Sunday, April 30, 2006

Christians Are Weird

So I'm looking at where my blog rests in the TTLB ecosystem (I assure you that it is ranked very low) and I decided to look at the blog directly in front of me. This turned out to be some weird Christian blog. I was deeply amused by this 1923 sermon from the always bizarre neo-Calvinist J. Gresham Machen:

"Upon the Christian doctrine of the Cross, modern liberals are never weary of pouring out the vials of their hatred and their scorn. Even at this point, it is true, the hope of avoiding offense is not always abandoned; the words "vicarious atonement" and the like--of course in a sense totally at variance from their Christian meaning--are still sometimes used. But despite such occasional employment of traditional language the liberal preachers reveal only too clearly what is in their minds. They speak with disgust of those who believe "that the blood of our Lord, shed in a substitutionary death, placates an alienated Deity and makes possible welcome for the returning sinner." Against the doctrine of the Cross they use every weapon of caricature and vilification. Thus they pour out their scorn upon a thing so holy and so precious that in the presence of it the Christian heart melts in gratitude too deep for words. It never seems to occur to modern liberals that in deriding the Christian doctrine of the Cross, they are trampling upon human hearts"

I am amused by a couple of things about this. First, what the hell is Machen talking about? Nothing screams "trampling on human hearts" like, say, Unitarians. What's even better is trying to figure out the motivation of the guy who has this blog. I wonder if he has any actual evidence that liberals "use every weapon of caricature and vilification" aganst Christianity? Of course I speak with scorn to modern Christianity, but then again, I'm hardly the preacher that Machen and presumably this guy is talking about. Actually, no, I don't speak with scorn toward Christianity so much as I speak with scorn toward the right-wing idiots who harness a version of fundamentalist Christianity to their own political agenda. Like this guy for instance.

In any case, Christians are really really weird.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Immigration Debate

Not suprisingly, George W. Bush has come out and said that the "Star-Spangled Banner" has more meaning in English than in Spanish. This argument is absurd on the face of it. It equates language with citizenship, which I believe is one small step away from equating race with citizenship.

The United States is not a country of English-speakers. Nor has it been historically. As early as the mid-18th century, English-speakers were bitching about all the German being spoken in the colonies. Throughout the early 19th century, the languages of western Europe were spoken throughout the new nation as immigrants flooded from Germany, France, and Ireland (and naturally I am asserting that the Irish don't speak English). Between 1880 and 1920, immigration exploded in the United States. One could walk the street of any large US city and hear dozens of languages spoken every hour. In the Midwest, Norwegian, Swedish, German, and even Czech speakers far outnumbered native-born English speakers. Native-born Anglo Saxon Americans freaked out over this, studied eugenics, organized anti-immigration societies, watched with rhapsody the 1915 film Birth of a Nation (not dealing with immigrants) and then, inspired by the movie, began the Second Ku Klux Klan (very much about immigrants). Whiteness was threatened and Americans responded by closing the doors of the United States to immigrants from Asia and Central and Southern Europe. Immigration restrictions were much less on our southern border because cheap labor was needed so Americans could eat lettuce in January.

Only in the 41 years between 1924 and 1965 did America not have relatively open doors to those who wanted to make a better life here. During the 1970s and 1980s, the nation still seemed white and English-speaking because immigrant numbers had not risen to the present total--if you were in a Dominican neighborhood in New York City maybe, but of course for many of the anti-immigrant crowd, New York is not really America either. But over the last 10 years, the immigrant totals have risen to percentages not seen since the 1920s (though they are still well below them in relation to the total population) and they are making real differences in American life. These differences, including hearing other languages spoken on the street, and even singing the "Star-Spangled Banner" for Christ's sake, are American. Immigration is as much of an American tradition as speaking English, eating food that is chicken-fried, and bitching about the government. We need to welcome these immigrants for what they are--the future of the United States of America. Immigration has caused very little harm in American history and has led to massive amounts of good. It's time people starting thinking about this issue with some actual facts about the meanings of Americanness instead of shooting from the racist hip.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

How Stupid Do The Republicans Think Americans Are?

The answer is clearly, quite stupid. Why? See this proposal coming from Republican Senators Ted Stevens (AK), Pete Domenici (NM), Charles Grassley (IA), and Rick Santorum (PA) to give Americans $100 checks for gasoline. What do we have to give up in return? Well, it would just open up ANWR to drilling. That's all.

But the question is--are Americans actually this stupid? Because I'm not sure that we're not. How many people would take the $100 for drilling in ANWR? 50%? Higher?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Tony Snow

It sure is good to see the White House Press Secretary revert back to someone who exudes evil. Fleischer was of course as bad as they come. McClellan seemed like a schmuck. Snow...well, you couldn't ask for a bigger dick to hold the position. Thanks, W. This should be fun.

Concert Review--Tin Hat, Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 23, 2006

I always wanted to see something like this--a jazz band playing to silent film tracks. It's as good as I figured it would be. And this was no ordinary silent film either. Tin Hat, a fairly experimental group featuring Carla Kihlstedt (violin), Mark Orton (guitar, dobro), Ben Goldberg (clarinet, contra-alto clarinet), Ara Anderson (trumpet, pump organ, glockenspiel), and Zeena Parkins (accordion, drums, sound effects), played music written to accompany the Russian animator Ladislaw Starewicz. Starewicz was an entomologist who wanted to make the first documentary on insects. But the camera lights were too strong at the time and killed the insects. So he began experimenting with stop motion animation. He built very realistic models of insects, frogs, and other small creatures and placed them within very human stories.

