Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Go Irish

Now that John D'Arcy has weighed in on Notre Dame's invitation to President Obama to give the commencement address, old home week is complete here in Boltland. First, the bishop's statement explaining what has his ecclesiastical shorts in a knot when he contemplates Obama striding beneath the shadow of the Golden Dome:
While claiming to separate politics from science, he has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life.

For the first time! In history! D'Arcy seems to have forgotten about prior little government-sponsored dustups like the Sioux extermination program and, oh, maybe Hiroshima--lord knows I can barely remember those myself given my busy schedule these days--as well as about the fact that Notre Dame has previously hosted both Condi Rice and W himself. Maybe casual capital punishment and wanton warmongering don't count as life-extermination any more?

My personal brushes with D'Arcy came shortly after he landed in South Bend as the new bishop in the spring of 1985, imported from Boston to replace an oldster whose name completely escapes me at the moment and likely to ensure the primacy of some old-school conservatism in the diocese. One of his first churchly duties there was to preside over my confirmation ceremony, where he proceeded to warn us that our friends are really evil, awful people who will persuade us to do bad things, so we should ignore them and remember that our trust should really belong to the church. 25 years later I still have the friends but have quite happily shed the church. And D'Arcy's still in South Bend spouting twisted half-truths to whatever audience he has left.

Enjoy your boycott, John!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Life has been annoyingly busy in too many consecutive little blocks of time. Please check back soon.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Final Tweet

What could be more self-important than tweeting on Twitter? Probably announcing that you're leaving Twitter. So! I am done with Twitter, and of course it wasn't for truly egregious violations of decorum like members of Congress tweeting during Obama's address to the joint session. It is because the WPS (We Pimp Skorts?) announced they are considering having players tweet from the sidelines during games. And with this insult to the integrity of the game--hot on the heels of the skort--I can no longer be party to the nefarious technology behind it, no matter how inept I was at the Twitter to begin with.

If you must have hourly updates on my very important life, you'll have to find me on Facebook, which is rapidly devolving into an even more vapid, content-free forum than it already was. Sort of a Twitter-plus. Bye, Twitter!

Thursday, March 19, 2009


It's my second-favorite holiday, the opening day of the NCAA men's/women's basketball tournament season, which on the BoltLiturgicalCalendar falls in importance right after Thanksgiving and right before Christmas and the Super Bowl, which are tied. I intend to gorge on hoops--thank you CBS and NCAA, for your NCAA® March Madness® on Demand player--even if I'm too old to gorge on beer and snackies the entire time. If I were still 24 it would be nachos and Labatt's all damn day.

My Final Four is UNC, Pitt, Louisville, Memphis. Heels win the championship over Louiville, 73-70.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Footnote to the Abortion-Restriction Discussion

I just came across this over at Shakesville, and while I fully understand that "anecdote" does not equal "data," the story is an important perspective for anyone who has ever argued that a woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy should carry it to term and give the baby up for adoption rather than aborting the embryo. As much as anti-choicers harp on the inevitable psychological damage to women who choose to abort, and as willing as they are to trot out women who've aborted and regretted it, the voices of women who have chosen adoption do seem to be curiously lacking.
I have given a baby up for adoption, and I have had an abortion, and while anecdotes are not evidence, I can assert that abortions may or may not cause depression - it certainly did not in me, apart from briefly mourning the path not taken - but adoption? That is an entirely different matter. I don't doubt that there are women who were fine after adoption, and there is emphatically nothing wrong with that or with them; but I want to point out that if we're going to have a seemingly neverending discussion about the sorrow and remorse caused by abortion, then it is about goddamn time that we hear from birth mothers too.

Believe me when I say that of the two choices, it was adoption that nearly destroyed me - and it never ends.
This is just one woman's story, but it's compelling and worth a read.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

More on the Arizona Abortion Bill: Tiny Conversations with Steve Farley

Steve Farley (D-28th) is the representative for my Arizona state congressional district. I e-mailed him after the Frank Antenori kerfuffle for his side of the Arizona Health & Human Services Committee hearing on HB 2564, which was introduced to further place restrictions and impediments in the paths of women seeking not only abortion but also emergency and other contraception in the state. He was kind enough to respond the same day and provided a little more information than I'd had before.

Steve doesn't sit on the HHS committee, so he wasn't present at the hearing the Democrats and their healthcare-providing allies decided to walk out of last month, nor did he discuss the strategy with them prior to the meeting. He suspects the intention was to prevent giving the Republicans a bigger platform than they were already going to have for what by many accounts was a predetermined outcome. He also provided a link to the debate over the bill and the amendment he offered when it came to a floor vote so that, as he said, I would be able to form my own opinion of it rather than simply getting his, and would be able to quote participants directly. The Farley amendment would have exempted women who are the victims of sexual assault (of both the incestual and non-incestual varieties) from the waiting period and doctor's script-reading requirement, and would have eliminated the pharmacist conscience clause for emergency and conventional contraception.

