Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dick, Dick, Dick

Two heartwarming moments from the assassination attempt on VP Cheney at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan: Well, the first technically wasn't a moment since it didn't actually happen. That would be Cheney expressing regret at the loss of life (23 at last count) directly resulting from his presence at the base. It must be especially heartwarming for the family of the lone American killed that Cheney couldn't muster the decency to recognize the sacrifice of one of the guys standing guard to protect his sorry ass that afternoon.

The second moment was this:
"I think they clearly try to find ways to question the authority of the central government," Cheney said during a brief interview in a luxury-cabin mounted inside the cargo bay of the C-17 military transport, dubbed "The Spirit of Strom Thurmond," that had carried him in to Pakistan and Afghanistan and out again.

The Dark Lord is flying around in a plane named after Strom Thurmond--no, wait--not just the man Strom Thurmond, but the fucking spirit of Strom Thurmond. They named the plane in honor of segregationism, racism, and servant impregnation. Why the hell didn't they just name it "Massa Pokin' Slaves Out In The Barn And She Oughta Be Grateful For It?"

Jesus. You go, Dick. Take your trip in your grand coach and don't even notice the bodies under the wheels unless they spatter your fine boots. The plane's name could not have been more apt.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Nevada Photoblog

No pictures of the strip or even the sad rows of slots and video poker machines you can find in just about any convenience store, but I do have some nice shots of the most pleasant surprise of the trip--the Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area west of the city.

The Keystone Thrust, which resulted in the older gray igneous rocks of the La Madre Mountains being flung up on top of younger red and white sandstone deposits of the Calico Hills
Turtlehead Peak, above the Calico Hills, from the Calico Tanks trail

The red coloring in the sandstone comes from trace amounts of iron oxide--one part per million is all it takes. This is one of the top rock-climbing locations in the US, with dozens of routes and plenty of bouldering opportunities (and the requisite signs warning of frequent deaths suffered by people who go scrambling without the right gear).

I must confess a thing for quarries, originally sparked by visits to the limestone quarries of southern Indiana. The old sandstone quarry here (1905-1906) was almost as good, in a tiny bite-sized way. Just like in the limestone quarries at the turn of the century, the sandstone was first cut into long slices by a large, self-propelled steam-powered saw. Then spikes were driven closely spaced along crosswise lines into the stone, popping it apart into blocks. This was done in layers, the saw working down in steps.

Layers of cut sandstone

Remnant saw groove on bottom layer of cut stone

Leftover sandstone blocks with spike scars

Come to think of it, other parts of the preserve hit me like old home week as well. My favorite trail is a half-mile stub heading into a white sandstone canyon with a seasonal waterfall coming over the edge of a precipice into a round, roofless cavern. This is apparently the season of only a drip, but the drips thoughtfully froze into pretty icicles on a small tree at the bottom of the fall.

If you gotta go to Vegas, go to Red Rock Canyon.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Vegas, Day Two: Soccer for Fun and Profit

This is Las Vegas, after all, so I should not have been surprised to find a temptation control device in the bathroom.

I clearly had the Temptrol set at "cold" for the weekend, as I managed to avoid inappropriate longings, entanglements, and financially questionable decisions save for the dollar I plugged into the nickel slot machine on my way out of the buffet. Cashed out for $1.45, thank you very much.

And, this being Vegas, the trip to the buffet was inevitable. We landed at an off-strip member of the Station chain of monstrosities, this one Texas Station (yee hah!) way, way west on Lake Mead Road. It went on and on and on. Feast Around the World Buffet, here we came! What a cavalcade of food. I visited Italy, Asia, the US south, Mexico, Thanksgivingland, and West Soft-Serve Yogurtia. The regional verdicts? Pizza: very bad. Braised tofu chicken: surprisingly non-repulsive, bordering on downright tasty. BBQ rib: sticky sweet, but meaty and not overcooked. Rolled beef taco: deep-fried goodness. Shredded beef, presumably for tacos but residing in a tortilla-free environment on my plate: not bad at all! Actual onions included! Refried beans: Tucson-quality! Stuffing: blah and in need of more sage. Soft-serve chocolate: eh. Better with chocolate sauce on top, and since it was Vegas and all the calories that happen here stay here, well, I made it better. Final verdict: who the hell can complain about mountains of food for ten bucks?

Worst sight seen at the buffet, second runner-up: pile of crawfish under a heat lamp on the steam table. I love fresh-boiled mud bugs as much as the next girl, but "Feast Around the World Buffet" would not be my first choice of venue. First runner-up: two older ladies elbowing their way through the salad bar line to forcefully plop dollops of (in order) shredded lettuce, whole prunes, shredded beets, and krab-with-a-k salad onto their plates, topped off with large glugs of ranch. Worst sight, period: salmon medallions swimming in a thin gray sauce topped with an oil slick. Perhaps it was a diorama of Prince William Sound after the Exxon Valdez, but here it was simply labeled "salmon."

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Road to Vegas

Day of firsts. First time west of Ash Fork, AZ, on I-40, first time seeing Hoover Dam, first time in Nevada, first drive down the Strip. It was generally interesting, at least once we got within 30 miles of Kingman and the terrain became more varied, more rocky, and the mountains were closer.