Tin Hat played to 5 of Starewicz's films and also played a few of their own songs. The films ranged from a pair of married beetles who are both having affairs and get found out to frogs praying to Jupiter for a King and when they complain about the first king, he sends them a stork that eats them all to a ridiculous WWII propaganda piece about how the Germans had overrun the noble and brave Lily of Belgium. The films ranged in time from 1908 to about 1944 and were completely fascinating.

As was the music. It was interesting to have this experience. It was hard because I kept wanting to both watch the films and watch the musicians. I enjoy watching musicians' technique, especially at jazz shows. But ultimately, I let the music be a soundtrack and focused on the great films. Unfortunately, Starewicz's granddaughter controls the rights to his films and she rarely lets them be shown. In fact, when Orton introduced the WWII film, which includes her as a small child in the live action part, he encouraged people to hiss when they saw her, which several people did. Sounds like she's more than a bit unpleasant. Luckily, the show was far more pleasant than she was. If Tin Hat comes through your neighborhood, with or without the Starewicz films, treat yourself and go.

More Movie Reviews--The Ballad of Cable Hogue; Morvern Callar

The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970)

1. No one could ever quite create a complex, well-rounded female character like Sam Peckinpah. The way that most of the first shots of Stella Stevens were of her breasts really reflects his feminist nature.

2. The attempts at "comedy" are questionable to say the least. I suppose that to speed up the camera when things are supposed to be funny could theoretically be a good technique. But I doubt it. Peckinpah sure was having fun with new film gadgets though. Speeding up the characters' movements during the comedic scenes. Split screen too. He was really getting off on that.

3. Jason Robards is solid in every movie that I've seen with him. What a great and underrated actor.

4. Did L.Q. Jones and Strother Martin ever play anything but buffoons? They're really good at it so I hardly blame directors for casting them this way.

5. Stella Stevens fell in love with Robards why? Given the centrality of this to the plot, some sort of thought into why it happens would have been a good idea.

6. This is a pretty solid movie overall, despite my complaints. But I really hated the end. Robards dying under the wheels of modernity (literally) was so obvious. Yes, Sam, we all know you hate the modern age.

Morvern Callar (2002)

1. What the hell was this about? It's not that it was bad exactly and I don't mind movies where people sort of drift around discovering themselves. But this was a little too much.

2. But at least there wasn't a lot of dialogue. Because I couldn't fucking understand those Scottish accents. Is it asking too much to provide subtitles? On a DVD, this seems like a reasonable option. I probably understooc about 40% of what was said.

3. No one can accuse Samantha Morton of not internalizing her roles. Even though I didn't like this movie, I definitely respected her work in it.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Jerking-Off Hogs, or, I Hope You Enjoyed Your Bacon This Morning

The quality of Harper's has declined precipitously over the past few years, perhaps culminating in last month's atrocious article pushing the theory that HIV does not cause AIDS. I am almost certainly not going to renew my subscription. But every now and then, they still manage to publish a really great piece. Such is Nathanael Johnson's "Swine of the Times: The Making of the Modern Pig," in the May issue. I will say that as a vegetarian, I am greatly enjoying telling everyone I know about the beginning of Johnson's article, when he describes people who have the less than enviable job of jerking off pigs for artifical insemination. Yummy!

The real point of the article is to show how the nation's biggest hog farmers are turning the pork industry into the chicken industry--mass production, no respect for the animals, uniformity in product, breeding to the point that the animals cannot survive in the wild, etc. Artificial insemination, and the human labor that goes into it, is just one (particularly visceral) cog in this industrial machine.

There has been no shortage in writing over the past decade on industrialized agriculture. The most known of this literature is Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, which all should read. I don't have a lot to add to this debate, but I do have a couple of points I think are worth making.

First, even though I am a vegetarian, I don't have a problem with people eating meat. If that's what they want to do, that is there choice. I wish they wouldn't, and if publicizing stories of people jerking off pigs helps them stop, great. But if people do choose to eat meat, they should at least be aware of the process that gets it from animal to you. In the modern economy, that process is not pretty. Your pork doesn't just appear packaged neatly in your grocery store. It goes through some very disturbing industrial processes to get there. Reading Johnson, Schlosser, and other writers of America's meat culture should be required for anyone wanting to eat meat.

Second, what I don't understand is why people strive for uniformity in product. Do we really want uniform food? Do we want pigs produced under inhumane, industrialized conditions just so that every ham tastes the same? I don't eat ham so I guess I don't know--but do you all really want every ham to taste exactly the same? Is that a goal of food-buying. I know that I don't want food to be uniform. I like the fact that the varieties of apples in stores has expanded so much over the past 10 years. When I was growing up it was Red Delicious, Gold Delicious, and maybe Granny Smith. All of these varieties basically suck and were chosen for mass marketing because they look good, resist bruising, and have long shelf lives. We sacrificed taste for uniformity. Today, even in just a standard grocery store and certainly in stores like Wild Oats or Whole Paycheck, you can choose between maybe 6-8 varieties. At the co-op here in Albuquerque they sometimes get really funky versions of apples. It's cool, tasty, and when you are trying a new variety, exciting. An apple doesn't taste like something--different apples taste differently. This same process of rejecting uniformity and expanding choice for consumers has overtaken other fruits and vegetables over the past decade, especially lettuce and tropical fruits.
So why then, is the meat industry pushing for more and more uniformity? Does this kind of processing really produce a better tasting piece of pork? Or would you rather have a little adventure with your meat, knowing that slight differences of taste will happen with pigs from different parts of the country, eating different things, and living as pigs are meant to live? The answer sure seems obvious to me.

Movie Review--The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

1. No matter how many times I see this movie, I continue to be amazed that it got made in 1951.

2. Were the McCarthyites and fear-struck Hollywood leaders so stupid as to not see this movie as a direct attack upon the post-war world, particularly the United States? The answer must be yes.

