Saturday, December 31, 2011

365

Well, it says that I did too many entries. I could have sworn I was under by just one. I don't really care. I'm putting up this one because I planned to.

So here's the deal: I followed my New Year's resolution more or less. In one year I fully chronicled my existence on a daily basis. I forgot to count very accurately and I spent a lot of time writing to catch up. And I didn't follow my intermediate resolutions very well (a pic a day anyone?).

This year was a year. More than any other year this one was the most 2011 of any year since or to come. And so we close out the year as we always do, with our new years foods. In Japanese culture there are foods that you eat and those foods give you good luck. It's great and delicious. It's just the tradition here. I can't imagine starting a new year without all of those foods.

I have little to say about the year that I haven't already said. I am where I am now and last year I couldn't have imagined being here now. But I could as well. Things change. Things stay the same. I am in the kitchen of my grandmother's house and everyone is cooking and laughing, the same as in years past. But I'm not going back 'home' to Reno and then to school at Skidmore. I have a job—more or less—and I live with my girlfriend in Seattle.

So, this coming year. What is my New Year's resolution? I will keep the blog as I did before. Continue with the same rules. I hope to do this far into the future. This is part of my life now.

I will now meditate, stretch, and work-out daily. I'm not sure what that commitment is. I want to exhaust my body everyday. I want to spend some real time reflecting everyday. And I want to stretch everyday. Personal improvement. Everyday. Set aside time. My time.

This next year is a leap year. One extra day to accomplish my goals. New year's resolution. I can do this. I know that this is the typical New Year's resolution but I controlled the mind this last year. I will control the body now. A work out everyday. I can do this.

And I want to get something published this year.

And my predictions for 2012? I bet there will be a major pick-up in the economy. The question is what will happen with this major shift in the economy. What will happen to the Occupy movement? Will it fade into obscurity because everyone is fat off their jobs? Or do we really start to look at the policies that are making these kinds of inequalities continue? I can't predict that.

I bet there will be some major unrest in Europe. I bet that there is heightened talk of China's bubble collapsing and perhaps the actual collapse as other economies recover. I bet that the Republicans put up some whacked out nominees and it is likely they fail against the backdrop of a recovering economy and a rising backlash on Republicans. I bet that marijuana continues its slow march to legalization. I bet that one or two states approve of some sort of same-sex marriage.

I bet that there is more heartbreak and murder. I bet that there is more happiness and more change.

I bet that in 2012 the world will not end.

Happy new year.

Kristallnacht

I broke the window. Just a little tap and it shattered under my elbows.

I was under the porch talking to Ciera on the phone. The grass crunched under my feet. I kept moving because if I rested the damp soil would give under my feet, leaving more than a footprint. Ciera was calling me before she went to Canada.

The cement under the porch had a fine layer of moss in striated lines that perfectly echoed the boards of the deck above. Everything was wet; the northwest is wet though. I peeked my eyes out and looked at the sky, a few stars peeked out from slowly moving clouds. Deep blue on dark gray.

I looked back at the house, through the basement windows. My little cousins were playing around. Louie went to the fireplace and grabbed the poker, brandished it and walked out of the frame. To be young again, where everything is a sword and nothing is actually dangerous. I turned back to Ciera and recalled my evening.

I had gone out with my aunts and uncle and dad and cousins. We had barhopped downtown. After three bars and five drinks I was ready to go home. But trust me, I was not drunk by the time I was talking to Ciera. I really wasn't.

I kept looking in through the window. The orange yellow light faintly illuminated the damp bench outside. The lights turned off and my cousin Georgie came into the frame. He had his new headlamp, it cast the basement in a cold white light. A ray shot around on the ancient furniture and brick fireplace. I decided it would be a great way to scare George by coming up to the window and tapping on it with a scary face.

It didn't get that far. Instead, I put my elbows up to the glass and my whole body pitched forward through the glass. I did not trip and I did not force myself through the glass. The glass simply collapsed under me. It was brittle as if a bubble had burst; the illusion of solidity was shattered—as was the glass.

That was my night. I hope the title isn't too offensive.

To Sleep to Dream to Die

What kind of life do I live? What kind of life do I want to live?

I have found myself in the world now, expecting to be someplace, unsure of where that is. I think I'm ok. People spend their whole lives figuring out what to do.

I had a dream that I was in the desert with all my friends. In the dream they were all my friends but I didn't recognize them; I felt safe and comfortable as if around my peers. I was on a plateau, and below were huge metal structures that were built into the hillside. Man-made mixed with nature.

A storm was gathering. Deep gray clouds moved quickly over the landscape, casting a dark pallor over the red earth. Lightning played in the clouds. Bolts cast lines across miles of clouds in slow motion. The bolts froze in position.

Sometimes I have dreams of places I have never been, but I recognize them. I have been to these places in dreams past. I revisit these strange locations. The dreamworld has its own logic and dimensions. I go to these places only in my dreams and I wonder sometimes which is the real world.

Is sleep just the passage into another world? Is sleep just the other life I lead? Are dreams another life playing out in real time? I pass into another realm and it is nonsensical only because I can't control a space unstuck from time.

“Time is life's way of keeping everything from happening all at once.” Dreams are free of time's linear perspective; they make no sense to us, but we only spend a little time in that world; mostly passengers, hardly ever in control. What would our world look like to a passing traveler pulled free of time? It would be but a dream.

Ha. What a way to live. Out of control; unable to comprehend the enormity of it all. Aren't we all just stuck in a dream a bit? People aren't supposed to be able to turn on lights or read the fine print in dreams. It's hard to run and harder to fly. Isn't that how it always is though?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Kidult

I don't know what to do with myself. I feel so weak. I keep thinking to myself that I need to work out but I just can't gather the energy to do so.

I started reading Hunter S Thompson's The Rum Diary. A few pages in and I found myself drifting off. I woke up an hour later. Natalie had fallen asleep next to me. We are all exhausted.

I've been drowning myself in video games; Halo anniversary edition.

I barely held it together at dinner tonight. McMenamin's has a decent veggie burger. Ciera, David, and I went there this summer. David and Ciera ordered AMFs and we stumbled home. It was tons of fun to hang out in a bar; be an adult. And we came home; checked in on Mama, said our good nights to her. We turned out all the lights, locked the doors. We went to bed; comfortable and assured of her presence.

Kerry the cat doesn't go into Mama's room anymore. I try to pet her as much as possible. She seems to need the love. The squirrel and the neighborhood cats came to the door today as always; tapped on the window for some food. So many things relied on Mama and she never—we never really knew it.

I keep looking at my phone; I want to text or call my friends. Let them know I'm not dead and that I would love to hear their voices. But I don't know how to call them. What do I say? How do I talk to them? I don't want to talk about Mama, but I do. I really just want them to be here. A comforting hug and a moment away from the pain.

We all carry pain. Some people on the surface; others further below. I sat with Olivia outside her dorm while we talked about the events that have unfolded. She was there at the moment Mama left; holding her hand and being a trooper. She called me; was the first to tell me.

We are all still hurting. Olivia is putting together pictures of Mama. In the mix are tons of pictures of my childhood. It made me reflect. Adults are children. We are children trying to do the best we can. One day we wake up; kids with gray hair and wrinkles. And we have children of our own—no longer playing house. And we are forced to deal with adult themes and adult things and told to be big adults. But we are scared kids; out of control; unsure of our identities; looking for someone's approval and guidance. We are kids. And we try not to act like it.

I try not to think that we are silly kids in over-sized outfits; it makes the most authoritative of us look silly.

I miss the kid that so wonderfully guided me through my early years; never made me feel childish and never told me to be an adult.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Reflection '11

Christmas is always something. This year was no different. Ciera and I hopped on the road on Christmas Eve day and arrived in Portland at around 3:30. My grandma's house was busy as always and I immediately melded into the family.

Every memory I have is bathed in warm orange-yellow light. The house smelled of dark meat and heavy spice. Ciera experienced her first Chrismas with my family and she survived. It is no small task. As with many families we are loud and loving. I woke up the next morning with a hoarse throat.

It was emotional. I laughed a little louder and hugged everyone a little tighter. My parents and sisters arrived separately. My mother saw me and burst into tears when I hugged her.

The toast this year was more somber than most; a depressing reminder of the trials we had survived. But that's just it; the gauntlet is an unending challenge that we all pass through. No one fails, no one gets out unscathed, and no one survives.

Christmas day was tiring though. Mama's house is no longer hers; it is just a house now. And we had our Christmas day. It was a gray day with intermittent showers; some patches of sun. the weather reflected our moods. Peaks and troughs, emotional outbursts, even moments, and genuine mirth at times. The family is struggling; trying to make it work.

I learned a game named FaceEater; it is fun.

The place is in a state of slow motion shell shock. Things move slowly; stay permanent in my mind; familiar but full of loss somehow. And everything is on the surface with nothing but subtext.

There are lots of baked goods. We have so many cookies and varieties of backed things. I found myself baking a few days ago without even meaning to. It must be a Davis thing; the entire house is full of things we can't eat because we are too sad to.

We drink a lot of coffee. We feed and pet the cat. We play games. We sit and talk. Olivia is rummaging through the old pictures. There is so much uncertainty. We watch a little tv. We read a bit. None of it registers.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Day 2011


Likely the last Christmas at the Davis residence.

