Friday, March 30, 2012

Olympic Sculpture Park


Beautiful Park I walk through sometimes on my way to and from work.

When Ciera's Relatives Came


When Roger, really, came to town. Chelsey was there too.

Apartment Latest Iteration


The latest iteration of our lovely sub 500sq/ft apt.

12 Minutes Max Costumes


Our costumes for our Missed Connections performance. Exciting, I know.

Ciera at Sunset Near Kerry Park


A perfect end to a beautiful day

Lana Del Ray Painting

They paint album covers outside this record store. It's really cool to see.


First Cherry Blossoms

I'm way behind on my blogs, I'm going to catch up a bit with pictures.


The first cherry blossoms of 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

Free Exercise 2/2

Religion does have a place in the public sphere, it is a moral compass for millions of Americans. To favor one religion over others would be to create an institution in these United States though, and that would be unconstitutional. The first Amendment to the US Constitution reads in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Respect in this sense means to favor one religion over another. It also means that no laws shall be passed that infringe on the rights of any religion lest a tiered system be created.

When people openly advocate more unity with a religion--Catholicism for example--they are respecting an establishment of religion. But the test needs to be stronger. Religious persecution has historically been cause for some of the greatest strife in the world. It also has great capacity for good, but a belief in pure righteousness leaves no room for debate.

In the same way that Muslims have been persecuted by our language--even if only subtly--there exists the underlying pattern. Something different is bad and wrong; my belief system is not the one I perceive as bad; therefore I must be righteous and good.

Apples are not oranges but neither is inherently right. Democracies function through debate and negotiation and it doesn’t mean one will compromise their morality in doing so. I worry about those who believe so vehemently in my evil because I may not share their viewpoint.

And because I have no affiliated religion does not make me wrong or evil or bad. This trend of self-righteousness disturbs me because I find myself feeling marginalized. I hold no religious affiliation but am deeply spiritual. I spend lots of time trying to understand my morality and how that functions in this world.

When I hear absolutists speak of a world where I am wrong because I do not agree, I feel disenfranchised and discriminated against. There is hatred in such a narrow view, and if not hatred then ignorance. Neither sits well on the seat of democratic governance. I stand up for my right to be free of religion as well as to exercise one. And I stand with the many qualified Muslims who are engaged and peaceful citizens in this country.

Free Exercise 1/2

This is an Op-Ed from the SF Chronicle, and my commentary.

“Pundits have been pointing fingers since a recent poll found that 50 percent of Mississippi and Alabama GOP supporters said they believe that President Obama is a Muslim (with approximately another 40 percent in both states saying they are unsure).”

This is unsettling for several reasons. As someone who likes to consider himself well-informed, it disturbs me to a great degree that such a large percentage of voters can be so misinformed about something--admittedly small--so basic. It also disturbs me because it doesn’t matter.

“The crux of this particular prejudice, however, is not based in wanting to know what Obama's religion is but wanting assurances about what his religion is not. Much of this likely stems from an American populace that is still dealing with the trauma of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, which were carried out by violent Muslim extremists with the implicit guilt by association tied to all followers of Islam.
By repeatedly insisting that Obama is not now nor has he ever been a Muslim, the Obama campaign and the White House deliver a problematic message to the world, including the Muslim American minority -- 1 percent of America’s population, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life -- and the 1.6 billion Muslims living outside the United States. The message: At the very least, Muslims are unfit to be president.”

And that is the really disturbing part. There is no reason that a Muslim should be precluded from office in America--even the highest one. Muslims are as important to this country as any other group and are integral to the fabric of our society. Just as having a black, gay, woman, Eskimo, Hindu, Jew, Catholic as president would not be a concern, having a Muslim for a president should not bother any American. What reason could possibly belie a prejudice against Muslims for office?

There is the obvious implication that Obama is a radical somehow. That radicalism is somehow usurping our country and making it something it is not.

Which is patently absurd and is transparently racist. This is a nation of immigrants, and just as JFK assured the public that his Catholicism would not make him beholden to a Pope, every American swears allegiance to the US when performing the duties of their office.

There is a movement afoot that is disconcerting. It is the perception that America is in need of laws that limit freedom of religion. This isn’t the contraceptive coverage argument. This is something far more subtle and much more real. This is the radicalized notion that protection comes from codification and exclusion.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Vaughn Weekend

I’m at the beach and as all visits to the beach seem to be this one is passing far too rapidly. The odd part about the passage of time is that it is marked by very slow events that seem so eternal. I can’t wrap my brain around the constant motion of the sun across the sky, the shadows across the lawn, the tides flowing in and out of the bay. Being here everything moves slowly. But then you are gone and back to the world of fast-paced this and that.

My dad asked me once, “what if you were an Indian living here? It would have been a casual life. Go fishing when you want to eat, gather berries when you want to berries. When you are cold, go to the sweat lodge.” He was kind of right. Although blackberries were introduced by Europeans (at least I think that’s right) I can’t really imagine a more casual way of living. We build societies and have a hustle and bustle lifestyle that sometimes doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Y’know, in the big great scheme of things.

Amberlee and Ciera and I escaped from the city in a flurry of energy. The ferry, the road here, the groceries. Everything. And suddenly we were here. And all of the energy dissipated. The anxious restlessness that overcomes the body in our crazy world has no place looking out on the water watching the tide ebb and flow.

Everything is lazy. And always in a good way.

The spring here is a little different than the summer. The grass is a verdant green, the blackberries are dead and sagging. They seem so unassuming compared to their spindly and aggressive summer demeanor. Right now they look almost sad.

There are tons of ducks here. I assume they are in the midst of migration. They will be gone by summer.

The water is clearer now than I have ever seen it. The water has taken on a pristine blue and I can see more of it’s texture than normal. There doesn’t appear to be a layer of green really. I went fishing and didn’t pull up even the regular amount of detritus. There were no bullheads chasing my lure. It was like dragging my lure through a tub.

And there is tons of downed material from the storms that hit this year. All of that will need to be cleared.

But that’s just the price of admission when staying at such a wonderful place.

Where Humor Fits

I’m an idiot. I forgot to copy down the citations. Needless to say this is an excellent article and you should brace yourself for a riveting piece.

“Journalists who cover government entities are habituated to see the world like the people they cover. They buy into entrenched institutions, their methods, and (problematically) their madness. For a Congressional reporter or a U.N. correspondent, international organizations and geopolitics routinely involves governments jockeying for advantage in ways that make a kind of sense if you obsessively follow the inside baseball and divorce it from real world consequences.”

In college my thesis adviser often said, “if you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Despite this he often encouraged me to adopt a lens through which I could analyze a situation. It does help contextualize issues sometimes; other times it obscures very pertinent information.

For example, in the awesome article I read, “but wait. The decision to treat UN membership for Palestine as the most relevant "larger issue" is itself a subjective judgment - one that the vast majority of news organizations made in their coverage...Whereas comedy writers at The Daily Show, who take the time to understand the inside baseball, nevertheless see things differently, for in the search for absurdity required of them, they're attuned to real world consequences, and uninclined to give establishment processes the benefits of any doubt.Transport a Politico reporter back to just before WWI and they'd cover the European system of alliances as insider realists, explaining to readers why each relationship made perfect sense. A Daily Show writer brought back to the same era would take a long look at geopolitics, study the insider dealings, and then irreverently ask, "So if these two little countries have a skirmish over an assassination you've all committed yourselves to a continent wide war? One that most of you would like to avoid and that has little prospect of making any of you better off? You're okay sending millions to their death if, say, a duke gets assassinated?" 

Satire and a greater perspective have important places in the world. In college the sociology students spent a lot of time asking about the role of humor in framing their arguments about race and gender. In trying to contextualize the role as if it fit neatly into their lens, they implicitly denied its greater power. Humor establishes a thought process outside of our ‘serious’ world. In doing so it shows us the rat race and chest beating, the pursuit of change or constancy, as fundamentally confined to a human perspective. When we talk about oppression or geopolitics, we are talking about man-made things that are positionally allocated based on layers and layers of absurdist nuance. At one point things may have made sense, but it is a rare occasion that humans have the ability to wipe the slate clean and rebuild a structure in a logical way. Instead we are left with piece-meal processes where we logically argue for each piece. The whole is often a compendium of many pictures, not all of them complimentary.

It would behoove us as a race to remember that the world is absurd and the rules don’t have to always make sense. I think an excellent example of that would be in the world of privilege. Just as the ‘losers’ are not to blame for the cards they are dealt, the ‘winners’ similarly have little control over their circumstance. Awareness of these disparities is one part, but more generally, the way that people are deemed ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ is based on an incomprehensible form of accounting. To be humorless about the fact that many of the things that perpetuate these inequities are inertial or subconscious is to forget our animal nature. And to be deadly serious about animals in suits, ordering each other around is to make oneself a joke.

“Political satirists sometimes enjoy wider latitude than journalists. It's a distinct and vital genre for a reason. The press would nevertheless do well to step back, if only occasionally, and to look at the world as it’s seen from the Daily Show writers room, or the Onion headline writing desk. Satirists have a knack for hitting on angles that reporters miss due to excessively narrow framing. And deliberate temperamental irreverence is helpful if your job is to dispassionately observe.”

Love is the Shiz

This is a little old, I never posted it, but it applies.

It was nice seeing people on Valentine’s day. I’ve written many times about the downside of Valentine’s and I have little reason to really go over it again.

A man with a stocky build and gentle posture stood across from me holding a single rose. He was unaware of anyone else in the city. His large hands held it up to his nose and he smelled it as cars honked. That was nice.

All dog owners have a look and stance that they take when their dog starts to defecate. An upright posture and intent stare at the dog’s anus. If the dog chooses to face the owner, the owner leans to the left or right to get a better view of the dog’s excrement. I often try to hide fits of giggles at such an odd sight.

We are still animals I guess. And very curious about poop.

The dogs always seem to look back at the owner, “why are you watching me poop? I don’t watch you poop.” It seems a little rude and a bit unfair to me that the owner looks annoyed at all about the entire prospect. You bought a dog, you pick up its poop. Plain and simple. It’s just what you do. No judgment but owners of pets really need to remember those simple facts.

Anyways, animals know how to do their business and don’t need to be watched. It’s a little bit like the lack of reasoning behind abstinence only education in schools. Humans don’t need to be told how to do anything as basic as that.

It’s absurd to think that not teaching about it will somehow prevent it. Humans know how to have sex, and not teaching them proper safety is like giving teenagers loaded guns and telling them not to ever shoot it, and that constitutes gun safety.

That was a bit tangential. But this is a bit of a non-sequitur piece. I’m just trying to make it to 365 words right now. And sometimes that’s how it’s going to be.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sick Denials

I have returned to the world of the living. I hate being sick. It is a series of self-delusions amplified by denial and the physical pain of disease.

The first hint of sickness is an understandable one, “I have a mild sore throat. It will go away and I shouldn’t worry. It’ll be all ok.” So I went about my daily business, ever conscious that the sore throat wasn’t the normal morning mouth dryness.

And the sickness started to thrive. The sore throat turned into a fire, my head started to swell, and St. Patrick’s Day entered night. When I emerged from the Center House theater I was already on a self-destructive course that would be driven by my denial.

On my walk to the bar to meet Ciera, Roger, and Chelsey I told myself that I was warm enough in my light sweater. I wasn’t. I told myself that the pain in my throat was insufficient to ruin my night. And I drove ahead full bore. I drank to celebrate the Irish holiday, and under some misguided precept that the alcohol would act like a pain killer. It did.

At three in the morning the pain killer effect wore off and I remembered with the awful clarity of 20-20 hindsight that alcohol brings with it some pretty nasty side effects. My nose was stuffed like a teddy bear and my whole body was crying out for normal. Regular sleep, one clear nostril, a throat not swollen shut, and a body not trying to escape from itself. I hate that feeling the most and it was the most preventable. For future reference drinking with a cold makes hangovers awful and cold symptoms many times worse. The full body ache was exercise without the fun.

At that moment I was transitioning from drunk to hungover—two states where the decision-making process is severely compromised. This was further exacerbated by the restless sleep I had been having as a result. “At least I’m not sweating,” I thought to myself.

I got up and went to the bathroom, trying to reorient myself. If only a little bit. I went back to bed and drifted off for a brief moment.

I woke up sweating profusely. My body was tearing at itself. My head was pounding. My throat was on fire. And my stomach was so sore that I could barely take a sip of water. And I told myself in that moment of extreme physical discomfort that I could make it through the night without taking a decongestant or painkillers.

I got up again and went to the bathroom. For 20 minutes I stood in the bathroom in my underwear—alternately shivering and sweating—convincing myself that I could survive this. A fever was a good thing, if I let my fever continue it would burn through my cold and I would be better sooner. Early morning logic is not always the best. I stared at myself in the mirror. I had dark circles under my eyes and I could barely breathe. Who was I kidding?

When I finally found the Nyquil tablets I encountered my second hurdle. The liquigels are enormous. With a throat that is closed up, it is almost cruel to ask them to swallow pills of that size. I lamented the idiots that designed the pills and reluctantly swallowed them.

I then restlessly sweated in bed until the pills kicked in. At some point in the morning I awoke to Ciera leaving. I would be alone for the next few days.

Sick.

And I denied that I needed help or that her absence would significantly affect me. It did. Healing is much easier when someone is there to make you soup and keep you company.

At this point in the sickness the denials become much easier. I’ll enjoy staying home. I’ll catch up on work. I’ll get better. I’ll go to work on Monday.

I went to work on Monday. I went home because I couldn’t stop sweating. But I told myself that it wasn’t that bad.

I stayed home all today. I watched terrible tv shows. And I told myself, “they aren’t bad.”

I didn’t shower. I didn’t shave. Until just now.

I was rejuvenated. I felt human again. My senses returned. I washed off days of sweat. I put on clean clothes. And the denials stopped for a moment. I’m still sick, but I’m getting better and I will be good enough to go to work tomorrow.

Monday, March 19, 2012

ADR and Sustainability 2/2

The basic way that is achieved by building trust between and amongst the facilitators and the stakeholder groups. Facilitators achieve this by trying to remain independent and neutral. Stakeholders achieve this by respecting each other’s opinions and committing to a solution oriented process. These may sound simple but the relatively passive verb ‘to listen’ can be a hard thing to do when people feel that their way of life is threatened. That is why a facilitator is so essential.

While some groups can work through solutions on their own without the help of a neutral third, a facilitator often becomes necessary. A facilitator’s job, aside from moving a group through the process, is to listen and translate. People express things implicitly; an excellent example is that the Japanese seldom say no, instead they euphemistically and politely decline; a frustrating experience for foreigners unaccustomed to their culture. Translating those implicit assumptions into explicit needs is at the heart of a facilitator’s job. By clarifying and helping parties understand the underlying nature of their opinions, real solutions can be found. And real solutions don’t always have to be conventional.

When groups collaborate together to solve common problems many innovative solutions can be found. Sometimes solutions can be very technical as when trying to determine clean-up procedures at the Hanford nuclear site. Other times they can be things that are more intangible: planting trees to block out noise and restore wildlife, baking brownies as a sign of good will, adding a speed bump to slow traffic. People stop fighting and start working together.

And the outcomes extend beyond one issue. Facilitations offer the promise of a relationship that can extend far beyond a ‘victory’ on any single issue. Stakeholders often come out of the process ready to work on issues together for years to come, many times establishing permanent working groups to tackle the long-term issues.

To ensure a sustainable future, pursuing a higher understanding of issues beyond the myopia of a single perspective is critical. Facilitation offers people that window. If you aren’t convinced by my rhetoric, perhaps you’ll be convinced by numbers: roughly 70% of mediated agreements are upheld one year after their signing as opposed to around 20% through traditional means.

ADR and Sustainability 1/2

Sustainability has three basic pillars; economics, environment, and social equity; some people in business will recognize its other name: the triple-bottom line. They both mean the same thing. Is something—an object, action, development, policy—going to satisfy these three requirements. Satisfy means to have a net neutral or positive outcome for these three components. In recent years sustainability has become a guiding beacon for many grassroots organizations to rally around.

It has many advantages as a framework. It is expansive in its scope. Sustainability does not accept that any outcome that is purely one of the three ‘E’s is positive; instead it seeks to find a balance with the other two categories. This prevents extreme outcomes. Instead of tree-hugging hippies, communists, and fat-cat capitalists a sustainable framework seeks to integrate the virtues of all three mindsets into a workable plan for our future.

The biggest challenge in working to satisfy the three ‘E’s is trying to sate interest groups with such seemingly disparate and conflicting interests. There are the traditional political routes: town hall meeting, voting, electing officials, lawsuits, protest. These routes tend to be adversarial in nature though; an us vs. them mentality that exacerbates extreme viewpoints and generally lets the loudest or richest interests win. In these contests it is a game not of discerning workable solutions but one of controlling spin. And often things spin out of control.

Working in an adversarial system has its pros, often in a courtroom setting where all other options have been exhausted. That’s right; all other options have been exhausted. While there may be a concept in the popular mind that an adversarial system is the default, it is usually a last resort. What comes before is a myriad of different forms of discourse that are specific to setting. In congress there are committees, compromises, rider amendments, and procedural votes. In courts there are settlements, arbitration, and diversions such as rehab, family counseling, or mediation. In local politics there are facilitated dialogues.

Facilitated dialogues, mediation, and arbitration fall under a rapidly advancing field known as Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). In ADR the goal is not to find out who is right, the winner, or cooler. Instead the goal is to find solutions that work for the stakeholders. There are a few basic questions that guide ADR: what is the whole story; what are the needs, values, and interests of the stakeholders; how do we meet those needs, values, and interests of those stakeholders?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

ISBY Review

It Shoulda Been You is a well-executed musical delight. Now playing at the Village Theater, ISBY is a modern musical that lives up to the theater’s reputation for producing new quality work.

ISBY is a comedy about a large young woman named Jenny and her trials as she tries to coordinate her sister’s wedding. Jenny has to deal with the usual motley crew of crazies that make a musical fun. Her co-bridesmaid and best man are vacuous and unhelpful. Her Jewish mother is overbearing and mean. The bride keeps getting sick every time a detail is off. The gentile groom won’t stop trying to speak yiddish. The mother of the groom is a mean alcoholic. The relatives are nut-jobs. And the appearance of an ex dives the show into full-blown chaos. Only the omniscient wedding planner seems to be able to help, and that’s limited to a panini machine.

Like any decent musical, Jenny struggles with her personal problems while wrangling with a cast that seems determined to driver her to insanity. And the audience gets to laugh along. Of course, there are some great twists to the play and it’s hard not to write without giving them away.

The set has been well put together and pieces fly in and out seamlessly giving the audience a visual treat nearly throughout. The only lacking set is the second to last scene where the audience is forced to look at a couch and a lime green scrim for nearly twenty minutes. But that was that scene keeps the drama firmly on the characters who are in the midst of the climax. Can they be faulted for going with the minimalist design? No, but the audience is left to wonder why the climax has to happen in the ugliest room in this supposed hotel.

The music is the standard musical fare, catchy and tight. That is not to say that is bad by any means, and on my second viewing I was much happier with their composition. The lyrics are funny and actually help the audience with the plot. They are even a bit edgy. But not too edgy, and never over wrought. They fit well into ISBY’s universe and shine a light on each character.

And that may be the best part of the musical. Almost all the characters are so well fleshed out and human. Even the fathers who have relatively few lines are easily relatable and the audience can build a perfect history of them without extra prompting. The only character that seems incomplete is the groom’s mother. For a character referred so glowingly to by those around her, the audience can’t help but adopt the initial view of her by Jenny’s mom. She’s a mean lady.

Despite her own song and substantial time in the piece, the audience is left wondering where all of the human qualities in her have gone. And that’s no fault of the actress. This is a new musical after all and it feels like those types of lines were removed during the process. She was a human, but after many rewrites has been blown into an Oedipal satire of lust and backhanded compliments.

ISBY is well-executed and was a delight to see--twice. There is no reason to not see this unless you are averse to the use of the s word. It is possible that the Village Theater’s older audience may find some content objectionable but it is handled gently and avoids many of the pitfalls that lesser productions would--and have--succumbed to.

Refining the Oil Argument

Let’s talk gas. Bill Saporito, in this week’s Time, went over the intricacies of the oil market and explained why gas prices are high despite low demand.

First, the basic supply and demand model states that as demand goes up and supply goes down, prices increase on a product. When demand decreases and supply increases, prices drop. Pretty simple right, scarcity plus popularity equals price.

Secondly, oil sort of works like that. But it really doesn’t--at all. As a commodity, oil does move with supply and demand; people want it and vendors sell it. But it’s a little more complex than that. Oil trades on the open market, meaning people buy oil stock based on how valuable they think it is. Value on the market though, does not have to be related to actual supply or demand. Value can be based on speculative factors such as the possibility of war with Iran and the blockading of the Strait of Hormuz. So the value of a barrel of oil is based more on politics and investors who pour money into speculating than it is on the traditional supply and demand vision of oil. Investors get to make up the price of oil.

Third, American demand for oil has been decreasing. “Ford’s average fuel economy has improved by 20% since 2004.” Americans have been curbing their thirst for oil at a fairly substantial rate and we have been using more domestic sources of oil. The problem lies with refiners. Despite big oil raking in the dough selling their pure uncut black gold, refiners have to pay for that oil and refine it. At least 19 refineries have shut down since 2009 reflecting what amounts to price gouging on the part of the oil companies. That decreased capacity to refine oil has led to refiners having to raise their prices to stay in business while shutting down refineries that could handle increased capacity.

Speculators drive up the price of crude, refiners are unable to stay solvent on the outrageous prices, and we pay at the pump. It’s actually not about drill baby drill. Gas would be significantly cheaper if refiners were better able to compete. Our reserves and supply of crude are fine. While a shutdown of the Strait of Hormuz could be devastating to the world, America would be able to release energy reserves while it re-established safe passage through there.

So, what about these refiners? Refiners are the middle-men that cut the product that our engines run on. By allowing so many refineries to shut down, America has decreased its capacity to refine fuel by 1.7 million barrels per day. That translates to significantly higher prices at the pump. And that’s because the free market worked its magic. Left to its own devices, domestic refiners would rather drive up the price of fuel than increase energy security in this nation. And who can blame them? Refining at those levels is unprofitable, but would have kept prices down at the pump when this happened.

So now Americans have an energy policy that is dependent on an increasingly volatile Middle East and we pay the price at the pump. An effective energy policy looking into the future would find a way to guarantee America’s refining capacity while looking to decrease dependence on imported crude. That includes looking at alternative energy and increasing efficiency. It also means helping industries transition to new technologies instead of leaving them in the dust.

If we don’t focus on a smooth transition Americans risk higher prices at the pump while oil speculators continue to take advantage of uncertainty in the marketplace--gouging the average American out of their hard earned money.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Just Things.

What if you woke up tomorrow and everything was gone? Just you alone in a space. With everything gone. You knew this moment was coming so it doesn’t surprise you. You consented to having everything taken away from you already. And you will never get any of this stuff back.

What does that feel like?

It’s something we all have in the back of our heads. This world is cruel and there are many different ways to lose everything all the time. Earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, war, fire. It all happens. And it all has a possibility of striking at any moment.

So we have all consented to having everything taken from us in an instant. We just don’t think about it much. We cling to routine as our safety net. It didn’t happen yesterday, and it probably won’t happen today.

And realistically, that’s about all anyone can really do. No one can plan for every contingency. It just doesn’t do to be constantly fighting the urge to wrap oneself in bubble wrap. So when I ask the question, what does that feel like, I suppose I am asking about the coping mechanisms we implement everyday to stave off the real possibility that our lives can be altered randomly and without warning.

But how much is stuff really worth. The majority of furniture that Ciera and I have we obtained for under $50 in total. That means that our assets have minimal dollar value. But there is sentiment in objects. Certainly they can’t store memories or replace people, but things have an emotional attachment. Having it all ripped from you is emotionally affecting.

I am materialistic. I try not to be. But things keep me warm and comfortable and happy. TV melts my brain at a toasty temperature while computers become my window to the world.

I think people are going to become more and more integrated with their technology. and at what point do we have to pull away from that and just get away from the noise? Our search for progress in self-indulgent things is slowly making us dependent on our things.

Don’t get me wrong, I love things. I love the latest gadgetry. But I am wary of new technologies that only promise fun but not functionality. Most smartphones are driving us in the direction of dependency. What do we lose by entrusting more of ourselves to inanimate things.

Slow Circles

I really need a new laptop. I can barely type anymore on this thing. I want to settle myinsurance claim and pay my bills. I want to stop worrying about money.

And I want to be able to post pictures to my blog. My computer is so slow that posting pictures is more tedious than writing an extra 365 words. It’s like the worst yo’ momma joke ever.

My computer so slow it tries to calculate pi in terms of serving size.

My computer so slow it thinks Al Gore invented the internet.

My computer so slow I have to send attachments by carrier pigeon. Seriously though. My computer is freakin’ slow.

It was pi(e) day today. That was a lot of fun. If you ever want to calculate the circumference of a circle the size of the known universe you only need 39 digits. And that’s accurate to within a micron--less. Impressive huh?

Anyways, at work we served pie and ate to our hearts’ content. It was a jovial event that reminds me why I love working at Triangle. Conversely there is a lot of work coming in so I have been stressed.

Stress is good I think. But I’m no good at handling it yet. I come home and look in the mirror and see dark circles under my eyes. I just don’t have it down quite yet.

And on the weekends I can’t sleep in. I feel all over the board and a little uncomfortable. I suppose that is part of the transition. I am now an adult--sort of. People still call me young and naive. That’s ok. But all the people I know who are younger than me are way more naive.

I suppose it’s sort of like the transition from high school to college. Nothing really changed except everyone’s attitudes. When I was a senior in high school all of my older friends disappeared until I graduated.

After my first year of college I did the same thing to my juniors. And I thought I understood it then. But that was probably just my ego talking. I’m not sure that anything we do is too different as we get older. Sometimes I walk down the street and see people for what they are kids in adult bodies.

It troubles me sometimes. And other times it makes me happy. But I suppose all of it is a bit childish.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Improper Signage

The sub 800 word version of this.

Billboard companies, although they are giant multi-national corporations, pay taxes and participate in the public process.

Those are all the benefits of a billboard. Those who advertise on billboards get some peripheral economic gains from purchasing a sign but certainly it isn’t the only form of advertisement in the region. Think about that for a moment. If all the billboards in the country disappeared people would still know where to go to get the best lap-dance.

With the rapidly expanding role of social review sites like Yelp, a billboard in the modern era is increasingly obscure.

That leaves only the tax dollars that the companies pay on the property that the billboard sits on. Those tax dollars go to the cause of essential public services like fire, police, and medical services. But tax dollars aren’t be enough.

Billboards decrease the property values of nearby parcels and reduce the tax revenue of nearby properties. Low property values encourage low quality establishments.

When properties around a billboard are low quality and low value then incidences of concentrated poverty increase. Concentrated poverty is the densification and clustering of low income housing and associated businesses; clumps of really poor people.

The majority of problems correlated with poverty are correlated with concentrated poverty. That means that drug abuse, assault, and robbery are prevalent in areas of concentrated poverty.

In cities such as Baltimore where housing policies have encouraged diverse economic classes to live next door to each other, there has been a significant drop in correlated crime. Only with clusters of economically disadvantaged do the worst effects of poverty take effect.

And when there are clusters of one economic group, there are businesses that similarly cater to said demographic--the discount cigarette and liquor store follows. This creates a perpetuating cycle where poverty follows poverty.

Billboard companies happily advertise for whoever puts up the cash. In areas of concentrated poverty, liquor and cigarette advertisers like to advertise. In fact, alcohol and tobacco intentionally target these areas because addiction rates are so high.

One billboard can severely limit the upward mobility of an area. No one puts a mansion under a billboard and no one puts a billboard in a neighborhood of mansions.

Add in the morally questionable way in which billboards fail to discern the larger impacts of the advertisements they hold and their benefits are erased. Inner city communities have argued that billboard advertisements for booze and cigs have perpetuated many of the woes of low-income neighborhoods. It is important to remember that these are neighborhoods. Plenty of children grow up in areas where they look up at ads for cheap spirits on their way to school.

It is no surprise then that crime climbs while education levels dive in these areas. Down the road this leaves the taxpayer with a fairly large burden: extra police, extra social services, lost productivity from squandered potential, and on and on.

A billboard is a social injustice, amd alone can have a negative effect; there are whole sections of a town where billboards are on nearly every block. This is a reality that many cities face. But regulating all of these billboards would be an unnecessary interference with government. It would be against the small government mentality of a libertarian-minded state like Nevada--not quite.

“Don’t tread on me,” the Libertarian philosophy states, “keep my government small.” And with billboards that seems to be what has been done. Many local governments have largely given free reign to the billboard industry to craft and implement their own rules regarding signage. Which is a very libertarian way of doing things—government out. But the libertarian philosophy has a second component lost in the blaring accusations of “big government!” Government has a role to step in when its citizens are harmed. Government—even in individual-centric libertarianism—has an obligation to protect its citizens from harm.

It’s the same reason everybody pays for fire, and police. And when billboards have such a vast and negative effect it is hard to see why there is not a more stringent approach to siting billboards.

Billboards, while certainly an industry, are nevertheless detrimental to individuals, communities, and governments. They harm citizens by perpetuating toxic environments. They harm communities by locking in concentrated poverty. They harm governments by reducing tax revenues. Believing in billboards’ positive effects unequivocally is myopic and malicious. Improper signage condemns an area to a nearly irreversible fate.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Winnemucca Lake 2/2

The dams have been built to control flooding and store water in times of drought. Derby dam is the largest. As part of the Newlands project it diverts water from the Truckee to the unironically named Lahontan Reservoir. The reservoir is contaminated with byproducts from the mining days of Nevada’s history. There is a high (but not 'unsafe') level of mercury in the water. The only purpose of the lake is to provide water for the farmlands.

The farms grow mostly alfalfa. Alfalfa is a low intensity crop that can replenish soils. Many farmers in other parts of the country use it as a replenishing crop to avoid agricultural collapses. A prominent example of agricultural collapse is the Fertile Crescent region of the world; a place that was once lush enough to spawn civilization but is now the nearly barren Iraqi desert.

Alfalfa requires huge amounts of water to grow though. In areas such as the Nile Delta of Egypt where seasonal flooding encourages the growth of replenishing crops such as alfalfa, there is a restorative and logical need for alfalfa. In desert environments, the low quality soil makes it necessary to use huge amounts of water and fertilizer, negating any long-term benefits of the crop.

Churchill County High School’s mascot is the Green Wave--a reference to the vast alfalfa fields that are fed by Lahontan Reservoir’s waters. This green wave does not support extra wildlife. The alfalfa is harvested and baled up to feed cows across the border in California.

Hope for restoring Winnemucca Lake is misplaced. State route 420 paved over the bed that connected Pyramid to Winnemucca. The true Lahontan cutthroat is extinct and more aggressive species have taken its place. Derby Dam is considered an economically vital historical landmark and will never be torn down. Pyramid Lake’s waters have receded too much to ever return--although the Pyramid is once again an island.

The slow leaching of the Comstock mine into Lahontan Reservoir will eventually turn the Green Wave into an alkaline flood plain. The Truckee River runs its course in staccato fits, unable to flow quietly to its desert home. Man has conquered the thin blue thread that connected three of the most pristine lakes in the world together. We have conquered it, but are we in control?

There is no clear path forward in managing such a tight resource. Perhaps a miracle and a ray of hope. Recently what is believed to be the original Pyramid Lake strain of Lahontan cutthroat was found in a small stream on the Nevada-Utah border. Efforts are underway to try to reintroduce them to their native waters. Sometimes we can resurrect the dead. And sometimes, with a little luck and planning, human intervention can be right.

Winnemucca Lake 1/2

The skies were darkened. Birds in uncountable numbers chattered and moved in sync; a dark wave of life over the shallow lake. The lake reflected the dramatic desert scenery; the birds seemed even more numerous reflected against the water, the fall clouds passed rapidly overhead. Winnemucca Lake was little more than a mirage against the mountains--by the 1930s the mirage had faded and disappeared.

What remains of Winnemucca Lake today is a vast salt plain; a barren emptiness. The skies no longer blacken with birds. The area is dead.

Winnemucca Lake is the actual end of the Truckee River in Nevada. For thousands of years the waters of the Pyramid would spill out into this shallow basin, leaving a seasonal paradise. In the early 1900s the Newlands project created a series of dams and diversions from the Truckee River to irrigate farmland. At one point there was more Truckee water in ditches and large irrigated farmlands than there was in the actual river.

This led to the rapid recession of the shores of Pyramid Lake. Every year the lake disappeared a little bit more until the shining island that was its namesake had become a peninsula. The water became more saline, the composition changed. The lake started to become poisonous. And instead of overflowing and feeding the marshy Winnemucca Lake as it did most years, it retreated into the desert; evaporating into the thirsty air. Winnemucca Lake was gone. The birds came one year, starved and died. The next year, no birds came.

The meager yet crucial life giving waters of the Truckee had been dammed and diverted to the point that even life in the rivers died out. The Lahontan cutthroat trout, the largest freshwater trout species, could no longer spawn naturally as it always had; unable to breach the dams that blocked them on their way to their spawning grounds, the Lahontan quietly died off. The state record for the largest trout caught will never be surmounted.

The modern Lahontan trout is a smaller sub-species that was transplanted from nearby Summit lake. It is still a large fish but nothing like the behemoth creatures seen in the cracked and torn pictures of yesteryear. Modern Lahontans can’t spawn without human intervention still as most of the dams still remain.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Recapped: Rain and Roger

I’d like to compile everything from a period in my life and put it all together into an art project. An autobiography based on my digital footprint. Every blog post, every text message, phone logs, photos, videos, internet history, purchases, bank accounts, and on and on until a portrait starts to emerge. It would be the ultimate form of voyeurism; a complete encyclopedia of myself in a moment of time.

I walked home in the rain with only a light sweater on. I had no idea that it would rain that hard and completely miscalculated the weather. I didn’t even have a hat.

As I walked in the ‘not quite rain but definitely enough to get you wet if you stayed out long enough’ I lightened my step. I don’t know why but I felt better about being in the cold. I felt better about not being in traffic honking at other cars and lamenting the crappiness of life in general. I felt good.

And I kept smiling. People were entertaining. Just people being people. People are entertaining creatures. People act like the rain will hurt them but love showers. People rush to places they don’t necessarily want to be.

I guess that when I offered to take a picture of the happy couple under the space needle that was the best moment. They were in the rain, but happy to be where they were. They didn’t worry about rush hour or any of the crap that was going on. They just wanted their picture. It felt good to do something for them; give them a memento.

Roger came in last night from Moscow Idaho. Ciera’s little brother is doing scuba training in Edmonds and is spending some time with us. He’s a fun guy; really intelligent.

The Town Theatre’s show Brilliant Traces started last night as well. I was working programs and trying to coordinate Roger’s arrival at the same time. So it was a major relief to me when Ciera got off work early and was able to help me out with everything.

I can’t wait to see the show.

Once Roger arrived we went down to the bars to hang out with Amberlee. When the show was finished we moved to another bar and saw Amber and Eleanor. It was nice to hang out with people our age. Then we stumbled up the hill and went to bed.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Who Pays for Billboards?

Billboards are part of the community. Although they are multi-national corporations they pay taxes.

That is the extent of a billboard’s benefits. If all the billboards in the country disappeared people would still know where to get the biggest burger in town or the best lap-dance. The truth is that with social review sites like Yelp, a billboard in the modern era is becoming increasingly obscure.

In terms of an economic benefit, only the tax dollars the billboard companies pay have value. Those tax dollars go to the cause of essential public services like fire, roads, and police. The taxes the billboards pay are good then.

Except, no one puts a mansion under a billboard and no one puts a billboard in a neighborhood of mansions. Billboards decrease the property values of nearby parcels, and thus the tax revenue that can be collected. Low property values encourage low quality establishments.

When the rule for properties around a billboard is low quality then the instance of concentrated poverty goes up. Concentrated poverty is the clustering of low income housing and businesses; dense poor communities.

It is well documented that the majority of problems correlated with poverty (drug abuse, graffiti, robbery) occur predominantly with concentrated poverty. In areas such as Baltimore where housing policies have reduced concentration crime has dropped. Only in clusters of poverty do the worst effects apply; exacerbated by the billboards. Billboards are excellent predictors of neighborhood crime rates.

In areas of concentrated poverty liquor and cigarette advertisers reign supreme. Alcohol and tobacco intentionally target these areas because they are correlated with high rates of dependency.

And it is important to remember that these are neighborhoods. Plenty of children grow up in areas where these ads present a distorted reality.

It is no surprise then that crime starts to climb while education levels start to dive in these areas. This leaves the taxpayer with a large burden: extra police services, social services, lost productivity, and on and on. A billboard is a social injustice. The tax dollars that come from an enormous metal sign on a sliver of land are completely erased by the greater burden to the entire region.

A billboard alone can have a negative effect, but whole sections of town with billboards on every block are more realistic for most cities. This greatly exacerbates the problem. It is hard to see why there isn’t a more stringent approach to siting billboards.

To put it mildly, billboards aren’t good. Billboards are detrimental to individuals, communities, and governments. They harm individuals by distorting reality. They harm communities by locking areas into concentrated poverty. They harm governments by destroying tax revenues. To believe that a billboard can always be a positive thing for a community is to look right past the glaring societal problems that we as a nation face everyday. To not consider those factors when formulating legislation is to look at the world through a pinhole.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Billboards Are Bigger Than You Think

Billboards confer an economic advantage to an area. The existence of billboards creates tax dollars and increases visibility of local businesses. As a form of advertising there is a lot of value in their economic contributions to a local area.

Or is there? What is the purpose of a billboard? What are the benefits of having billboards? Do the benefits negate the costs? If you want to save five minutes, the short answer is no.

Billboards do not exist in a vacuum. Their existence in a local region makes them part of the community. The businesses, although they are giant multi-national corporations, pay taxes and participate in the public process.

That is largely the extent of the benefits of a billboard. Those who advertise on billboards get some peripheral economic gains from purchasing a sign but certainly it isn’t the only form of advertisement in the region. Think about that for a moment. If all the billboards in the country disappeared would people still know where to go to get the biggest burger in town? How about the best place to get a lap-dance? Or maybe to see the next big action flick?

The truth is that with the rapidly expanding role of the internet in our lives, a billboard in the modern era is becoming increasingly obscure. Social review sites like Yelp are erasing the economic benefit to advertisers on billboards.

In terms of an economic argument, that leaves only the tax dollars that the companies pay on the property that the billboard sits on. Those tax dollars go to the cause of essential public services like fire, roads, police, emergency medical services, and social programs. The taxes the billboards pay have a positive economic effect then.

Well, not exactly. Billboards decrease the property values of nearby parcels. Billboards actually immediately reduce the tax revenue of nearby properties. If a property is appraised at a low value, the corresponding taxes are similarly low. And the cycle is just beginning. Low property values encourage low quality establishments. Sure there are plenty of examples in the news of high quality establishments arriving in beat up neighborhoods. But that’s precisely why they are in the news, because they are the exception to the rule.

When the rule for properties around a billboard is low quality and low value then the instance of concentrated poverty goes up. Concentrated poverty is the densification and clustering of low income housing and businesses tailored to low income households. Basically, clumps of really poor people.

It is a well documented fact that the majority of problems correlated with poverty arises in instances of concentrated poverty—and only concentrated poverty. That means that instances of drug abuse, graffiti, assault, robbery, auto theft, prostitution, and a myriad of other issues are prevalent in areas of concentrated poverty.

In areas such as Baltimore where housing policies have encouraged diverse economic classes to live next door to each other, there has been a significant drop in correlated crime. That means that only where there are clusters of economically disadvantaged do the worst effects of poverty take effect.

And when there are clusters of one economic group, there are businesses that similarly cater to said demographic. In layman’s terms, the discount cigarette and liquor store follows. This creates a perpetuating cycle where poverty follows poverty. By now, the properties around the billboard have all lost a lot. And they are about to lose a lot more.

Billboard companies happily advertise for whoever puts up the cash. In areas of concentrated poverty, such as the neighborhood that is rapidly deteriorating with the addition of a billboard, liquor and cigarette advertisers like to advertise their goods. In fact, alcohol and tobacco intentionally target these areas because there is such a high instance of addiction in poor neighborhoods.

One billboard can severely limit the upward mobility of an area. Think, no one puts a mansion under a billboard and no one puts a billboard in a neighborhood of mansions. Billboards are thus an economically limiting factor for a given neighborhood. In fact, they are excellent predictors of nearby crime as exhibited by their propensity to perpetuate an economic condition.

Add in the morally questionable way in which billboards fail to discern the larger impacts of the advertisements they hold and their benefits are erased. Inner city communities have been arguing this for decades. They have argued that billboard advertisements for booze and cigs have perpetuated many of the woes of low-income neighborhoods.

And it is important to remember that these are neighborhoods. Plenty of children grow up in areas where they look up at ads for cheap spirits on their way to school. Ads where Bud Light and attractive women lounge around are far more numerous than billboards that advertise college degrees.

It is no surprise then that crime starts to climb while education levels start to dive in these areas. Down the road this leaves the taxpayer with a fairly large burden: extra police services to try to tamp down crime; extra costs to maintain the prisons that house the criminals that are caught; extra social services to deal with high rates of poverty; lost productivity from kids that grew up without motivation to get higher education; and on and on.

A billboard is a social injustice. By the time the greater social costs are factored in the measly tax dollars that come from an enormous metal sign on a sliver of land are completely erased.

A billboard alone can have a negative effect; now add whole sections of a town where billboards are on nearly every block. This is a reality that many cities face. But regulating all of these billboards would be an unnecessary interference with government. It would be against the small government mentality of a libertarian-minded state like Nevada. But not quite.

“Don’t tread on me,” the Libertarian philosophy states, “keep my government small.” And with billboards that seems to be what has been done. Many local governments have largely given free reign to the billboard industry to craft and implement their own rules regarding signage. Which is a very libertarian way of doing things—government out. But the libertarian philosophy has a second component that is usually lost in the blaring accusations of “big government!” That component is that government does have a role to step in when its citizens are harmed. Government—even in a very individual-centric perspective like libertarianism—has an obligation to protect its citizens from harm.

It’s the same reason everybody pays for roads, fire, police, etc. And when billboards have such a vast and negative effect it is hard to see why there isn’t a more stringent approach to siting billboards. A billboard’s existence keeps tax-dollars away from the local government while simultaneously boosting the services that are required by that government. This forces cities to take on debt. Similarly the lost potential of the children that grew up around that billboard contributes to the stagnation and collapse of an entire region.

To put it mildly, billboards aren’t very good. Billboards, while certainly an industry, are nevertheless detrimental to individuals, communities, and governments. They harm citizens by perpetuating toxic environments. They harm communities by locking whole areas into concentrated poverty. They harm governments by destroying positive revenue streams. To believe that a billboard can always be a positive thing for a community is to look right past the glaring societal problems that we as a nation face everyday. To not consider those factors when formulating legislation is to look at the world through a pinhole.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Airsoft Rooftop 3/3

short story:

Tommy: don’t be a nutsack. You remember when Kirk dated Danielle?

Alex: yeah.

Tommy: we didn’t see him for those three weeks.

Alex: what do you mean?

Tommy: I mean, where was he for lunch? Where was he for three weeks of this (he points to his gun)? He didn’t even walk home with us. He was gone.

Alex: I’m not even going out with Kelly. We cuddled on the couch a little during a movie. It wasn’t even a date or anything--all of you guys were there.

Tommy: yeah, but it’s not like I was trying to cuddle up on Jenna

Alex: that’s cuz Amanda likes you.

Tommy: no she doesn’t.

Alex: yu-huh, she told Jenna and Kelly.

Tommy: (sighs) really? Amanda? She’s so...

Alex: weird. Yeah. Remember in third grade when she brought her snake in and it got loose while we were at lunch?

Tommy: (laughs) yeah, and it ate TJ’s hamster!

Alex: (laughs) he still hasn’t forgiven her for that.

Tommy: and she’s obsessed with anime. She talks to me about it all the time.

Alex: I thought you liked that stuff?

Tommy: not like her. It’s awful. I want to stab my ears out.

Alex: (shoots Tommy in the leg) Shut up!

Tommy: what?

Alex: you like her. It’s ok. She’s weird but she’s not ugly or anything.

Tommy: She’s so weird though.

Alex: You didn’t say you didn’t like her.

Tommy: (blushes) that’s not important. What do we even do at our age? Have our parents drop us off at the movie theater? We can’t drive. I don’t have any of my own money. It would be awkward and crappy.

Alex: I mean--

Tommy: you think when we start high school we’ll still do this stuff?

Alex: yeah. Why wouldn’t we?

Tommy: Because everything is supposed to change. We’re supposed to lose our virginity and date girls and be mad at our parents all the time. When will we do this?

Alex: every Friday night?

Tommy: Shut up. Remember recess? We don’t have recess anymore. We don’t have playgrounds anymore. Steve’s already been practicing driving.

Alex: yeah but he crashed his Dad’s car.

Tommy: We’re getting older Alex. And these things aren’t going to happen anymore. Being a teenager is all about the crappy things that middle school has been plus parties where people drink and do drugs.

Alex: yeah, but that’s going to be fun.

Tommy: (rolls his eyes) Sure. I might do something stupid and end up kissing Amanda.

Alex: she’s not ugly.

Tommy: I don’t care. I don’t like her. She’s not my soul mate.

Alex: Soul mate? What the hell are you talking about?

Tommy: (a little sheepishly) soul mate. I want to date my soul mate.

Alex: You think that you have to date your soul mate?

Tommy:...I guess not. But I don’t want to date someone I’ll regret dating.

Alex: That’s why it’s dating and not marriage. You aren’t supposed to find a soul mate in middle school. You really think that?!

Tommy: shut up. I--we--things are changing. K? And I have fun now, so let’s keep having fun.

Alex: well, yeah. I’ll keep doing this as long as it’s fun.

Tommy: would you still come to air soft wars if Kelly wanted to give you an hj instead?

Alex: (convincing himself) No...I’d hang out with you guys.

Tommy: (shoots Alex in the leg) Bull. That’s my point. Why do we hang out together anymore? Are we just waiting for girls to come along and take us away to left field?

Alex: no. We’re friends...Besides, I’m not into feet.

Tommy: (laughs) You know what I mean.

Alex: I do. And I don’t.

Tommy: just drop it. Let’s go to the playground.

Alex: Soul mate?

Tommy: shut up.

Airsoft Rooftop 2/3

Short story:

Alex: Shhh! (air soft pellets hit the bit of roof in front of the two; they both duck under) shit Tommy! Did you see where they were?

Tommy: no. I think they were on your side. (another pellet hits the roof).

Alex: Where are John and Kirk?

Tommy: at the playground!

Alex: let’s go. Now.

(The two start running along the edge of the roof. They hear footsteps coming up to them, and over the far edge of the roof. Danny appears with his airsoft gun. Tommy and Alex try to aim but are too slow)

Alex: Ow! Shit!

Tommy: Ow! Danny stop! You hit my hand!

(Alex and Danny start laughing)

Alex: let me see? That’s it? don’t be a puss.

Tommy: shut up. You cried when you got hit in the hand two weeks ago.

Alex: yeah, but my fingernail fell off. See?

Danny: gross!

Tommy: where’s Robbie?

Danny: huh? You mean (sarcastically) Rob? He went with Steve and TJ.

Tommy: where are they?

Danny: headed to the playground.

Tommy: Oh. John and Kirk are there.

Danny: thanks. (he runs toward the playground)

Tommy: Shit. Forgot you’re still playing

Alex: (goes to punch him in the arm; Tommy flinches) Ha. You flinched. Two.

Tommy: (groans and takes two punches in the arm. They start walking toward the playground in silence). You remember watching the Horrorium..the horrororrorium...hor...horror-ium...

Alex: shut up. Yeah, what about it?

Tommy: You were getting pretty close to Kelly...

Alex: So?

Tommy: alright. I guess it’s not important.

Alex: No. It’s not.

Tommy: so are you gonna keep hanging out with us?

Alex: Yeah, of course. Why?

Tommy: well now that you’re attached at the hip to Kelly--

Alex: shut up.

Airsoft Rooftop 1/3

A short story:

Scene: a school rooftop at night. The school is a large single floor school with low incline roofs and large flat portions. A group of middle school aged boys dressed in thick layers and wearing goggles and helmets are playing war games with airsoft guns.

Two boys are waiting behind a low incline roof camping out.

Tommy: Alex, did you hear about Danny and Rachel?

Alex: Yeah, so what Tommy?

Tommy: well...I don’t know. I thought it was news.

Alex: I heard that she gave him a hand job in the bathroom.

Tommy: Rachel?

Alex: yeah, he got to third base with her.

Tommy: I thought third base was different than a hand job.

Alex: no, it’s definitely a handjob.

Tommy: so what’s the left field? Or a foul ball?

Alex: (laughs) I don’t know. Is that like foot fetishes and stuff?

Tommy: Foot fetish?

Alex: yeah, some people really like feet.

Tommy: (thinks about it) feet huh? I guess so...

Alex: where do you think they are?

Tommy: I don’t know, I bet Robbie is having trouble climbing onto the roof again.

Alex: Yeah, it’s not like Danny could help him.

Tommy: Danny, have his balls even dropped yet?

Alex: (shrugs) I don’t try to look at his balls.

Tommy: shut up. You know what I mean. He’s barely five feet tall. You sure Rachel gave him an hj in the bathroom?

Alex: That’s what Mark told me.

Tommy: you heard that from Mark?

Alex: yeah. Why?

Tommy: Mark said he found a dead body and poked it.

Alex: so?

Tommy: You believe him?

Alex: yeah.

Tommy: He said that Becky showed her boobs to Will for five dollars.

Alex: didn’t she?

Tommy: No.

Alex: how do you know?

Tommy: I asked Will. He said that Becky cried when she found out.

Alex: Because everyone at school found out she showed her boobs and Will saw her third nipple?

Tommy: no, because it was a rumor.

Alex: No way. Will just said that because he lives on the same street as Becky.

Tommy: So?

Alex: they walk to school together every morning...He’s got a big crush on her, even if she has a third nipple.

Tommy: (slowly) No, Will says they’re just friends.

Alex: that’s because Becky has a crush on Robbie.

Tommy: why does she have a crush on Robbie Rolls?

Alex: I don’t know. Fat people need lovin’ too?

Tommy: (laughs loudly)

Travel Morocco 3/3

I got off the bus. It was nowhere. We were at a gas station with nothing else in sight. I looked at Jarrod with the same perplexity that had come to characterize our trip. We shrugged and crossed our fingers for a moment. And in that brief moment of uncertainty I felt the universe savor the dramatic irony.

Then a voice. In Arabic a man was talking about Chefchaouen. I mean, at least I thought he was. He looked at me, hailed me over and asked, “Chefchaouen?” I said yes and he smiled and started putting my bags in the car. I thought I would have a nice cab ride with Jarrod to some nearby destination.

That didn’t happen. Instead, the cab driver unceremoniously shoved my stuff in the trunk and hailed everyone getting off the bus to get in the cab. The five seater somehow managed to cram seven people into it. Jarrod and I had no idea where we were going.

We pushed ourselves into the vehicle. There was a woman who had a veil and a ton of gear. I don’t remember if she had a baby, but I think she had baby clothes or gear. The woman’s husband was with her. There were two talkative men that rounded out our traveling party. There was a short silence as we pulled out of the gas station and I was suddenly very sure we were being kidnapped.

The cab took a fork in the road; the small, windy, definitely not the highway road. And the feeling crept further into my throat. As the two talkative men started engaging the driver in a raucous conversation in a foreign language my inner calm dissipated. I started looking for escape routes and wondering if I had enough cash to buy my way back to the tiny little landing strip in Fez.

Fez’s airport was barely anything. I have seen larger mall parking lots. When we got off the plane and onto the tarmac, Jarrod and I cracked up. It was so small I could take an encompassing picture of it on my phone. Customs was awful. There really wasn’t much security; it was a long line to get a stamp. It seemed like an unnecessary piece of bureaucracy; it was obvious no one really tracked who was coming or going.

In that moment of panic, I thought how easy it would be to take a cab back to the airport and go back to Spain where I spoke the language and didn’t worry about being kidnapped by very nice men in robes.

I refused to look at Jarrod knowing that he was probably having similar reservations. Then people started getting out of the cab. Suddenly I was in the middle of nowhere in a country I didn’t speak the language to and I was scared out of my brains. It was just Jarrod and I. I was about ready to scream and beg the driver to take us someplace I recognized when the blue buildings came into view. We were definitely in Chefchaouen. My heart came off red alert and I started enjoying the car ride.

Until we were unceremoniously kicked out of the car. And Jarrod and I were standing in the middle of a city with only the name of a hotel to guide us.

I saw a policeman and felt that sigh of relief that comes with knowing rest is just around the corner. The police man did not speak English or Spanish, only French or Arabic. My heart sank. Then a drug dealer came up to us and said he could take us to our hostel.

Yeah, an English speaking drug dealer. That same sinking, “should we follow this guy through these dark abandoned alleys” feeling came over us. But we followed through some sort of sense of politeness, curiosity, and inertia. It paid off. Mr. Drug Dealer took us straight to our destination and we checked in. Before he left he offered to sell us some hashish. We thanked him but declined.

Later that night on the roof of the hostel we sat and looked out on the rooftops and the landscape. It was all worth it, even through the moments of complete uncertainty. The rooftops gave way to a large sweeping valley that extended south to the rest of the continent. The city lights barely obscured the deep azure sky. Stars peeked out as crisp white dots. Morocco was beautiful.

Travel Morocco 2/3

We were terrible tourists. The people of Morocco must have thought us good travelers or total idiots. All of the information we had gotten before our trip had advised us against following random strangers, eating at sketchy restaurants, taking unmarked cabs or buses, and doing just about anything else we would end up doing.

Being bad tourists did open up our inexplicable experiences though. On our first night we took an unmarked cab and ended up following a creepy man down some dark and very ominous alleys to find our accommodations. It is very hard to trust a toothless beggar to take you safely to your destination. Nevertheless, we ended up there. It was merely one of many odd and beautiful moments. For such a crime riddled country I never felt like I was in danger. But maybe the crime rate isn’t that bad? I only had a perception that there was a lot of crime.

Maybe that was just my Western sensibilities. No one ever gave me cause to suspect that the country was dangerous beyond the exotic diseases I could contract.

Anyways, the point is that the bus was rickety. The brown upholstery on the seats made me want to gouge out my eyes. Jarrod and I sat on the bus waiting. Many cars and jalopies pulled out and went on their way to their destinations. I watched with curiosity as people, cars, buses, mules, and carts shared a tiny lot while big buses and vans navigated not only the bustling crowd but potholes as well.

I didn’t understand the carts, I looked at them with a sort of detached curiosity. What were those carts? And then a man came onto the bus and tried to sell us snacks. He wasn’t the first one and there were tons of things sold by the parade of people as they stepped on the bus shouted about Allah or licorice, then politely left when no one bought anything. This went on for a full half hour.

Morocco is a nation of small business owners. In my micro-economics class we learned all about the supply and demand model. That was predicated on the assumption that there were an infinite number of small vendors and buyers who all universally agreed to a price. Morocco was the closest I have ever come to that. And prices still remained arbitrary. In fact, haggling was a big deal there. The price of goods rose and fell over the course of a cup of tea. It was fun and nerve racking. It was polite to bargain, and I tried my best to do so.

On the bus I declined to engage in haggling for snacks or Qurans. Instead I opted to sleep. The bus started pulling out. And I slept. When I woke up the bus was moving across the Moroccan landscape. It was Africa. A high desert landscape with few defining features. A run down abode here, a poorly tended farm there. The towns we passed were bizarre mixtures of collapsed ghost towns and ultra new faux Western style developments. The Ersatz qualities of the building were accentuated by the bright splashes of paint on the exterior walls and the utter lack of surrounding buildings. These were extensions of the town but distinct parts. The separateness was made all the more stark by the shifting clouds. The town would be in dark gray while breaks in the clouds hovered over the bright hints of Westernization.

We passed a lake. The road became windy. We stopped in a town and Jarrod made for the bathroom as quickly as he could. When he got back on the bus he looked shaken. He had peed into a hole in the ground. There were no toilets; just a hole.

I understood it immediately. Jacob had talked about holes in the ground and I had seen the infamous international airport bathroom signs that instructed people to sit on toilets and not squat on them.

I laughed and watched the landscape pass before me. We headed into the foothills of the Rif mountains. The air became more alpine and I started to wonder if we were even going the right direction. Then the bus stopped and the very nice man who had helped us the entire time instructed us to get off.

Travel Morocco 1/3

I got on the bus and didn’t feel too out of place. Everything was dirty and a little crappy; obvious hand-me-downs from the first world. But buses always seem that way. Few people step on a Greyhound and say, “hot damn this is classy stuff right here!”

I doubt even the crazy redneck I imagined saying that could even say so without being a touch sarcastic.

Morocco was a dirty bus terminal--dirtier. Everything was a little more run down. The walls were worn and cracked. Most of the terminal was shut down because it was the off season. Buses now mostly harbored locals trying to travel places. The weather was cool and a little wet. I could tell that during the summer the bus terminal was unbearable. The heat would stagnate in the large hall and flies would buzz around.

It made me cringe at the thought of traveling Morocco during the summer. Sweaty bodies pushed against each other as miles and miles of tourists snapped photos and did disrespectful things to the native culture. And while I loved Morocco, there was the issue of sanitation. Scraps of meat and food were tossed on the street in front of stores. Cats mewed for food as the butcher tossed scraps to them; meanwhile mules walked through the market carrying goods and leaving behind dung.

In the summer heat feral cats, rotting meat, sweaty tourists, and crap happy mules would not make for the most aromatic of dense urban areas. If the leather tanning facility had been any indication Morocco was a generally smelly place.

Some of that smell greeted me as I entered the bus. The seats had soaked up that smell over the years. And Jarrod and I weren’t taking the state run buses, which were ‘clean and maintained’. Our ride home on a state bus proved that neither of those adjectives applied unless as a comparison to the nearly collapsing steel cage we would be riding out.

Jarrod and I were on our way to Chefchaouen and had missed the first state bus that we could have taken. The next one would be in 6 hours and we decided that getting there was better than hanging around. So, with a shrug and a sigh we paid for our fares and hopped on the bus, keeping our fingers crossed that we didn’t die.