3. I would have liked to see the movie end with Gort destroying the world.

4. The guy playing Gort definitely deserves the Pagoda Award, named after the character from The Royal Tenebaums. When I saw that movie, someone who was watching with me declared that the guy playing Pagoda definitely deserved an Academy Award for creating such a multifaceted character. I thought this was an excellent idea. So here's to the guy who played Gort, who gets the first Pagoda Retrospective Award, for those underappreciated characters from the past.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Idiotic Gas-Related Comment of the Day

Now I promise you, this isn't as crazy as the last e-mail to CNN on gasoline prices I posted. But this is still pretty dumb:

"The United States has to decentralize business districts so people are not all rushing in the same direction each day. When DOD decided to move many offices out of Crystal City (near Pentagon) that was a good start. Now we, as a country, need to reduce the transaction costs of buying and selling a home, so that people can afford to move closer to their work easily. It is plain idiotic that real estate agents are making 6 percent commissions on homes that sell in days."

Jen Keller, Silver Springs, Maryland

What a great idea! The best way to deal with high gas prices is to promote more sprawl and suburbanization. People so clearly want to live near where they work (such as the people who every day commute the 100+ miles from South Carolina to Atlanta) that this is bound to solve all our problems!

I wonder if this person has thought about selling that suburban monstrosity and moving back into Washington or wherever her work currently is located. Probably not. Might be black people around.

Quicky Movie Reviews

I watch a lot of movies but I rarely review them because I want to say a lot, I don't have a lot of time for extra posts, and I'm lazy. So I'm going to try an experiment. I'm going to review movies with just a few short comments. So here's the last three movies I've watched.

This Gun For Hire (1942)

1. Veronica Lake in a skin-tight leather suit is a good thing.

2. I think the director and producers of the movie had many meetings coming up with ways to show off Lake's breasts. The best was her taking an aquarium and moving it back and forth across them. Awesome.

3. Alan Ladd was fine in this movie but it's hard to take a man seriously who is best known for a role where he spent the whole movie wearing a buckskin outfit with fringe (Shane). Maybe it's bitterness over that character providing my middle name.

The Decline of the American Empire (1986)

1. I liked this movie a lot. Especially for a movie where the entire dialogue is about sex. There is really something appealing about a really smart movie about sex. This is that movie.

2. It always rankles me though when directors cast characters as history professors. It's just never quite right. Even 20 years ago, the historian parts of the movie are just a little weird. I guess it's too close for comfort.

3. What's the deal with commentators bitching so much about how this movie and The Barbarian Invasions, it's sequel, were anti-American? Did these critics even watch these movies?

4. God, 80s fashions were awful. There is this beautiful woman in the movie. But then she puts on these gigantic glasses with green frames. Who thought this was a good idea? I'm really glad I was a kid in the 80s and so was able to avoid the worst of these fashions.

Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)

1. My God! An independent movie that isn't full of shit! I didn't know such things existed anymore!

2. I wonder if Miranda July is as weird in real life as in the movie. Somehow I think the answer is yes.

3. The scene where the guy and Miranda July are walking down the street and are talking about how the end of the block represents their relationship is really pretty hot.

A Couple More Albuquerque Development Thoughts

I realized last night that options for both eating and drinking in downtown Albuquerque are almost nil. There is NYPD Pizza, which makes me wonder if the NYPD gets some kind of cut from the name. Anyway, so if you want pizza or calzones with a beer you can do that. Then there's the high-end billards parlor which from all accounts is way pricey. And that's it. C'mon people--can we open some places where you can both have a good dinner and drinks downtown. God I knows I love pizza and I'm glad NYPD is there, but we need a little more. There has to be some serious money-making opportunities in this.

Speaking of food, I loved Eric Griego's idea from the latest Alibi for an international food district between UNM and Old Town. This is the best idea I've heard in a long time. Albuquerque has great New Mexican food--and for those of you who aren't from here and don't know what this is, I'll only say that you're really missing out. Unfortunately, this city has very few choices for good non-New Mexican food. It's out there, but you have to drive miles to get to the worthwhile restaurants. What if the city supported an idea like this? Wouldn't be a worthwhile use of city money and energy to get this off the ground? It would support small business, make me want to stay in this city for longer, and we could all eat tasty food. God knows this town could use more good restaurants. Would people come? I'd have to think they would. As more and more people are moving downtown, they are going to want some real eating options. Certainly they would rather support a good little Italian or Afghani place than some chain. I mean, if this was in the NE Heights, it would be one thing, but downtown? I have to think this is a good idea.

Finally, kudos to the city for passing a minimum wage raise. It's too low ($7.50 by 2009 is not going to change the world) but it's something. We are only the 4th city in the country to pass a city-wide rise in the minimum wage (Santa Fe, San Francisco, and Washington).

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Movie I Will Not Be Seeing

In March, I gave out nominees for the worst movie of 2006. One of those movies is actually being released in 2007, Hairspray, with John Travolta in the role originally played by Divine. An earlier competitor for that 2007 movie is this:


What is really remarkable here is that John Travolta, for his role in Hairspray, will have strong competition from who as worst actor? That's right. John Travolta, as.....J.R. Ewing. The rest of the cast is great too. Jennifer Lopez as Sue Ellen, Shirley McLaine as Miss Ellie and Luke Wilson as Bobby. With a cast this loaded in acting talent, how bad could it be? Oh yeah, really really bad.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

American Consumption in a Nutshell

CNN is running this story with letters from readers about how gas prices are affecting them. I thought this bit said as much about America as anything I've ever read:

"I fill my car with 50 dollars worth of gas. I drive to the store to buy a 6 dollar bag of beef jerky. It takes me 3 dollars to go 14 miles to buy the jerky. I eat it all before I get home so I must go back to the store to buy more jerky for 6 dollars. Again it costs me 3 dollars in gas. I finish the jerky just as I arrive at home only to get an upset stomach from 1/2 pound of dried beef swelling in my stomach. I now have to spend another 3 dollars in gas to buy a 7 dollar bottle of Rolaids. This 1 hour of my life cost me 28 dollars. With the price of gas these days I think its time to give up on beef jerky. Another pleasure gone due to gas prices."

