2002, when three items were seared into my psyche that year:

February 20, near Ayyat, Egypt: 361 people on a passenger train were killed in a fire that erupted when a gas tank used for cooking exploded.

May 25, Muamba, Mozambique: 192 people died and hundreds were injured when some passenger cars became disconnected from the rest of the train as it ascended mountainous terrain. They hurtled backwards for several miles at top speed before crashing into freight cars disconnected from the same train.

June 24, near Msagali, Tanzania: A runaway passenger train collided with a freight train on same track, leaving 200 dead, 400 injured.

I’m not trying to be a bummer, nor am I discouraging train travel. It’s just that those incidents of 2002 struck me particularly hard because two occurred in places where I have family and which happen to be amongst the poorest countries in the world. What kind of rescue efforts do you think took place there? I remember reading that in the Tanzanian effort, would be rescuers wore layers of socks on their hands because they had nothing else with which to protect themselves from the sharp metal, glass, or even blood. Out of latex gloves, the doctors wore socks, too.

This is not to diminish what happened in L.A. In fact, the southern Cal story is even worse to me than what happened in 1995, when a speeding passenger train in India rammed another train that stalled after hitting a cow, injuring more than 400 people, killing more than 300, and ensuring the death of the cow. What could be worse than numbers such as these? That the L.A. accident was caused by someone who had wanted to kill himself and changed his mind at the last minute—a decision that led to the deaths of 11 and injuries to more than 200. And now he’ll be tried for murder and eligible for the death penalty. While I was riding the BART train last night, I overheard an elderly man and a teen discussing the matter; it was the man who said of the suspect, “He should have stayed in the car.” Is that harsh or humanitarian?

Mulling over the answer made me think about the couple dozen or so desperate or simply fed up folks who succeed in tossing themselves off the Golden Gate Bridge each year, making for a splashy exit. Filmmaker Eric Steel has recently created a brouhaha, having tricked the Golden Gate National Recreation Area into allowing him to film the jumpers under the guise of making a movie about the “the grandeur” of the bridge. In response to Steel’s real intentions, San Francisco City Supervisor Tom Ammiano said, “It’s creepy. Whatever the intention of the film, you can’t help but think of a snuff film.” Yet Steel considers it, “a movie about the human spirit in crisis.” Is it one, the other, or both?

In 1993, Jerry Herron published a book called Afterculture: Detroit and the Humiliation of History, which is an accurately catchy title for a postmodernist theory book. I keep coming back to “the humiliation of,” and I don’t quite know what to do with it. It enters my mind in each of the above anecdotes, and I realize that in instances where it should be seemingly obvious, I don’t always know for whom to feel sorry, yet perhaps more importantly, I am certain that I wanna feel sorry for someone.

For instance, should we have any amount of sympathy for the man who caused the commuter wreck, or is that misplaced energy? The unauthorized filming of would be and successful suicides is indeed creepy. But is it truly wrong? I’m asking, 'cause I really don’t know.

Now here's a leap. I know the original Moral Majority was dissolved in 1989, but 14 years later we’re witnessing a resurrection: The Moral Majority Coalition with Jerry Falwell at the helm again. I don’t think they’ve made much of a splash just yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be a sleeper movement. As a friend recently opined in comments posted on this blob, “We now live in a contemporary puritan society where the only acceptable viewpoint is a Christian one.” To which I add, the question “What Would Jesus Do?®” is both registered and a fashion statement.The more morality is used as an acceptable excuse or mission statement these days, the more I realize I have no idea what it is. Sure I have my own personal morality; but the morality of the collective? In addition to being subjective (eye of the beholder), morality is as much a matter of context. We can easily mourn the victims, but can we as easily define them?

These thoughts hit me hardest as I sat directly on a 1/2 inch push pin while changing my shoes at the bath house. A flyer had fallen off the board above the bench on which I parked myself heavily. It was an ad for a dance. Later that day, I witnessed a teenager on a motorized scooter accidently mow down another teen, bark at him for getting in the way, and then zoom away, hit and run style. Hours later I watched the tiniest chiuaua take on a 6'5", 300 lb. man who had merely been strolling along the same sidewalk. Then I caught a bus and sat next to a woman stroking her pet rat. I came home and couldn't write a word. My mind spun in too many directions. I couldn't even tackle personal problems.

You'll perhaps excuse me then, if my thoughts aren't quite linear. Somehow I take all of the above and come up with the notion that we are the both the perpetrators and the victims—victims of our own technology, victims of our own mad fantasies, victims of our own attitudes and beliefs. Maybe our whole culture is a destructive suicide cult. Take the death of a city (see Detroit) or a school system (Oakland) or a nation state (Iraq … or the U.S.). It flabbergasts me how social progress is always steps back before forward and seemingly never enough to make up for the regression. I’m guessing the cow didn’t know the ramifications of standing ground on the rail; and maybe some people would have refrained from a swan dive if they’d known they were being taped. When a state has to take a city or school district into receivership or when a country decides to run another one’s business, I wonder about the A to Z.

As I wonder, I wander—call it mental masturbation, a process that usually happens on a good day. Believe it or not, these mismatched thoughts are usually part of a good train of thought because they don’t upset me. I wonder because I’m convinced that somehow every anomaly and every happenstance and every state of being is interconnected. Like Einstein, I need to believe in one unifying theme. But I’m no Albert. I only know that when I stop wondering I will experience death from the other side.

It’s winter, a time when things die or appear dead, often to spring to back to (new) life as the days get longer. This winter I’ve really felt the season, becoming a recluse—home bound by choice and by circumstance. Grappling with emotional stuff related to the job-then-joblessness-now-new-job; continuing to sort out the loss of my mother; trying to absorb the rollercoaster of a challenging intimate relationship that has brought unexpected pleasure and pain; worrying about the various traumas being experienced by other friends and family; trying to stay warm and dry; battling my hair—these are all areas in which I’ve felt like both victim and perp, sometimes both simultaneously. It struck me this way last year:

Brazen December

We brave the elements
December at the ocean
beach hardened sand
waves run amok
depositing sea foam
that skitters across the dark palette
dead things washed ashore
plant animal refuse once living
now drowned but possibly maybe
to live anew
like us
city-worn, depressed and house-bound
enjoying a day in the sun after feeling
winter dead

Relentless wind freezes our earlobes
lending white noise to the pounding pounding
of sand being pummeled pummeled
of ear drums thumped thumped
of skin battered battered
and sea wings flapping flapping

into recognition of a certain kind of freedom

My mom wrote: “Look at me now—no longer working, getting old, suffering from an incurable illness, with my muscles having wasted away, unable to walk, drive, struggling with the smallest task like combing my hair, brushing my teeth while standing, which means somebody has to be there at all times to make sure I am comfortable and my needs are met, to love me unconditionally, and that is your dad. Like any other couples, we've had our ups and downs but the years have been wonderful; we are still best of friends. Many times now I feel sorry for him because I am not what I used to be. . . . ”

Who among us is?

I owe you one about the BLS—death of statistics.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Testing 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... Testing

Are you one of those people who used to suffer test anxiety? Me too, kinda. My anxiety was less about performance and more about making it to the test on time. Once and only once did I miss an exam. Who knows what I was doing instead, but it was a good day or two before I even realized I'd missed my final. I was able to talk myself into a make-up exam but to this day I still have nightmares about missing important obligations. Well, how 'bout some tests you can take at your leisure?