Many Eyes


Fred brought a bunch of sunglasses. I put them on.

Christmas Eve 2011


A little christmas spirit at the Hara's. My grandpa gets a sweatshirt.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Cook 03

More cooking stuff

2.A basic meal: there is a pound of pasta, a can of marinara sauce, some broccoli, and ground beef. This was my college go to.

a.Boil the water.

b.In the meantime toss the beef into a pan on med-hi stirring occasionally (just whenever you think of it).

c.Chop up the broccoli. When the beef is starting to brown pretty evenly toss in the broccoli. There should be some liquid from all this; that is fat and water—you can save it or pour most of it out, up to you.

d.The water should be boiling. Toss in as much pasta as you want in the water, a pound of pasta serves three or four people (unless they are really hungry).

e.Back at the frying pan now is a good time to cut the heat down to med or med-low. Pour in as much sauce as you think you will need for the pasta. Stir everything in. When steam is visibly rising from the sauce or it starts to boil, reduce the heat to low.

f.The pasta should be about done now; the best way to find out is by pulling one out and eating it. Pasta should—but doesn’t have to be—al dente; just a little firm yet still easy to eat. When it’s ready pour out the excess water.

g.Serve and eat.

3.Spices and garnish. Eating using spices and little additions to food always adds an interesting flair to a dish. I strongly encourage everyone to go buy at least an ounce each of the following for their spice rack: cumin, basil, ground red pepper, turmeric, ground garlic, cinnamon, and anything else.

a.Cumin makes things taste like Mexican food, and with the addition of turmeric and garlic powder, makes things taste like Indian food.

b.Basil is the default for Italian food; this can be augmented with oregano, parsley, and rosemary.

c.Crushed red pepper adds a nice kick to anything. Measure it in tiny pinches to find the right hotness. Warning: ground red pepper and ground cayenne pepper may look similar but the cayenne is much hotter.

d.Turmeric is a mild flavor that lends a brilliant color to food; it is a principal ingredient in most curries. It can add a layer of depth to generally mild and 'bland' foods without overpowering it (in flavor at least).

e.Ground garlic is perfect for garlic lovers. It has anti-bacterial properties and if you don't mind garlic breath or the possible intensity it can lend to a dish then it is a great addition. Depending on its function; ground garlic can add a salty, savory, or even spicy flavor to a dish. I like it because it is an easy and sneaky way of making a dish seem way more complex than it is.

f.Cinnamon comes in many varieties. There is the mild form we are used to and there are spicier varieties as well. Either way cinnamon adds a nice bit of spiciness that augments anything from chocolate to meats to vegetables.

g.Anything else is good too. The important thing to remember with spices (and with most foods) is that they smell like they taste. Most of a human's ability to taste is predicated on the sense of smell which is why food all tastes like gray when you are sick. Add a little at a time until you reach the desired flavor. And you probably will put too much in at one point or another; so it goes.

Cook 02

A little more on cooking

1.Start basic: When preparing a meal I always start with the basics; carbs, proteins, vitamins and minerals, and calories. Making sure to build a meal that is nutritionally balanced is difficult at first. Putting those four elements together can seem sometimes paradoxical and often adds significant complexity to a dish, but after a week of meals this becomes second nature.

a.Carbohydrates: the more complex the better. Whole grains and brown rice are common examples—these generally retain a significant number of their nutrients and are processed minimally. The next order is less complex carbohydrates such as potatoes, pasta, and white rice. These are easier to use because their flavors are milder; they aren’t unhealthy, but they do need a significant boost to make them ‘wholesome’. The final order is sugar; these can be complex sugars as in fruits or they can be highly refined and very simple like the white sugar used for baking.

b.Proteins: proteins come in a variety of forms; sometimes you have to combine foods to make complete proteins. Nuts, beans, dairy, and meat are the main categories of protein. The problem is that all of these options can become very high fat foods. High fat foods taste good and give depth to a dish but they also add calories. Be conscious of this trade-off. If you are vegetarian or a vegan remember that there are useful combinations of vegetables that create complete proteins; a simple google search yields a pretty comprehensive list—ex: squash and rice.

c.Vitamins and minerals: these are the nasty things known as fruits and vegetables. They actually can be quite easy to add to a meal without activating the gag reflex. A simple rule when identifying the vitamin content, “the deeper the color the better.” Dark veggies like peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and arugula are chock full of essential nutrients that keep a body moving. Don’t try to cheat with multi-vitamins or cereals like Total. The body cannot absorb all of the required nutrients for a day in one sitting; most of these pass straight through the body. It is much better to eat them over the course of a day.

d.Calories: people have different caloric requirements. Lance Armstrong can consume up to 12,500 calories a day. A typical male can consume between 2500 and 3500 Calories a day without gaining weight. A typical female can consume 2000 to 3000 Calories similarly.

e.Balance of the elements: it is important to note the need for customization to each individual. If you are an athlete it is probable that you need a substantial amount of everything with a 2:1 carbs and protein ratio—also a lot of potassium which is found in oranges and bananas. If you lead a more sedentary lifestyle a regular balance is likely with an emphasis on eating only to your individual caloric needs—a pound of fat can take approximately 3500 Calories of exercise to be lost. An over-eater who takes in an extra 250 Calories per day could theoretically gain over 26 pounds in one year. Just as similarly, an under-eater could lose 26 pounds and easily drop out of a healthy range of living. (Weight loss is of course more complex than intake and output in a simple equation but the point remains that over- or under-eating are extremes that are important to be wary of) It’s about balance and moderation.

Cook 01

I am not certified to say anything I am about to say. So take it with a grain of salt. But I want to impart my philosophy of cooking at least a little bit.

Cooking is an art. But art is science. And science stems from philosophy.

My philosophy of cooking is simple. Make it taste good. People have many methods of preparing their dishes and I have found validity in many methodologies of cooking. I find it is easiest to release a hard line on how food should be made and embrace the variety in preparation. One night I may feel that a dish needs a bit extra spice, another night I may use only two or three ingredients; on any other given occasion I could follow a recipe precisely whereas sometimes I look at many and get a sense of what I will be making.

Food is not an enigma. There is no reason to fear foods or their complex flavors. Each ingredient in a dish can add layers like colors on a canvas. If ingredients are colors and the dish is the product then it is also apt to note that the Mona Lisa will not simply arrange itself from the many ‘colors’ in your pantry. So it will be tough at first. And often you will fail. There have been plenty of nights where I have made a meal, sure of its final success, and been disappointed with its outcome. Sometimes they suck. But they are usually salvageable as leftovers.

Always remember that you get another shot at it when you get hungry again.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On Death and the Cosmic Scale

The night that Mama died, Ciera and I had a long conversation about death. What does death mean? Of course we are not the deepest philosophers on the subject and we are far from the first but we thought we would tackle it.

Here's my take. A living and a dead body in the universe are little different. On an atomic level all of the matter or energy is retained. It is never lost; it just goes someplace else. From a cosmic perspective there is no passage into another realm. The very act of dying is seen as little more than a transition of the body into a state of accelerated entropy.

I was walking down a street near the apartment and I was struck by a thought. I saw before me a small landscaping boulder and a brilliant orange maple tree. The two objects were there. They had, in my mind at the time, such an overwhelming and determined physical form that I was struck by the thought that nothing in this universe can actually leave it. The boulder is just as much here as the maple tree. Both are distinctly different but at the most basic level they are indisputably unable to exit this dimension.

So the information of our lifetimes must somehow also be retained. And only with the passage of life into death and all things into entropy, does that information slowly fade.

On a cosmic scale we remain meaningless. A comet could kill us in an instant. A supernova could incinerate the earth. The entire planet earth could be transformed into a lifeless ball in an instant. And aliens on a distant planet 13 billion light-years away would not care or know. Even if they could somehow see it, by the time the information reached their world, it would have happened so far in the past as to be meaningless.

Cosmic scales are bad for making us feel like our actions have value. I do what I can for those around me. I am still an animal and I believe that I can make this macro-environment called Earth more habitable for all the organisms around me. I will endeavor to do so at least.

I was walking to work today and I thought about what death would feel like. It is probably the least painful and most wonderful thing. The brain is known to shoot off a cacophony of signals at the point of death; one last hurrah if you will. If I were to die, I suspect it would be like sleep. I never quite know when I fell asleep but when I wake up I know that I had slept. Death must be that dreamless slumber that does nothing but please us.

Pre-recap 2011

This year is almost over. With nine days left I thought I would recap it with some of the major points. And I know that anything can happen in ten days, so let's just call this the draft.

I graduated college with a degree in Political Economy.

I got my first job at a public involvement and facilitation firm called Triangle Associates.

I got my first real apartment with my girlfriend Ciera.

I moved to Seattle.

I spent the summer with Mama and Nan and all of my relatives in Portland.

I got in a car wreck.

I quit the crew team due to my back injury.

I lost my great aunt Yae.

Anwar's mother Sandra passed away.

Ciera's grandfather Jim passed away.

Mama died.

My great aunt Marian was diagnosed with brain cancer; she is currently undergoing treatment.

It didn't happen this year but at the end of last; a great family friend, Steve Pitts, passed away.

I got my very first Christmas tree—we never had any at my house because my grandparents always had some.