Joe Stain, Atlanta, Georgia

I suppose this could be tongue in cheek. But I don't really think it is.

This Might Be The Most Offensive Quote In History

As part of my research, I have been reading some strange documents where people are trying to teach women how to be good mothers. It would take too long to explain just what the hell they were trying to do, but I'll say it was another classic American Quixotian attempt to shape people who you don't think are as good as you. Anyway, one 1912 article argued that women needed to love their children more. The author looked at Native Americans as an example we could learn from. That leads us to this:

"I heard a man who had been an agent on an Indian reservation say that the squaws would ask permission to come into his cabin to gaze on the pictures of the beautiful women that hung on its walls. They sat on the floor and beckoned from the pictures to themselves hoping that the beauty from those faces might in some way lend itself to their unborn children. Poor, untutored savages, we call them, but they understand and appreciate some of the most important secrets of life."


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Thoughts on Albuquerque Redevelopment

Over the past few weeks, I've become increasingly concerned with the ways that Albuquerque is going through its downtown renewal and overall redevelopment. First, I should say that Albuquerque is a way cooler city to live in than when I first moved here in 2000. There are more good restaurants. Going downtown at night is actually a good idea. The city has put in a quality bus system along Central Avenue. It just feels like a good city to be in, which was very much not the case 6 years ago. So I voice these concerns out of a general sense of optimism about the ways things are going here. It's just that with a little more thought, they might go all that much better.

First, it seems to me that the city is choosing to follow its original suburban pattern through its redevelopment plans. What do I mean by this? Albuquerque is one of the original car cities. It's primary historical claim to fame is Route 66, which I wish I could never hear about again. It's not as important to American car culture as Los Angeles nor does it typlify post-1970 car-driven superfast suburban growth like Phoenix, but nonetheless, it is an important example of the ways the automobile has shaped American cities. With redevelopment, the city has a chance to remake the spatial structure of the city, or at least the ways people drink, eat, and shop. But so far, it is failing in that task. As it stands, the redevelopment has taken place in 3 main areas, all of which are about a mile or so apart from the other (there's also a 4th, Old Town, which is a different issue and is west of downtown). On the west is downtown. Then going east along Central Ave. is the university district. Then just east of that is Nob Hill, a kind of up-scale shopping district. That's fine--these are all significant areas where redevelopment should take place. As of now, this redevelopment has been haphazard--while there are new and interesting shops, apartment buildings, and restaurants appearing all the time, there are also storefronts that have been empty for 3 years. Sometimes, as in the case of the western end of Nob Hill, there are 3 or 4 stores in a row that are empty. So it seems to me that the city should be putting its energy into finding businesses to go into these areas and then connecting the three places up. Secondarily, it would be nice if the city could work to redevelop the areas off of Central as well--it would be nice if you could park and walk the whole day without having to go from place to place in your car--working to build interesting things on the side streets would help that happen. But instead, the city seems to be wanting to focus its redevelopment plans further east on Central--past Washington and toward San Mateo. What this means is that the city still wants to be beholden to car culture. It means a series of cool stores and lofts and such separated by a half-mile of nothing. And to me, until the area between downtown and Nob Hill is fully developed and filled in, I don't even think there should be much thought to the area east of Carlisle, not to mention east of Washington.

Second, and closely related to this, is the idea to put in a streetcar system along Central. I suppose streetcars would be cute. It might give the city a certain kind of character. But they just spent a ton of money putting in a good bus system along Central. The stops are nice, the buses are nice, and they don't stop every block. So why would you kill that program with this alternative form of transportation. This seems like a very shaky idea. Promote the buses. Build more buses. Expand the Rapid Ride along other major streets in town so that people can realistically ride the buses all across the city.

Third, the building of lofts and new apartments doesn't seem to be making very much sense to me. From looking at where these places are being built, it is clearly all about making money and not about any sense of urban planning. A lot of these lofts are in great places. Retooling the old abandoned Albuquerque High School on Broadway and Central has gone a long ways to remaking the area. But for instance, I ran into one new set of lofts being built on 5th way up by I-40. There is approximately nothing up there but old industrial factories. There are no stores, no bars, no restaurants. Why would you live up there? The same goes for another sign I saw for lofts being built east of Washington and south of Central. Not only does that area barely have more to do than 5th & I-40 but it's kind of dangerous as well. What is the motive here? Shouldn't there actually be something to do in these areas before these apartments are built? Perhaps the logic is that the businesses will follow the people. Maybe that's true, but I have to think that Albuquerque is going to grow (at least in cool ways) slowly and that it should focus on the three areas listed above before crazy new buildings are put up.