You may know that the web is full of all kinds of cutesy little tests—which celebrity are you most like, what your hairstyle means, etc. I'm sure that stuff is very, very important. Sometime when my time is more valuable, i.e. when I'm gainfully employed again and need some way to waste company time, I'll be sure and let you know what I find. Meanwhile, I thought we'd stick to the high road. For your pleasure, I've got some edifying tests that allege to reveal all kinds of stuff about you, and only one that may make you feel stupid. Let's start there. If you haven't been feeling good about yourself lately, you'll wanna skip it unless geography is your forté. It's not mine though I didn't do too bad. (Where in the hell is Delaware? I know it's on the east coast.)

If you think you can find Delaware . . . or the Red Sea for that matter, try this "GeoQuiz" on for size. I took the United States quiz and didn't fare too poorly. The only states I couldn't find were all those tiny ones—Rhode Island (sorry, Ben), Delaware, and a couple whose names I can't even remember now, let alone find them on the map. That's sad, I know. It was only minutes ago that I took the test. Oh, well. The only drawback to this site is that it doesn't really say what your what your score means. For example, I got 138 out 150, which would be 92% if we were still in school? Is that an A-? Dunno. There's no pithy statement to explain how well I did or didn't do. I guess they figure if you're geographically challenged you already know it, and you don't need your face rubbed in it.

Since religion was indirectly a hot topic on this blog last week, I find it appropo to mention the Belief-O-Matic quiz. The quiz professes to tell you which of 26 faiths most closely matches your religious beliefs. According to their test, my beliefs most closely match those of Unitarian Universalism (100%), followed closely by those of Neo-Pagans (96%) and Liberal Quakers (93%). My beliefs least match Eastern Orthodox (21%) and Roman Catholic (21%) doctrines. To be honest, I don't know what the hell I believe anymore. (Possibly more on that later.) They present their definitions of the faiths they selected, so you can find out just what a Neo-Pagan or a Sikh believes or what the differences are between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhists.

If "religion" is a dirty word to you, you can size up your spiritual type instead. On a scale that ranges from "Candidate for Clergy" to "Hardcore Skeptic," my responses fell somewhat in the middle at "Spiritual Straddler," i.e. "one foot in traditional religion and one in free-form spirituality." In other words, I'm confused. Just kidding . . . sort of. Actually, I would say "straddler" is a pretty accurate description.

Both quizes are provided by, an independent, nondenominational entity that let's it be known that "we are not affiliated with a particular religion or spiritual movement. We are not out to convert you to a particular approach, but rather to help you find your own. Fundamental to our mission is a deep respect for a wide variety of faiths and traditions." By and large they do a nice job. These types of things are always problematic—the questions themselves or the way they're phrased; the set of possible answers to a question or the way the answers are phrased; what's left unasked; how the test is scored; what the results really mean; etc. But overall, I found it an interesting way to spend ten minutes and get my mind thinking about some things. That goes for all the quizes herewith profiled. That said, for more of Beliefnet's "soul surveys" as they call them, inc. ("what kind of " Jew, Hindu, Muslim, or Catholic are you), as well as mediations and links to prayer circles, their web site is worth checking out.

You can rest assured in this country that where there's church, state won't be too far behind. That's another little joke. Heh. I believe it was the Libertarians, "advocates for self government" that they are—who came up with the original "World's Smallest Political Quiz." I couldn't be bothered to read the short history of the quiz, anxious as I was to find out about me, me, me. According to this ten-question quiz, I'm a centrist. Like, the Advocates have plenty of additional info so if you land a label that means. Being a centrist means I espouse a "middle ground" regarding government control of the economy and personal behavior. Depending on the issue, I sometimes favor government intervention and sometimes support individual freedom of choice or so they tell me. It seems that I pride myself on keeping an open mind, tend to oppose "political extremes," and emphasize what they say I describe as "practical" solutions to problems. I do, I do, I do, I do, I do. Sing it!, then follow the red dot below. nothing to you, you can brush up right there and then.

Not to be outdone, a duo calling themselves Political Compass decided to get in on the testing action, too. Devised by a journalist and an academic social historian, both influenced by Freud's protege Wilhelm Reich and the German critic Theodor Adorno among others, the test is longer than the aforementioned one, with a wider range of questions. The one that made me laugh for some reason is "When you are troubled, it's better not to think about it, but to keep busy with more cheerful things." It reminded me of the scene in Farenheit 9/11, where Dubya continues storytime with the children while the Twin Towers burn. Don't get the wrong idea, though. Most of the questions are somewhat more probing than that particular one, and perhaps moreso than the preceeding sites, I encourage you to spend some time here.

In essence, the Political Compass is represented by a four-quadrant system that looks like this:

Note the plotting of the economic and social dimensions on top of the traditional linear range of leftist views vs. right. The two fellows suggest:

"By adding the social dimension you can show that Stalin was an authoritarian leftist (i.e. the state is more important than the individual) and that Gandhi, believing in the supreme value of each individual, is a liberal leftist. . . .You can also put Pinochet, who was prepared to sanction mass killing for the sake of the free market, on the far right as well as in a hardcore authoritarian position. On the non-socialist side you can distinguish someone like Milton Friedman, who is anti-state for fiscal rather than social reasons, from Hitler, who wanted to make the state stronger, even if he wiped out half of humanity in the process.

The chart also makes clear that, despite popular perceptions, the opposite of fascism is not communism but anarchism (i.e. liberal socialism), and that the opposite of communism (i.e. an entirely state-planned economy) is neo-liberalism (i.e. extreme deregulated economy)."

The result is a reading of economic analysis across the horizontal axis and a gauge of social beliefs from authoritarian to libertarian along the vertical axis. I ended up right where I think I belong, with the Dalai Lama, not the Pope. (My exact numbers should you like to compare with your own were Economic Left/Right -7.94, Social Libertarian/Authoritarian -5.16. These numbers will makes sense when you see how the scoring is done).

The Political Compass is definitely a fun site to poke around; check it out when you have time to really dig into it. The site introduction is informative, and the "Iconochasm" quiz, (the link is midway down the green sidebar on the left side of their web site), gives you the opportunity to match quotes to the speaker, which isn't as easy as it looks at first glance. I got most of them wrong. The FAQ is worth a read, and they even have a grid of the 2004 U.S. presidential candidates. I especially appreciated the inclusion of a suggested reading list for each of the four quads so you can be on the same page as your bretheren. All in all, it's a pretty interesting web site, even if you find yourself disagreeing with any of the methodology.

Last but not least, if you just can't get enough, go try the Neocon quiz to find out if you too are an empire builder! Like the geography quiz, you probably know where you stand but what the heck, don't be a party pooper! You might be an Isolationist, Liberal, Realist, or Neoconservative. Can you guess what I am? I'll give you a hint: just call me Woodrow or Jimmy. There go any political aspirations I might have had.

Monday, January 24, 2005

In theory ... redux

Last week, I posted a piece that ruffled many feathers. (See "In theory..." and click on comments; for an even angrier bunch of hornets read the comments at the same posting at

Sadly, I heard not from one creationist. All the people mad at me were all of the evolution ilk, which is interesting because that's where I would put myself if there were a check box. As I mentioned in my responses, particularly to Anon on this site, I am aware that it was a poorly written piece in a certain sense yet successful in that I was trying to emphasize the fact that many of our political debates are held within a framework of semantics, which may be obvious in and of itself, though I don't think the ramifications are. Nonetheless, I was attacked (mostly nicely) every which way. Even my girlfriend was up in arms when she read what I wrote. She spent the next few days trying to convince me of the error of my ways. I agreed with many of the points made by those who responded but found it interesting that some were unable to stay on point, which is something to which I'll probably come back at a later date. But it was really the response of someone I've never met that finally got through my thick and stubborn skull.

