First Words Since

I re-watched this today. Years later, still my favorite poem.

Quotation Analysis

Hey y'all, "Quotation Analysis" is a new blog theme/meme/gimmick where I quote someone else and then analyze their quote.

Today's quote comes from Glenn Beck, quoted at this ridiculous tea-party bullshit blog that has a better layout than mine does.
I have taken a lot of hits from people like Rev. Jim Wallis on “social justice.” But I needed you to know there is a poison in some of our churches. Social justice — the way Jim Wallis and Jeremiah Wright understand it — isn’t in the gospel, neither is redistribution of wealth.
Wait, really? I seem to remember a certain passage about a "rich young ruler." From Luke:
[18] A certain ruler asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"...
[22] ...he said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
I figure you can argue the specifics. I mean, what does he mean by "If you want salvation, sell everything you have and give to the poor" really mean? He's just using a metaphor, right? Beck's (and many, many mainstream conservative pastors and church leaders') argument is that "social justice" or "liberation theology" advocates for a government redistribution of wealth, and that instead we should be free to do what we will with what we've earned.

But the argument that the Bible doesn't quite explicitly support redistribution of wealth is disingenuous at best. But what do we really expect from the likes of Glenn Beck?

New Blog Theme/Meme: Overheard in Capitol Hill

Overheard in Capitol Hill is a new blog theme/meme/gimmick where my loyal blog readers can make fun of the "effing hipsters" that populate the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, WA, and the "sillie" things that they say.

► Young man to another young man: "If I were going to, like, see someone about my problems... I'd fucking tell my wife, you know?" Overheard at Victrola on 15th

► Man to cell phone:
"Well, when we got divorced, everyone was so pissed off at us that it didn't work out." Overheard at Victrola on 15th

► Young girl 1:
"So we all started making out, even though no one knew each other."
     Young girl 2:  "Oh, that's so nice." Overheard at Stumptown on 12th

Have you Overheard something blog-worthy in Capitol Hill?

Five Legitimate Ways to Respond to the Oil Spill

There are over 750,000 members of the "Boycott BP" group on Facebook.This is, frankly, a travesty. Of course, you can't put too much stock in how many members there are in a facebook group, but still... The level of awareness of the BP Oil Spill in the gulf is tremendous and heartening; and I hope it changes our attitudes and lifestyles and alters the way we think about the cost of oil - but boycotting BP is a useless waste of time. Sharon Begley at Newsweek hits at the crux of the issue quite well:
It’s understandable that consumers are furious and frustrated by the gulf catastrophe and want to punish those responsible... [but] BP and the 32 other operators of deepwater wells in the gulf are there not because they find it technologically interesting to see how deep they can drill... They’re drilling because of America’s—and the world’s—insatiable lust for oil.

The U.S. consumes 800 million gallons of petroleum per week, according to the Energy Information Agency. The only way to make this the last oil spill in the gulf is to make oil obsolete. 

...Just as buying green products is better for our eco-esteem than it is an effective way to save the planet, so consumer boycotts of the latest oil company to run afoul of public opinion are emotionally satisfying but ultimately futile.
A boycott does nothing but punish the actual owner of whichever gas station you bypass (to ostensibly go purchase your gas from some other gas station). We need to recognize that the oil spill is our fault because we demand oil and we demand it cheap. Reducing our demand for oil is the only way, short of advocating for a government solution (do this too!), to reduce drilling for oil - to reduce the myriad environmental impacts oil production wreaks on our planet.

But the question is always, well what do I do about it then? Here are some simple suggestions.

Thank Me Later

I am wholeheartedly surprised by how much I enjoy listening to Drake's new album, Thank Me Later. I am no fan of mainstream hip-hop. The only hip-hop groups that I can say that I actually enjoy listening to are Digable Planets, KanYe West (basically just this latest album though) and Aesop Rock. I've tried to get into other hip-hop, both mainstream and underground and it's just not resonated with me.

I remember when Drake blew up. I was surprised and amused - I remembered Drake (nee Aubrey Graham) from his long-running stint as character Jimmy on The N's imported pre-to-teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation.

It was actually an excellent show. I would go as far as to say it was to our decade what Freaks & Geeks was for the 2000s and My So-Called Life was to the 1990s. The show used actors the same age as the characters they played, unlike, say, the OC, and dealt with hard-hitting issues (Degrassi tag line: "It Goes There").

Anyway the transition from Jimmy to Drake was interesting to me because was a very kind, sympathetic character. He had strong personality characteristics - was accepting of gay friend Marco's coming out, forgave Spinner for stealing his iPod, got back with his girlfriend (whose name escapes me now) after she went to drug rehab and turned goth even though the popular kids (one of whom he used to be) made fun of him for it. I stopped watching the show when I went to college in 2005 (no Satellite TV there) so I missed some of the later developments - Jimmy's confinement to a wheelchair, for example.

Seattle Pride - Leather, Nudity, & Condoms?

Went to the Seattle Pride Parade + Festival today. Afterward, a friend asked us how it was. "There was a lot of leather, nudity, and we got a bunch of condoms." Is that what being gay is all about? Is it all about unabashed promiscuity and the celebration of fetishes?

After hearing our description of the festival, the friend responded "yeah, that sounds like Pride." I suppose as an outsider that's what you would gather from the parade and party afterward. What do you think?