And related to the property and apartments, we have this post from the excellent Albuquerque blog Duke City Fix. This post is from a new property owner who is protesting that a townhouse is being built next to his place. This is ultimate NIMBYism. He doesn't want it there because it's right by him. It's a ridiculous argument that, in its ultimate form, could only lead to more suburbanization. We need more centralized housing in these areas. While I am concerned that all of these lofts and apartments could drive low-income people out of their homes, we can strike a balance on that issue. The more people living in downtown/Old Town, the better off the whole neighborhood will be. The poster does bring up one legitimate point however. Evidentally, there are many empty lots in the neighborhood. Why is the developer tearing down an old house when he could develop one of these lots? This goes to a lack of centralized urban planning in Albuquerque. I fear the whole redevelopment is really being run by developers who don't have the best interests of the city in mind. Shouldn't the city work with both developers and local people to best plan the ways that Albuquerque can become a more desirable city?

I know there are several planners who read this, and I may be wrong about some of my details. Please correct any mistakes I am making in the comments.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Link of the Day

Check out the usually excellent Nathan Newman's post at TPMCafe showing that illegal immigration is not the primary reason for wage decline in the United States. While I, like Newman, am usually a huge supporter of unions, they are completely wrong on the immigration issue. Newman's arguments make a lot of sense. Unfortunately, the comments mostly show the anti-immigrant bias that many liberals share with non-business conservatives.

Almost every effect that immigrants have had on the United States has been positive. This goes all the way back to the beginning of the nation. We need to celebrate immigrants and all they bring to this nation. Personally, I'd trade Mexico, Honduras, or Cambodia 100,000 immigrants for Mickey Kaus. Perhaps we can start a movement around this deal.

Seriously though, Newman's best point is this:

"And the reality is that for the heavy costs of proposed border control measures -- the billions to build a wall, more cops and border control agents, the costs imposed on businesses for more inspections and delays at the border -- the same money invested in enforcing the minimum wage, expanding the EITC tax credit, or any other of a list of measures directly helping low-wage workers would be more effective."

If Americans really care about the wages of working-class people (which they mostly don't unless they are working-class themselves), this is where their emphasis would be. This anti-immigrant movement is about xenophobia and racism, not the wages of the single mother in the trailer park on the other side of town.

I Hate Cheating

There is nothing worse in teaching than getting a paper from a student who has been a good student all semester and seeing that it is obviously plagarized. What's worse is that she clearly plagarized from several different places, so it makes me wonder if she actually thought what she was doing was OK.

I hate cheating and I know there have been several times when students have cheated and I couldn't catch them. I really wanted to be wrong about this. I guess I shouldn't care about the personal aspect of this and just give her a 0 without a thought. But I actually like my students and want them to do well.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Saving Cactus in Arizona, or, How Urban Sprawl Is So Insanely Out of Control in the American West

I found this story on local Arizona groups working to save cacti from development. You may be asking yourself, why? Isn't the Arizona desert huge? Isn't there tons of cactus sitting around out there totally unimpacted by urban development? The answer is yes and no. Arizona needs these kind of cactus-saviors because land is developed there at such a shockingly rapid pace. And this is not just unique to Arizona. Unfortuantely, the entirety of the American West, especially in the intermountain region, has almost no restrictions on development. There is no legal apparatus forcing actual urban planning in these places. Arizona and Nevada may be the worst, but it's a problem across the region. In Arizona, vast areas of the Sonoran Desert, arguably the world's most beautiful desert, are being paved over or turned into golf courses every day.

The best quote in the story comes from Ed Taczanowsky, president of the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, who supports the movement. He says, "There's going to be growth. It's a way to co-exist."

Well, sort of.

Clearly there is going to be growth. I don't oppose the growth of urban centers. What does anger me beyond measure is the type of growth so prevalent in the West--sprawling subdivisions without long term water plans, without concern for the state of the land, and populated by people with very little interest in the things that can make a city great. Rather, like suburban pioneers since World War II, many of these people, particularly in a place like southern Arizona, are looking to escape the urban core and the racial mix that comes with it to a place where they have all the upper-middle class amenities that they expect without actually having to engage the people, places, or processes that make those amenities possible.

While I'm glad that there are people working to save these cacti, it's not really co-existing either. Co-existing would be limiting development to a level representative of the real amount of water that the place is likely to have in the future. Co-existing would be admitting that golf courses in the desert are not a good idea, no matter how much rich Republicans moving from San Diego want to have them. Co-existing would be concentrating urban development in a tight urban core, leaving massive amounts of open space that would allow wildlife populations to prosper, Sonoran Desert plants to exist without threat, and could create a prosperous inner city with the amenities people want while not forcing fire crews or ambulances to drive 25 miles over windy roads to get to people. Ultimately, for some sort of co-existence between people and the environment to happen in the West, something other than the market must drive housing. There must be other values than profit involved in planning housing. Consumption can be a good thing but it must have its limits as well. I'd say golf courses in the Sonoran Desert is the limit.

Again, I definitely support what these people are doing. It's very important. But the fact that they have to step up to the plate like this in a vast area of desert that had few of these problems even 20 years ago is a sad sign of how out of control suburban development is in the American West.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

David Neiwert Is My Hero

If you read one blog post on the internet today, read Neiwert's superb recent post on the anti-immigration racists at Orcinus. If you don't have time, among the highlights are:

An Arizona legislator claiming that illegal immigrants have no right to be marching down our streets.

A right-wing blogger saying that solution to our immigrant problem is to follow Buffalo's solution for getting rid of their rats. Neiwert points out the long history of dehumanizing your enemy by comparing them to vermin, racism, and eliminationist rhetoric.

Read it. In fact, read all of Neiwert's posts.

Lucky Medicine: Meth on the Reservation

Not surprisingly, media coverage of the crystal methamphetamine scourge has focused almost exclusively on how it effects white people. Here's a must-read story about the horrifying crystal meth problem on the Navajo Reservation.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Grizzly Man (Those Poor Dead White People)

My Grizzly Man post of a few days ago is probably the first thing that I've written that has ever inspired anyone else to write something. My friend Gene Grant, columnist for the Albuquerque Tribune, just wrote his latest column about Grizzly Man as well. He had some really good points. Namely, what the fuck is it with white people getting eaten by exotic animals? Which is a really good question. I suspect it's pretty class-related, as is much of the environmental movement. Since many white people don't have to worry about making a living off the land and have a lot of leisure time, they want to spend it in nature, as they define it. Sometimes that's going off and living with grizzly bears. And sometimes that's having tigers as pets. In any case, it's really disturbing.

Laughably, the Tribune has now received e-mails and phone calls talking about this racist column and the stereotypes it makes against white people.

And you know, they're right. It's really hard being a white in this country today. No power, no money, and now non-whites attacking us for our predilections for shacking up with crocodiles. If only we whites could control the world like people of color can.


And of course what's really amusing (at least to me) is that he was at least partially inspired to write that by me, the whitest person on the face of the earth. But then again, I am a race traitor.

The Single Most Insensitive, Self-Centered Thing I've Ever Heard

The other day I'm in a conversation about 9/11. We start talking about what we were doing that day. I said that I was supposed to teach a discussion section that day and that it really sucked (I was supposed to teach the history of imperialism to make it even more interesting). One woman I was talking to said that she was in class that day and that it was awful. Then this other woman, who I wish I didn't know but unfortunately have to share my office space with said something like this:

"It was rush at my school and all these people who were in the sororities were from New York and they went back home and it really messed up rush. These things are really hard to schedule and you just don't do that."

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the true tragedy of 9/11 has been revealed. Rush, at the University of Wisconsin, was all screwed up.

I got up and left the office.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Where Have All the Pickets Gone?

I saw something yesterday that shocked me.

A picket line.

There were a bunch of Carpenters picketing in front of a Subway being built on Lomas here in downtown Albuquerque.

I'm not sure what the reasons for the picket are. But it sure felt good to see one.

And it made me sad to wonder why I don't see pickets very often at all anymore. When was the last time you saw a picketline?

I remember a bitter 2 year struggle at a door factory in Springfield, Oregon, where I grew up, that resulted in the plant shutting down. In those years, I really didn't understand what was going on. But I wish you saw that kind of worker militancy these days. Given the way that workers are treated today, how they are losing their health insurance, how their jobs are disappearing, how union laws dating back to the New Deal are being constantly undermined, how the National Labor Relations Board is dominated by anti-worker business interests, how there is no living wage in most of the nation, and how working-class people are getting screwed over generally, I am surprised that we haven't seen the rise of a more militant labor movement over the past 10 years. Yeah, sure, SEIU and other unions are putting more emphasis on organizing and that's a good thing. But really, even with these unions, how often do you see them around? What kind of a presence do unions have on our everyday lives these days? And it's sad.

So I don't know what those Carpenters were picketing over. But I wish them luck and I hope the people of Albuquerque see them and take heart that they too can make real changes through collective power.

Erik Has Trouble Dealing With the World (III)--Mathemetician Edition

I hate math.

This is no uncommon knowledge to anyone who knows me. When I see an equation, I consider it a hostile act against me. Words such as "cosine" and "hypotenuse" translate into Erikese as "Osama" and "Zarqawi."

Why mention this now? Because there is something really getting at me.

Why the fuck can't mathematicians erase a goddamn chalkboard? I teach 2 classes. In both classrooms, the class before is a math class. And neither teacher ever erases the fucking board. I have never had this problem before. Most people are happy to erase the board when they are done. Why? Because they are not rude assholes. On the other hand, we have mathemeticians. I think it's personal too. Someone told them that I am teaching after them and they laugh thinking about how angry I get not just for erasing someone's else's board, but because I am erasing equations, triangles, and other instruments of torture off their board.

I fucking hate math.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Grizzly Man

I frequently tell this story for a laugh at my own expense:

I was in New York last September. I went to Central Park to get away from the noise for a little while one evening and because one section of the park is quite a good bird-watching area. And indeed it is. With the Atlantic Flyway so overurbanized from Washington through Boston, any green spaces are extremely attractive to birds who need to land, rest, and eat. I saw a couple of cardinals and a bunch of birds that I really didn't recognize. It was pretty cool. But anyway, there were all of these squirrels around. That's fine. I like squirrels. But these squirrels were used to getting food from humans and in fact in the 30 minutes or so I was there, I did see a couple of people feed them. This makes the squirrels very brave. Unfortunately, they saw me and engaged in a pincher action to force me to give them food. 2 started sneaking up toward me from either side. This made me very nervous. I'm watching them warily while hoping they go away so I can watch more birds. Then I look over and one of them had jumped on the bench right next to me. I got the hell out of there as fast as I could go without looking like I was in terror. The joke is that I am the only environmental historian afraid of nature.

A similar thing happened to me in Costa Rica last month when a white-throated magpie jay landed on the table I was eating at in a popular beach town. Same thing--I threw some money on the table and told my friends to meet me at the truck. And maybe I am the only environmental historian afraid of nature. Lots of environmental historians are what you'd expect environmentalists over the age of 30 to look at--fit white men with closely cropped beards who probably hike every weekend. While I'm not overly unfit and I am most certainly white, I don't have a beard nor do I spend much time in the wilderness.

But I think all of this is OK because I believe there should be boundaries between humans and other animals. I generally don't think that it's the place of humans, the most destructive animals ever to populate this planet, to get as close to other animals as possible. Has this ever ended well? We have a certain humanness and that's OK. Fear of other animals is a good thing, even if that fear includes squirrels, jays, and most animals who are not my cats. It is protective of both humans and the other animals. After all, you don't see the squirrels trying to get away from their inherent squirrelness to hang around deer. They are squirrels, they know their place, and they don't take risks they don't have to.

This brings me to Werner Herzog's documentary, Grizzly Man. No doubt a large percentage of readers have seen this film already. It's hardly new now, but I just saw it and think it's worth discussing, even at this relatively late date. Grizzly Man tells the story of Timothy Treadwell, a man who spent 13 summers with grizzly bears in Katmai National Park in Alaska. In that 13th summer, a bear ate him and his girlfriend.

Treadwell violates what I believe should be the first rule of environmentalism. Don't romanticize the non-human environment. By anthropomorphizing the bears, through giving them names, through calling them peaceful creatures, by steadfastly refusing to understand the actual violent nature of bears, by touching them for Christ's sake, he got himself and a woman who didn't want to be there in the first place killed. Worse than that, he made a major contribution to the all too prevalent tradition of the environmental movement to separate humans from nature. Treadwell viewed the world of the bears as perfect and the world of the humans as corrupt. What he (and too much of the environmental movement) didn't understand was that neither assumption is true. The human world is a natural world in its own right that only coexists with other species. The place for humans is with other humans. Treadwell didn't belong in Katmai any more than grizzlies belong in Central Park. Interactions between humans and most other animal species results in the animals being killed, and sometimes the humans too.

This isn't to say that humans should play no role in managing grizzly populations. We have a vested interest, in strictly humanistic terms, to lessen the damage to ecosystems and animal populations as much as we can. In order to survive on this planet, we have to keep it at least reasonably healthy. We don't do a particularly good job of that and the National Park system as well as hunting regulations and criminal penalties for poaching help out with that a little bit. Through these regulations, Alaska has a stable grizzly population. But Treadwell saw them all as evil, as evinced not only in his hatred of poachers (understandable) but in his self-filmed rant against the Park Service (completely off the map bat-shit insance).

Both humans and the non-human world will be in a much better place when the environmental community, who does do a lot of good things, moves toward a more humanistic perspective of the environment. When they use their collective power to push for humans living in conjunction with the environment rather than separating wilderness areas away from humans, a truly progressive movement may result that will lead to more protections for both humans and non-humans.

As for the movie itself, well, it's awful interesting. Of course, being a Herzog movie, it's about Herzog at least as much as Treadwell. Herzog edits the movie to show that Treadwell's views on nature are whacked. Herzog, as he says in his role as narrator, believes that the natural order of nature is "chaos, violence, and murder." That belief is clear in all his films, whether fiction or documentary. Treadwell's friends claim that Herzog edited the movie to make Treadwell look like a nut and to justify Herzog's own views. All of this may be true (in fact, I'm sure of it), but even if Treadwell was more rational and reasonable that he is seen in Grizzly Man, he's still completely offbase on human-environmental relationships and he was still living with grizzly bears for 13 summers. So honestly, how sane could he be?

Interestingly, 2 people I know who have never met each other and both happen to have watched Herzog films a perhaps unhealthy number of times believe that the movie is a fake. They believe that the whole thing was staged. I think part of the argument behind this is that all of Herzog's movies are really about Herzog and he has been known to make his fictional films all too real and to stage semi-real scenes in his documentary. However, I don't know that I can go so far as to say that Grizzly Man is a fake. Treadwell is, after all, definitely dead. One of the people who espoused this theory suggested that Herzog and Treadwell agreed on the way he would die (and this is the way Treadwell wanted to go) and Herzog perhaps said he would get Treadwell's story to the world. This may be possible. But I don't think so. What is quite possible is that Herzog and Treadwell had met because Herzog was interested in making a movie on Treadwell. Herzog has shown interest in these kind of weird human-natural world interactions before, both in his fictional and non-fiction movies. He did get the footage Treadwell shot of himself. But that's some awful nice equipment that poor environmentalist Treadwell had. And he must have had a shitload of batteries, since there is over 100 hours of footage and no electricity. There was at least 2 cameras and a hell of a sound system.

Whether any of this is true or not, I don't know. But any watching of Herzog's movies and reading about Herzog's philosophy on making films does make one question the whole premise behind Grizzly Man. If these claims were made of just about any other director, I would completely blow the accuser off. But with Herzog, you at least have to take the idea semi-seriously.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Heroin in the Española Valley

Kudos to Angela Garcia's superb article, "Land of Disenchantment" in the April 3 edition of High Country News (subscriber only unfortunately--check your local library). Garcia discusses one of New Mexico's biggest problems--heroin addiction in the Española Valley. I have some familiarity with this area, and there is no question that this is one of the most disturbing areas I have ever seen, either in this nation or abroad. Garcia, a PhD student in anthropology at Harvard and native of Albuquerque, takes a pretty interesting perspective on why this problem is so bad. Ultimately, she argues that the heroin problem comes from the alienation of locals from the land. This alienation came about in part because of two phenomena--the discovery of the area by artists and tourists during the 20th century, driving up home prices and forcing people off lands their families had lived and worked for hundreds of years and more importantly, the establishment of Los Alamos National Laboratory in the Jemez Mountains west of the Valley.

Los Alamos (or as I refer to it as, "The Center of All Evil in the Universe," and not for reasons of the work done there) is an interesting explanation for the problem. Here's the deal with Los Alamos. It's an awful place. Without a doubt the worst place I have ever been associated with. The town still wishes it was 1953, that Joe McCarthy was still in the Senate, and that "My Three Sons" was among television's most popular shows. This town is so soul crushing that many LANL workers choose to live anywhere but there. I don't blame them for doing this. In fact, that someone actually lives in Los Alamos pretty much tells me that I don't want to be their friend. But what this has done, and continues to do at an increasingly rapid pace, is turn the Española Valley into a bedroom community for Los Alamos. That LANL workers live in Santa Fe is fine--it would be hard to make that place less desirable. But the increasing movement of LANL workers into Española, Velarde, Alcalde, Chimayo, Las Truchas, and many other traditional Hispano/Indian villages has gone a long way to changing those cultures and ways of life. Housing prices have skyrocketed in the area. Los Alamos is pretty much the only good employer--for those lucky enough to both get a job at the lab and avoid the drug epidemic, it can be a pretty good middle-class life. But if you don't have those jobs, it's the service industry or nothing. And the service industry isn't going to pay for homes in this area.

The alienation from the land coming out of all of this results from families, often in desperate economic times and turning to drugs, selling their land. Who are they selling it to? Anglos almost exclusively. Here's an older 3 bedroom home selling in Chimayo, the center of the heroin epidemic, for a mere $158,500. Or here's a home in El Rito, a Hispano community in the mountains above Española that is clearly an old farm--older house, over an acre of land, El Rito creek running through--for $235,000. It's not going to be a Hispano buying that one. That's either going to Los Alamos workers or migrants from the East Coast, California, or Texas. What happened to the people who lived in that El Rito house? We can't know, but the chances that they are living in a trailer in Española, in prison on drug charges, or prematurately dead is hardly impossible. In fact, it's quite likely.

How likely is it? Garcia cites some frightening statistics. In an entire area that has only 20,000 residents, 41 people died of heroin overdoses in 2003. 85 died between 1995 and 1998. Heroin related deaths are over 4 times the national average. Since the 1990s, the Española Valley has had the highest rate of heroin addiction in the country. In 1999, a police raid in Chimayo arrested 31 different dealers. In 2000, Chimayo had 2,924 people. That means that about 1.1% of the population was arrested in one day--just for dealing.

It may be hard for urbanites to understand the connection between people and land. We move all the time. We change careers at the drop of the hat. Most of us have lived in multiple states. But this is a function of a modern culture that has left a lot of people behind. There just is no tradition of alternatives to farming in the Valley. Sure, some people have got out, or stayed and been successful. But a lot of people are unable to overcome the fact that English is a second language, that their schools are third-rate, that they don't have the economic resources that Anglos do, or that they are tied so closely to family. Garcia shows how these tight-knit New Mexican families are both a good and a bad thing. Many of us talk about how we wish we had traditional, tight-knit families. But we romanticize families. In the case of New Mexico, you see families scoring for each other, passing addiction down through the generations, protecting each other from getting caught for dealing, keeping issues in the house until the addiction and the user are far gone. Families facilitate these problems while at the same time working together to fight for their traditional cultures slipping through their grasp.

Neither Garcia nor myself are romanticizing traditional Hispano lives. This is rife with problems as well, problems that need to be overcome. But the transformation of the Valley has taken power out of the hands of its long-term residents, leaving them lost, alienated from their land, without job skills for the high-tech Los Alamos economy or the artist-dominated Santa Fe economy. In addition, it is quite possible that young people, seeing the extravagent wealth of Los Alamos kids, have become both desirous of that wealth and bitter at their own isolation. This thesis is convincingly explained in John Cassidy's "Relatively Deprived," from the April 3 issue of The New Yorker. Cassidy discusses new ideas of poverty and happiness in America, showing that relative poverty may mean much more to society than absolute poverty. Thus, people in Bangladesh, knowing mostly people only like themselves, often have higher rates of happiness in their lives than residents of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, who know how miserable their lives and opportunities are in comparison with the dominant society. While it may be hard to argue that members of the Lower Ninth are alienated from their land in the same way that the Española Valley are, there is no question that both groups are relatively powerless in comparison to white society, that they are educationally, socially, and physically isolated in their communities, and that both groups face severe drug problems.

What is the solution? I have no idea. Drug problems are always hard to fight. Ultimately though, we have to help Española Valley residents have some hope in their lives. While all the people who live in the Valley, including several close friends, by no means have intentionally changed the Valley, nor do they express glee at alienating Hispanos from their land, they have done so nonetheless. Until we start looking at the area's land as something other than a commodity and preserve at least some areas from the real estate developers, retirees, and Los Alamos commuters, I have a really hard time seeing that this problem has any easy solution.

Updated Pointless Map

I spent a week and a half in Costa Rica last month. This explains one of my many blogging absences over the past 6 months. That means it's time to update the countries visited map. Sometimes this takes a minute to download. So if you possibly care to see this, wait a bit for it. No doubt the wait will be worth it.

create your own visited countries map

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Why I Love My Cat Puck

My cat Puck is a great cat. But he has a stomach problem. He tends to puke a lot. Like every day. It's kind of gross.

But sometimes puke can be good. For instance, the other day, Puck yakked on a video game box laying on the floor. But this wasn't any video game box. It was the box with my baseball game. This baseball game has Derek Jeter on the front. Puck puked right on Jeter's face.

I love that cat.

But Did Welles Far As Far As Sam Peckinpah

I have also found out that Sam Peckinpah, the greatest director of violence in the history of film, including such films as The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs as well as very interesting non-violent westerns such as Ride the High Country and The Ballad of Cable Hogue finished his career by directing.....

2 Julian Lennon videos.

I am speechless.

Orson Welles Fell Even Further Than I Thought

I've long thought Orson Welles had the greatest classic movie decline.

First film, Citizen Kane
Last film, voice of the planet eating planet in Transformers: The Movie

But I now come to find out that he was also the voice of Robin Masters on Magnum, P.I. from 1980 to 1985. Wow! I wonder if he got to ride in the Ferrari at all?