Well, let me amend that. The stretch of US93 from Kingman to the dam isn't exactly interesting so much as... what phrase am I grasping for here... oh, yeah, fucking creepy. It's like driving through the Navajo Nation south of Shiprock but without the Navajos and sheep, just a strip of featureless moonscape between two rows of hills. Traveling Tip: hit the Mini Mart about 20 miles up the road from Kingman if you have even the slightest inkling you may need a bathroom. We kept figuring there would be something else coming along soon, and the only something else ended up being a bar/souvenir stand called Rosie's Den, which was straight out of a bad horror movie involving inbred axe murderers.

Traveling Tip, part deux: if you make it as far as Rosie's, screw up your resolve and hold it another 20 minutes and you'll be at the first parking lot at Hoover Dam. Of course, that means a row of portajohns that have not been serviced since perhaps the Hoover administration itself--take your own paper and for the love of god do not sit down--but relief is relief. Plus there's a nifty view of the lake side of the dam in all its art deco glory. I should have taken pictures but was too distracted looking over my shoulder for any three-eyed, twelve-fingered hangers-on that may have crawled into the truck bed at Rosie's before we escaped.

On the way home maybe we will park closer to the dam and have a walk across the top. This afternoon was chaotic and the lots were full. I hope we can stop on Sunday for the vertiginous juxtaposition of looking down the dam (goddamn! loooong way down) and immediately whipping the head up to look at the stanchions for the new bridge being built far above the road (goddamn! loooooooooooong way up!). I wonder how many workers have died on this project so far. It looks complicated.

So here I am in a La Quinta somewhere in northwest Las Vegas. Here is the card they leave on the beds explaining that they're trying to save water by not changing the linen every day. Note the extension of the marginally cute "La Quinta: Spanish for anything but villa" theme:

Spanish for "Protecting our environment." Tee hee.

And here is the flip side of the card, helpfully translated into Spanish, but maintaining the "Spanish for ___" thing, which kinda loses something in the translation:

Sinonimo de "proteccion..." Como?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Serendipity, Thy Name Is Lookin' Good For Jesus

OMFG, as the kids say. The timing could not have been more perfect. I walked into Black Hound Gallerie in Flagstaff this afternoon and found this:

Lookin' Good For Jesus Mini-Kit

The kit contains a Jesus statuette with a mirror embedded in His belly, lip balm, a folding mirror compact, and Easter-lily hand and body cream (with sparkle!).

I didn't want to cough up the $23.95 to Get Tight With Christ!, but spent many minutes admiring the kit in the store. Shopping bags and compacts are available separately.

Damned if this doesn't satirize Makeover Ministries more perfectly than I could ever dream of doing. Now go to Black Hound and give them some love.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

In Which We Find a Shirt That Does Not Quite Capture Our Essence

Not what Boltgirl looks like, supermodel or no.

Supermodels for Christ

NPR's story this morning on how the parties will attempt to court the evangelical vote contained the usual rehash of the need for Democrats to portray themselves as conservative on issues such as abortion and gay marriage, even though that will alienate their base in the Reality Community, and the need for Republicans to continue to march to the right even though most of them--save the unelectable Sam Brownback--have already pissed off the evangelicals in one way or another.

Buried in the middle of this, almost as a non-sequitur, was a snippet from a woman named Tammy Bennett, described as decked from head to toe in silver. I'm not going to bother dissecting Ms. Bennett's call for protecting the sanctity of marriage; that was predictable given the context of the story. My attention was piqued much more by the tiny biographical blurb provided:
Bennett is the founder of Makeover Ministries, which she describes as "inspiring women to look good from the inside out and to be supermodels for Christ. And it's based on Proverbs: 'just as water mirrors your face, so your face mirrors your heart.'"

Supermodels for Christ. Supermodels. For Christ.

Where to begin?

Here is the author information submitted by Ms. Bennett on the web page selling her book, Looking Good from the Inside Out:
It wasn't until I actually went to Hollywood to work as an actress that I discovered the true meaning of beautiful. While I was there I met many people who were beautiful on the outside that knew nothing about inner beauty, and though they were famous they were not very well liked because of their ugly attitudes. God used this time to teach me how to look good from the inside out...

I want girls to know what it took me years to discover; beauty is a choice and it all begins with a relationship with Jesus Christ.
When you apply the principles in this book,
you'll become a "SUPER MODEL."

Perhaps it's the failure to acknowledge the existence of people who have plenty of inner beauty but fall short of conventional definitions of physical beauty. Perhaps it's the implication that if (1) your face mirrors your heart and (2) beauty is a choice then (ergo and sum) women who are not supermodel beautiful have chosen to be bad people. Probably it's the combination of those that gives me pause. Inner beauty--the kind I thought Jesus was interested in, rather than the superficial trappings of the world--isn't good enough. If you do not pursue supermodel perfection rather than being content with the face God gave you, you're not following the Bible.

Odd. The only beauty tip I remember Jesus doling out was the admonishment to ditch the sackcloth and ashes and wash your damn face already.

The messages seem contradictory--one the one hand, Bennett remembers the angst of being a teenage girl and not feeling beautiful enough. But rather than promoting the message that girls are intrinsically valuable as unique individuals and are beautiful on the basis of their characters and actions toward other people, she emphasizes--if the table of contents and sample pages are accurate representations of the book's content--the superficial.
Tammy's Tip: Don't forget to apply moisturizer to your neck. You don't want to have a great-looking face attached to a sagging neck.