To recap the issue: a federal district judge ruled against a school board in Georgia that placed stickers stating that "evolution is a theory not a fact" in their in science books. The judge ruled that the stickers are an endorsement of religion. While I in no way uphold the religious indoctrination of students through the vehicle of public education, I felt that the stickers only state the obvious. However, I'm the one who missed the obvious—i.e the way the other theories are treated.

Graeme McRae wrote directly to me:

"I feel the need to point out that all scientific explanations of facts are theories, and no theory can be proven. A theory can be disproved, though. This is our scientific method: to propose a theory that explains the facts, and to seek out more facts that support (but can't ever prove) the theory. If facts are uncovered that disprove the theory, then a new theory can be proposed to account for all the facts. When asked what makes one theory better than another, if both explain the facts, Einstein said, 'A theory should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.'

Like you, I believe in the theory of evolution. By that, I mean that I believe it explains the facts, and that it's as simple as possible but no simpler. I also believe in the theory of gravitation, as proposed by Newton and refined by Einstein, and in the theory of plate tectonics, as proposed by Alfred Wegener. If the state of Georgia feels the need to point out that evolution is a theory, then they should also point out that gravitation and plate tectonics are theories, too. None of them stands on firmer footing than the others. By putting stickers in science books designed to diminish just one of the theories presented in the book in the minds of the students and teachers using the book, the state is supporting the religious zealots who oppose that particular theory."

My poor ego is assuaged by the first part of his response because he confirms that evolution is a theory, though I've found that most who believe in evolution don't like it "diminished" by calling it that. (Back to semantics). But I have also been convinced that this is a case that calls for a savvier reading, which is what Anon among others tried to drum into me. While I stand by most of what I said, I can admit the error of my ways knowing that I fought the good fight and have actually wound up a bit wiser for my efforts. Thanks Graeme, my lady, and to all who lent a helping hand in raising the consciousness of a wayward blogger. I shan't forget you when I'm large and in charge.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Write Stuff: At Home and Far Away From

For more on San Francisco poet and musician Patty Boss, click on the title to her poem "From Market and 6th," the location of her recording studio.

Loungin’ at Boss Studios
From Market and 6th

it's too good to miss
"Art Theater"
light bulbs in pale orange
bouncing frenetically
on off off on on off
missing more bulbs than not
art theater
adult entertainment
Golden Gate Theater next door
soft dark three-lane dotted road
truck generic dirty white
flashing lights on the tailgate
slow walking young men,
with hats and gloves
red sport jacket
white hooded sweatshirt
bicycle with two white bulging plastic bags on each handlebar
colorful bleeding taillights
of weary workers keeping-on
heading home, signaling the left hand turn west
proud bandana wearer, head up, walking in the opposite direction
world turned again
tsunami's washed away a civilization
where gravity boils the oceans
in the way it sees fit
Björk cries of wanting
through the large Alesis monitors
synthetic flam, metallic rim shot, backwards snares
beware, of your life walking over desert,
where yellow and white dots endless

where your hands pull my body to you
and we climb into the tumbling loft
with mattress covered sheets clean and naked,
the relief and healing we seek
for others' mistake

where the bubbling drum loop tumbles backward
and we hear the sirens coming,
let's pull the curtains down
and make some love
deep into dawn.

Boston Brownstone (far away from home)

Flowers, dinners, Creole spice
South Asian condensed steam stick to my
apartment's entry hall walls
daylight of a mild cumulous July Saturday
passing subtly above and outside the
covering of obscuring rented drywall and
short pile, wall to borrowed wall.

We inhabit this place, suck our lips to the
neutral Lucite chaperone of captive urban audience.
The mirror, the storefront window
the outer black glass reflection
the steamroom carrying passengers of
brown and black round bellies
closed dripping eyes
draping shoulders and hands
trying to shed the events of the day.

My home takes me in,
silences most chaos and assault
but keeps me here from the sun
from my family, my smiles, my future
my unknown untrespassed near future.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Tales of a Twenty-Nothing

One amongst you, my dear readers, asked for something more personal from me. The observations and commentary are all well and good and oftimes entertaining but tell us more about the real you, s/he said. It's all about the journey friend, but since mine eyes have seen the glory (review title of this blob) and my brain is fried, I'll share a little something about my nothing days. Shhh, but don't tell anybody.

Journal entry Sat., 12.16.90 Detroit

The day began normal enough. I woke up pretty early, having gone to bed around 9:30 the night before. Fri. night was a night of pure frustration (lost a contact, lost an earring, etc.) Anyway Chris called, and we chatted for app. 2 hrs., during which time negative thoughts took over my mind. R. came over we proceeded to "bicker" in the usual fashion, meaning that I spewed irrationalities until she was on the verge of tears and got up to go. However, I physically held her back. I don't know what happened, but suddenly all was resolved, and I handed her her Christmas gift, which she seemed pleased with. She left to go about her business, and I spent the next portion of the day with Richard.

He picked me up, and we spent a few hours at the Gibralter Trade Center in Taylortucky which was interesting and kind of fun. [For you non-Detroiters, Taylor is a suburb in Michigan that some people call Taylortucky 'cause it's pretty redneck.] Then he took me to Red Lobster. I had the Shrimp, Shrimp, and Shrimp and a key lime margarita. Then we stopped at KMart and home. Somehow I feel bad, but what can I say? I kind of rushed him out—I mean, I didn't invite him to stay. R. arrived two minutes after he left. Phew.

We watched Twin Peaks, and then Chris picked us up. Mary-Chris and Malcolm were already at his place. After a while, Chris suggested we all split a dose. Mary-Chris and I reluctantly gave in, and we all took a quarter hit. After a half hour, we went to Jerome's new club, the Wax Fruit Rhythm Cafe. The ambience got mixed reviews from all of us. I dunno, I guess it was just too "trendy"/"hip" for me. Fuckin' Jerome prancing around. The physicality of the place was really nice, though. Anyway, we didn't stay too long—opted for The Shelter, which was awful. We decided to try Heaven, but when we got there it was still early yet (2:30 AM) so we went to City Club for an hour, and that's when the doses started to take effect. Pam, Rob, and some others were there, and coincidentally, they were all all tripping too.

We all went back to Heaven, and that's where things got bizarre. At City Club I'd only felt it in my left arm and that weird tension in my back, but 10 min. after we got to into Heaven it crept into my legs big time. I got to the point where my legs felt like rubber. My left leg was completely numb. Just by watching everyone else move, I felt like I was moving. It was funny at first because I didn't realize I wasn't moving until R. grabbed me and started moving me to the music. I should note that we did find Brian and his "new boy" on the dance floor.

After they played "Strings of Life," R. and I went into the bathroom, where R. talked to Greg, Kim, and Kelly—none of whom I recognized 'till later thanks to the acid. Back in the club, I kept sliding off the chair in the chillout room. Then I was a monkey. Then I thought I was crying, but I wasn't. Then I was a statue.