Dr. Matt Heinz's (D-27th) testimony in favor of the Farley amendment focused on the language in the bill defining pregnancy as beginning with conception, as well as on the conscience clause. It served up a simply stated bit of scientific information for people who believe that pregnancy starts at conception. Unfortunately, it's not clear that anyone who believes otherwise and had already decided to vote for the bill was listening.

As a medical professional myself, I'm very concerned, first of all that we're discussing this at all. But as the bill is written at this time it appears to actually redefine some accepted medical terminology, which is something I believe we should try to avoid as the Legislature. What I’m referring to in particular, which I’ll begin with, is a viable, clinically diagnosable pregnancy. Now, I understand that the bill defines this as the union of a sperm and ovum. However, fertilization, as I hope everyone knows, occurs at the ends of the fallopian tubes, which are attached to the uterus—forgive me for not bringing my uterus model—and that’s not where a pregnancy occurs or even could be defined necessarily as a viable intrauterine pregnancy. That [pregnancy] is where the ovum, the conceptus, that has been fertilized travels through the fallopian tubes, which takes seven to twelve days, and then there’s implantation in the endometrium, in the wall and lining of the uterus, and blood vessels supply the developing embryo in that situation, and that—that is what a pregnancy is, a clinically diagnosable, viable pregnancy. So I’m a little bit unclear as to what we’re trying to do with that language.

Next, I’m very concerned about how, um, about how this bill is going to affect the provision of healthcare, especially to women… Pharmacists being allowed to refuse any sort of medication ordered by a licensed physician is very disturbing to me, especially in regards to emergency contraception, where there’s not exactly a lot of time available for the patient to go to another place. There’s also no requirement that I see in the bill that says that the pharmacist who is refusing for moral reasons or for a conscience has to refer the women to somewhere where they can obtain this urgently needed medical attention or device or prescription. So I don’t like that at all.

And I do believe this is beyond the pharmacist’s scope of practice because then, again in this bill, the way things are defined even with the Barto amendment, it is unclear to me if this could also possibly prohibit certain other types of hormonal therapy which may not be used for birth control at all, to control excessive uterine or vaginal bleeding. A pharmacist should not be authorized to refuse these medications when prescribed by an appropriate licensed physician.

Nancy Barto--one of the original sponsors of the bill--came up with a rebuttal on the conscience issue that is a work of art, if by "art" we mean "flinging every can of paint I can find at the canvas in hopes something will stick."

The fact of the matter is that emergency contraception is not hard to get these days. In fact, it’s available over the counter. And it’s available online, there are websites to deliver it. You can get it through the mail. And so this does not deal with emergency contraception availability. This merely protects the right of conscience. If you have an opportunity to go, to receive emergency contraception, shouldn’t an ab- a pharmacist have an opportunity to keep his job and protect his faith, live by his faith and belief? Both rights are important. This bill makes sure those rights are protected.

Jesus. One more time! If you have the opportunity to go request a legal and necessary medication from the only middleman licensed and authorized to dispense it to you within the timeframe required for the medication to be effective, shouldn't that middleman have the opportunity to refuse to perform his job, at no risk to his continued employment? I'm not sure which is more disturbing to me--that Rep. Barto considers both of those "opportunities" to be "rights"--guess which of the two does not really fit into the "rights" category--or that she can say with a straight face that the bill protects the rights of women to obtain something that is legal.

Because despite her statement that both rights are important, it's only the rights of certain pharmacists that are really being protected here. And while emergency contraception is indeed "available over the counter," which simply means "without a prescription," if it were really as easy to lay hands on EC as on peanut M&Ms, then pharmacists wouldn't be its gatekeepers and their consciences would not be at issue either way. The simple fact that Barto's fighting to give some pharmacists the ability to bar all women from obtaining the medication is the proof that the only way to buy the stuff in a store is through a transaction with a pharmacist. You can't get it from the lady at the cosmetics counter or the guy in the liquor department. Yes, you can have EC delivered through the mail if you order it online, but good luck having it show up on your doorstep within your 72-hour window of opportunity (and remember that the further your timer ticks away from hour one toward hour 72, the chances of it working drop off precipitously, because if you ovulate before you can take the pill, you're screwed again). No computer or internet access? Too bad, so sad--but you can always comfort yourself with the knowledge that you've at least kept your pharmacist's delicate sensibilities from being injured.