The horror.

If you want to write a makeover guide for teenaged girls, write a makeup guide. But please, don't try to pass it off as a ministry for making girls more acceptable by covering up their "imperfections" and homogenizing their appearance to conform to societal standards of beauty--standards which, I might add, are primarily driven by the need to be appealing to men by appearing young and fertile. And don't then try to say that it's all for Jesus because the Cover Girl-approved, cosmetic-slathered face is the perfect representation of a Godly heart and the best way for a young woman to demonstrate spirituality. It's the same tired message (beautiful people are good people; conventionally feminine girls are good girls; if your natural appearance falls outside the acceptable range, you must choose to alter it) repackaged in a shiny Christian wrapper (if beauty is a choice and comes from a relationship with Jesus, only Christians can be truly beautiful).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

In Which We Promptly Lose Half of Our Traffic

"Frammin at the Jim-Jam" was an homage to the venerable Walt Kelly and Pogo Possum. However, given the utter lack of Pogo content here and the likely utter confusion created for UK Googlers in search of material on something called the Jim Jam and Sunny Show, the blogname is changing to Boltgirl on the Loose.

It's all about me, after all.

This and That

Brilliant commenter kevinbgoode over at Pam's House Blend, on civil unions vs. civil marriage:
The whole point is this - any American citizen should be questioning the validity of ANY institution which is so preoccupied with image that it does not produce substance. The very idea that a gay man can fake his way into a "marriage" with a woman and have it considered valid is about nothing more than promoting an image - it does nothing to promote social stability. When people can 'marry" without any reason other than their born gender assignment, what the Right is telling Americans is that the symbol of marriage is more important than any foundation or real commitment - that the contract with the state rises above everything and anything else between two people. And these Democratic candidates which support this crap are as guilty as every wingnut Republican who thinks that some stupid constitutional amendment somehow can ban people from falling in love.

You know, I've been stretching to come up with ways to amuse myself during this weekend's forced trip to Las Vegas (never been, never wanted to go, kid has a soccer tournament there, voila). Perhaps I will put my undergrad anthropology training to work and do a mini ethnography of wedding chapel owners, in an attempt to discern exactly where they think their calling falls on the sacred-profane continuum. Or perhaps I will see how many random men I can coax through the drive-through with me. What's the Vegas single-day record for marriages and annulments? Hell, the repeated paroxysms of sanctified het glory might be enough to push me over the edge into straighthood.

On a related note, however, based on recent events I would be able to find a random woman and fake being the groom at least one time out of four. The "sir" incidents have been occurring at an alarming pace over the past few months, which I find odd because (1) the hair is still long and (2) working out has receded the gut to the point that the boobs should be at least moderately noticeable in comparison. Granted, I have never been the model of femininity, but I don't go out of my way to look like a guy. I'm just built like my dad, who is built like his dad's dad, who was a solid block of Bohemian gentleman farmer.

The sad part of this for me is the intense embarrassment when someone calls me "sir"--sad because the intensely embarrassed party is invariably me. I wish I could simply find the other person's lack of discernment funny, but society's messages about the importance of clear-cut gender identity seem to have taken root deeply enough to provoke shame for not being pretty enough to be recognizable as a woman.

It's gotten to the point that I have found myself pulling my shoulders back and trying to stick the boobs out a little more when I walk into a public bathroom, or yanking off my baseball cap if I'm wearing one and fussing up the hair a bit. Or, worse, if I can hear other women talking in the bathroom I just wait until they leave, or I hide in the stall until I can make an isolated exit. Because even worse than hearing "sir" is seeing the look of shock, confusion, dismay, and--sometimes--fucking fear on a woman's face when she sees me walk into the fucking women's room.

Sigh. I hope they at least think I'm a good-looking guy.

The obvious solution would be a ton of makeup and a wardrobe change, but I won't do makeup, and even in girl clothes the ultimate effect is often linebacker in drag rather than urban femme sophisticate. My friend G tosses on a cap and raggy t-shirt and becomes a boyishly cute but completely recognizable as a woman. I do the same and become, well, apparently a boy. My resentment at having to put on a costume to conform to other people's expectations of what I should look like probably contributes to not pulling it off successfully, but Jesus.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Today marked another rare time when the wheel came 'round again. One night back in 1987 found me sitting on the floor of my dorm room, flipping through the Northwestern course catalog, trying to find an elective to fill the spring quarter schedule. Take Mark's class, said the then-boyfriend, because he's pretty cool. Sure, fine, whatever, need the credit. I don't remember what it was called, but it was the first archaeology class I had ever taken. I do remember the first day Mark walked through the classroom door with his leather jacket and sunburned face, freshly back from Peru, and that I wondered if he was the prof or just the TA.

That class led to another, and another, and eventually to me declaring anthropology as a double major. I spent two summers working on Mark's project in Peru, became friends with him and his wife, and went to grad school on his recommendation. He moved on to a west coast school and I landed here in Tucson, so we saw each other at conferences a few times over the years and then not at all when I quit attending the annual archaeology meetings.