So I'm sittin' there trippin' out and in walks the monster girl—three big fat dreads, hooded pullover shirt hanging off shoulders revealing a filthy pink brassiere, sporting a very amateurish looking tatoo of a rose, an enormous albeit tight butt encased in form-fitting jeans. She was dancing directly in front of us, as her male "posse" looked on. At some point, to further her theatrics, she whipped out a toothbrush and started "combing" her eyebrows with it. Enter a Flip Wilson look alike transvestite, dressed in a nice suit.

Flip and monster get into a serious dance off. The tension is mounting in the room as the two factions of dancing warriors prepare for violence. Chris, Mary-Chris, R., and I were entranced—dangerously so. The air felt charged as with static electricity. Everyone in the venue got jittery; some laughed nervously, maniacally, which only made the dancers hurl themselves around more energetically. I kept hoping The Godfather would put "Strings" on again. That would have calmed everyone for sure since it's everybody's song. "Strings" = Detroit. The collective anxiety in the room became absolutely unbearable. The monster girl was SO hideous that I was mesmerized with repulsion. Flip Wilson confused me. I got to point that I couldn't blink and wondered if I was drooling on myself. I wasn't sure if I was a monkey, but I hoped I might be so that I could wrap my tail around myself for comfort. Just when I thought I might scream to release my own tension, Chris snapped out of it and with three words—"C'MON LET'S GO—we all came back to reality and ran pell mell for the door. In that tiny moment I knew that even though I wasn't sure if I was a monkey, I knew everything else was real. I'm learning to trust my instincts about violence in the city. Who knows what might have happened if we'd stayed. I've been telling everyone that I saw "the flash of a blade," which is not true. But I do remember R. repeating over and over, "That was bad you guys. Something wasn't right" as we made our great escape.

Blog Log 1.21.05 San Francisco

And that my children was once a day in the life of she who has become your blobber. And the others? Well, we did later here that there was indeed a stabbing at Heaven that night, but stabbings—though not a regular occurence—did happen there from time to time, and we had no way of knowing if the victim was anyone we'd seen. Chris later skipped the city with personal belongings of almost everyone we knew. (Among other things he took my guitar, Brian's Herb Ritts collection, and I don't remember what else from other people, but we all griped and moaned about it for years afterward.) Mary-Chris was his accomplice, never to be seen again. Brian drives for FedEx in Denver and loves it. R. is Head of Children's Services at a public library in Denver and has a five-yr.-old son. And I, dear reader, am your blobber. That must be enough of me for you now.

If you have similar tales to share, please do, and if not, then bugger off. You can't allow yourself to be satisfied to live life vicariously through me. Go out and DO something, then report back here when you've gathered your thoughts. This business of me doing all the work is rubbish, you hear? Pure rubbish.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

In theory . . .

Not to go on all-fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

H. G. Wells had it all backwards. Evolution, that is. Read The Island of Dr. Moreau and find out for yourself. “Are we not Men?” was not a rhetorical question.

The tug-of-war between evolutionists and creationists has been ramping up, with plans for a Creation Museum going full steam ahead and high profile cases about what can or should be taught in the schools popping up around the country. To be honest, it’s all sort of bored me until I read about a recent case in Georgia. Disappointed by the ruling of a federal judge, the Cobb County school board has decided to appeal to a higher authority. A higher human authority, I should add. The school district has already placed stickers in science texts being used, stickers that label evolution as “a theory, not a fact.” What U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper decided is that this is an endorsement of religion, which is unconstitutional. The board disagrees, and so do I, but probably for a different reason.

I actually believe in both evolution and creation. For me the former is a theory while the latter is a lovely idea. I think both are just as likely to be wrong as to be right. BorderNobody really knows. None of us were present at the beginning of time, or if we were, we don’t remember or are locked up in some sort of asylum and being force fed heavy meds. I also think the schools are a place where everything should be taught and people left to sort things out on their own. This is another lovely idea, but I’m realistic enough to know that this penchant for loveliness doesn’t get one too far in our culture. So setting the rose-colored glasses aside, I disagree with the Honorable Judge Cooper because the declaration that “evolution is a theory” is an endorsement not of religion but of science.

Evolution is a theory. Unlike the temperature of water at its boiling point, evolution is not undisputable. We tend to say that water boils at 212°F (100°C, 373°K) , though truthfully the actual temperature at which water boils is dependent on the barometric pressure. Basically, however, these are fixed points and well known as facts. Theories, on the other hand, tend to get a bad rep; in general usage, they’re viewed as being sort of nebulous, or ill-defined, or not too trustworthy. We are skeptical and wary of them, finding them lovely but not necessarily dependable because they seem too much like speculation. At least that's my theory, but within the realm of science, there’s a lot more to the science of theories. There’s a “scientific method,” that involves a series of steps leading from observation to the development of theory. Speaking theoretically, the method is dependent upon evidence, not belief or faith or desire. Fossils, for example, comprise a large part of the evidence supporting the theory of evolution. That's a fact.

In point of fact, facts are related to truth. Not like the “do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” kind of truth, because that kind of truth is often subjective: it was a red pill, no it was a blue pill. . . . You can go back and forth on that kind of truth. In fact, it is the word “fact” that should earn the kind of reputation that “theory” has in the popular vernacular. As evidence I present the first definition of “fact” in The American Heritage Dictionary:

1. Knowledge or information based on real occurrences: an
account based on fact; a blur of fact and fancy.
Besides oddly using the term being defined to define itself, the entry goes further to note that “fact” has “a long history of usage in the sense of ‘allegation of fact,’ as in ‘This tract was distributed to thousands of American teachers, but the facts and reasoning are wrong.’ (Albert Shanker).” I’m not sure what tract Shanker was up in arms about, but I’m sure the problem could have been solved with a few stickers. Nonetheless, what we’re really talking about here is scientific fact, an observation that has been confirmed repeatedly and is accepted as true, although that truth might never be 100 percent validated. The day that hell freezes over, the boiling point of water is bound to change.

Ironically, a definition of fact that I really liked comes from Laurence Macon, who writes that “facts are the world’s data. Facts don't go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them.” What makes it ironic for me is that the quotation comes from a nice essay he posted on the Usenet group Talk.Origins. called “Evolution Is a Fact and a Theory.” When I came across it, I have to admit that I was irritated. Who knows this Macon guy from Adam? But I put my rose-colored specs back on and decided that even if he’s right, (notice how I don’t say “and I’m wrong”) I’m still right: calling evolution a theory is calling it a spade. The stickers should stay.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


“I am an honest man, and I come from the place where the palm trees grow....” So begins “Guantanamera,” a song with a recording history as rich as the land from which it originated—Cuba. Julián Orbón is credited with combining original music by Havana disc jockey José Fernández Díaz with “Versos Sencillos,” a poem written by José Martí in 1891. Díaz, who was trying to woo a girl, ad-libbed his own lyrics, which he'd sing to introduce his radio show in the 1940s. In doing so, it became a staple of his program and popularized the song in Cuba. It reached a more global audience when gringo Pete Seeger recorded his own version in 1961. Cuban musicologist Helio Orovio considers it one of the top ten songs of Cuba’s musical history. Many Cubans consider it the song.