As an interesting side note, Steve pointed out in his e-mail that the House Republicans had promised smart-as-a-whip Assistant Minority Leader Kyrsten Sinema (D-15th) that they wouldn't bring the bill to a floor vote until she was back from an overseas trip. And as soon as she was gone they hustled it to the floor because, Steve says, "they did not want her brilliant strategic mind to get in the way of their show." This is the same group that illegally shut off a Democrat's microphone to stop a filibuster that was intended to kill the no-gay-marriage constitutional amendment before it could come to a vote. They later admitted they broke the rules on that one, but hey, it was officially too late to do anything about it. It isn't too late to hammer your state senator now with arguments against this piece of crap bill.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Notes from All Over

I have lost the ability to properly capitalize in title case. Should "all" be capitalized up there? It's a mystery to me.

Too much Guadalajara Grill may actually be a bad thing. I woke up at roughly 2 this morning with a knot in my gut and spent the rest of the night and early morning kept from my rest by a combination of pain induced by far too much hot fresh chips/fresh wonderful salsa customized tableside by Betty/three kinds of enchiladas (chili verde FTW!)/giant mug of Dos XX/the rest of the flan my girlfriend's ex-sister-in-law and niece couldn't finish and the fear that my brain will forever associate this gastric misery with Guadalajara and perhaps all Mexican food, preventing me from ever going back, and the dog being so unsettled by extra people staying in the house and doors that are usually left open being shut and doors that are usually shut being left open that she needed to walk around click-clacking on the Pergo all fucking night long. Pinche Guadalajara and their heaps of delicious food I am apparently no longer accustomed to sucking down in such quantities!

Gym? What gym? My left shoulder no longer wishes to participate in activities involving hefting heavy things over my head, which is going to impact my workout life considerably. Cardio room? What cardio room?

AIG funneled millions and millions of bailout dollars to foreign banks and their own executive bonuses? I have moved beyond each of these revelations being a fresh shock; now they've become a series of ever-dulling thwacks on the same bruise. When the bailees start using the cash to refinance underwater mortgages and cut executive compensation, then I'll be surprised.

Obama's cuddling up to a moderately diverse group of spiritual advisers whose two things in common are (1) Jesus and (2) not liking Teh Gay? Same AIG-style bruise, different leg. At least we got the Ledbetter Act signed and stem cell research back. Sigh.

And finally, I sent off an e-mail to Steve Farley (D-Tucson) over the weekend to ask for his take on the abortion bill hearing. Have not heard back yet, but his office has probably been open for all of 30 minutes so far this morning, so I will wait patiently.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Frank Antenori Speaks

This is a followup to yesterday's post about Arizona's new abortion-restricting bill that passed the state House, and Representative Frank Antenori's (R-not Tucson) memorable contribution to the annals of clueless paternalism.

To his credit, Rep. Antenori did call my co-worker back yesterday afternoon and they ended up talking for about 40 minutes. In a nutshell, our man Frank says he's not opposed to abortion and is simply trying to do the right thing based on the information that is available to him.

First, he discussed the nuts and bolts of HB 2564 and the process leading to Tuesday's vote. The initial House Health and Human Services Committee hearing on the bill in February was boycotted by Democrats, and, according to Rep. Antenori, a contingent of Planned Parenthood reps and other pro-choice allies walked out of the hearing without presenting their testimony. This left all of the testimony to anti-choice activists and pro-conscience-clause doctors and pharmacists, and their positions wound up being strongly reflected in the final language of the bill. House Democrats and, as far as I can tell, Planned Parenthood refused to participate because they view any abortion restrictions as unacceptable.

They (Antenori and my colleague) went back and forth on the proposed waiting period and mandated speech from the doctor. Antenori maintains that he is supporting the bill only because he wants the full range of information on the risks and benefits and availability of abortion, adoption, and social services to be available. As for the waiting period, he pointed out to my colleague that the state of Arizona gives car buyers a 72-hour period to change their minds and return the car, and requires a 72-hour waiting period before a woman who has chosen to give up her newborn for adoption can finalize it (safe haven dropoffs excluded, I suppose).

Antenori countered with an anecdote related at the HHS hearing about a woman who got pregnant and decided on an abortion when her boyfriend told her he did not want either the baby or a continued relationship with her and offered to pay. Because there was no waiting period, she had the abortion right away (she apparently lives in the mythical Republican land where women see the blue line on the stick, get the bad news from the boyfriend, and sprint to a drive-thru clinic for the abortion all in one eight-hour-day), and of course the next day the boyfriend said he'd changed his mind and wanted the baby and wanted to marry her and live happily ever after, so for want of a 24-hour-waiting period, a potential happy family was destroyed.