This morning we met for coffee for the first time since '99. I guess I had always expected to see him again somewhere, but I didn't antipate that we'd be sitting in a Tucson coffeehouse with our respective houses sitting maybe five miles apart. Despite the great tendency of people and places to change dramatically when you take your eyes off of them for more than a minute, talking to him was the same as it ever was, refreshingly comfortable.

I walked back to my parking space happy. There was also the added bonus of a dinner invitation and a handful of 30,000-year-old Tibetan artifacts in my messenger bag that I get to illustrate for him (which will be attached to a decent paycheck). After a year in which old friends were lost, reconnecting with this one simply kicked ass. Maybe you can't go home again, but sometimes you're fortunate to have a little piece of home come back to you.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Love Letter

Suzana: I had my doubts when you moved Cafe Poca Cosa from its claustrophobic, funky, folk-art draped Hotel Santa Rita environs to your nouveau metro chic space a block away. But there was the comfortable, familiar chalkboard with the evening's menu, an intriguing long bar and white banquette curving seductively through the center of a room backed with a sultry red-orange wall, salsa kissed with just enough cilantro to perk my interest, a cold beer in my hand, Aaron's (the waiter) deep gravelly voice and flawless diction pouring the promise of pure bliss into my ears.

There you were, working the room in your jeans and white apron as plates bearing the happy weight of your stupendous sauces trundled out of the kitchen, looking amazing.

It's enough to give a girl the vapors.

And it's reassurance that the kitchen's soul is firmly grounded, no matter the setting, in the earthy and sensual. I would drown in your pollo con mole negro on at least a weekly basis, but finances dictate that such culinary consummation remain largely the stuff of fantasy. I swoon.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Hardaway, Teh Gay, Teh Shower

Pretty much every gay blogger in the country has weighed in on the Tim Hardaway kerfuffle, so I might as well jump on the bandwagon and make the week complete. Hardaway's an idiot. That's his deal, and he is welcome to it. My beef this morning is with all the other idiots who have chimed in to support him with the all too predictable and tiresome bogeyman of the Gay Guy In The Shower.

Surf over to the message boards on ESPN or Sports Illustrated and see how long it took the projecting hysterics to make an appearance. About five posts each. Sure, you have the requisite bible-beaters saying that Tim is absolutely right, that homos have no place in decent society because the Bible says so. Fine. Whatever. At least they're working from a published source. The ones that absolutely chap my hide are those that screech, "If a straight man can't shower in the women's locker room, why should a gay guy be allowed to shower in the men's locker room?" Perhaps amazingly, I am equally pissed off by the would-be gay defenders who come back with, "If you're that homophobic you must be gay yourself."

Both arguments miss the larger point. While some 'phobes are clearly closet cases--Haggard, anyone?--my sense is that men who are terrified about gays seeing them naked are terrified not that someone will find out they're gay, but that they might actually be objectified by someone the way they themselves objectify women. This reaction says as much about a man's conceptualization of masculine sexuality, period, as it does about his thoughts on specific gender orientations. If it's based on power imbalances and a sense of entitlement, where the object of attraction is simply that--an object to be possessed, either at the level of staring or of unwanted physical contact, rather than a person whose boundaries must be respected--then the man who visualizes how he would respond in a shower full of naked women can't consider any reaction by a gay man in a shower full of men other than sexual aggression.

Hardaway is a sad, small little man because he can't conceive of a reality in which he has--most likely--at some time in his basketball career practiced, played, and showered with at least one or two gay guys. He just hasn't noticed them because they in fact have not propositioned him, grabbed his ass, grabbed his dick, or jerked off in the shower while watching him. They've behaved with respect for their teammates' rights to be free from unwanted sexual attention. In short, they've behaved like well-adjusted human beings.

Little hint, guys. I have been involved in team sports since I was a kid, and still go to the gym and get all sweaty. When I hit the locker room, I am interested in getting dressed and going on with my day. I see a naked woman every morning when I get out of the shower at home and look in the mirror, so being surrounded by them in the locker room isn't titillating. I don't stare at naked people. It's rude. And if I notice a really fit nekkid women at the locker next to mine, my reaction is wow, she's really fit. It is not wow, I am going to stand here and visualize all the ways I would like to do her and perhaps punctuate that experience by grabbing her ass.

The response to the shower crowd shouldn't be, "You must be gay too." It should be, "Why do you think it's normal to treat people as sexual objects when they're not interested in you?" or "Why do you think it's normal to treat every situation involving nudity as a sexual situation?" Uncomfortable with the possibility of a gay guy next to you when you're naked? Then maybe think about the way you think about women.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Google Earth Valentine

Valentine's Day. Nice enough. An e-mail from my undergrad adviser had me surfing the nostalgia wave for a while this afternoon; I got on The Google to see what he looks like these days (same face, but the short mop of brown hair is now white and threatening his waist). While I was on the topic, I figured I might as well check in on another undergrad professor (no apparent change), which then naturally led to a quick look at the surviving English teacher from high school. I couldn't quite picture the building listed as his office address at Holy Cross College, necessitating a few seconds of tapping away at Google Earth, since, hey, Holy Cross is right there by the high school, in the old neighborhood, in the town I used to call home, so a click and a drag and away we went.

Google Earth. Seriously, how can you not be thoroughly boggled at the ability to zoom in and take a bird's eye tour of your old high school campus, getting close enough to see people on the sidewalk and hurdles tipped haphazardly at the side of the track? The football field has been relocated to the west of the school now, where there used to be a small woods. The old field has been obliterated, the footprint of the ancient cinder track reduced to the ghost of an oval ring in the grass to the north of the school. The rest of the woods are still there, still separating the campus from the field where intramurals used to be played and the marching band practiced on more frigid mornings than I care to remember.

The new track, where Tom died, skirts on its west end the edge of the ridge that plunges down to the floodplain of the St. Joe river. Click and drag the image to follow the street west a quarter of a mile down that hill, at the bottom of the curve, and there's my old house, a strange car in the driveway. Click and drag again and there's Tom and Rita's old house, down the block from mine, the trees that dropped leaves I used to rake for him full and green.

I wondered if I still remembered the way I used to walk from home over to Notre Dame, not the grand front entrance route but the back way following the railroad tracks and service drives, the solitary route leading to the quiet refuge of the lakes and the Grotto. Click and drag, click and drag, flying above streets whose names I don't remember but can see in my head, picking my way now from home past the beloved campus and the now-gone soccer fields of my youth, through the four-way stop that confounded me as a novice driver, past the ice cream place and out to the mall. The landmarks of adolescence. It was quietly comforting not to get lost.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Growing Up?

I am still waiting for enlightenment, for the knowledge I sort of thought people just automatically acquired when they became grownups. I suppose I assumed wisdom would magically sprout inside my head once I attained a certain age--I was never sure exactly what age that was, but was certain it would happen, and that I would notice when it did--much like the other seemingly magical sproutings of hair and breasts and zits.

Didn't happen. Still hasn't happened. The esoteric realms I saw my parents effortlessly traverse--mortgages, income tax, car insurance--are damn near as mysterious now as they seemed when I was 13. Knowledge and understanding of these concrete, mundane areas was hard-won in my case, and I still sheepishly ask the girlfriend, "what's escrow, again?" at least a couple times a year and then promptly forget the answer.

Some things I can do. I can fix my kid's bike when the chain breaks, handle basic first aid, change out the headlights, cook. And yes, I can do my taxes on my own with only a modicum of profanity. The big stuff, though, the major thing of having my shit together enough to explain to the boy why people do what they do or give cure-all advice for his adolescent woes? The ability to channel the adult mentors and role models who advised me and eased my own path through high school? Heh. No. No, no, fuck no. Not even close.

I am older now by five years than my own mom was when I was my son's current age, if that makes sense. I look at the pictures old high school friends send of themselves with their kids and try to see the age and gravitas in their features that we must have seen in our own mothers when we skidded into their kitchens in a cloud of dust after school, hoping for cookies or a hamburger. I stand beside my son and look in the mirror and try to find my mother's steadiness behind my own eyes.

When my beloved mentor, my junior-year English teacher, died this past August, I dug my old class journals out of the closet and read them for the first time since graduation in 1985. The pages are filled with adolescent angst (school, grades, planning for college, uncertainty about a future away from home and my ability to make it in an unfamiliar world) interspersed with equally adolescent goofiness (constant ribbing about him still playing softball at his advanced age, bets offered and taken on Notre Dame football games, a cringingly drawn-out discussion on why he was taking bee pollen supplements and hadn't been to see the latest Dirty Harry movie yet). His responses were always thoughtful and direct, giving no quarter when I was being a stubborn dork, giving praise where it was warranted, and always, always filled with insightful observations designed to lead me to answer my own questions when I needed.

Naturally, I thought he was the wisest person I had ever encountered. Reading back through those entries written more than two decades ago, it is difficult not to wonder where he ever came up with the patience to wade through that stuff from maybe a dozen students a night every night of the week for thirty years. And to wonder where he came up with the wisdom and insights to write back an answer for every question or, more importantly, to point me in the direction of discerning the answers myself.

The person behind that steady hand was 39 years old at the time. The same age I am now. I don't know when his magic moment came that turned him into the adult we knew and respected (or feared). I don't know when mine is going to come.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

In Which We Admit to Being a GINO

Events of the past two days are forcing me to come clean here. I am Green in Name Only. I thought I was a certified treehugging dirt worshipper, but all it took to truly bring me to my knees was for my truck to be stuck at the garage for a couple of days while waiting for a special-order valve to be delivered.

This shouldn't be such a big deal. Both kids go to the same school and the girlfriend works at the same place I do. Having to make the adjustments the very slight differences in the kids' schedules require, and being unable to drive to Home Depot to buy those trim boards I have been procrastinating on for months but suddenly Need Right Away Or I Shall Perish, and knowing that I can't just pick up the interesting things I might see in the neighborhood brush 'n' bulky pickup piles has stirred up absolute anxiety.

I knew a family years ago in my old neighborhood that refused to buy a car and went everywhere on foot oor bicycle. When the oldest kid made the finals of the state chess tournament, he and his dad biked up to Phoenix and back. And never batted an eye. And here I sit hyperventilating at having to ask someone for a ride, a ride, a goddamn RIDE!

The part still isn't in, but they're giving me my truck back this afternoon, jerry-rigged with the wrong kind of valve to keep running until the bona fide valve shows up. The comfort that will flood me when I slide onto the threadbare seat will be genuine. Sigh. Maybe once the kid is off at college I'll turn into the bike-riding eco-warrior I feel I ought to be.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mr. Deity


On Coaches and Character.

With so much else going on the world--getting to that in a post later today--I'm not sure why the Tony Dungy thing has irritated me so deeply. It started as mere annoyance at yet another pro athlete or coach thanking God for winning the Super Bowl, as if God gives a rat's ass about championships in any sport. It grew as the Colts' owner joined the coach in asserting that God had a plan for their team which involved carefully orchestrated tests of character to ensure their eventual success for the glory of his name. Oops, His name, that is. But the clincher was Dungy's postgame response to being congratulated for being the first African-American to coach a Super Bowl champion (well, the first to coach a Super Bowl team, period, a distinction he now shares with the opposing coach, his close friend Lovie Smith):
"I'm proud to be the first African-American coach to win this," Dungy said during the trophy ceremony. "But again, more than anything, Lovie Smith and I are not only the first African-American but also Christian coaches, showing you can do it the Lord's way. We're more proud of that."
Dungy and Smith are hailed, as they absolutely should be, as demonstrations of how far our nation has progressed in civil rights and opportunities for African-Americans. But Dungy prefers to be hailed as a Christian. At first blush, it seems that he was taking a step beyond even the unprecedented enlightenment that made it possible for an NFL team to hire and go to a championship under a black coach: Judge me not by the color of my skin, but on the content of my character. It was awe-inspiring for a moment. While he was proud of what his achievement symbolizes for the African-American community, he preferred to be recognized not for the way he was born but for how he has chosen to live.

For his brand of Christianity.

By their works ye shall know them (Matt 7:20). Tony Dungy will be busy this month lending his time, name, and face to Christian groups who use the Bible to argue that not all people should be recognized and lauded for their character. He's headlining a fundraiser for the Indiana Family Association, a political group that, because of Biblical precepts, actively supports legislation to strip civil rights away from people like me.

The man who would prefer that people see him as a Christian first, African-American second is carrying the banner for a fundamentalist movement that 40 years ago used that same Bible to argue that black men shouldn't marry white women, that black kids shouldn't be educated in the same schools with white kids. And 150 years ago used it to argue that black men were unworthy for any life outside of slavery.

The man who has been held up as a symbol of our nation's enlightenment is simultaneously being claimed by groups who would have us revert to the dark ages. Depending on how you read his quote--Lovie Smith and I are not only the first African-American but also Christian coaches--you might get the impression that he's saying they're the first true Christian coaches to hit the Super Bowl. I certainly did when I heard it live.

I want to admire the man for breaking the color barrier, for conducting himself like a gentleman, and for contributing considerable amounts of time and money to charitable causes. But if I am to judge him by his character I must consider his entire character, and seeing him volunteer to be the poster boy for organizations that demonize gay folk as a group with no consideration for our individual characters--indeed, for the seeming conviction that there can be nothing lurking within us aside from the most perverse sin--saddens and angers me.

Tony Dungy's Christians will not judge my character. I can only judge theirs.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Super Bowl Praise and Glory Glory Glory

Colts owner Jim Irsay and coach Tony Dungy inadvertently spotlighted the inanity of sports teams claiming God was on their side by making contradictory invocations in the span of roughly 15 seconds (Irsay) and tossing out situationally unfortunate metaphors (Dungy) during the trophy presentation last night.

Irsay led off, quite appropriately, with a statement of support for the central Florida communities that got blown apart by tornadoes a couple of days ago. He indicated that the Colts will be aiding in the recovery effort, and said a couple of times that their prayers are with the people "who had those tornadoes, we don't wanna forget that."

Okay, decent enough, nothing wrong with the usual lip service of "our thoughts and prayers are with you." But he followed that up with this, not missing a beat, apparently oblivious to the rather marked contrast between God's attention to central Florida and God's attention to his football team:
Now we're world champions! And so there's an awful lot of shining glory up here again, even more than last time, but we're giving it all to God again, because that's what God is here, sticking together and believing that we could, and I know God has looked after us on this journey...
Then there was Dungy, who maybe hadn't heard about the actual storms to the north, talking about his team's struggles against adversity this season:
We said there's gonna be a storm, we said the Lord doesn't always bring you directly through, sometimes you gotta work for it.
Ah. So God was in Florida this week (the folks cowering in their bathrooms might have wondered), but apparently too distracted with the Holy Colts to notice the tornadoes bearing down on trailer parks and retirement communities in areas inexplicably bereft of warning sirens. He had the foresight to toughen up the Colts with the metaphorical storm of being down 18 points in the AFC championship game, but couldn't be troubled to flick a couple of funnel clouds away from people's houses. Nice.

Dungy went on to make his own number one priority clear.
"I'm proud to be the first African-American coach to win this," Dungy said during the trophy ceremony. "But again, more than anything, Lovie Smith and I are not only the first African-American but also Christian coaches, showing you can do it the Lord's way. We're more proud of that."
All the previous Super Bowl coaches, I guess, have been Hindu or Jainist or something. Noted Muslims Mike Ditka and Dan Reeves must be mortified to have that finally brought out into the open.