Verso Sencillos (José Martí)
Yo soy un hombre sincero,
de donde crece la palma,
y antes de morirme quiero,
echar mis versos del alma.
Mi verso es de un verde claro,
y de un carmín encendido,
mi verso es un ciervo herido,
que busca del monte amparo.
Con los pobres de la tierra,
quiero yo mi suerte echar,
el arroyo de la sierra,
me complace más que el mar.
A hymn of sorts, “Guantanamera”—or “Guanatanamerica,” as my friend's two-year-old calls it, is at heart about an honest man who needs to give voice to the stirrings of his soul. I think it’s so popular because it’s a song that even a poet who doesn’t know it can personalize. Most often it’s sung with the refrain “Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera,” directing the singer's longings towards a country girl from Guantanamo, Cuba, but with a little help from salsa queen Celia Cruz and miseducated songstress Lauryn Hill, the Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean even managed to turned it into a dialogue between himself and “a rose in Spanish Harlem.” He courts her because of love for the old tune.
I asked her what’s her name,
she said, 'Guantanamera’
Reminded me of an old Latin song,
my uncle used to play
on his old 45
when he used to be alive
During this call and response she tells him, “Yo soy un mujer sincera, de donde crece las palmas . . . y antes de morir, Yo quiero cantar mis versos del alma.” She's a sincere woman from the place where the palm trees grow, and before she dies she wants to sing the verses in her heart. Standing at the bar, smoking his Cuban cigar, her star-crossed lover replies earnestly, “Te quiero mama, te quiero!”—“I want you.” Everyone from the Vienna Boys Choir to Roxy Music has performed the song. Tenor Placido Domingo has recorded it backed with a symphonic orchestra, and even the Belgian’s are singing it. Probably my favorite interpretation is that of José Feliciano, but it’s always a great song to hear no matter the artist.

Guantanamerica's on my mind for three reasons. One is because of a great cd mix my friend made for her son, of which I, too, was a lucky beneficiary. I say lucky because I was thusly introduced to two renditions I hadn’t heard, one by Los Lobos, with their rarely heard bassist Conrad Lozano taking vocal duty, and one by Omara Portuondo, who most Norte Americanos know from the Buena Vista Social Club recording, but who has been a star in Cuba since the 1940s. This particular version was recorded early in her career and is highlighted by children singing the chorus; much later she recorded a smoky ballad version.

The second reason for delving into Guantanamerica is because of the recent controversy over a comic book Border published by Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that is being denounced soundly by the U.S. government. In 32 pages, “Guide for the Mexican Migrant,” tells illegal immigrants how to protect themselves when crossing the border and how to stay safely unobtrusive once they arrive—to which I say, “bravo!” In addition to explaining how to survive when traveling through tricky geographical terrain, the booklet warns potential border-jumpers of the dangers posed by abusive “coyotes,” or paid guides, and gives advice on dealing with the Border Patrol or police should one get caught. 1.5 million copies have been distributed so far. (If you know where I can get my hands on one, please drop me a post).

Opponents are calling the publication a “how-to” guide that will increase the number of illegal immigrants entering the United States, but to me that’s a lot like the argument that if you teach sex education in the schools and make condoms readily available to teens, you’re actually encouraging behavior that wouldn’t otherwise happen. In fact, one might argue the exact opposite. An article in NCM Online, quoted Agustín Pradillo, press envoy at the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco, as saying, “A guide to the dangers that you’ll encounter in the Middle East is not going to encourage [Americans to go there].”

State of the World 2005, a report issued annually by the Worldwatch Institute, named poverty, disease, and “environmental decline,” as the “true axis of evil,” and decried the global war on terror for "diverting the world's attention from the central causes of instability.” When hard working yet hungry people—hungry for things most of us take for granted—can toil for a few dollars a day or cross an imaginary line and work just as hard but for tens of dollars a day, they're gonna cross that line. Let's just be real about that for a moment: I would think that no country is happy to say it’s one that people want to leave in droves, but there are reasons people do. People even emigrate from the United States, though I’m sure it’s hard for some to imagine that this isn’t the cat's meow for absolutely everyone. So I applaud a government that’s willing to be honest with itself and attempt to protect its people no matter where they are. Here at home, what I often feel I need protection from is my own government's idea of protection, like the Patriot Act or the need to unleash pre-emptive strikes on the basis of lies. It's like the old saying, “with friends like that, who needs enemies.”

Lastly, I’ve been thinking about Guantanamerica because from the moment I was bestowed with the CD, I’ve been thinking about one of my all-time favorite comics—Love and Rockets (L&R). All hail Los Bros Hernandez! I was also challenged by the gift giver to write about rocket science so here it is. L&R is without a doubt, one of the most influential comics to be drawn and was even described by The Nation's Patrick Markee as one “of the hidden treasures of our impoverished culture.” That’s pretty high fallutin’ praise for a medium that has only in recent years begun to receive the recognition it deserves.

L&R was first serialized in the early 1980s and has been exploring gender, class, and race for more than 20 years now (minus a hiatus or two). Border The primary creative forces behind the series are Jaime and Gilberto (aka Beto) Hernandez, two Mexican-American brothers who grew up in L.A., listening to and playing punk music and drawing comics. Jaime’s world is a fictional barrio called Hoppers 13, located somewhere in Southern California. His art work is characterized by clean lines that are reminiscent of Patrick Nagel's artwork, but depict average, everyday, i.e. “real” people. Punk rockers Margarita Chascarrillo (better known as Maggie) and Esperanza Leticia Glass (known as Hopey)—an on-again, off-again couple—are the key characters. Aunt Vicki the wrestling champ; Isabel (aka Izzy) Ortiz, an academic bruja prone to nervous breakdowns; and Beatriz García (aka Penny Century), a flower girl-turned-superhero-turned millionaireness are just a few of the women with whom they cross paths. As noted by Fantagraphics Books, "[Jaime's] characters are infused with strength, intelligence, independence, imperfection, bitchiness, frailty, obsessiveness, and so much more.”

With a rougher drawing style, Beto’s work is mostly centered in the fictional place known as Palomar, a town somewhere in Central America with an extremely complex history. Border Publishers Weekly lauds Beto's work for being “loaded with insight about the bumpy terrain of familial and sexual relationships, swinging wildly in tone between suffocating darkness and sunny charm. His characters have enormous, tangled family trees, and he gradually unfolds their histories.” Palomar’s residents include Chelo, the lady sheriff; radical activist Tonantzín; and the center of it all, Luba—the daughter of an Indian migrant woker and former trophy wife of a very, very bad guy. Luba eventually runs a bathhouse before becoming the mayor of Palomar and Chelo’s chief rival. Along the way Luba manages to bear seven children, most with different fathers.

One of the things I love about L&R is that though it’s drawn by men, the stories are filled with women—real women. Strong women. Women who take on the world, break new ground, wrestle professionally, raise families, and only compromise when they have to do so. They even gain weight, just like us real ladies. The male characters are equally compelling and run the gamut from studs and mechanics to teachers and boozers. Los Bros’ imaginary places are filled with Chicanos, South American Indians, Blacks, Mexicans, and Asian immigrants; struggling musicians, professional lady wrestlers, movie stars, gang bangers, and Mafia types; straight, gay, and confused people; poor folk and billionaires; disabled and disfigured people; adults, teens, and children; a stigmatic; and even Steve, the gringo surf hippie, i.e. people with dreams who are just trying to get by. The world of L&R is, as Markee states, “the kind of new American place that is almost never identified on our cultural road map and never rendered so vividly.” It’s an intoxicating blend of fantasy and reality. I want to befriend these folks. I think you should too. Maggie and Hopey and all the rest of the gang are out there, somewhere lost in what Publishers Weekly calls the “extraordinary, eccentric, and very literary” Guantanamerica.