Some responses from me, after discussing the conversation with my friend... I am torn on Democrats and Planned Parenthood boycotting the HHS hearing. While I fully share their position that none of the proposed restrictions are acceptable (and in fact will only serve as stepping stones to a full ban), the refusal to take any part in the process, even if only to formally lodge our myriad detractions and rebuttals in the record, feels counterproductive to me and certainly felt that way to Rep. Antenori. Would it ultimately have made a difference in the final bill that came out of committee? I can't answer that. Antenori says he was open to and eager for all testimony in order to make informed decisions about the bill's provisions and language. Whether he is lying through his teeth about this is somewhat immaterial--our side can't claim we are being ignored and marginalized on this one if our chosen and self-appointed representatives never offered up anything to be ignored in the first place.

As far as his access to information argument goes, the full range of information is indeed out there and provided by places like Planned Parenthood. If Antenori is truly concerned with full disclosure, he should write a provision into the bill shutting down "crisis pregnancy centers" that pump women with patently false and slanted statements like abortion being riskier than full-term pregnancy and delivery, or abortion causing cancer, or abortion guaranteeing sterility and possibly suicide.

In response to Antenori's protests that Arizona gives you three days to change your mind on giving your baby up for adoption--or on keeping that new Hummer--my friend pointed out that there is a very real difference between a baby you've carried to term, given birth to, and then looked at and probably held in your arms and an 8-week embryo you have no intention of keeping in your body. She let him know that it's pretty disingenuous for a party that decries the nanny state to laud the government for trying to insulate people from the consequences of making decisions, which, as far as she can tell, is a big part of being a grownup in this country.

The best angle on the waiting period is perfectly illustrated by the story of the regretted abortion when the boyfriend changed his mind after the fact. Although it was intended to show why waiting periods are justified, it really demonstrates that waiting period proponents still place the agency for the decision outside the woman and make it contingent on the man's actions. The crux of the matter wasn't that the woman changed her mind--it was that the boyfriend did. And it was his attitude and promise of action/inaction that conditioned the woman's choice.

Finally, when we come to the main reason for my friend's call in the first place, the tidbit that's raised so much ire toward Antenori personally--his statement that the legislature has the duty to protect their wives and daughters from making decisions they may come to regret--he really didn't get it at first. He stated that he does support abortion rights, and in fact would support his wife or his daughter if they felt they needed to end a pregnancy. He just wants to be involved in the decision-making process. He doesn't understand the vitriol directed at his "duty to protect" because...

He thought he was being chivalrous.

His words.

And "I thought I was being chivalrous" perfectly encapsulates one of the fundamental misunderstandings--or at least inadvertent barriers to cooperation--we have with one segment of the voting bloc that would enact restrictions on a procedure that they don't even really disagree with in the first place. Claiming chivalry acknowledges an implicit imbalance of power, a structure in which members of the superior class occasionally deign to be champions of the powerless. Unfortunately, those champions tend to fight those battles on their own terms and toward their own ends, for what they define as their wards' benefit rather than for the ends those wards might have chosen for themselves if they had any say in the matter. Women do not need chivalry and its attendant self-appointed male guardians of female virtue. Simply put, we need equal agency to men and the ability to make decisions without anyone's input unless we request it.

So while I'm not convinced that Antenori actually gets it now, he's clearly open to conversation and possibly even an evolving opinion. If he's your representative, it's time to flood his office not with snark but reasoned arguments, because I think he'll at least think about them. It's also time to ask Planned Parenthood and the Democrats to stick around for the debate next time instead of assuming the opposition is monolithic and choosing theatre over the legislative process. Let's lean on the state senators, since they're our last chance at upending the bill in its current shitty state.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Arizona House Decides Women Don't Have Brains in Those Pretty Little Heads, Approves Abortion Restrictions

Hoo boy. The Arizona legislature happily slapped reproductive rights further back toward the 1950s yesterday with a 36-18 vote approving HB 2564. If you're a female with functioning ovaries and uterus in Arizona, this is the world you woke up to this morning:
HB 2564 would require a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could terminate a pregnancy. During that time, the woman would have to be told "the probable anatomical and physiological characteristics" of the unborn child at that point.

The bill also requires that the woman be told, in person, that:

• The father of the child is liable for support, even if he agreed to pay for the abortion.

• Medical assistance benefits may be available for prenatal care, childbirth and postnatal care if they decided against an abortion.

• Public and private agencies can assist the woman before and after the birth, whether she chooses to keep the child or put it up for adoption.

Your baby has fingernails! The father will pay child support for 18 years, and if you're lucky he'll even do it voluntarily from day one instead of the state having to chase him to Louisiana to garnish his wages! Medical assistance benefits may be available if you don't have insurance! Public agencies can assist you, even though the state is working overtime to cut every bit of health & human services spending out of the budget that we can! Did we mention your baby has fingernails and can silently sing the ABC song along with you inside your womb?

Democrats in the house were left to state the obvious things the rest of us were screaming as we read the article.

"The requirement of a mandated lecture and a 24-hour reflective period is not only insulting but assumes that women do not adequately think through their abortion decisions, and that the state must do their thinking for them," said Rep. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson.

Rep. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe, said the help promised by the law doesn't exist because lawmakers have cut funding for many of these programs."We're passing a bill demanding health-care professionals to lie to these women and say that there are services available," he said.

Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, complained no other medical procedure requires a 24-hour waiting period, including vasectomies and tubal ligations, which end a person's ability to have children.

Silly Democrats, with your assumptions of female agency and your... your... logic! House Republicans rebutted in the expected way, with Nancy "people in rural areas are accustomed to traveling long distances for services" Barto serving as the warmup act.

But Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, said the waiting period and the information are necessary. "Women need to know the nature and purpose of a proposed treatment or procedure; the risks and benefits, alternatives, regardless of their cost or health-insurance coverage; the risks and benefits of the alternative treatment or procedure; and the risks and benefits of not receiving a treatment or procedure," she said.

As if women seeking an abortion have not already thought about it long and hard for exactly as many days or weeks as their periods have been late. As if they are unaware it's an embryo lurking in there rather than an orange or possibly a lemur. Leave it to Frank "don't call me a Tucsonan; they're all hippies there" Antenori (R-Tucson), though, to lay bare exactly what this is all about:

Rep. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, said there is "a duty to protect either our wives or our daughters from making decisions that may come back to haunt them further down the road in their lives."

Aaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnd we have a winner! It's breathtaking. Republican men must protect their wives and daughters--and everyone else's too while they're at it--from making decisions that may come back to haunt them. Where was Frank Antenori 24 years ago when I was trying to decide between Northwestern and Notre Dame? I still kinda wonder if I made the right choice there, so that probably counts as haunting. And when I chose to major in anthropology? Jesus, talk about a life-altering decision! If only Frank Antenori had been there to point out I was guaranteeing myself the ability to be present throughout my son's childhood but would be left really scraping for money to send him to college, maybe I wouldn't be haunted by all this debt today.

The bottom line, Frank, whether you're in Phoenix (or Tucson, actually) or Chicago or Saxapahaw or Morgantown is that facing difficult decisions and then living with the consequences are part and parcel of adulthood. Even if you happen to be female. You can echo Anthony Kennedy's paternalistic concern trolling about delicate female sensibilities and down-the-road regrets all you want, but it does nothing to change the fact that we all make choices that we wish we could change 10 year, 20 years, 50 years later. Some women have an abortion and regret it. Some don't. Some decide to keep the baby and wish they hadn't. Some do and rejoice in it. It's called the human experience, Frank, and I suspect you know that very well but think dressing up your desire to control women in old "think of the children!" clothes that have been gussied up with a few bows that wail "think of the ladies!" will somehow make your policies more palatable. News flash: half of us have been blinded with rage at your paternalism, and the rest of us who've managed to keep one eye clear can still see right through you.

The bill also contains provisions that allow pharmacists and healthcare workers not only to refuse emergency contraception to rape victims, but also to refuse to tell said victims where they might find "healthcare" providers whose heads are not up their asses. It also mandates that all abortions be performed by MDs rather than NPs and PAs with specialized training, further reducing the number of abortion providers in the state and disproportionately impacting rural areas where docs are scarce and NPs/PAs provide the bulk of the care.

It ain't law yet, but it's heading to a state senate in which 12 of the 30 senators have already signed on as sponsors, and a governor's pen wielded by a woman who is no longer Janet Napolitano (epic vetoer of abortion restrictions) but instead is Jan Brewer (epic supporter of making all abortions illegal all the time). Life in the Republican Duchy of Arizona. It's a dry heat, but it burns just the same.

Note: Are you an Arizona female facing a difficult decision you might regret later? Frank Antenori is here to help! Since he clearly wants to protect you from the burden of regret and possibly even simple buyer's remorse, I'm sure he won't mind consulting on any choices you have to make, whether it's about abortion, college choice, career moves, who to pick for the Final Four, or what to have on the pizza tonight! Just don't remind him he lives in Tucson!

Frank Antenori, R-not Tucson: (602)926-5683 (phone) | (602)417-3147 (fax) |

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Haven't We been Here Before?