Don't get me wrong. Dungy and Lovie Smith (Bears coach) are polite, gracious men who do an incredible amount of charitable work in their communities. I doubt Dungy thinks he's being self-righteous when he sets his brand of Christianity (headlined by no swearing or drinking) apart from every other nominal Christian who has coached in the big game. Hey, he's just witnessing; no harm in that, right? His chosen affiliations say otherwise. In the next few weeks he's making appearances at the Anderson, Indiana Church of God (resolution on homosexuality here, resolution against marriage equality here) and the Indiana Family Institute (James Dobson stamp of approval here, opposition to HPV immunization here, opposition to marriage equality here).

This is the Lord's way according to Dungy. A lord who ostensibly created the whole world and everyone in it, who knows us before we are born, but in whose name certain people are to be condemned and legally discriminated against if they live the way they were made. A lord who takes time out of his busy schedule to shape the destiny of a 45-man football team but is oddly indifferent to 20 people killed by a tornado in central Florida, or to 3,080 troops blown up in Iraq, or to thousands of innocent victims of drunk drivers each year, or, or, or... Tony Dungy might consider the possibility that his god, who, despite being omniscient and omnipotent, is more interested in a football team than in human life and death, needs to reassess His priorities.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Inevitable Unexpected Consequences and Unrealistic Expectations

Fallout from the Michigan ruling denying benefits to same-sex couples included a sad tidbit that encapsulates damn near perfectly the reason why the civil right of unpopular minorities should never be determined by a public vote.

First, if you haven't heard, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that the state's gay marriage ban (approved by voters in 2004) means that public universities and state/local government agencies can no longer give benefits to unmarried partners. I forget the percentage by which the marriage amendment passed, but now, of course, many people are arguing that the voters really only wanted to ban gay marriage, not take away people's health benefits.

Saith the court to that? Tough shit. Tough shit, saith the court:
"It is a cornerstone of a democratic form of government to assume that a free people act rationally in the exercise of power, are presumed to know what they want, and to have understood the proposition submitted to them in all of its implications," the judges wrote.

In the words of Darth Cheney, I fundamentally disagree with your premise. Particularly when the issue at hand is emotionally charged and grounded far more in religious doctrine than rational thought, free people--the majority--are rarely rational in their exercise of power. Understanding all the implications of a proposition is a pipe dream when the majority of your population is more interested in which bimbo celebrity is flashing her waxed nethers or what Special Olympian is being mocked on American Idol this week than in thoroughly reading about a proposition whose potential for harming a target population is huge.

It's even more of a pipe dream when the proponents of the legislation take great pains to insist that it's only about marriage, that no one's benefits will be taken away, that it's not designed as a punitive measure denying a segment of the population rights and benefits everyone else already has. The Michigan amendment, and the anti-marriage equality amendments in other states, have all been pushed, essentially, as a squeaky-clean way to smack down fags and dykes without, you know, really hurting anyone. The anonymous drive-by opportunity was too much for unthinking people to pass up. So they voted yes, and two years later the benefits fallout--remember, that was promised to not happen--lands, the fruit is borne, the chickens have come home to roost.

People are stupid and vindictive. The cornerstone of any social system is that everyone will obey the rules of the social contract, but we still lock our doors at night and don't leave large piles of cash unattended. Civil rights should be just as conscientiously protected, and never put to a referendum any more than the contents of my wallet should.

Friday, February 02, 2007

In the LIfe

I walked into work this morning to find one of my officemates in a lather over (1) Dick Cheney's churlish interview with Wolf Blitzer earlier in the week and (2) Mary Cheney's sorta followup interview with the NY Times and Glamour. She (the officemate) is blown away by the hypocrisy and kept saying she doesn't understand why my head doesn't explode on a daily basis, given the number of people out there loudly proclaiming me an abomination and then turning around and doing whatever they want in their personal lives.

She's a wonderful ally. As I pondered a response, it struck me that I must engage in my own little bits of cognitive dissonance. This is not a Mary-flavored disconnect that allows me to actively campaign for a president and party while simultaneously pursuing exactly the kind of intimate relationship and family status that president and party seek to deny me. It's more of a callous buildup around my brain, one that lets the cumulative outrages register but not become all-consuming.

And I am not a serene person. Not even close. Filled with rage more days than not. But if I really, really let this stuff strike me at the core, I'd go insane.

So it was serendipitous that I stumbled onto PBS' In the Life, by way of Pam's House Blend this morning. I'm not sure why I hadn't heard of this before, but it's a GLBT news magazine. This month's installment, hosted by Ani DiFranco, focuses on the stories of three young people, but the first one--about a 15-year-old girl in rural Iowa--was the most resonant for me. This kid is apparently the first person in the history of her 5,000-person town to come out. She talks about being terrified to tell, but more terrified to go on living a life not her own. Her parents seem to have accepted her without question, but some schoolmates and strangers flung insults at her. More painful, the church that previously welcomed her as an enthusiastic member of the choir booted her.

The most emotionally charged scene shows her going to the pastor of the church for counsel, trying to reconcile the church's teachings with her own recognition that her sexuality is an innate part of her that is not going to change. To the pastor's credit, he doesn't out-and-out condemn her. But he falls back on what must seem to him and his ilk the most reasonable, logical compromise, something that rings hollow to anyone who seriously thinks about their own sexuality for more than a second: the highest calling for a gay Christian is a life of celibacy, because that will provide complete joy and freedom.

For a second I was afraid the girl would crumble and acquiesce, at least in front of the pastor, but--amazingly, to me--she looks him straight in the eye and says no, she knows she'll never be able to do that, and does not believe that a loving god will condemn her for living the way she was created.

The condemnation is left to the humans in the story. Her mother, her father, her friends all echo the same refrain. Why would anyone want to hurt this girl? Why would anyone feel they were being a good Christian by condemning her? Why would anyone want to say ignorant things about an entire class of people just because they're afraid of something they don't understand?

These are my officemate's questions as well. I'm still searching for answers.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

And Immigrant Oddness in Arizona

The second news item in the Daily Star catching my eye this morning reports an incident being billed as "a fight between human-smugglers" on a farm north of Tucson: [emphases mine]
David Norris Jr., 46, of Eloy, about 50 miles northwest of Tucson, was driving a vehicle containing 12 illegal entrants in a farm field near Sunshine and Ellis roads when four heavily armed men in a white full-size van began firing on them, Michael Minter, a Pinal County Sheriff's Department spokesman, said Wednesday.

None of the shooters has been arrested, Minter said. They were wearing green camouflage pants and shirts and wearing military-style berets — three black and one red. The shooters spoke limited Spanish.
This is curious to me for reasons revolving around the apparent non-Latino identities of the gunmen and the dead driver. Human smugglers around here, at least the ones that make the papers, are usually Mexican coyotes who get caught by the Border Patrol on the highway. An anglo guy from Eloy driving a truckload of illegals in a farm field sounds more like an under-the-table employer than a smuggler to me, but I could be wrong. And four white guys in military getups with big guns sound more like self-styled yahoo Minutemen than a rival smuggling ring to me, but I could be wrong. They managed to kill Norris and wound a 12-year-old kid. I'm not sure who decided this was little more than gang warfare. I hope the Star does a little digging here.

More Anti-Choice Machinations in Arizona

A Republican state senator from the Phoenix area (Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert) has introduced a bill that would greatly expand the personal information doctors are required to collect from women obtaining abortions.
But in addition to a woman's age, race and marital status — which the state health department already collects — it would mandate that doctors collect and report information such as the reason for the abortion, who referred the woman to the clinic, the weight of the aborted fetus and other intimate personal information about the woman.
Funny, but when I had two invasive surgical procedures over the past four years, I don't recall the state being interested in why I was choosing to have tissue excised from my body, who referred me to the surgeon, or how much the removed shreds of meniscus weighed. Lucky for me that the kneecap isn't subject to the same level of scrutiny as the uterus, despite my knees' much greater potential for long-reaching health effects (a year after the second surgery I'm still not walking right).

But wait, it gets better:
A potentially bigger effect of SB 1550 is that it would require doctors to report the same information not just for surgical abortions but when a pregnancy is terminated with drugs such as RU-486 — something state health officials say they don't track now.

Verschoor acknowledged that it might even require reports to be filed when a woman uses the "morning-after" pill. That's because the legislation would define a fetus as any organism beginning at fertilization, and there is some medical evidence that the pill prevents a fertilized egg from implanting.
At least they're being upfront about throwing science completely out of the room. Hell, science is being slammed face-down on the cement and frisked before it can even get close to the building. Setting aside the "life begins at conception" argument for a few seconds, whatever spriritual investment you want to ascribe to that diploid cell, it ain't a fetus. "Fetus" applies only to developing offspring that have acquired the major structural characteristics of the adult animal, and that doesn't happen in humans until after week 8. Hell, even calling the blastocyst or embryo an organism is a bit of a stretch, given its inability to function independently of the gestating woman. And finally, of course, given our species' shoddy successful implantation rate of roughly 50%, pregnancy does not begin until the fertilized egg implants in the uterine lining. Under this bill's logic, sexually active women might as well be required to wring out their tampons into a cup on a scale, because about half the time there very well may be a Verschoor-style "fetus" in there.

Clearly, this bit of legislation from a recognized "long term abortion foe" is designed to throw up even more roadblocks in the path of a still-legal medical procedure, this one by raising the paperwork bar in the hopes that at least a few doctors will throw up their hands and stop providing abortions altogether.
Verschoor acknowledged half that point. He said any new information obtained by the state about who has abortions, even in aggregate form, could be used to create programs targeted at certain groups.

"The hope here is that we can find alternatives to abortion where they choose the life of the child instead of abortion," he said, citing adoption as an alternative.
Here's a clue for Mr. Verschoor: women who do not wish to be pregnant in the first place have abortions. Some of them get pregnant because they're ignorant about reproductive physiology and contraception. Some get pregnant because they and their partners are careless. Some get pregnant because they're sexually abused. Adoption is certainly a wonderful choice for some of these women. For most, it isn't. And rather than expending all of your energy in creating programs intended to convince their target audience of unintentionally pregnant women to give birth, you would do far more to end abortion by advocating thorough and accurate education, as well as effective, affordable, accessible contraception.