Whether you're new to it all or a long-time fan, you may enjoy two recently published retrospective collections that cover nearly the entire span of their main storylines. Jaime's Locas: A Love and Rockets Book and Gilberto's Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories (Love and Rockets) are both available from Fantagraphics and Amazon as well as finer bookstores. Grab 'em so you won't feel so alone in the land of the free and the home of the brave— Guantanamerica, north or south of the border.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Make Love, Not War (No, Really)

Because I simply cannot do it justice, I urge you to check out an article called “U.S. Army Considered Building ‘Gay Bomb,’” dated 1/16/05, and published by Al-Jazeera sans byline. I wish the article had been better cited. Nonetheless, the piece alleges to detail various weapons plans the Pentagon and DoD have had over the years. Depending upon your emotional make-up, you
may laugh or cry. Or both.

For your reading pleasure, I present an excerpt:

The “love bomb” plan involves an aphrodisiac chemical that incites widespread homosexual behavior among enemy soldiers, resulting in what the military called a “distasteful but completely non-lethal" blow to morale.

Scientists also investigated a “sting me/attack me" chemical weapon, which could make troops sexually attractive to “annoying or injurious animals” such as angry wasps or enraged rats.

They also considered a substance that makes the skin highly sensitive to sunlight.

Another plan was to create a chemical that causes “severe and lasting halitosis," so that enemy soldiers could be identifiable even if they were among civilians.

The “halitosis” idea led to another plan called the ‘Who? Me?’ bomb, which makes soldiers produce bad odors and stimulates flatulence among enemy soldiers.

But researchers found out that this device isn't effective because "people in many areas of the world do not find [fecal] odor offensive, since they smell it on a regular basis."

Like I said, I can’t really say too much about all of this thinking outside of the box stuff, but all the above italics are mine, and I think they kind of speak for themselves. By the way, the substance that makes the skin highly sensitive to sunlight is called “the hole in the ozone layer,” or actually, air pollution is the substance and the result is the hole, which, incidentally, has been a coup for the sun block industry. Thank goodness. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if there wasn’t a silver lining. Oops, maybe that’s what the ozone layer really is. Was. Boy, I’m glad the official U.S. stance is that global warming is just a mass scientific hallucination. Right on, Coppertone! What else have you got in that 50 SPF?

Yet apparently none of this is a joke. The article refers to the Sunshine Project, an organization that obtained some of the information by submitting a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request. As the brainchild of a Columbian attorney, a German scientist, and an American policy wonk, the project has a pretty interesting background. According to their web site, the three “form[ed] a small new international non-governmental organization to work on biological weapons issues” after “finding that [they] shared an intense commitment to avert the dangers of new weapons stemming [from] advances in biotechnology.” With offices in Austin, Texas, and Hamburg, Germany, they are working to create a global ban on biological weapons designed to eradicate illicit crops—like the kind at the root of that other war we’re fighting.

But this blog is about love, so I’d like to spotlight another interesting group. The We Are a Family Foundation (WAFF), founded by music maven Nile Rodgers, recently gathered together an eclectic group of performers to promote respect and appreciation for such concepts as unity, diversity, cooperation, and tolerance amongst children. More than 100 stars, including the likes of Barney, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Whoopi Goldberg, Kim Possible, Lilo & Stitch, Diana Ross, Madeline, Rollie Pollie Ollie, and Bill Cosby got together for a children's music video of disco’s greatest hit, “We Are Family,” the original Sister Sledge version that Rodgers co-produced. On March 11, (chosen because it’s the six-month anniversary of 9/11), the video will air simultaneously on PBS, the Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon as well as playing in Crown Theatres all over the United States.

Family values on the tele and in the theatres. Who can argue with that, right? Well, you know somebody can, and, in this case, that somebody is called the American Family Association (AFA), a Mississippi-based group led by one Reverend Donald Wildmon. Again, the italics are mine. The problem delineated by AFA Journal editor Ed Vitagliano is the “cunning” with which the video uses “all the right words and happiest faces in an attempt to speak to the nation’s children about ‘tolerance and diversity.’” His cover story for this month is entitled “Children’s TV Unites to Launch Pro-Gay Campaign: Sponge Bob, Pooh, Bob the Builder, Little Mermaid, Many Others Enlisted in Stealth Effort.” In it, the Rev. Wildmon explains that “most Christians are now aware of what those code words mean. If you are a person who accepts the homosexual lifestyle, then you are tolerant.” Italics mine.

I pretty much flunked my logic class in college, so I can’t be certain, but I seem to recall that if … than statements tend to work in one direction. But what if this one swings both ways? (And no, that isn't meant as code for anything, okay?). Now, if one was to assume that tolerant people are generally happy, does it mean they’re gay? If so, that song “If You’re Happy and You Know It” must be a test. I’m glad I know that now. I will surely be careful when clapping my hands or stamping my feet around strangers.

Interesting how the AFA was able to read between the lines of this evil plot. See the video was the result of a collaborative effort amongst many groups and corporations, including FedEx, Scholastic, Disney Channel, and Sesame Workshop. However, the Anti-Defamation League and, which is part of the Southern Poverty Law Center, also had some involvement, and while the former, according to Vitagliano, “promotes the normalization of homosexuality,” the latter “encourages … respect for homosexuals and work[s] against ‘ignorance, insensitivity, and bigotry.’”

Are you confused? Um, I am too. What is the point of having a family if there’s so much evil and devilry implicit in it all? Perhaps we should all have been immaculate conceptions, maybe raised by wolves or pods of Bigfeet (but not their unrelated brethren, the Abominable Snowpeople because abomination is what we’re trying to avoid here). Is it possible that then the world would be a better place? ‘Cause let’s face it, even if the Yeti don’t really exist, the real issue isn’t simply that human folk of the same gender are gettin’ it on. It’s that anybody is gettin’ their ya yas out with enjoyment instead of attending to it solely for the purpose of procreating little soldiers and consumers.

No, the AFA doesn’t say all that in their article, but I can read between the lines of stealth agendas just as well as they can, and I have news for ‘em: until we find a way to reach that parallel universe, we’ll have to keep gettin’ born the old fashioned, sinful-yet-okay-as-long-as-its-heterosexual-way and then raised in the alarming social configuration known as family—despite this pesky values business. I just hope that we have enough time to figure out the unspoken moral ramifications of cloning. If masturbation is as nefarious as same gender sex, then all hell is bound to break loose when clones stop singing karaoke duets with their templates and start gettin’ busy with them instead.

This is why science must be stopped in its tracks. Global warming has already proven to be the gateway drug equivalent of scientific beliefs. Okay sure, I’m jumping to conclusions—even strange, nonsensical ones—but I’m following the leader, i.e. the religious leader, and this is a bigger snowball than even the Abominable ones can handle. I fear the future. Help!

Monday, January 17, 2005

Martin, Martin, Martin

[Originally posted on Martin Luther King Day, 2005]

“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Strength to Love”

On April 25, 1967, King announced he would not run for president.