I wrote a thesis on resource management and the difficulty of avoiding the tragedy of the commons.

I said goodbye to the college life.

I packed up my room in Reno and headed north in a 1996 Buick LeSabre.

I helped create a dialogue on campus for my peers to talk about the community on Skidmore's campus.

I was an extra in a really bad pitch for a reel to a studio.

I took lots of photos.

I read about the top 1% in Winner-Take-All Politics by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson.

I became a huge fan of Bill Bryson and all of his writing.

My friends scattered across the globe and now I talk to them rarely but I cherish each moment with them still.

I learned how to deep fry food and how to make vegan molasses cookies and chocolate covered batter balls.

I had the time of my life celebrating huge milestones in my life with friends and family.

I turned 22.

I met tons of new people.

I saw tons of theater.

I, despite the pain, have had an amazing year and am very grateful to all of the people who have been with me this year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Wonderful Mrs. Jane Bennet Davis

Ciera and I were so happy to be there. Portland was part of our journey north to start our own life. Mama took us in and she was wonderful. The first day I bought groceries and she slipped me some cash, “you should never have to pay for groceries here.”

Over the summer we spent a great deal of time together. I would happily come downstairs and grab a cup of coffee. Then we would read the newspaper together, trading sections as we finished them. Then, after I read the comics and Ciera had woken up, we would dig into the crossword until we were stumped. Mama was much better than Ciera or I. She never gave herself enough credit for her achievements. She could easily fill out 60-75% of a crossword well before Ciera or I even rolled out of bed.

The summer was a gray one, but I only remember beautiful days with her. We potted her hanging plant. A beautiful red flowering plant that swayed gently in the breeze. Over the summer one red bloom turned into hundreds.

Mama fed seeds to the squirrels. In the morning they would come by the door and rap on the glass, trying to get in. She would take a handful and lay it in front of the squirrels.

She and Kerry the cat had a special bond; Mama would scold her or talk to her, knowing exactly what she wanted. I often tried to decipher what Kerry's belligerent pawings at the door or at the chair meant; Mama knew exactly. “We have a special language,” she used to say. I always thought it was funny because they were such close little companions. Kerry would try to get up on the chair with her, one of the few people that cat was ever affectionate with. Kerry would stand guard in the halls at night, or sleep on the bed with her. They matched each other well; both were beautiful and tiny; set in their ways but in a gentle way—one devoid of stubbornness.

One evening I brought a duckling that Ciera had volunteered to take care of home. Mama was excited to see it, “isn't that so adorable!” With her faint southern accent everything that came from her mouth was honey.

We celebrated her 82nd birthday. She dressed up in a pink suit, drank a little too much red wine, and had a wonderful time. We all did. I put on a shirt and tie to really make it a celebration. The family got together every Sunday night for Family Dinner but this was a special occasion.

Seeing her all summer was one of the most important parts of my life. That I had the good fortune to graduate college and be totally aimless for a summer was worth all of the personal uncertainty. As much as Ciera and I were worried about jobs and finding an apartment and a place to live and a place to be, I found in Mama a true and wonderful support.

With her passage, Ciera and I now have a very noticeable hole in our lives. She brought us in in her perfectly magnanimous way; the southern belle gave us so much. I only wish I had been able to give more of it back; that the summer hadn't ended, and that I could have just one more quiet morning with her. The cat sitting by her side, the red blossoms hanging under her white awning over the deck, the sun peeking through the big trees in the backyard, the smell of coffee and bacon, a nearly finished crossword, and Mama sitting there—humming lightly to herself.

Last Call

I suppose there is no good time to get the call. But I got the first one while I was driving.

The worst part is knowing exactly what the call is going to be and knowing that you have to pick it up and knowing that you aren’t going to like it at all. Olivia called me, barely holding herself together. Her voice cracked as she told me we were in the last hours. It’s surreal to have that sinking feeling; of knowing where the natural chain of events is going, and despite that knowledge not feeling one bit better.

My legs went numb and my ability to drive separated from my self. I picked up Ciera somehow and we drove home, mostly in silence. I spent the rest of the day trying to feel something. Trying to understand my body and mind inverting their positions.

I sat in the chair all day and watched out the window as I tried to not feel trapped and scared. Ciera had to go to work again (she worked a double) and I was left to think to myself. A nap, a weak sketch. I felt breakable, fragile, and numb.

I called Olivia again and checked in with her. She said that there were less than 48 hours according to the nurse. We would have to just wait. I kept wondering to myself, “should I have gone to visit her this weekend?”

It was a tough call not to; I decided against it because I was told that she was barely awake at all. Thirty seconds here or there, a slight nod, glazed over eyes, and maybe a verbal acknowledgement. She was making the transition and we couldn’t follow. I couldn’t follow. I talked to my aunt Liz and uncle Joe and my mom and my sister; all just to decide if visiting would be the right thing to do.

I walked in the dark, up Queen Anne Hill, and as my breathing became heavy, my decision was made. “If you come this weekend it will be for you. She’s not really here anymore.” So I stayed in Seattle this weekend and felt the furthest I have ever felt from my family.

The call never comes at an opportune time. And the week before Christmas is a terribly difficult time.

Monday came somehow. Time never announces its comings and goings. And Ciera told me that Amberlee had lost someone unexpectedly. A mentor to her; a sudden and tragic death. She was going home. So we spent the evening with her, watching tv and hanging out. She packed and we promised to take her to the airport in the morning. Ciera got on Facebook before going to bed. A girl we had gone to high school with lost her older sister. The woman died in childbirth; fighting to give her child life.

I went to bed early; hoped that I wouldn’t feel groggy in the morning.

I was asleep; dreaming of the cliché that life and death are. I remember speaking of the absolute tragedy of loss in life to someone in my dream. They spoke of categories of loss and pain. I retorted that there is no scale for the loss of life in this world. They replied that humans are meaningless in the fabric of the cosmos and nothing is lost in death; all matter is retained, the body in life is the same as the body in death. The energy in a body transfers to another place, but is not lost. I wondered at this, opened my mouth to speak and then I heard my phone.

From across the expanse of sleep and wakefulness I heard a buzz. My body re-entered the waking world. My arm reached for my phone. It was my sister. The second call had come. She was crying, and I didn’t need to be told why she was calling. “At 12:31am Mama passed away.”

And I didn’t feel what I had expected. A pure numbness crept through my body. All I could think about was sleep. The only way to shake the moment was to drift back into the dream; maybe I would wake up in a world that was different. Maybe I would still have the opportunity to be with her a little bit longer.

I made sure Olivia was all right and I hung up the phone. My body shifted into sleep. And then the phone rang again. It was my father this time with the same news. It doesn't get better a second time.

Every call ends with “I love you.” And it is our way of saying so much more. It conveys all our hopes and fears and sadness and joy.

Work was a blur today. A hellish prison where I wasn't sure what I got done.

I can only have one-way conversations with Mama now; I will miss her southern charm and her regal nature. I will miss her moments of incisiveness and gentleness. She was there for my birth and helped me when my mom had brain surgery. She has been so strong and she never gave herself enough credit.

Whenever I talked to her and she did something clumsy or clueless she would brush it off, “that's just what happens when you get old.” I never believed her. She was never old; 82 was just the beginning.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Download This 2of2

Fans don't support swill, and don't buy that the multi-billion dollar industries are struggling. They are uncertain that the profits of the products are going to the artists—they are wary of executives lining their pockets with sales. And they aren't stupid. It is a well-known fact that recording artists make the majority of their money selling concert tickets; it is well-known that good movies with strong marketing campaigns never fail to turn a profit—hell, even the crappy ones succeed.

The RIAA and MPAA are spending too many resources on attacking their clients. Their clients do not want to fund what is basically a witch hunt by those organizations to take down fans that appreciate the art that is being put out. It's an absurd argument.

They don't attack libraries because they provide repositories of information freely available for consumption. In fact, the public fully supports them. The problem, therefore, lies not in the free aspect of the product, but rather in the RIAA and MPAA's failure to capitalize on it.

It is hard to feel sympathy for artists and executives who freely shine their bling and jets around at a tightly squeezed middle class. There is no shortage of irony in executives asking a public that makes less than $45k per year to give them more money to make high-concept debacles like Transformers 2 or anything coming out of Brittney Spears' pie-hole these days.

So, the short of it: don't tell me these industries are struggling when I wonder how I'm going to pay my bills and feed myself. Don't tell me that the internet should be censored because the RIAA and MPAA don't know how to stem the tide of 'plagiarizers.'

The problem is that the information is out there and there is no turning back from the digital revolution that is occurring. The only way to solve the problem is through embracing it and understanding that in this new age there are ways to make money but it may not necessarily be in holding the copyright to the work.

Download this 1of2

Why the impact of digital media is hyped up and why banning the use of digital file services like bittorrent is not a solution.

The world is going digital. Has been for some time. And along with that digitization is the prevalence and proliferation of pirating—the process of downloading and sharing copyrighted content illegally. While pirating is dubiously illegal—all suits filed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) are civil (read not criminal)--my focus will be on the perceived negative impacts of this practice and how it has changed our intake of media.

First and foremost, it is important to note that not all pirates are the same. There are many versions of illegal materials available online with a wide variety of qualities. Star Wars Episode III was available as a rough cut and without finished special effects before its release in theaters. Most movies are almost immediately available to download or stream on the web within a couple days of a movie's release. The most polished version comes in the form of digitally freed files off the released blu-ray or dvd. These usually provide the highest quality for videos. Similarly, music follows a pattern of available files—the music can be low quality with tracks missing from the final album until the album is released, and there is usually a perfect copy available for download.

Why are the unfinished products popular? Because people want a sneak peek. Fanboys especially. Science-fiction movies and indie bands typically have early releases of their work and have some of the highest numbers of illegal downloads. Not only is that community technologically gifted but they are also devoted. The second demographic is young people. I am part of a generation that has grown up around technology. I am able to master computer interfaces with ease, understanding the intuitive logic that is necessary for computer proficiency. My entire generation is used to texting, blogging, on-demand media, cell phones, instant messengers, and the fusion of computers with our social lives. The young people not only know what they want, but how to get it.

So that brings me to the question I pose to the RIAA and the MPAA. Why should I buy what you make? In a world where youtube, megavideo, bittorrent, and grooveshark give me what I want for free, why would I ever want to play by your rules. Let me reframe this a little. This isn't about pirates; this is about the rise of a culture of free. I can find plenty of clips on youtube that provide me with just as much if not more entertainment than the MPAA's big budget stuff. I still go to theaters, I still rent movies, but I rarely purchase anything. And that's because the profit model is outdated.

There are adequate if not better substitutes for their product out there and a big budget movie has become indistinguishable from the many homemade videos that exist. I do still play by their rules to some degree but to another I have completely shunned them because they don't fit in the modern era. Information is freely available. A copy of a cd or movie is equal in quality to the original yet easier to obtain and has zero cost associated with it. There is nothing lost but the time I put in. Now, look at what has been successful. Transformers and Avatar were two of the most downloaded movies online yet still raked in record profits. So there are two arguments: sales of desirable products are not hindered by illegal downloading and free availability of products serves as a lower risk investment than the traditional method. Despite my 'illegal' viewing of products I still manage to go to the theater often; sometimes I see movies twice in the theaters.

This, of course, serves as anecdotal evidence, but what I'm trying to say is simple. Don't give the public crap products and be surprised when they don't sell. One of the major things you see on the comment boards of cds is, “these guys are great, go buy the cd when it comes out.” More than anything devoted fans are just that and want to see those they perceive as good succeed. Fans support their artists.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Land Leave Excerpt James Backstory 2

James felt stars burst into life; the fusion reactions burned his body; vaporized him. He was a string of atoms gently traveling for millions of years on solar winds. He got trapped in the gravity of a cold and desolate moon. His particles spread and settled across it's shorn and wind-torn surface.

He was in the hospital, by his mother's side. Her hands were thin and barely more than bone. Her skin was sallow and bruised. Almost anything made her bruise now. The smell of a hospital pervaded the stagnant spring air. It wasn't hot enough to open a window, and not cold enough to turn on the ventilation. James was 15. he looked at his mother; her hair was put together perfectly. She coughed lightly; cleared her throat. James looked around the room. He stared at the cards on top of the dresser. A couple of pieces were animated, several were handwritten on traditional paper. An expensive floral arrangement was the centerpiece. The flowers bloomed and died every few days, each time another variety of flowers and colors. James' father had gotten it for her; he had convinced a lobbyist to purchase it for him in exchange for a vote. James hated the beautiful flowers.

His mother woke up, “water please,” she whispered faintly. James fumbled for the water and held the straw to her mouth. She sucked on it lightly, barely taking any in. “Thank you.”

“Glad to see you are up ma. What do you want to do.”

“Rest,” her voice was little more than an exhale, “your father.”

“He's going to come after the senate hearings. He said it would be a quick vote.” The two of them waited until well after sunset. James turned on the news. It said that a block of senators had conspired to filibuster it until their tariff riders were added. James got out of his chair and walked over to the flowers. He picked up the plant and smashed it into the floor. The flowers pulsated a beautiful array of colors, red, purple, yellow, orange, blue. Every hue until they turned brown and shriveled up.

James stepped on them; crushing them into the ground. He kicked and punched the wall. He sat back next to his mother's bedside. She put her hand on his and motioned for him to come close. James leaned in to hear what she had to say.

“Don't lose sight; don't lose him. He's a good one, that boy--” she trailed off, fell asleep. The strength left her hands. James looked at the body of his mother. She was on the edge; her frame was so thin; her hospital gown was a blanket. Her eyes were sallow, glossed over. It was nearly unbearable for James to look at her for long. He remembered how easily she held him as a child. She couldn't hold a cup to her mouth. James held her hand and felt his throat tingle, his eyes burn. Her breathing was shallow and rapid. James wished his father would visit; it was all she wanted.

James entered the fabric again. He grew old and died in an instant. And at the end there was peace; there was love; and there was innocence. But that faded; he came back to the moment, he was back on board the Eve. His straps felt so real. His feet against the floor felt real. And he knew that they had made it through. He looked over at Dr. Bacchi who seemed to be regretting finishing the contents of his flask.

Dr. Bacchi regained his composure and looked at James, “well, onward and upward I suppose.”

The Eve emerged nearly at the very limit of human exploration; the Ares wormhole.

Land Leave Excerpt James Backstory 1

Going through a pinhole appears to take only a moment; entry and exit happen nearly simultaneously. But with a ruptured stabilizing field the temporal experience for the crew can be disorienting. Breaking into the fourth dimension is one of eternity and instantaneousness. The captain thought quietly to himself, here we go again. As they entered the field he dove for the manual controls and locked into them. The captain flipped the manual adjustments just as the Eve entered the wormhole.

Immediately the Eve exploded in a million other universes. The captain focused his thoughts and tapped the controls frantically. An eternity passed. The Eve came out of the black hole forty billion years in the future—pure unending blackness. The Eve came out of the hole at the Big Bang—brilliant pressures and explosions; the universe was a pinpoint. The Eve stayed in stasis, held the moment still, one half in the three dimensional universe, the other spread across time and all other possibilities.

James was half-way strapped into his seat when the Eve threaded through. His body tore apart, every nerve was in pain. And then he was in his room as a kid; he was three years old. Light streamed through the blinds and the faint sound of a landing Navy vessel entered the room. The hum and buzz made his heart jump. He raced to the door, “daddy!”

He was taken up in arms; strong yet gentle, soft and comfortable. They were his mother's. He buried his face in her neck giggling, “he's home! He's home!” She held him close; her perfume was subtle but it seemed to be the only thing in the room. He felt held and comforted.
“You have to wait; Daddy has to dock the ship first. Do you want to go and meet him?” James nodded excitedly, “ok, we'll get your shoes on and meet him at the docks.”

James was pulled away from his mother's arms, he could sense nothing. The universe was a uniform blanket that smothered him until he became part of the fabric. He was twelve and he was trying to ignore his parents fighting downstairs.

“Senate! We can't do this Jim. When are you going to see James?”

“I see him all the time! Senate would be less of a commitment than the Navy; think, I would be able to stay here and actually be with you. I want to see him grow up.”

“But the media! The attention, I can't do this now; not when I'm--”

“You think I haven't thought about this? This is my family's legacy.”

“Legacy, this is about filling your father's shoes?”

“No! Damn it, it's about something greater. I'm telling you there's more to this! This is bigger.”

“Bigger? Than us? Than our son and your wife?”

James played with his spaceship; made loud buzzing noises to drown out the argument. The yelling stopped. He heard a door slam.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Back Issues 3

This explains that cool little Elvis hip thing I can do but also why I have so much difficulty with certain posture exercises with my back—especially rowing. This hypermobile region is susceptible to major forces but also sheering. Sheering is when the bones slide (like dislocation only not nearly as drastic). This is the feeling I had that if I could “just crack it back” I would be fine. The sheering literally pops my vertebrae out. When the bones slide the muscles in my back contract suddenly causing the bouts of pain I experience. The sheering increases my risk of herniated disks and worn disks. And it's not 'preventable' because it is set-off by regular daily use until my back decides that is a no go. In the long-term my back should become tighter and this will start to actually fade as an issue. Right now though, it will continue to be a problem unless I stay vigilant about a few things.

First, stretch. Stretching all of the muscles that could get tight is very important. The hamstrings connect to the 4th and 5th lumbars—so think of that. Stretch auxiliary muscles as well. The muscle groups in the core that are used for balancing and locomotion are many; it takes a lot to keep those muscles limber and reduce their strain. Particularly the butt, my PT said, “you have weak gluteals” which is her saying my butt needs to be a little bit tighter.

Second, exercise auxiliary groups. Many people think the core are the abs but the legs, back, and any stabilizing groups are involved in the core. By keeping those minor groups strengthened it greatly enhances the ability of the major groups to function. I seriously believe that this is a major cause of much of my pain as my ability to lift fairly heavy weights is good for major muscle groups but I haven't spent much time honing the minor groups to support that extra ability. When talking about this in a rowing context, I think it is important to add an emphasis on the groups that aren't associated with the main motion of rowing. My guess is that this will also help significantly with balance and setting the boat.

Third, be consistent. The exercises I have been doing feel minimal to say the least but I am always surprised at how tired and stretched I feel at the end of them. In order to improve it is imperative that I maintain a regimen that fixes my back.

The pay-off is enormous. I know that if I am good at this and consistent I can wrangle my pain back in to how it felt in the summer. And I know that someday I will be able to row and lift again. I'm very excited about the prospect of making it through this storm not just ok but better than I was. Walking home after this last session my back was super loose and I felt like I was walking on clouds, it had been so long since I had experienced no pain in my back I was kind of astonished. There was a certain clarity of thought I missed. I hope that I can feel that more.

Back Issues 2

Then the accident happened. One day before my first day of work, I was driving from Portland to Seattle and I got hit going 60 on the freeway. Yeah, it sucked. And it's still not over. I felt ok after the accident, walked away and experienced typical muscle soreness. But then the back pains started coming back. Since the accident I have experienced more bad days than before with pain only being exceeded by when I was first injured. Like I said, it sucked.

I finally went to get a diagnostic and I got the same old. My muscles were contracting around the nerves in my back and their continual use (because when are you not using your back?) was aggravating me. The car accident likely caused my muscles to contract far further as a protective reaction to my back. And that wasn't really too crazy. It really meshed with the onset of this bout of symptoms but it didn't follow on the past history too well. But I was prescribed some really potent muscle relaxants (cyclobenzaprine which makes me way drowsy for like 12-16 hours) and physical therapy.

Well, I finally talked to my physical therapist and she performed a full diagnostic. There she was able to find the exact points where by back was—well, screwed up. No one has been able to replicate the pain I experience in my back reliably. My PT was great, she went vertebra by vertebra until she found the points that were weak.

So here's the diagnosis as she—and I—see it. My back, like all backs has parts that are more mobile than other parts. The spine, being composed of a series of joints and bones, has many points where it can bend. Each point has a different amount of mobility—the amount that joint can move. “When people talk about being double-jointed they are talking about being hypermobile; where a joint can move more than what is said to be normal.” The issue with my back was two-fold: hypomobility and hypermobility. The upper portion of my back was hypomobile, or lacking in much mobility. That region of my back doesn't naturally move much and that means that the range of motion I experience comes largely from the hypermobile region of my back. The hypermobile region of my back is my 4th and 5th lumbar vertebrae. These regions experience extra movement on a regular basis.

Back Issues 1

I finally feel like I have a little resolution with my back. My back was injured about a year ago, ultimately ending up with me quitting the crew team and laying off back intensive exercises. I got in a car wreck this September and it started acting up big time. To finally deal with that I went to physical therapy after a lot of hemming and hawing.

My symptoms were a history of back injury and strain, none of which went diagnosed or even looked at by a doctor. I never felt it hampered my abilities and so I never went in to see a doctor. Then, after rowing for three years, my back “snapped” and I could no longer do anything. I experienced severe lower back spasms and very limited flexibility. It always felt like if I just “popped” my back into place I would feel fine again. Instead, for weeks I suffered sharp pains in my lower back that eventually died down to a dull background noise that ebbs and flows. I couldn't seem to trigger the sharp pains. I am only able to really elevate the discomfort of the dull pain. At seemingly random times my back does lapse and I find myself in pretty bad pain in the mornings. My entire back tightens up as a response and I can't seem to get comfortable except when lying down; even prolonged periods of that can hurt my back. And those are my symptoms more or less.

Before getting into what I truly believe to be the right diagnosis, let me go over the wrong diagnoses I experienced.

The first wrong diagnosis was by an orthopedist who took a look at me, called it a muscular tear, determined that I didn't have a herniated disk and said I would have some scar tissue for the rest of my life. Well ok. It sort of fit the things he was talking about; the day we were rowing I did row pretty hard but I really wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary. It fit all of the major symptoms but it didn't seem to sufficiently explain my previous history of back discomfort.

The second diagnosis was by a chiropractor. He was recommended by our physical therapists at Skidmore. Although reluctant to go see a chiropractor (my grandfathers were both doctors) I acquiesced when I heard that he was more like a physical therapist. He ran an x-ray on my hip, and called it (surprise) an alignment issue. I actually believe he saw the problem and was able to understand the crux of my issue but I don't think he had the training to really accurately diagnose me or treat me. He gave me some good exercises to generally improve flexibility and strength in my back but I didn't ever go back. And that was because he had me stand up when he took the x-ray of my hip and his diagnosis was that my legs were out of alignment and my last few vertebrae were congenitally hyper extended. That didn't fit with the onset of the first bout of symptoms sometime around my 16th birthday. It didn't quite fit with a lot. But he knew how to tell me to stretch.

Anyways, the stretches worked a little at least. Or maybe they didn't. I ended up doing some hot yoga and quitting the crew team right about that time. I realized that my back was too volatile to be doing a sport that could easily hurt it. To be fair, crew can actually be really good for the back but at the competitive level there are just too many forces and generally too little coordination on my part to effectively contain the impacts. So I traded in a room full of hot sweaty guys bending over and grunting for a bunch of women contorting themselves in an oven. Not a bad trade for anyone into sweaty rooms or the female form.

Soon my back was feeling functional. I spent a lot of time just trying to get it strong again but found little success in making progress beyond everyday functionality. Then I graduated and did all of the crazy stuff that comes with transitioning out of a life with relatively little responsibility. During the summer I was feeling good. I could use my back pretty well. I was lifting medium to heavy weights without major difficulty. I was living an active life, I hadn't felt my back act up for a long time.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Development and Democracy Revisited 2 of 2

Organization: the core of institutional arrangements.

There are few individual citizens in any region who can take the time out of their day to protest any action by their local government. Developers are paid to support their projects and have extensive financial resources to back their long-term agenda. Other special interest groups tend to be less well-funded and have a far more diverse set of agendas than a singular developer. They can generally be divided into two larger groups: environmental and social. Environmental groups may be concerned with open-space, with regional transportation, with watersheds, or with endangered species. They may want bike lanes or they may want dams to be destroyed. Environmental groups tend to unify on few issues together, making their stretched funding even more piecemeal. Social groups stand as the other main opposition to a development; often being concerned with income inequality, fair housing, access to public transportation, and racial inequality. Social special interest groups tend to have very finely honed agendas that make unity of one issue nearly impossible.

The social and environmental groups constitute the majority of organizations that can successfully shape the outcome of a project. Often these groups are able to garner low-income housing, preserved open-space, and set aside investments for public services such as schools and roads. In Portland, these groups are widely successful. They have a unity and organization that is rarely seen on a non-national level. This could be credited to the liberal nature of the region, but I believe that to be a cop-out. The success of those organizations is no doubt partly attributable to a favorable political climate, but the power of a good network that has full access to all parts of the system cannot be underestimated.

In Portland, there are groups with liaisons to developers and politicians. There are lawyers retained merely to be prepared for a legal action if necessary. There are mailing lists and activists on phone trees. Portland groups have action plans and contingencies, networks and connections. They are a force that must be dealt with before anything gets approved.

Now, obviously other regions have more cash-strapped and less comprehensive networks of social and environmental interests. Of those two, one is rectifiable. In Reno, the region is small enough that accessing local politicians is rarely hard, I was able to schedule over hour long interviews with nearly every major representative in the region. The same goes for developers. One developer I interviewed stated it pretty succinctly, “I live here, I go to the grocery store here, I don't want to face angry neighbors and I don't want to make crappy houses.”

There is a strong willingness to try to make things amenable to all parties. The problem remains the weak network. Time after time I have heard stories of projects that aren't decided at public meetings, but days or even months before. The smoke-filled back room is not a myth; many deals are carved out with what are perceived to be the key stakeholders months before the actual vote. Notably absent are the environmental and social groups.

To be a key player it is imperative that these small organizations cultivate a base of connections that can be utilized and reasoned with. In 2008, I worked on an election campaign to install a pro-environmental representative. She lost. It was a gamble to try to take an anti-development stance and take a coveted elected position. Her opponent nearly outspent her by 12 times. The failure in the election cycle meant, for anti-development groups, a major setback in the off-years; the years that are most crucial to long-term policymaking decisions. By going all in on their candidates and initiatives, these non-developer groups went bust and had to leave the table.

It is necessary that these groups, in order to maintain their voices, hedge their bets on all the other bettors—especially the house. By trying to change the dealer or the rules, the environmental groups play a tough game that may not come out to their advantage. It is a far lower risk to ante up at the table and find a pretty blond to hang on the shoulder of the current high roller.

But even this is not enough. Environmental and social groups are often seen as destructive forces; anti-economy, anti-development, anti-growth, anti-individual rights. Without a constructive approach it is easy to label groups as simply NIMBYers with and emphasis on the N. Something I often heard from pro-development people was, “I don't see them bringing anything to the table.” And they have a point. Environmental and social groups can have a tendency to fixate on the negative qualities of a development and see the concessions made by a developer as piecemeal and token. Cultivating good attitudes and design policy—helping in making those developments work—is what shifts an actor from anti-growth to pro-smart growth.

So do something about it

I guess we are at the part where I start talking about my recommendations; these stem from a wide body of literature (including my favorite Nobel prize winning Economist) and in-the-field study.

First, insist on Alternative Dispute Resolution ADR. Decision making processes work best when all the interested parties are communicating openly. Having a neutral third party as a facilitator can greatly aid in the ability of parties to feel that they are heard and understood. It also helps eliminate perceived biases coming into a room. As Ellinor Ostrom—my favorite Nobel prize winning economist—has found, it is imperative that all affected parties understand the rules and have clearly delineated stakes in the outcome of the management of a common pool resource (CPR). A piece of privately owned property may not seem like a CPR but the extension of city services (road, water, fire, police, sewer, power) and its effect on CPRs (water and air quality, water quantity, traffic, view-scapes) are very much community interests and must be addressed as such.

Second, invest in relationships and networks. Building networks of like minded groups and interests to be mobilized can be the difference between one man at a town hall meeting and forty; better networks have seen hundreds or thousands (look at unions). Good relations with local policymakers can greatly alleviate the need for people to attend a town hall meeting last minute and can lead to back-room access. Good relations with 'the opposition' (I use this word tentatively and will explain this further in a moment) are also important. If a developer is aware of the concerns of someone they respect and deal with on a regular basis, a developer (any person really) is far more likely to take those into consideration when proposing a new project. Pretty simple, a person is far more likely to listen to friends than strangers, especially strangers who say they are the devil and destroying the beauty of the land.

Third, focus on needs and values. I hesitated to use the word opposition before because good comprehensive problem solving should never have sides. All problems are merely needs or values that are being expressed in a specific way—what us ADR professionals call positions. Positions get people into trouble because they can never be reconciled. They are what will kill any forward progress. Pulling out people's underlying values and needs gives all people the space to solve problems creatively and collaboratively. During the interviewing process in Reno, it became apparent that 'Developers' do not hold universal views and are far from absolutist corporate shills trying to pave every open space. In fact, many ascribe to the same principles that environmental and social groups purport to defend. These developers often end up feeling cornered though because they are threatened with legal action for something they see as a legitimate economic stimulator to the local economy and are lost as to how they can actually implement an environmental or social policy.

Which brings us to the fourth point, create constructive policy. If developers have a course of action to take they are far more amiable to making specific changes. Developers want to be perceived as an asset to the community and helping formulate positive alternatives could be one of the most viable solutions. It would be much easier to have a developer who was well-versed in green, dense, low footprint buildings that served to enhance the regional plan than it would be to fight tooth and nail with a developer that wanted to put large tracts of homogenous homes outside the UGA.

In conclusion, there are many complex institutional arrangements that can benefit certain groups and those elements can't be ignored, but certainly there are ways to combat a well-established routine. It takes a lot of start-up effort to achieve some of these objectives but ultimately it smooths out the process in the long-run. It effectively changes the game without fighting anyone in the process, a form of institutional judo. I cannot stress how important it is to break the cycle of town hall fighting, referendum scrambling, and underfunded legal battling. To be an interest on the fringes of the political process is the worst place to be and it drains the precious time, energy, and money of the few politically concerned citizens in a region. Little victories like Washoe County Question 3 (tying regional growth to water resources) are quickly erased by back room deals where the environmentalists are excluded. A good organization is part of the institution not one that fights it.

Development and Democracy Revisited 1 of 2

In looking at how regions grow and develop, it becomes apparent that there are many factors that play into the final decision. It is not an equation where a little bit of activism plus some economic muscle plus a willing electorate equates to a well informed decision based on science and consensus. It’s not even a more complex equation with division, derivatives, and Greek letters.

In the case of a local region, the decision making process for how a region grows is as unruly as the individuals who are affected. Sure, there is a baseline of information and rules that everyone lives under. And it is taken for granted that certain institutional bodies will have a certain amount of power over the final decision. And of course there are the political leanings of the region as a whole. But those elements must be taken apart and analyzed to see areas of commonality and what is truly unique about local governance and how a region develops.

In general there is usually a regional body that has varying degrees of power over local governments (county, city, town, neighborhood, special districts like utilities) and very often complementary special governments that serve a supplementary regional management function.

All of these bodies have governing documents and limiting regulations that ultimately create the legal processes for how an actor will grow in a region. These rules are pretty cookie-cutter; policies that favor certain organizations or interests have to be perceived as legitimate and fair so there are few codified ways in which to tip the playing field to the advantage of one party or the other.

The most typical ways to restrict access of an actor to political recourse are through funding, jurisdiction, and public recourse. Funding goes many ways, but the crux of it is that as a very general rule actors have to pay to play. These can come in the form of campaign donations, marketing, staff funding, institutional funding, and on into infinity. The truth of the American Democracy is that it supports a capitalist economy and monetary transactions play a huge part in the game. Funding also comes in the form of allocations from the government to organizations or policies.

King County and Seattle both have extensive numbers of contracts for all sorts of projects that they need done. A specific line-item for them is public involvement and facilitation. King County and Seattle have found that having a facilitator and extensive public education campaigns as line items lowers costs in the long-run and ensures that all interested parties can have a say. The two entities do this for public works projects coming directly through their agency and for private developments as well. While not perfect, this gives diverse interests an opportunity to shape the final decisions of the outcome using well-established and effective methods of communication. Obviously the problem is that setting aside extra funding for a specialist in facilitation and public involvement is a difficult prospect for smaller governments or ones that do not see the need in such an action. The presence of funding from private entities and the presence of public funds for actors can be seen as an institutional barrier or advantage to specific agendas.

Funding also plays out in allocation. The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) has $160 million at its disposal annually to affect how the area grows and develops. If a local entity approves a development outside the urban growth area (UGA) that exceeds the densities allowed on rural land, the PSRC can withhold some or all of the sum that would be disbursed to that local entity. The PSRC thus has the funding to back their policies and outlook on the future.

Jurisdiction is another way common way to tip the scales for a specific actor or interest group. While interviewing key players that shaped the Reno/Tahoe Region's growth a common answer I heard was, “I can't do that. I would love to do this, but I don't have the authority to.” In essence, while there were many regional governing bodies and several regional documents the lack of specifically delegated authority, or a veto power, left development largely to the whims of whoever could get approved. And almost everything got approved; it was a scenario where, unless something was explicitly illegal, special circumstances could always be found to approve of a development.

To tie this in with my previous point, the regional laws did not specifically say that entities were not allowed to do something; in fact there was a great deal of room left in those documents for any of the governing bodies to reject a proposal. The lack of authority stemmed not just a legal argument, but a monetary and political one as well. Developers were one of the main industries of the region as well as one of the main campaign contributors to local candidates. Having developers as contributors could increase a local candidate's war chest by a factor of ten. It was in the interests of elected officials to maintain a favorable relationship with developers as well as an easy way to dismiss concerned citizens while staying blame-free. “I hear what you are saying and I wish that I could do something, but my hands are tied, the developer did everything right and we must say yes.”

By contrast, Portland Metropolitan has what are considered the strictest regional governing documents in the country. Local governments must comply to developing within the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB). The UGB is a far stricter line than the UGAs of Reno/Tahoe or King County. The UGB is a nearly visible line; in the Portland Metro area, the line between rural and urban development is stark. The houses simply end and farmland or forest stretch past that point. There are special courts set up to deal with perceived infractions to the regional plan and environmental groups are often consulted far in advance of a proposed development going in. I'll speak more about the success of those groups later, but suffice it to say that there is a bright line of jurisdiction in Portland Metro whereas other regions have what can be considered a hazy line dictated by personalities more than long-term institutional goals.

King County is the in between when it comes to jurisdiction. It is a county with a UGA like Reno, but that is subject to fewer changes than Reno because of several factors all relating to jurisdiction. The regional documents are updated periodically and require input from many local bodies or at least to have their interests put in mind. The King County executive acts like a mayor for the county; coordinating the many local governments, special districts, and interest groups in amending and implementing the Growth Management Act (GMA). If interests are unhappy with the GMA or a project under its purview, the interests are allowed several options for recourse similar to Portland. In King County, the sheer number of governing bodies means that the GMA must be amended carefully; there are few instances where something can be steam-rolled through. This makes for a well coordinated top level of planning, but it leads to a piecemeal policy at the lowest levels. Small governments—local cities in particular—have the ability to set out policies they perceive to be in their best interest and often will approve developments that can exceed the UGA but look nearly identical to a development within the UGA.

That is, however, much better than in the Reno area where three nearly equal main governments merely expand the UGA to fit proposed developments and change their long-term goals to reflect said developments. It isn't a decision made to spite any one group nor is it made to favor groups—at least from the perspective of elected and appointed regional officials. It is, as I said before, borne of a lack of perceived authority (and of course, where the most personal benefit lies for the official).

The third way that the playing field is tipped in favor of certain interests is through public recourse. In Seattle, there are state, regional, and local laws dictating very specific and widespread public notification of potential developments. Developers have to post signs on the proposed site as well as contact a large number of potentially affected parties. Projects are also required to go through several public meeting processes where notification must be sent to local news agencies.

In Reno, public meetings are often seen as an afterthought. This can be traced to the individualist attitude of the state where protection of private property is seen as paramount, “let me do what I want on my land.” Under that attitude it is little wonder that many in the region see non-owners as a nuisance and infringing on the developers. This attitude extends to the elected officials who view a few concerned activists as NIMBY groups who are “anti-growth, which isn't sustainable and isn't good for our economy.” It is common to hear at last minute planning meetings, “I have heard you all say that there are a bunch of you out there who are concerned. My question to you is, where are they?”

Aside from attitudes of specific council members there remains little way for interests other than the primary to access the system to voice their concerns. There is often a short public comment period, and an individual can always try to contact a council member directly to set up an appointment, but there is no special court and there are no large public interest organizations in the area. Citizens and non-developers are effectively locked out of the process.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Stalled and Trapped

A short story:

Once, when I was a little girl, I went to a public bathroom. It was in a restaurant, after a meal, like when people normally go to the bathroom. After a meal. I was in that stage where I had to explore every bathroom in every building I ever visited. Kids do that, it's normal, I think. I hope it is at least.

The point is where I went to the bathroom, and I had just entered that part of my life where I was mature enough to go to the bathroom by myself. So I went by myself. Escorted by my mother and separated at the stall. I did what people do in the bathroom, pulled up my barbie underpants and made to exit the stall. But it wouldn't budge or work.

Sheer terror gripped me; entrapment. The end of my short little life. “I'm trapped.” My breath became short and my little voice squeaked, “I'm trapped!” I screamed. I pulled on the door, wondering if I could squeeze under the thin little space between the floor and the door. “I'm trapped.”

And I suppose that perfectly characterizes all of my relationships since. I get into these weird relationships. I don't know if you can even call them that. I always think to myself that I'm mature enough for a relationship again, ready to go out on my own, and then I find out I'm trapped. I think of every way I can escape until I'm screaming to get out. But then, y'know, I just get out the way I came in. And my mom's only had to help me a couple times.

I guess the point is that I'm not sure I am really ready to get back into a relationship. But quite frankly, I have to, it's a necessity.

Holiday Cheer

White elephants. I felt like I was enjoying myself and relaxing into my workplace. In the conference room we traded our gifts and stole from each other. And I got the Forever Lazy. The Forever Lazy is better than a Snuggie. It's better than a Slanket. It's better than turning your robe around and wearing it like a Snuggie/Slanket. It's a onesy—without feet. Yeah, it's a onesy. And I took it from the VP who took it from the President who wore it a bit before having it stolen.

I think everyone, particularly Jacob and Korena, should know that I have the final word in lounge gear—repurposed blankets sewn into semi-clothing like garments. I own a onesy that has an escape hatch out the back. I have a thing that makes people who wear Snuggies at public events look normal and impractical at the same time. The box has a bunch of people having fun tailgating in a bunch of Forever Lazies. They come in one color obnoxious primary blue. So everyone in every picture is wearing blue Forever Lazies and smiling like it's normal to wear pajama onesies in public and with significant others.

It proudly advertises that you can read a book, watch TV, and do nothing at all! What I want to know, now that I have gotten this, is how did people ever stay warm and read a book, watch TV, or do nothing at all! Before this wonderful and amazing invention.

It also has a convenient sizing chart that tells you what of the three unisex sizes to purchase. By the way, if you are five foot four and 175 pounds do not buy this product. No size will fit you. I'm sorry, you are just too fat and squat for this product.

Anyway, I met Ciera with my Forever Lazy and we walked to Kerry Park—how cliché I know—and got some dinner at the Five Spot. And guess what? This place changes its theme every three months. Wow. It went from Philadelphia to a Broadway theme. Needless to say that Ciera was like a little kid, she kept looking around the room and saying, “I can't believe this.” There are giant can-can legs above the dividing wall between the bar and the main dining area. Every time a patron opens the door, the legs kick. It is pretty cool.

Then we went to get a Christmas tree. This time we got the tree that worked perfectly for us. It's a four foot douglas fir. I love doug firs. They are bushy, the needles are soft, and they don't splay out like those other sloppy pines. It is a beautiful little tree. And I carried it into the apartment, set it up, put the lights on around it and gave it a bunch of holiday lovin'. There is something about a christmas tree. Putting one up; not just my first one as a full blown adult but ever (my family always traveled to Portland and utilized the trees there; we never had one at home) was a slightly magical experience. I don't have much holiday spirit but seeing a little Americana in our studio just felt good. I felt so big and human.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

New Occupation

I got my NPR on today. They had a whole segment on the Occupy movement. It's a movement now. And their big question was, “where to next?”

Well, that's a damn good question. For those not really following the Occupy movement, the cops have cracked down. Winter is coming and it's hard to keep the drum circles going when getting pepper-sprayed in the face. Which hurts like hell by the way. Like thing vomitting blood and going into convulsions.

It's painful stuff.

Anyways, the question remains, where to next? Are we in the midst of some revolutionary movement? Are worlds going to collapse are we going to close this chapter of human history and either end up in a Mad Max or Star Trek future?

No. Don't be presumptuous. Things don't change like that. This is the beginning of a movement and real change comes from constant and steady pressure. The Occupy movement has notably failed to make huge legislative gains and as election season is ramping up, its wider political power has yet to be measured. And for that matter, its longevity. Occupy could die like the Tea Party movement subsumed by a tumultuous and already institutionalized political party. The difficulty of being a congressman or a lobbyist or a big political actor is that there are many forces constantly pushing against oneself. Occupy has utilized one outlet of expression, the right of the people to gather and speak. Now it needs to institutionalize. It needs to become “the man” so to speak.

Is that bad? Well, maybe. The sixties were a similarly uncertain time. The specter of nuclear war, a failed engagement in Vietnam, the rise of Nixonian dogma. All of these things sent shockwaves through the young and disenfranchised. Protests, clashes with police, musical movements, and promises of a better tomorrow. Those promises seemed to always come with a caveat though, “when I'm in charge, this won't happen.”

Well, they got in charge and they became “the man.” The sixties morphed into the seventies where the free love revolution came at the cost of economic entrapment. Cowed into a world where gas prices would rise into the sky, Iran would steal our citizens, and the digital age threatened to kill the American way, the flower children settled for a comfortable but declining middle class lifestyle where a bi-annual get out the vote campaign was enough to quell the encroaching special interests that aimed to take away abortions and burn all the condoms.

In the background, economic policy was steadily taking opportunity away from the masses. The preoccupation with certain specific issues hid the elephant in the room, “it's the economy stupid.” Even the great communist mind of Marx was honed to social change through the very tangible economy. Change happens through the political game of exchange.

And that is where the strength and endurance of the Occupy movement may lie. It is an economic and social movement. Something distinct from other movements. It does not make endorsements or donate to politicians. It hangs its banner with the 99%, effectively crowd-sourcing everything. It has the potential to blossom into something if it somehow taps into that resonance and keeps amplifying it. The Occupy movement has already successfully shifted the economic debate from cuts to job creation and taxes. It has already belittled and exposed the irrationality of Grover Norquist's “no new taxes” mantra. The Occupiers have to continue that pressure, and not forget that the most important things happen between election cycles, when the rules of the game are changed.

Monday, December 5, 2011

(Dis)Connected

I used to hook-up with the girl who went out with the guy who was in a serious enough relationship to own a cat with my co-president for my club. And she was best friends with my room mate who ended up being an officer in my club and a fellow ResLife member with the next president of the club who ended up going out with one of my good friends who I met in Ireland through another one of my good friends who I met in Spain. And she was the head of the Center for Sex and Gender Relations who trained my other room mate to be a peer advocate and he rowed on the crew team with the first good friend I had in college who rowed in a pair with the class president who was best friends and room mates until the pressure of those two things broke that up with the girl I used to hook up with.

I kind of miss that chaos. College had a sort of flow to it. It wasn't always the happiest and certainly there wasn't a drama free life—just chart that above and expand the circle out to 2400 people. But I found a certain peace there. I suppose I found that peace the most when I was able to leave the drama to everyone else. But that was a misguided lie I told myself. In reality the drama follows you because the connections do as well.

And even in the storm that was senior year I reveled in knowing I had a place.

I walk through this city and recognize people. The same people, the same dogs, the same guy holding a cardboard sign. And I wonder what would happen if I disappeared. There wouldn't be much of a vacuum left in Seattle. The three or four people I have met and know here now would definitely miss me, but the city would not mourn.

In college I would be mourned. Even the most estranged students had a place at Skidmore. No one could ever just disappear. We lost a boy last winter; he came and visited, disappeared into the woods and died. The campus mourned and felt his loss; our reverend kept a picture of him in his office. I never met him, but I felt that loss. Something was tangibly gone.

But here, in Seattle, my loss would not be a loss yet. Which is, I guess, my dark way of saying that I aspire to be more. I aspire to revel in the connections that I build; to know that I am present, not for myself, but for those around me.

Sometimes I feel invisible. I hate being invisible.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Seattle at Sunset


Seattle at sunset. Went back to Kerry Park at sunset with Ciera. It was a good day.

Kerry Park


Drew this on a beautiful winter day in Kerry Park. Known as the best view in the city. It was packed

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Meatbag

Here's something, don't ever try to open a bic lighter to get at the fuel. Apparently the contents are under pressure and can explode. So don't be stupid.

Here's another thing. If you get a major third degree burn, call a medical professional immediately. Do not pop a couple vicodin and leave it for a few days. It will turn gangrenous and have to be cut off.

Also, if possible, always let people know where you are going before you leave somewhere. I just saw 127 hours and it would suck to die for no reason other than the fact that you didn't tell anyone where you went.

Which brings me to another point, always have sharp knives around. Not just for amputating limbs but also to prevent it. See, I have seen a ton of kitchen accidents. Most of them are caused by two factors: improper handling of equipment, and unrefined or weak equipment. Think of the things you regularly chop. Many of them are round and can slip easily. Those slips happen far more frequently when the blade is dull and instead of slicing through the product, have their force deflected and the blade edge move along the surface of the thing to be chopped. Very often the first place where the blade can bite is the friction friendly skin of a human hand. The remaining downward force is then pushed through the layers of protective yet flimsy skin until our mind can send a signal telling our knife arm to stop.

Signals travel through our body at a paltry 250-ish miles per hour. The signal needs to travel up the arm and back down the arm making a pit-stop at the brain to register the action and define a new course. That's plenty of time for a reckless person with a missed swing to cut down to the bone on a finger. In some cases people even sever fingers. So be careful and aware. Always cut away. And even if you are tired, hungry, or excited, pay attention. Knives, after all, cut meat, and we are just meat.

Big bags of meat with delusions of grandeur just because we think we have mastered fire and using knives.

Flour

I just spent an hour looking for recipes on molasses cookies. Who does that? I also tried to find gluten free and vegan substitutes for the recipe so that I could possibly make it work for more—ahem, refined—palettes. Then I went on my merry way to the store and got all the ingredients.

Except the molasses. I forgot the ingredient that makes a molasses cookie a molasses cookie. I'm not dumb, just preoccupied with the extraordinary cost of cloves, ground ginger and the difficulties of replicating wheat flour.

Basically, wheat flour has gluten. So too do rye, barley, and oats but their gluten content is much lower in comparison to wheat. The gluten has an interesting property that makes it perfect for baking leavened products. It holds together under most baking temperatures creating that light fluffiness that we so enjoy in our cookies, muffins, cakes, and breads. Basically, when flour—wheat flour is used—it traps gas in the mixture, allowing for the product to rise and hold its structure.

There are substitutes out there, but they require a lot more thought and precision. The biggest challenge is taste. Usually other flours have a different flavor that can radically alter the final product. A great example is using rye flour to bake bread. The end result is a much earthier and bitter product. The second hurdle is texture and color. Most other flours give a different texture to the final product. Rice flour can make the product seem grainy. On the color side, all other flours have different colors and often must be modified in some way to make the food look edible. I've read things like using turmeric to recolor the flour.

The third problem in using substitute flours is the complexity of the mixes. What was once one ingredient quickly balloons into many because of the little tricks needed to achieve a similar final product. Typically substitute mixes require three or four different types of flour in varying combinations to maintain the color, texture, flavor character of the wheat. As a substitute for wheat gluten, it is often necessary to add some sort of starch or binding agent. Guar gum, xanthan gum, and potato starch are the most common. This addition also adds to the complexity in another way. Often the flours require different water contents than what is provided in the original recipe (they are more or less thirsty than wheat). This means that careful measurement of the liquid ingredients to get the right consistency is needed. Finally, there is the dilemma of using gums. Guar and xanthan gum are very tricky ingredients because a little goes a long way. Over or under measuring of these can make or break the final product, leading to flat dense pieces or giant oven eating blobs.

Now, it is possible to get away with buying gluten free flour and using the same recipe. The problem with this is that the product must be baked immediately and handled as if it were nitro-glycerin. The mixture becomes volatile and prone to collapse. Without careful and gentle stirring a dense piece of mush could come out of the oven. This solution generally works only for cookie mixtures that can be immediately baked. If the dough has to be cooled in a refrigerator, or if it is for something larger, all bets are off.

The point of all this is that if you like baked goods and have opted to get into a gluten free diet for non-medical reasons, there will be a significant extra effort involved in their creation. I seriously do not recommend going gluten free unless it is necessary. Also, don't think that going gluten free on baked goods will be good on the carbs front. Wheat gluten actually has a fairly high protein content and is one of the 'healthier' flours—unless of course you are allergic.

A Crack in Everything

Last night I saw art in motion. I have seen really cool performances before but this was like watching a visual masterpiece right before your eyes. A Crack in Everything, now on tour and performed last night at On The Boards was the visual equivalent of dragging all of your Freudian sub-conscious daydreams into the open.

The performance moved seamlessly between numbers. The piece was hypnotic in its motions, arresting in its transitions, beautiful in its design, and horrifying in its subtext.

It is rare that dance can convey such deep thoughts in oneself. I generally respond to dance on an emotional but surface level. This piece had me feeling in a genuine and deep manner. Ciera mentioned how her thoughts would drift to long untouched memories and she couldn’t explain why. She later realized it was the performance itself that was creating that.

These dancers were able to elicit imagery and perform what I would characterize as real magic. Their use of light, spare setting, and a nearly dichromatic palette drew me into an ultramodern yet simultaneously primeval space. The performance was so potent that I often felt physically singled out by the piece; as if the dancers were talking to me in the crowded room.

Compliments aside, the best physical description of the piece is a contemporary dance number that is inspired by the Greek tragedy Orestia with recurring motifs of silence, light and dark, and temporal distortion. It is a perfect fusion of video and dance. The two elements merge together to make the space feel infinite and the entire piece encompassing.

For the entire day, Ciera and I have been thinking about it. I have let it bubble up into my thoughts as a point of inspiration. It was cinematic yet viscerally present; terrifying yet urbanely serene.

Somehow it felt like a snapshot on the inner workings of a brain. How all the connections fire off and one small memory leads to another to another to another. All in rapid succession. It was the world of the mind staged as dance.

So if you ever see A Crack in Everything in your town. Definitely go see it. It was better than Sleep No More. And if you have seen that then you know I don’t say that lightly.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Blue Da-Ba-Dee

So Ciera got a 2009 Nissan Versa SL Hatchback Five-door. Definitely didn't see that one coming. She calls it her blueberry. It's a tiny little hatchback car; it feels a bit emasculating because the only people I know who own tiny hatchbacks are lesbians. So it's kind of like a little blue-ball.

I just blue myself in there. I'm going to get a lot of mileage out of this one. Also, it's got great mileage; 30,000. It's like new like a baby blue bull named Babe (Paul Bunyan's side-kick). And it's super efficient like nearly 35 mpg. So this blue-ball known as earth can stay blue—and green.

And speaking of lesbians I recently saw the world's—in my opinion—only concept for a feminist building. It's a giant hole in the ground; a reverse skyscraper. Take that patriarchal establishment.

Also, I found a solution to the homeless problem. Two things: Blue-tooth, blue UNICEF uniforms, and clipboards. Oh, and blue pens. So the homeless people can keep yelling about the dying children and the murderers and stuff. But then when they ask for change from someone, the passerby doesn't say, “get a job.” Instead they tentatively say no, or they sign up to donate to a charity.

For any homeless people that refuse to work on a street corner for a charity, give them fake blue tooth ear pieces. Then when they start hearing voices and yelling at them, they just look like high powered financiers. At least then it will make sense why the markets blew up and no one can get them under control. Yeah it's insensitive, but so is walking past them everyday and doing nothing.

Angela Merkel is blue-balling the EU right now. She is refusing to let the ECB release cash, instead calling for more austerity. She's like an economic dominatrix, restricting cash reserves while the rest of Europe struggles to remember the safe word. Hint: the EU was done before; they called it the Articles of Confederation. It fell apart. EU, you want to make this work; dissolve your union or create a stronger central authority.

I just drove the blueberry. It's really zippy. It feels like I'm about to become a blue streak in traffic. The little guy flies. I bet it can go fast enough to blue-shift relative to an observer. That's scientist speak for move really fast.

Beat of a Blog

I'm behind again. But that's sometimes how it is. This blog takes a backseat to life. So generally that means I do this when I can. The daily commitment to writing is really hard. It gets harder everyday I skip. Before I know it I have three blogs to write.

It's amazing how fast time passes by. The steady beat of a blog a day reminds me of how quickly it all fades.

I remember dancing with Ciera in the rain. We were in Congress Park. We danced and talked about our vague future. It was as black as the night around us. Only the street lights punched through the rain. We walked to a fountain in our formal clothes. She wore a gray dress; it looked great on her. I wore my shirt and slacks. We had left to grab some air because the dance hall was too hot and loud.

And I loved dancing in the park. Light drops fell, hinting at the end of the very long spring. It would soon be warm and sunny—at least we hoped. I had looked forward to summer; just a day of sun. And I could hope that the retreating raindrops were a sign of better weather.

The summer was cold and gray mostly. But somehow, when I look back on all the pictures I took, I was able to capture the sun. Just about every sunny day since January first has been cataloged by my camera. I find it funny that a portrait of my year through the lens of my camera paints a rosy picture full of people who love each other dearly.

Not that it isn't the case; merely that there were plenty of gray days. Plenty of days that I wondered if I would make it through the transition. Plenty of days when I wondered if a few drops of rain were portents of a terrible storm.

But it's thirty days before the end of my year, and I can say that I have weathered this year. Because I had to. I had to make it through the year in order to come out the other side. The steady beat of my blog has chronicled the transitions better than any camera. I was forced to record the gray days as well as the sunny ones.

It was cathartic. I held Ciera's hand in mine; my other arm around her waist. And we clumsily danced. I spun her out and pulled her in. We giggled and held each other. We started walking back to the dance. We would find out the future soon enough.