Nothing to say today except that Hey Marseilles, my favorite local band, is finally officially releasing their album next week. They made a sillie video to go with the lead single. It's embedded below; enjoy :)

Oh also I'm working on an update to the "Cohabitation" post from last week. Finished the book, talked to my friend about lotsa stuff, and came to some conclusions.

Bite-Sized Musings: On Male White Men Punching Female Black Teenagers

As though Seattle Police didn't have enough controversy to deal with, on Monday a video surfaced of a Seattle Police officer punching a young Black woman in the face. Video below:

The back story is, from what I can gather: the Police officer was arresting another (Black) man for jaywalking across Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. Some people on the street objected and approached the officer (albeit somewhat violently). There was a confrontation, and as you see in the video, when the situation got heated, the cop punched the woman in the face.

The main question that's come up is: is this racist? The officer was clearly outnumbered, and the women were somewhat violent and confrontational. Should cops be allowed to use force in the face of violence on the part of citizens? Was he "protecting himself" or "controlling the situation?" Was his behavior in line with his duties and responsibilities as a Police officer?

"A Little Bit Married"

A friend of mine and his girlfriend are, for a variety of reasons, considering moving in together. In the (Christian) communities they were raised in, this is called "living in sin." Other communities call it "cohabitation."

While most Hollywood movies and sit-coms consider this a normal stage in a relationship's progression, for these two it's quite a big decision (which it probably is for most people, though definitely for those with a somewhat conservative or religious upbringing). Conservatives love to throw around the "fact" that cohabiting couples tend to divorce more.

One Less Reason to Hate Starbucks

Starbucks Corporation tweeted a surprising and heavily re-tweeted announcement today:
"We're very excited to announce that coming July 1st: Free. 1 click. No registration WIFI at all US locations! :-)"
To anyone that's ever utilized a coffee shop before, this is surprising only because it's taken this long - every other (non-enormous global conglomerate) coffee shop in the United States has offered free Wi-Fi forever.

I wonder what the collective reaction is here in Seattle, Starbucks' hometown. It's easy to hate Starbucks here - there's the faux-independent coffee shop across the street from an actual independent coffee shop, there's the buying out of another local chain, there's the whole debacle with the Supersonics - granted, I don't know how Starbucks is related necessarily, as I moved here long after the Sonics were gone - but it has something to do with Schulz, Starbucks CEO.

Five Things: Musical Talents/Abilities Edition


Five Musical Talents/Abilities I Wish I Had / I Hope to Cultivate
  1. Ability to whistle like Andrew Bird
  2. Ability to emote like David Bazan
  3. Ability to harmonize like Fleet Foxes
  4. Ability to write like Colin Meloy or Joanna Newsom or Aaron Weiss
  5. Ability to sing or play guitar at all, perhaps?

Five Ways to "Do Something" about the Oil Spill

Remember "Five Things?" It was a new blog theme/meme designed to further appeal to the tl;dr crowd. Here are five new things and this is a BONUS because it also deals with current events.

Five Ways to "Do Something" about the Oil Spill
  1. "Boycott" BP while continuing to consume as much oil as before from other oil companies
  2. Buy an expensive, useless product that garishly proclaims your aversion to oil spills and/or love for seabirds (preferably a t-shirt or bumper sticker) and/or gives at least 1% of profits to conservation/environmental causes
  3. Get angry at the government for not cleaning up the spill quickly enough
  4. Add some "oil dripping" graphic to your twitter avatar (via green Iran activism)
  5. Write a blog post or two offering one-sided opinions, freshman year-level philosophy, and largely unfeasible "solutions" without considering the unique circumstances of readers

Bicycling as a Response to the Oil Spill

I am not giving up on how much of a monumental disaster this oil spill is. Pretty soon we'll be seeing the end of mainstream media coverage of the spill - I give it two weeks. See my previous post for some perspective: how much is 70,000 barrels of oil a day? For the next two months?

I think it's important, though, to not just vilify BP or Big Oil in general or the government or the "drill, baby drill" Republican blowhards, but instead to use this opportunity to spur debate - how do we prevent this from happening again? And I don't mean, how do we create better technology so that when the next oil spill happens we can cap it more quickly. I mean, the reason that we are drilling oil off shore, the reason we are importing oil from the Middle East, and then sending troops over there to protect the stability in the region and thus the stability of our oil supply, is because with the status quo, we need oil. We demand it. Supply = demand. Basic econ.

We are the reason for the oil spill. We, with our cars, our heated homes and showers and laundry machines, our demand for meat, and out-of-season and processed and packaged food, our comfortable lifestyles - we demand the oil and we demand it cheaply. We see in the photo above how costly oil really is.

Top Kill

Update: Check out this image of how large the oil spill is in relation to your city. Here's how much of the Seattle metro area the oil spill would cover - and remember, it's not yet HALFWAY DONE SPILLING!

It was announced recently that "Top Kill" has failed, and that the next realistic option for plugging the Deepwater oil leak will be the relief wells BP is drilling - slated to be finished in AUGUST.
“After three full days of attempting top kill, we now believe it is time to move on to the next of our options,” Mr. Suttles said.
The abandonment of the top kill technique, the most ambitious effort yet to plug the well, was the latest in a series of failures. First, BP failed in efforts to repair a blowout preventer with submarine robots. Then its initial efforts to cap the well with a containment dome failed when it became clogged with a frothy mix of frigid water and gas. Efforts to use a hose to gather escaping oil have managed to catch only a fraction of the spill."
Two more months of up to 70,000 barrels a day... How much is that? It's hard to fathom.