I've been reading Debra Dickerson's The End of Blackness (Pantheon, 2004). It is a book not without its controversies, but what I like about it most so far is that it is a bluntly provocative diatribe, both angry and learned. Late in the introduction she opines that “blacks must accept that they are a numerical and political minority and must master the dominant bodies of knowledge even as they fight for the inclusion of worthy black knowledge. Blacks must master the master’s world. They needn’t embrace it or even believe in it . . . [but can] subvert it from within if they are so inclined, something they can do precisely because they are within.” (p. 23) I know what she means, but that doesn’t keep it all from feeling like a gamble. At least that's how I felt, pen in hand about a year ago:

Moibus (S)trip Poker


Black on the outside
hollow on the inside
asked why I'm not filled with rage
who says I'm not
here—I’ll show you


Rage maybe
inherent to me not my blackness
trapped inside a self-made, paper-lined cage
of respectability
degrees, certificates, letters of recommendation
that I wish I could burn
to disappear

Ace in the Hole

Black privilege
Black rage

I wrote what I did because I felt that painting my room, doing my laundry, and getting other neglected chores done wasn't an entirely appropriate homage to the day that's supposed to celebrate the birth of a man who convinced us to march for a dream, and who, by and large, turned the other cheek. I wrote because I was disappointed that the “optional” federal holiday that is MLK Day isn't shoved down everyone's throat the way Christmas Day is. I wrote it as I remembered being in a non-black friend's car when she asked me, in all seriousness, why I'm not like other black people. When I asked what that meant she replied, “Well, you're not angry.” She had just been flipped off by an “insolent” black woman crossing the street whom my friend had almost hit because she was trying to answer her cell phone while driving. I wrote it because being “educated” can feel like a noose around one's neck. I wrote it as a way of playing the race card. Because I can.

However, today is about a man of peace. I started out by forcing myself to gauge who of the three following Martin’s has had the greatest historical impact: Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., or Martin Lawrence. After all, in some strange way, one could almost get away with suggesting that one begat the other, in exactly that order, i.e the reformer begat the civil rights leader begat one of a generation of comedic types who have the freedom to say pretty much anything, especially the black ones. America loves it when black folk say outrageous stuff—which is pretty much most of the time. Except maybe the types of things that likely to be obnoxious hotheads like Dickerson espouse. I have 226 pages of her book to go before I decide, 1) which is the worst to endure: a self-absorbed, obnoxious comic actor; a self-absorbed, obnoxious academic; or a self-absorbed, obnoxious blogger; and 2) whether this is one case where bad is a euphemism for good.

Crassness aside, if you haven’t read the Reverend King’s essays and speeches beyond a few lines of “I Have a Dream,” you owe it to yourself to check ‘em out. He is, of course, best known as a civil rights leader and a man of the cloth. But at the most basic level, he was also a philosopher, as all true visionaries are. My favorites of his many works include Strength to Love, Why We Can’t Wait, The Trumpet of Conscience, and Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? For the true fanatics, there's the massive A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. Meanwhile, on this day in which his legacy will be reduced to the same old sound byte, I’d like to share some of his less familiar quotes but ones that are particularly relevant (even) today.

From “Strength to Love” (sermon, 1963):

“The ultimate measure of man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. . . . The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

“Success, recognition, and conformity are the bywords of the modern world, where everyone seems to crave the anesthetizing security of being identified with the majority.”

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”

From Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1963):

“Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

“Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten. . . . America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay. If it loses the will to finish or slackens in its determination, history will recall its crimes and the country that would be great will lack the most indispensable element of greatness—justice.”

“The bombs in Vietnam explode at home; they destroy the hopes and possibilities for a decent America.”

From "Why We Can't Wait" (Letter from the Birmingham Jail, 1963):

“Man was born into barbarism when killing his fellow man was a normal condition of existence. He became endowed with a conscience. And he has now reached the day when violence toward another human being must become as abhorrent as eating another's flesh.”

From his Nobel Prize acceptance speech (1964):

“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation.”

From The Trumpet of Conscience (1967):

“The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility. Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.”

Somehow this madness must cease. If that's not an appropriate mediation for the day, I don't know what is.


Saturday, January 15, 2005

Aural Fixation: "Heavy Mental"

"Heavy Mental"
Written by Sipho for Naturally DopeProductions
Click here for access to this San Diego artist's mp3s

Verse One:
The conversation swervin’ with a mental that’s suburban
it's like your drinking bourbon head wrapped in a turban
Too tight some peoples is hard to excite
hard to entice it’s like the heart’s in a vice
I'm stuck in the middle no Sphinx so no riddle
giant steps I take but what counts is every little
I do what I do simply for the luv of it
not for the fuck of it at times for the lust of it
Being that I'm a human I be doin’ a mixture
of good and bad but it's still just the Sipster
Just flesh and bone some thug in my melody
all competition from me yes they gets the pedigree
Unbalanced delivery not close to my specialty
bangin’ lyrically cuz I gotta release
Raws released exhaled at speeds that exceed
the natural need to see and touch just to believe
I hope and pray on knees that’s tattered and torn
that my piece of this piece is enough to make me squeeze
Enough juice and perspective to mass collectives
injections of selections wettin’ palates with my fuckin' nectar
Increased ability that’s peace in this lecture
one world one love that’s peace in my sector

Life can be hard or basic and simple
challenge is not to get stuck in the middle
Music provides nourishment for the soul
I bless this track with heavy mental

Verse Two:
It's not supposed to be like this now is it people
where’s the love and compassion and the steeple
Where is my 40 acres where is my mule
where is it written that you gotta play it cool
In every single situation we encounter
where’s the proof go to school you'll amount ta
Something more than average
where is my Benz where is my mansion my yacht and my ends
Where does reality start I wanna see it
mutated thought in my brain so I believe shit
Where does the hope lie for those in the struggle
where is the bottom of the funnel
Where is the light at the end of the tunnel
pain is gone like I said uncle
Hut one hut two hike here goes my audible
edible touchable so visual incredible
Bump like Braille so to everyone I'm legible
between the lines slides my number two pencil
I'm philosophical theological forces that are mystic
invade our space and pull and push
like buttons so read the label jump start your mind
like cars and fuckin’ jumper cables

Life can be hard or basic and simple
challenge is not to get stuck in the middle
Music provides nourishment for the soul
I bless this track with heavy mental

Verse Three:
This circle is almost complete
my canvas the colors begin to bleed fantastic
Voyage from the dark for me true challenge
my mind and my physical form do damage
Like ballin’ with no handles a candle in the wind
flickered as I bickered with myself from within
’Till I realized the missing link stopped to think
stopped to blink then got it wrapped like shrink
I said it many times before true story
the truth hits everybody
So much strain on our brains on our souls
under pressure crack who broke the mold
The fallen angel a faceless stranger
the baby in the manger the bumba clot
who tries to break ya
The popo or the man with the .44 who says
everybody hit the fuckin’ floor
I really don’t know yo its just my heavy mental
bleedin’ from my brain to my pencil
Verbals wet ya I got ‘nuff respect due
but how do we keep being if you keep being you
I really don’t know its just my heavy mental
bleedin’ from my brain into my pencil

Life can be hard or basic and simple
challenge is not to get stuck in the middle
Music provides nourishment for the soul
I bless this track with heavy mental

Friday, January 14, 2005

Boxing Wit' Da Black Folk

I’m one of Sen. Barbara Boxer's recently proud constituents. Total props for her chutzpah at the joint Congressional session to ratify the Electoral College votes. By standing with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to protest the certification of Ohio's electoral votes, she helped bring attention to the fact that democracy, as a political philosophy, is in a state of crisis. The United States, by choice, is supposed to be the standard bearer of democracy, the model for the world. Yet regardless of whether the events of 2000 and 2004 are deemed minor anomalies or are symptomatic of a deeper systemic illness, our system is clearly suffering from a lack of integrity. Many prefer to take the view that this is merely partisan sour grapes, but we have a serious problem in this country right now. For one thing, I don't think the two-party system is appropriate any longer for a nation that is so much more populous and heterogeneous than when the Whigs fell by the wayside. But that is, perhaps, a secondary issue. At hand is the fact that the past two elections have been openly ceremonial at best. When tens of thousands of are denied the right to vote, the end result is elections sans democracy and further movement down the road of political repression. Meanwhile, if one examines the track record of election disputes in the international community—and, I love it when we send observers—it's hard believe that democracy is truly viable.