Another day, another *headdesk* moment from the peeps in charge of Tucson's fourth consecutive decade of attempted downtown revitalization.
About 50 people got a close look at a preliminary architectural design for a Downtown convention center hotel Monday night. The architects detailed their plans, including their goal to break ground this fall. Imagine a 25-story, 525-room hotel shaped like a deck of cards — narrow on the east and west and broad on the south and north.

In other words, a slab. The hotel and old convention center new arena on this plot of land er, make it this plot of land ok, really now, this plot of land as far west of actual downtown as you can go before hitting the freeway nebulous additional project to be finalized later are the newest proposed centerpiece of Tucson's snakebit Rio Nuevo project, which was initiated with much fanfare several years ago and has generated tens of millions of dollars from special tax districts and state grants that have since largely been consumed by planning process after planning process, with very little material gains to show for it.

Historical note: downtown Tucson was plenty vitalized back in the day, until the nationwide wave of urban renewal in the '60s hit it and bulldozed its most vital components--you know, houses where people lived and shops where they bought their groceries and dry goods and restaurants and bars and dance halls where they entertained themselves--in favor of a sprawling cement convention center that draws crowds to sporadic concerts and meetings but otherwise has rendered Downtown deader than a doornail after 5 pm most days.

So since then the city fathers have been trying to figure out how to draw people and their dollars back to an area that's been reduced to a couple of streets' worth of shuttered storefronts interspersed with a handful of stalwart and legendary outposts of culture like Hotel Congress, the Rialto, Grill, Chicago Store, Hydra, and Wig-o-Rama. Rio Nuevo handed them a giant pile of cash and opportunity, and they came up with a lot of ideas. Some okay, some... not so much. Since downtown is plopped atop a piece of ground that has seen not only the original townsite but also several incarnations of settlement including a US Army outpost, a Spanish presidio and mission complex, and Native American villages stretching back four thousand years, and since the city saw no problem in the 1950s with demolishing all the remaining surface ruins in the area in favor of a landfill, some historic reconstruction was proposed. You know, rebuild the Convento, replant the mission gardens with the same species of flowers and fruit trees the Spanish priests brought with them, set up a little mercado with stands selling food and crafts. So far so good, right? Then came the next round of ideas.

The aquarium. Ahem. The Sonoran Something Aquarium. Because when you think Tucson, you automatically think water and fish, no? Then came the Rainbow Bridge, which was supposed to be some bizarre suspension bridge over the interstate that was going to hold the University of Arizona Science Center and be an iconic bit of architecture on par with the Eiffel Tower. I shit you not. Part of the justification for this bazillion-dollar, K'Nex-set-on-crack edifice that would look like it dropped out of nowhere in particular to squat over the highway and menace the cars was that nobody liked the Eiffel Tower either when it was first designed, but that didn't stop Paris from becoming a world-class city, conveniently ignoring the fact that Paris had already been a world-class city for a few centuries before the tower was built and sort of absorbed it and brought it along for the ride rather than the other way around.

Both the aquarium and the bridge were abandoned as being too expensive, after quite a bit of money was spent developing the ideas. The bridge was particularly amusing because it started out with a big price tag, and within a few months of the drawings and computer renderings being circulated to the papers, the architect cleared his throat and said it would actually cost maybe two or three times his original estimate. Undaunted, the Rio Nuevo planners continued casting about for that central attraction that would bring people downtown and settled on their perennial favorite idea they just can't shake themselves loose from: The Arena.

We have an arena already, the tired 5,000-seat smelly concrete box that's the centerpiece of the aforementioned Tucson Convention Center, and which hosts U of A club hockey games in the winter and occasional concerts. Downtown revitalization people kick around renovating that arena from time to time, but usually come back to the conclusion that it's not big enough to bother renovating. Because what we need is a big arena! A big 12,000-seat arena, or maybe 20,000 seats if the U of A would just commit to playing a couple of basketball games there, which they have steadfastly refused to do for the past 20 years or however long the city's been trying to convince them to say yes. So Rio Nuevo had to jump on this bandwagon as well, and started with the concept of an arena shaped like a desert tortoise. That promised to cost too much, so they backed it down to a generic arena shape, then it became a generic arena on a parcel of ground a little farther away from downtown than originally hoped after the first land deal fell through, and now this land deal looks like it's souring too, so they're fixing to settle on a parcel even farther away, crammed up against the interstate.

And they continue to completely miss the point. Instead of casting about for the building they can tout as the destination that will draw people downtown--the aquarium, the science center, the arena, the hotel--they need to realize that downtown itself needs to be the destination. A hotel--even a hotel shaped like a deck of cards--does not inspire me to go downtown if I, you know, already live here and have someplace to stay. An arena? With what in it? Another minor-league hockey team that will last a season and then fold (the last one actually folded before its season even began)? An Icecats team that draws about 1,000 fans on good nights, which total maybe 15 nights a year? Even if they get the hockey team (which they won't) or the arena football team (also mentioned as a possibility, possibly by people who didn't notice that the Arena Football League folded earlier this year) and could lure some bigger name acts from the reservation casino's ampitheatre, how does an arena on the very edge of downtown draw people there who don't have tickets, or during days and nights when nothing's booked? Hey, let's go look at the arena! Which does not look like a tortoise! Okay, now what?

Rio Nuevo people, please look north toward Flagstaff. Hell, you can even look at Mesa if all those damn hippies make you nervous. Flagstaff's downtown works because downtown itself is the draw. People don't go there because of an empty arena or a giant hotel they won't stay at or a convention center holding meetings they weren't invited to. They aren't drawn there by an aquarium they'll pay admission fees for once but aren't interested in seeing again for another year, or by a science center they can admire from the outside but can't see inside without a ticket. They go downtown in Flagstaff because of the variety it offers and the easy access to all of it by foot. Heritage Square is an attractive central open space that usually has live music on weekends and some weeknights, and it is surrounded by blocks of cafes, bars, coffee shops, galleries, restaurants, boutiques, bakeries, you name it. It isn't just wannabe hipsters hanging on the sidewalk outside Congress or older folks nervously dodging the homeless guys by Pancho Villa's statue on their way to the Fox Theatre before it closes again. You don't need a specific reason to go there, and even if you have one, you have plenty of options for sticking around afterwards.

My advice to the Rio Nuevo planners? Forget about renovating the King Apartments into the planned mixed residential/retail use and just bulldoze the block they sit on. Build a frickin' square--you know, the one you kind of envision when you see the facades of the Ronstadt Transit Center, right before you realize it's just a giant bus parking lot--and put retail spaces around its edges, leaving it open to Congress Street and Toole Avenue so it can naturally draw foot traffic from (and direct foot traffic to) both Hotel Congress/the Rialto and the historic train depot. A new market/cafe just opened in there, but it's going to be strangled by downtown's current layout where the few thriving businesses are islands unto themselves, separated from each other by big stretches of bleak. Then pray that the Fourth Avenue underpass re-opens on time, and do some serious landscaping to make it a vital artery connecting the Avenue with Downtown in a cohesive whole. And then go back to Jim Counts on your knees and beg him to open his brewery down there someplace that makes sense, say, in that nice new plaza you need to build.

Buildings are just buildings. If you want life, you need to create entire spaces and let little reasons to live take root in them. The buildings that follow will make a lot more sense that way.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

And Finally Tonight, Cheesus.

Homer wants us to eschew Facebook and Twitter and come back to our blogs and tell stories. Stories will be forthcoming as soon as I have half an hour to spare, honest, but until then, we have Jesus. Apparently everywhere. Please do your monitor a favor and set your drinks aside.

Hat tip to who else? Top!Secret G-woman rocks.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Maddow on Prop 8 Hearings

I could try to explain it, or I could sit back and let Rachel do it. Here, let me think about that for all of two seconds.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

In Which Jan Brewer Does Something That Does Not Piss Us Off

Newsflash! Arizona's harpy-in-chief, new Governor Jan Brewer, is showing signs that she may just possibly have a brain that occasionally functions independently of the Arizona State Legislature's Republican caucus. Faced with an umpteen kazillion dollar deficit, Brewer addressed the legislature yesterday and told them they're going to have to consider a temporary tax hike to make up about a billion dollars of Arizona's looming shortfall. Her Republican colleagues responded in a disappointing, if utterly predictable, manner.
Brewer, a former state lawmaker, said it's the Legislature's job to work out the details of both the tax plan and the $1 billion in cuts. And they have no plans to let her idea move ahead.

"She proposes, we dispose. That's how it works," said Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria.

I suppose that's how it works when "it" means "ideological obstructionism at all costs," but right now, Arizona really really needs "it" to mean "rational legislative responses to our impending financial meltdown." And as much as I loathe Brewer's uber-conservative position on social issues, I have to give her credit for recognizing exactly how shitty the situation is and that clinging to a false Reaganesque mantra of taxcuttaxcuttaxcut will do exactly jack and squat to fix anything:

"I think we have some denial on the right that they are not, nor do they want, to accept the fact that we are in a financial crisis and that they are going to have to step up and make some tough decisions," Brewer said. "Sometimes one feels that they can just cut and cut and cut. Well, I think we know we have to do some cutting. But that's not going to solve the problem."

Of course, she's offered no details on what form a tax hike might take, and is still looking for an additional billion dollars in spending cuts--and a temporary exemption from state laws requiring funding in targeted areas. About the only tax increase Republicans might support is a jump in the sales tax, which will be opposed by Democratic legislators because it disproportionately impacts poor people. As discussed last week, the corporate property tax could be reinstated, but the Republicans will block that from happening. Maybe the only consolation here is that Brewer will get a taste of what life was like for Janet Napolitano when she had to deal with a hostile legislature day in and day out. Will there be a material consolation for Arizona? Stay tuned.

The Crux of the Problem

There's my way of looking at the world--which I suspect many of you share--and there's the Rushophile way of looking at the world. Guess which perspective is represented by this letter to the editor in this morning's Daily Star:
I applaud Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl for taking a stand against President Obama's $787 billion stimulus package. This bill is simply the beginning of Obama's plan to "socialize" this country even more than it already is.

Universal health care, a cap and trade energy system and a college education for everyone are a few of his pet projects that will finally put this country in the same nanny-state league as the European Union.

Does this country really want more government intervention into our lives?

Quelle horreur! Healthcare for everyone! College educations for everyone! Breathing air that's not saturated with sulfur dioxide! These are the hallmarks of stinking commie Europe this Tucson retiree is most afraid of? It's the equivalent of despising puppies because they occasionally crap on your antique Persian rug and defending your aversion with the ironclad argument that puppies are cute and smell good and give you unconditional love. In a word, you come off as a nutter.

I have yet to hear the average guy on the street who's railing against socialism give a cogent explanation of (1) what socialism is, (2) the degree to which Obama's policies coincide with that definition, and (3) how what Republicans deride as "socialism" is any more socialistic than existing US institutions and policies such as, oh, Social Security, public schools, the FDIC, and Big 3 bailouts. If you want free-market capitalism and social libertarianism completely unfettered by governmental regulation or financial backing, well, let me introduce you to a lovely little burg called Mogadishu. I'd prefer to be in one of your horrific nanny states where people have access to doctors and teachers even if they don't have the biggest pile of money or the most guns.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Look Out, Illinois. The Mormons are Coming.

Not content with their status as the majority donors to the anti-gay state constitutional amendment efforts in California and Arizona or the majority consumers of porn in the US, the Latter-Day Saints now have the Land of Lincoln--and its proposed civil-union legalizing legislation--in their sights.
The Civil Union Bill (HB 2234) has been scheduled for a hearing in the Youth and Family Committee this week on Thursday, March 5, 2009 at 9:00 a.m. in Springfield. If the bill is voted out of committee, it becomes eligible for a vote before the full Illinois House of Representatives.

This bill will legalize civil unions in the state of Illinois, and will treat such civil unions with the same legal obligations, responsibilities, protections and benefits as are afforded within marriage. In other words, civil unions will be different in name only from marriage.

To help defeat this bill, please call your state representative and state senator and ask that they support traditional marriage and vote against the civil unions bill.

I find it very odd that the LDS decided to go on the anti-gay offensive yet again after being so indignant at the outrage they spurred by their California Prop 8 meddling. Why, people called them bigots--bigots!--just because they very strongly suggested that their followers should pour millions of dollars into an out-of-state political campaign that had no direct bearing on their lives, and then initially lied about the enormous scale of their involvement with the Yes on 8 campaign. Oh, the huffing and puffing. And now they're gearing up to do the same thing all over again, after insisting that it's only about marriage, only about that sacred word, not about unions or other packages of civil rights protection not bearing that trademarked title.

The upside? They didn't leave themselves a lot of time on this latest call to action. The downside? They left us even less time to yank back the shades and let sunlight spill onto what they're trying to do. If you live in Illinois or know someone who does, it's time to spring into action.

You can debate whether Mormons are really Christians elsewhere--they have "Jesus Christ" on their letterhead, which is plenty for me, no matter how *ahem* improbable the rest of their additions to the fairy tale are--but I'd like the howling that Christians are being persecuted in the US to stop right now, please. I'm not mobilizing legions of gay people to badger the Utah state legislature to rescind any civil rights currently enjoyed by Mormons there. I would like them to similarly stay out of the business of my home state and the fair-minded peeps there--both straight and gay--who take that whole equal rights under the law thing seriously.

As usual, plenty more is available at Pam's House Blend, Box Turtle Bulletin, and Kos.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Happy Tom Day

Today is Tom Gerencher's birthday. He's been gone a few years now, but the annual rolling around of National Pig Day (March 1) continues to bring a smile to my face and happy memories to my mind. Happy birthday, Tom. You were the best.