NPR and the 24-hour News Cycle

A common critique of the "current state of things" is that we are so thoroughly saturated with information, especially news reporting, that we've lost our attention span and are more easily convinced of certain positions via sound bytes, talking points, and the like.

I always figured that with an entire channel (in fact, multiple channels) focused solely on news, 24 hours a day, that there would be enough time to really get into issues, showcase all points of view, have legitimate discussion/debate, and so on. For whatever reason, this isn't the case.

I think, like a lot of people in my generation for sure but probably a lot of people more generally speaking, I haven't really "read" a newspaper in a long time. I have a hard time reading through an entire news article and instead usually skim headlines, get the relevant details, and then impress people at parties and gatherings by appearing to be "abreast of all of the relevant issues." Just don't ask me any questions about details or specifics.

The 1st Quarter Double-take

UPDATE: I got a cease & desist order from Blogger. According to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA),  my mix was copyright infringement. So all of the links have been taken down. I guess I'm flattered that they found my blog? Anyway, e-mail me, I suppose, if you are interested in the mix. Am I allowed to say that? I won't e-mail you the link. We can just talk about the songs...

Although Carles and his commenters seem to think 2010 has been the "worst first quarter of a decade ever for relevant music," I've been thoroughly enjoying most of what I've heard that's been released so far this year. Fluxblog already made a 1st quarter mix, and it is excellent so check that one out. But while I enjoyed almost everything on that playlist, I couldn't help but feeling that Mr. Perpetua left some really good stuff out.

The reason for the "double-take" moniker is this: I didn't want to put songs on my mix that were already on the Flux mix. Other times I couldn't decide what my favorite song from a recent album was. So instead of make difficult choices, or put in a less-excellent song just because Matty got to it first, I decided to put two songs from each album, which I like because it gives you a little bit better sense of what these bands are all about. Ever listened to a mix and really liked a song, and then got their album and were really disappointed? Well, have no fear - the Double-take has you covered.

One other thing I noticed that's important - this mix is 1.5 hours long. Whoops! Can't fit that on a CD. So I guess this is an internet/iPod/computer-only mix. Sorry to all the Luddites out there without standard current technology :(

Download after the jump.

Bite-Sized Musings: Death/Lack of Control

Editor's note: "Bite-sized Musings" is a blog topic theme developed in response to a criticism of this blog by Steve Norberg - friend and editor of Scan My Life - that the posts are too long and don't have enough pictures/bullet points to be digested easily. BSMs are short, relevant questions about important topics intended to generate discussion. They can only work if the "comments" feature is utilized. Please comment; thank you! <3

A Christian friend visited Sula House recently, and we "had a pow wow" and talked about theology. Of course heaven/hell was mentioned, and she asked me: "Are you afraid of death?" Because I'm not really a Christian, the question was kind of: "Aren't you afraid of Hell?" I'm not, because I don't really believe in it.

But I think the question has a more interesting philosophical underpinning - a lot of people who don't believe in Heaven or Hell still fear death. But why? I have a theory - because death is inevitable. I think that people who fear death also have an inherent fear of the inevitable.

Responses to Inevitability
1. Worry/Fear - Many people develop fear of "inevitables" because they cannot be controlled or avoided, despite human effort. "You can't stop it or change it! It's coming no matter what! There is no control! Doesn't that freak you out? There's nothing you can do about it!"

2. Indifference - Fewer people feel that because nothing can be done, there is no use worrying about something that cannot be avoided. "Well, I'm going to die someday and there's nothing I can do about it - so why waste the life I do have worrying about something I can't change?"

This doesn't just apply to things like death and (blaugh) taxes. You've already taken an exam and your professor is grading it. Do you worry about the outcome or relax because post-exam, it's completely out of your hands?

-> Do you worry about the inevitable or are you indifferent?
-> Are you afraid of death?
-> What other examples of "inevitables" can you think of?
-> Does your response to the "inevitable" change depending on its severity (i.e. I'm not worried about my exam score but the thought of death paralyzes me?)

The New Busy

If you live in Seattle (or one of the three other metro areas in which the campaign has been launched) then you have probably seen the new ads for Microsoft Hotmail. If you haven't, click the link, and the above image will make more sense. I actually think the campaign is sort of clever, though most everyone else on the internet that has commented about them tends to disagree.

Surely there are lots of reasons to dislike the campaign, but mine is less marketing-specific and more an underlying philosophical critique - what is the deal with championing a busy lifestyle? Do people these days really need to be more busy?

Ethical Consumerism Part 2

I had to write a blog post for the LVC blog so I updated this one and here is the result:


In college, a friend of mine asked me a question about something she'd heard I'd said. "I heard," she began, trembling slightly, "that you think we shouldn't buy TOMS."

What she heard was half-true. I love TOMS (seriously check them out, a definite model for aspiring triple-bottom-line businesses everywhere), especially since they've made an explicit commitment to not only giving a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair that's bought, but to require fair labor practices in their factories.

What I actually said was that buying TOMS was great but it wasn't the answer. My ideology was: If you don't need new shoes, don't buy any. Buying TOMS because it makes you feel good to support the cause plus you get something out of it, instead of buying TOMS as a replacement for another shoe that you were already going to buy because you need new shoes, substitutes one "evil" for another - supporting unethical labor practices for supporting unnecessary consumerism.

It's a tough, weird ethical debate; surely buying TOMS, no matter how many pairs, is better than buying sweatshop-produced shoes, and gets more shoes onto the feet of children in Argentina and South Africa and wherever else TOMS gives shoes. Add to that the fact that the more TOMS we buy means more fair-wage jobs for folks in Argentina. But instead of "wasting" resources with a purchase, your money will be much better spent through a donation, no matter how ethical the company.


Making Words Work

I was recently commissioned to make an "infographic" of sorts for a friend's company. Turns out I don't really know how to make an infographic. This is more of an English Language Cheat Sheet, only somewhat-artistically designed.

This remains unfinished. There were a few more pairs of words, and I was maybe going to change/update some of the examples (what is on there is generally the first thing that came into my head). And unless someone reading this blog is like, "Oh I'd really like to have that printed out on a poster of some kind or something for my classroom; these freakin' kids always get these words screwed up" then it will remain unfinished.

This project one of the reasons I haven't posted in over a week. I've been slowly uploading some other design work I've been doing lately, and some I've worked on in the past, over at the PORTFOLIO page. Thanks for looking. Image after the jump.

On Ethical Consumerism

A couple years ago, I had the privilege of meeting/hanging out with Shane Claiborne, a definite hero of mine. Around that time, I was spearheading an on-campus movement to reduce our campus' consumption of goods made in sweatshops.

I had a dual focus for the movement - I was interested not only in reducing consumption of unethically-produced products, but also interested in reducing consumption/consumerism overall.

A friend of mine (Robbie, pictured above in white shirt on the right) came up to me one day and asked me a question about something I'd said. "I heard," she began, "that you think we shouldn't buy TOMS."

On Citizenship, Terror, and Assassination

Came across this terrifying article on Tumblr today: Confirmed: Obama authorizes assassination of U.S. citizen.

Goodness, that title sure jumps out at you doesn't it? I don't know if it's possible to see that link without at least glancing over the article. It's incredibly troubling that the President/the CIA have the authority to assassinate anyone; it goes against most Americans' core beliefs about the role of our government.

The article mentions it, but remember when all the liberals went up in arms with Bush's domestic spying program (which, by the way, Obama has not done away with)? If the title of the article were accurate, then you'd expect us all to be 1000x more enraged by this.

But as you read the article and the coverage of the issue you learn that the point of contention for most of these people is not that the president is assassinating someone. The problem is that this person is a U.S. citizen. Nevermind that he is an Al-Qaeda operative apparently actively participating in terrorism against the United States:

"The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them, intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday..."

Wait, why again can't we kill a terrorist? We kill tens of thousands of terrorists (or civilians, who can tell them apart?) every year. Oh right, because he's both a terrorist and a U.S. Citizen! You can't assassinate a U.S. Citizen.

What is war if not large-scale assassination? Does the CIA have assassination targets that aren't U.S. Citizens (yes)? If so, does anyone care? That's just what war is, right? We are allowed to kill "enemy combatants." But apparently, by definition, U.S. Citizens cannot be classified as "enemy combatants" without due process:

"Even more strikingly, Antonin Scalia, in the 2004 case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, wrote an Opinion (joined by Justice Stevens) arguing that it was unconstitutional for the U.S. Government merely to imprison (let alone kill) American citizens as "enemy combatants"; instead, they argued, the Constitution required that Americans be charged with crimes (such as treason) and be given a trial before being punished."

My question is, if we are allowed to murder on a grand scale (i.e. war) and on a small scale (assassination of high-level terrorist leaders) as part of the "War on Terror," why does it matter whether our "enemies" are citizens or not? The above quote implies that it is constitutional to imprison/kill non-Americans as "enemy combatants." Why is that OK?

New Feature: Five Things

So the "Top ___" is nothing new, especially in the blogosphere. But I liked Naomi's recent Top 10 and was inspired to do my own. Except only five. And I think it's important to say that these are not actually the "Top" five anything; they are more of a "first five" things that come into my head.

Five Places to Be:
  1. In a warm, local coffee shop on a rainy day with a book, laptop, and headphones, and nothing important to do - such a cozy state of mind.
  2. At work, closing out your documents and browser windows at 4:45pm on a Friday - the entire world seems ahead of you!
  3. In bed with your lover at 10am on a weekend morning, just before completely coming to, immediately after having realized that you have a number of hours before any responsibilities kick in
  4. Right up at the front of the stage, a lil' bit off to the right, just as the lights dim and you see the headliners congregating backstage waiting for their cue to come out, and you're just starting to feel the buzz from the beers you drank earlier and the one overpriced cocktail you deigned to purchase at the club
  5. Standing on a ridge at the end of a hike through the Santa Monica mountains looking out as the sun just begins to dip behind the horizon - this is perhaps the only thing I miss about Malibu.

North Beacon Hill - a Gentrification Pseudo-Case Study

"Gentrification" has lost some of the cultural cache it once held. One commenter even told me she had to look up the meaning of the term...

I had the privilege (the right?) to address the Seattle City Council last month. We went to voice our opinions about the recent craziness regarding development in South Seattle (the link is to a great article the Stranger wrote about it).

Basically what's happened is we have a big empty lot that we want to build affordable housing, an open community space, a large events space/community center, and some retail/office space - and we can't, at least for another year, because some neighbors object. If you open the link to the article the first comment is mine and you can read some of my views on the issue.

I was somewhat enraged to hear about the appeal because this is one of the most incredible opportunities that I can imagine happening in a city. How often does a city have a community-oriented, non-profit organization as a developer? Of land that they own, across the street from a brand-new transit hub? In an up-and-coming, middle-income, incredibly diverse neighborhood that is less than 10 minutes from downtown? Not often, is my bet.

The most important part of El Centro's plan, in my opinion, to develop the property is affordable housing - and this is because, as a neighborhood with the characteristics I mentioned above, it is rapidly becoming gentrified. By people like me.

When you walk/bike/drive through North Beacon Hill, you can see the initial signs of gentrification immediately. Fancy new condos and apartment buildings dot the landscape every few blocks, and more are under construction (though it's been slowed by the recession, they are still being built). The rest of the neighborhood is small, one-story houses, in various stages of disrepair:

One of the most attractive aspects of Beacon Hill is its diversity; White people are a noticeable minority. I think that's what "Bayview on Beacon" is advertising: a "vibrant, growing community." All of the relevant statistics are interesting; Beacon Hill is basically just below the city average on almost all measures of affluence: median home prices, median family income, median rent, etc. Probably not for long. 

Gentrification happens in neighborhoods like Beacon Hill for obvious reasons - cheap rent, close to downtown, diversity, etc. It's not so poor that it's hard to adjust from the lifestyle you want, and not so far away from more affluent areas of the city that you can't go do the expensive things you want to do without too much trouble. I would much rather live in Beacon Hill than in a snazzy, hip neighborhood like Ballard. And that's why I moved here. I like this neighborhood.

When I spoke to the Seattle City Council, I identified myself as a gentrifier, and explained that one of the most important reasons I believe affordable housing is necessary in the new development on N. Beacon Hill is that if people like me keep moving to Beacon Hill, which we will, especially because of the new light rail station, all these condos, and if the development that El Centro de la Raza wants to do on their lot goes through, housing on Beacon Hill will no longer be affordable for the people who have lived there for years long before I came.

When, in middle-income neighborhoods, developers build condos and develop squalid properties, cities revitalize public spaces, and somewhat-to-very affluent (often White) people move in, property values go up. This inevitably pushes out the non-White, middle- and low-income original denizens of the neighborhood. That's just what happens. And it's called gentrification.

gen·tri·fi·ca·tion[jen-truh-fi-key-shuhn] –noun

1. The buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper- or middle-income families or individuals, thus improving property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses.
Well, here's the rub - this definition seems to place the onus of responsibility on these upper- or middle-income families or individuals. But because I am one of these upper- or middle-income families or individuals, I want to throw the blame because I don't want to feel guilty for what I'm doing. The chicken-or-egg question then is, which happens first - the gentrifiers moving in or the city and developers making it attractive to?

Silly question; no answer - much like the question of gentrification in general. Unless there's a contingent of folks convinced that White people move into these neighborhoods with the explicit intention of displacing poor people, what's the problem?

I recently listened to/read some of NPR's coverage of gentrification (IRONY???) and all of the normal frustrations were expressed - police/city services only seem to come to a neighborhood once White/rich people move in, the "character" of a neighborhood changes, new big box/chain stores lack the cultural component of old local stores and create a boring, "monocultural" aesthetic and, of course, poor folks are priced out of the neighborhood. What I realized is that, aside from the displacement issue, this sounds a lot like NIMBYism too, doesn't it?

What I also realized is that "gentrification," when looked at in the following way, would perhaps be better termed "neighborhood redevelopment" - it has a lot of positive aspects. More city services/policing. Cleaner streets. More business investment. Increased revenue for local businesses as a result of higher-income residents and more density overall (if these businesses aren't forced out of the area, that is). Neighborhood pride as a result of being a "destination" neighborhood (in most of the talks about developing Beacon Hill, the idea of being a "destination" neighborhood is brought up. The underriding assumption is that nobody that's not from here ever comes here, and why would they? It's probably a fair assumption).

Gentrification seems to me to be, in itself, a case-study in ethics - if you do something that you want to do without any conscious malice (move, as an affluent non-minority, to an up-and-coming neighborhood like Beacon Hill), are you responsible for the negative consequences of these actions (you help increase property values thus pushing poor people out of the neighborhood)?

Are you a gentrifier?
Is that such a bad thing?
Besides advocating for affordable housing in your neighborhood, what are you supposed to do about it?

Bite-Sized Musings: Morality

UPDATE: Sam Harris, noted Athiest, Author, Neuroscientist, and Philosopher, read this blog post and decided to write his own blog post about science and morality. His is complex and difficult to understand, so feel free to read this one instead.

Today I was listening to NPR and heard a story linking morality to brain processes - as opposed to one's morality being located somewhere in the "heart" or "soul" or what have you.

Participants were told two stories - one in which someone did something malicious by accident, and one in which someone did something malicious but failed in the attempt.

Normal adults judge the first person as relatively innocent and hold the second person accountable morally for their bad behavior.

But, with a little electromagnetic stimulation to a specific part in the brain,
"The stimulation caused people to pay less attention to [Person 2]'s intention and more attention to the outcome, Young says.

"If no harm was done, then subjects would judge [Person 2's behavior] as OK," she says, even if the story made it clear [Person 2] was trying to poison her friend. That's the sort of moral judgment you often see in kids who are 3 or 4 years old, Young says."
The study argues, sort of, that if moral judgments are brain processes like any other, then "it will be hard to argue that people have, or need, a soul."

I grew up believing that morality was God-given; that "good" and "bad" were defined by God, you could say. That humans aren't meant to judge others, that God would do the judging at the end of things.

This is a great theory; less judgment among humans is, generally speaking, a good thing. Not that Christians tend to take heed of this Biblical advice (Luke 6:37 among others) more than any other population, but that's neither here nor there.

This study, when extrapolated sociologically, suggests that morality is cultural, is society-driven. We learn to judge "good" and "bad" behavior like we learn to subscribe to other social norms.

This can be taken both positively and negatively - if we aren't to judge anyone but instead see behavior as subscribing to or not subscribing to our own culture's norms, are we allowed to judge anyone at all anymore? (See this post about drinking in the daytime) This seems swell to our post-modern, live-and-let-live liberal sensibilities. But what about things like some instances of murder, or incest, or ritual disfigurement (think FGM)? Can we still judge those?

I can obviously see why Christians, and in fact many persons of other monotheistic faiths and others, would balk at this idea. I kind of like it but part of me is a lil' dismayed.

What do you think? Do you buy the conclusions suggested by the study?
Do you think this discounts the argument for a soul?
Do you think the study suggests the sociological conclusion I've made?
Do you think morality is largely culture-specific or are there universal morals?
If morality's culture specific status were to be widely accepted, do you think that this would be a good thing or a bad thing?

Who Am I?

I was filling out the Census 2010 form with my housemates last night and I struggled to answer some of the questions about "Who I am." Hispanic/Latino heritage is no longer a race, y'all! That makes sense. What doesn't make sense is the way the question is worded on the Census form.

It asks whether I am of Latino/Hispanic "origin." What does that mean? My grandmother was from Spain. I think. Or maybe my great-grandmother. So I am "Hispanic," sort of. But I'm not of Hispanic "origin." I've never been to Spain. I don't know whether my grandmother has ever been there, or where she was born. "Origin" implies a starting place of sorts; does it mean where my "family line" originated, or me personally? Because it was too confusing, I put "No, I am not of Hispanic origin." But I felt like I was leaving something out.

The whole Census thing was difficult for someone like me who doesn't fit into the lil' boxes. My dad is Black, too, or as the Census form suggests, "Negro." I was initially appalled by the inclusion of that word, so entangled it is with our country's racist history, but apparently more than 50,000 people wrote-in "Negro" on their form in 2000. So, whatever.

Got me thinking about identity, though. Like Nick Jonas would say, I want someone to love me for "Who I Am." (sweet tunes, actually somewhat-talented Jonas bro). But who am I? Got me thinking about this recent Cat and Girl comic:

click to enlarge.

I was listening to NPR a couple weeks ago and they were discussing a new report about Millenials - us, y'all! I don't remember everything that was discussed, but I think they mentioned the tenuous relationship that us young folks have with work - something about how previous generations have imagined a much more direct link between what they do and who they are.

I like Girl's understanding of the issue as a positive social trend - we are moving away from defining people by "accidents of birth." This is nothing new in American society, at least ideally or intellectually - we tend to believe that the United States is a land of opportunity, with upward mobility and all that. But maybe in previous generations that's been less the actual reality than we want to believe. And maybe it's still not the reality for this generation either.

As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry explained about grown-ups in The Little Prince,
When you tell [grown-ups] that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, "What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?" Instead, they demand: "How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?" Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.
When we meet people, we still ask them "What do you do?" Should we ask the above questions instead? And surely, how one chooses to spend one's time can, and I'll say should, say a lot about who they "are." But only to an extent, you see.

But to what extent? If it's not what you "do," then what is it?
Awhile back, Dick and Barry and I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like... Books, records, films -- these things matter. Call me shallow but it's the damn truth.
But to what extent are someone's "likes" and "dislikes" representative of who they "are," either? Rob Gordon says that who you are is what you like - the things you choose to entertain yourself with.

Another dimension is politics - are you libertarian, republican, anarchist, centrist? This seems like it has to do with ideals, or vision - how should the world be run, what should motivate people, how you think power should be distributed. I think faith fits in here too - "I am a Muslim. I am Baha'i. I am spiritual but not religious." This is an intellectual identity, of sorts; has to do with your inner self.

But all of these things change and grow as we do. I don't like the same music I did when I was younger, I don't do the same things, I don't practice the same religion or have the same politics. Is there something deeper? And it's deeper than DNA, here, too, I think.

It gets into the question of the individual soul - is there a pure essence to who I am, an "Elliott" deep down in there, never changing? Is my identity transcendental? Does it reincarnate? Is there such thing as a soul? If I had a twin brother, and he had my exact same job, pursued the same interests and passions, had the same upper-middle class upbringing, liked the same music and movies, had the same political leanings as I do, would we effectively be the same person? Or is there something deep within me that constitutes "me?"

It could be all of these things, to varying degrees. We all have the opportunity to define ourselves. So what do you think? Who are you?

Bite-sized Musings: Drinking in the Afternoon

The other day I was sitting outside during my lunch break (around 12:30pm) near where my workplace's parking lot exits out into the street. A car pulled out of the parking lot and stopped before driving into the street. In the car were two men - both of them with cans of beer in their hands.

I was appalled. Some people drink and drive. It's not a crime to have one beer or so and then hop in your car, right (or is it? One beer wouldn't put me over the legal limit...)? But drinking while driving seems ludicrous (they were drinking tall cans of Steel Reserve, too - the equivalent of two crappy beers in one) . In the middle of the day! They were asking for trouble.

I was so flabbergasted that I didn't have time to get the license plate number and report them to the police (which I should have done, right? I don't want dudes drinking while driving around my neighborhood. I ride my bike through this neighborhood). But it got me thinking - part of the reason I was so surprised to see this was that it was at lunchtime.

Whenever I'm at or near the gas station in my neighborhood in the afternoon I see people (usually scruffy-looking men) buying and/or drinking beer in the middle of the day. Go to a city park on a normal afternoon and you will see people (again, usually scruffy-looking men) drinking and/or passed out drunk in the park. This is both illegal and almost universally looked down upon.

The questions are:
  • Why is drinking in the early afternoon, even if just a beer or two, unacceptable while getting smashed at a party or the bar at 10pm is fine?
  • Does it matter whether it's a well-dressed businessman having a drinking lunch in a restaurant vs. a scruffy dude buying a beer from the gas station and drinking in the park?
  • Why is driving after having had a couple beers sometimes OK but driving while drinking not OK?


A man and woman marry and have a child. Their son is born about eight months before the man, a West Point graduate and linguistics specialist, is deployed to Afghanistan.

The couple writes letters back and forth weekly, and the man cherishes the pictures that accompany many of his wife's letters - he watches his son grow, begin to crawl and then walk, smother himself with birthday cake, pal around with a new puppy - through pictures, from across the world. "I miss you so dearly," the letters always begin. "I never imagined how difficult it would be to sleep alone."

As the months, then years pass, the letters arrive less and less frequently and are shorter; they sometimes seem hurried, almost obligatory. Because the man speaks Arabic and has a natural gift for logistics that makes him almost invaluable, he does two back-to-back tours of duty.

His wife talks about herself less and less, and instead focuses on their son. Soon it is he who misses the man dearly, and his wife no longer mentions her loneliness. The man feels the strain of his absence in his wife's letters but chalks this up to the inherent difficulty in any prolonged separation.

The man finally returns home and is greeted at the airport with unbridled, almost manic enthusiasm by his wife. She is almost uncharacteristically over-affectionate, and as happy as he is to see her, he remembers the subtext in the letters and wonders at the behavior.

Things I've Seen

I was out of town for about five days; I've also been hit with writers' block, hard. As we all wait with bated breath for the next blog post, here is a sketch-quality comic I made recently. Thanks for your patience.

Click the image for a full view.

On music criticism

Hipster Runoff recently posted the snarkily-titled "Is Caribou’s “Odessa” the first authentic mp3 of 2k10?" I semi-jokingly commented on that post, saying that I wasn't such a huge fan of the mp3 but that I would wait to reserve judgment until I found out whether the rest of the commenters liked the song. Because I wanted to like it if everyone else liked it, but didn't want to if the HRO micro-blogosphere chewed it up and spat it out.

Unfortunately, there was a pretty even split of HRO commenters that liked/didn't like the mp3. I mentioned then that the mp3 would need at least an 8.0 rating on Pitchfork or else I wouldn't give it another listen, wouldn't try to "get" it. Lo and behold, I checked and it got exactly 8.0 on Pitchfork. So I decided to give it another listen.

It's similar to how "cool" works, and reminds me of a Simpsons episode:

Marge: Am I cool, kids?
Bart and Lisa: No.
Marge: Good. I'm glad. And that's what makes me cool—not caring, right?
Bart and Lisa: No.
Marge: Well, how the hell do you be cool? I feel like we've tried everything here.
Homer: Wait, Marge. Maybe if you're truly cool, you don't need to be told you're cool.
Bart: Well, sure you do.
Lisa: How else would you know?
How do I know if music is "cool"/"relevant" if I don't have Pitchfork/HRO/the blogosphere to tell me whether I should listen to it? There's too much music out there. Bad music is made every day. I make bad music. I can't expect anyone to listen to my stuff without viral marketing/Pitchfork/word-of-mouth/my mom telling them to.

Men in Love With Each Other

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a reading at Elliott Bay Book Co. (no relation). It was for a book called Queers in History, by Keith Stern.

The talk was interesting, especially because instead of doing a traditional reading, he performed his "one man show," which was "rough," in his words, but pretty funny and interesting. Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was probably gay? Did you know (from
  • Abraham Lincoln slept with his bodyguard in the White House when Mrs. Lincoln was away?
  • Joan Crawford and Marilyn Monroe had a one-night-stand?
  • Leonardo da Vinci was imprisoned twice for same-sex affairs?
  • Sir Francis Bacon's mother complained about him sleeping with the male servants?
  • The founder of Shinto Buddhism also founded a tradition of male-male love in Japan?
  • Angelina Jolie wanted to marry her "Firefox" co-star Jenny Shimizu?
  • Two ancient Egyptian men shared a tomb as husband and wife?
  • Lawrence of Arabia dedicated his life's work to a young male lover?
  • The wife of one US president moved her girlfriend into the White House, and another US President shared his White House bed with the male chief of his security detail?
  • An heroic soldier in the US Revolution was actually a woman in disguise, who "married" another woman after her service in the Continental Army?
  • One of the greatest male American athletes of all time was arrested twice for same-sex indiscretions?
  • In 1886, when US officials asked an Indian tribe to send "their best woman" to visit Washington, DC, the tribe chose to send a man in a dress?
"Facts" is a somewhat onerous title for that page, because most of these "facts" are conjecture based on circumstantial evidence (very few of the "queers in history" actually "came out"). But the circumstantial evidence is quite compelling, I must say. I haven't read the book yet but I want to after going to the reading.

The interesting thing for me was, though, after the reading, as I was getting back on my bike to go home, I was approached by a dude who had also been in attendance. He chatted me up for an awkward few moments - awkward because I was pretty sure immediately that he was hitting on me.

Jeff Foxworthy - Funny?

I was riding my bike uptown the other night past Seattle Center and noticed that Jeff Foxworthy is coming to Seattle soon for a show, with none other than those Blue Collar Comedy Tour stalwarts Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy.

Do you remember these dudes? I have a faint recollection of Blue Collar Comedy being really popular for about a year. If you don't remember, Jeff Foxworthy is the originator of the "You Might Be a Redneck If..." line of jokes, like this knee-slapper:
You might be a redneck if... you were acquitted for murdering your first wife after she threw out your Elvis 8-tracks.
Hahaha! Dudes! Rednecks totally murder people! And they obviously get divorced a lot, and dudes, they're so behind on technology they still use 8-track tapes! Man, what a witty observation. Anyway, this joke isn't funny and neither are most "redneck jokes."

I admit, though, that one isn't necessarily representative. I was googling around looking for ticket information for this upcoming show and I came across this list: Jeff Foxworthy on the Pacific Northwest! Here are some of the gems:
2. You feel guilty throwing aluminum cans or paper in the trash.
11. You know how to pronounce Sequim, Puyallup, Issaquah, Oregon,
Yakima and Willamette.
13. You can tell the difference between Japanese, Chinese and Thai food.
23. You have actually used your mountain bike on a mountain.
Tickets are only $70.00, y'all. But seriously, here's what you realize about these "jokes" - they are portrayed as making fun of denizens of the Northwest, and follow a long heritage of "You know you're from..." lists (you can surely find one about your hometown on facebook if you search for it) - but are in fact "funny" because they degrade the same population Foxworthy's been degrading, albeit on the sly, forever.

Catcher, Perks, Teen Literature & Hipsters

Everyone knows by now that J.D. Salinger died not too long ago. The only book that anyone's ever read by him is The Catcher in the Rye. I read it, but not when I was supposed to - I was never assigned it in high school or anything. I read it when I was maybe 18 or so, without being prompted by a teacher. Maybe that's why I didn't like it that much.

If you've never read it, you can read it here - if you're the type that can read whole books online, I suppose. Interesting about books with a very distinct style, like this one - when I first looked at that site and read the first page, I was even more turned off than I was when I first read the book. But after a few pages I felt myself being hooked. I suppose that's what makes a good writer? 

click to enlarge.

I saw the above comic on Andrew Lorenzi's comic blog. I'm not sure if I "get" what he's trying to say, comparing Robin and Holden in this way. I wonder what it was like growing up as a kid in the city during the golden age of comic books, and feeling like you connected with them, maybe because you didn't have television or movies so accessible. 

Makes me wonder, as someone who found comics later in life - did kids growing up reading Batman connect with Batman, or did they connect with Robin? Why did all of those old comic book superheroes have kid sidekicks? Reminds me of Kavalier & Clay and how Clay was accused of corrupting kids' minds with the "homosexual" subtext of his comic book creations.

I remember not really liking Catcher until the end, and I think that's because I knew right away that Phoebe was my favorite character. I think she, unlike Holden, isn't a phony. I haven't read the book in a while, so I don't remember why I liked her so much. But I remembered thinking, man if Phoebe was my age she'd be the kind of girl I'd want to date. Apparently she's a big deal, I didn't remember thinking about it much before.

All I Want Is Love Eternally... Is That So Much To Ask?

One of my new favorite bands is local Seattle group Hey Marseilles. I saw them play at Mayor Mike McGinn's Inauguration Party earlier this month and fell in love. Their orchestral, melodic, surprisingly agile tunes are a pleasure to listen to.

[mp3] To Travels & Trunks

Why can't you see heaven won't wait for us?
Salutations and prayers are too laborious
All I want is love eternally,
with your heart facing me.

Reminds me of another song I've heard recently - Hot Chip's new song, "One Life Stand:"

[mp3] One Life Stand

I only wanna be your one life stand.
Tell me do you stand by your whole man?

These dudes really want to be in long-term relationships, and they're not afraid to sing about it. We know that members of bands are always ahead of the curve on culture, whether it's fashion or lifestyle choices. Is this a mark of the new post-gender norm that twenty-somethings will pick up on next week, and tweens will be embracing in 2015?

"Casual Reading"

I'm going to change the flavor of this blog. It will no longer be a journal; I'm going to use an actual journal for that. I was inspired by (of all blogs) hipster runoff; it's going to be nothing like that but will be similar in the sense that it's going to be cultural commentary. This will hopefully increase my blogging output as well: a music, art, and written word commentary/critique each week, hopefully. We'll start with this comic (click to enlarge):

When I first read this comic (visit the secret knots, this artist is AMAZING) I figured that the two were strangers, and that it was an absurd tale about someone who began reading over a stranger's shoulder on the subway and got so enthralled with the story that he couldn't stop when it was time for her to get off the train.

But when Lisa read it, she assumed that they were in a relationship, and that the book was a metaphor - that they were "on the same page," so to speak, and that when the book ended, the relationship ended. The ending of the comic makes a lot more sense in this context.