The word “democracy,” is becoming like the word “nigger” to me—both are ridiculous epithets. So when the wrong person uses “nigger,” even affectionately, it’s pretty insulting. When we go around liberating countries in the name of democracy, even affectionately, it’s pretty insulting. Along the same lines, when the word nigger is invoked, it conjures the image of a black face. When the word democracy is invoked, I picture, among other things, Viktor Yushenko and his dioxin-ravaged features. But I also picture people takin’ it to the streets. We don’t have enough of that here. The issues of voter fraud and election reform shouldn’t fall only to the shoulders of the elected. After all, they’re biased; the fraud and flawed system is how they got there! The poisoning we can certainly do without, but next time someone steals our votes, I hope we Americans get angry enough to be a true model for the world and show them that CBC isn't the only acronym for Niggaz With Attitude. Maybe it’s time for a Black Velvet Revolution.

Black Velvet Revolution?
Photo by Luc Gnago

Back to “Boxer’s Rebellion,” as the press took to calling it for a few days. . . . I received a message in my inbox inviting participation in the online survey her office is conducting to find out what we the people believe should be priorities for the 109th Congress. I was thrilled briefly to have chance to offer some input. The survey itself turned out to be extremely simplistic: choose your top three issues from a predetermined list of 17, with the opportunity for one write-in issue. At first glance, I noticed that many items on the given list are of equal importance, making it difficult to choose one over another. Upon a closer reading, I realized that most of them are pretty nebulous, e.g. “Passing an effective National Energy Policy.” What does that even mean, exactly? I’d like to see the U.S. move away from an oil-based economy, exploring alternatives such as hydrogen, solar, and wind power. Further, I would love to see the state of California take the lead in that. But none of that is conveyed in “Passing an effective National Energy Policy.” Or take healthcare. “Making health care more affordable for families” is one of the offerings. But what about single people? And does that encompass the elderly? Not necessarily because “Preserving Social Security and Medicare” is a separate topic—and so are “Ensuring veterans have adequate health care” and “Enacting a Patient’s Bill of Rights for those enrolled in HMOs.” By the way, I couldn’t choose Social Security as an issue because I think the fact that it’s fucked—incidentally, just like the Democratic Party as whole—is a foregone conclusion, and Medicare as a program is simply pathetic. Preserve them in their current forms? Hell no. Preserve them in terms of some sort of reform? Sure, but I need details. I opted to craft my own third priority: “voting reform/election reform/elimination of the Electoral College, hopefully with the bonus result of hastening the end of the Iraqi occupation.” But I also wanted to say something about ensuring the separation of church and state even as the fundamentalists take over. 3 items? 17? Without democracy, we don't have choices; without the act of choosing and being heard, we don't have democracy. At least a helluva lot of people voted this time, even though I wish I could have voted for them.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Golden Age of Wireless

“Bye-bye empire, empire bye-bye.”
—“One of My Submarines”
Thomas Dolby

Sorry, just a bit of wishful thinking. In addition to being the title of a woefully forgotten gem from the Eighties, “the golden age of wireless” once referred to radio. Of course nowadays, the term “wireless” applies to lots of things, including Wi-Fi. I mention it because once you’ve gone wireless, you don’t ever want to go back. In fact, wireless is so darn . . . wireless that the City of San Francisco, along with Philly, Detroit, Portland, Chicago, New York, and Hot’lanta are amongst those municipalities with plans to make the technology part of their local public infrastructures. Works for me. I admit I'm an addict. (Mum’s the word on my source.) As with any junkie, 24-7 access is a necessity, and, like a real “overenthusiast,” I suffer withdrawal symptoms when I can’t get my fix. Try talking to my surfer/photographer friend Six, who damn near lost her mind after losing her connection for just short of 48 hours, leaving her without access to the local surf reports. Fortunately yours truly still had a connection. When she called, I was able to assuage her nerves with on the spot voiceovers I made up while watching the live surf cam on my laptop: “Yah, there's a person out there. Yah, only one . . . well, actually I'm not sure if it's a person . . . could be a piece of debris—oh, no I think it's a person. The water? It looks cold. Oh, what's it doing? Um, it's um crashing around . . . the water i mean . . . yah, like when it . . . whatdya call it . . . comes toward the beach? Yah, a wave.”

I mention all this because Yahoo, one of the myriad Internet pushers er providers, among other things, recently released the results of their cruelly clever little experiment to deprive people of their drug of choice. 28 crazy fools from 13 clearly demented households in Boston, Chicago, and Portland agreed to refrain from Internet usage for two weeks, during which time they were asked to keep paper diaries of their experience. Unsurprisingly, most folks were miserable. (If you’re not an addict, then that won’t make any sense to you, and I’m not gonna try to explain it.) In moments of desperation, the participants were allowed a so-called “lifeline,” i.e. the opportunity to use the Internet for a single activity. The lifeline was used 35 times: five times for communication, five for “task-oriented” needs, and 25 times for money-related matters. Lifelines were used twice on the first day and peaked with seven on Day 12. But here’s the fact that really shocked me: the researchers had to approach a whopping 750 people in order to find enough willing participants—despite offering a $950 cash incentive! Now that is outrageous. They should have approached me. I would have taken the grand and signed up all my friends—inc. the piece of debris at Linda Mar. Sure, I would have been miserable, but I would have bought myself an iPod, a portable DVD player, and a plane ticket to some island idyll, where with my new toys it’d be easy to kick the habit. Maybe have a party with my friends. Then I could come back for a nice refreshing relapse. . . .

primary sources chart

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Ideas about Liberation, Pt. I

I just finished watching the excellent documentary Control Room about media coverage of the Iraqi (choose one: liberation, occupation, constipation, war cough crime) particularly as covered by Al-Jazeera. Sometimes I feel like the current global situation is utterly and completely hopeless. There are too many atrocities, environmental catastrophes, economic collapses, people sleeping in the streets, and religious, ethnic, gender, and sexual intolerances for the human race to tarry on this planet much longer. Other days I am filled with an unbridled faith and optimism that something will save us from ourselves—some divine intervention, alien invasion, self-transcendence, or simply the swing of the pendulum. At those times I am nearly feverish—as if everything is in technicolor. Perhaps then, the best place of all is what I consider the warped and twisted happy medium—that space in which I find everything perversely, hysterically funny. After all, we’re quite amusing. Besides, when you can't laugh at yourself

then comes the realization that some people are expendable
and that you may be one of them
and in trying to evaluate yourself honestly, openly on such terms
while recognizing the inherent subjectivity of it all
the way your brain is wired this one moment
which is nothing given all the many moments
compounded daily in your portfolio of you
you’re befuddled as you walk around feeling
fragile as an eggshell, tragic as a ghost, tainted as Fox Creek
vulnerable as a baby bird on the first of its many flights to nowhere
you are a shell, a husk when yesterday you were flesh
a transformation you missed
though you tossed and turned acrobatically awake all night
fit to be tied but the sleeves weren’t long enough on this jacket

Currently on the nightstand: Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann.