October 2008

This is probably an empty gesture which allows me to run through the various propositions and argue with myself more than trying to shape anyone’s opinions. Still, maybe if you’re on the fence on an issue or two it might help to hear someone else’s take. Not that there’s any shortage of opinions in this city, and mine aren’t any better, more rational or less smug. (more…)


Where does the time go? Elections fall next Tuesday and there’s so much going on for this year’s state and local ballot so I’m just gonna do a quick and dirty rundown on the rest of the California props.

Proposition 1(A) High Speed Rail Bonds
Yes, bonds are expensive to pay off but according to the LA Times additional funds will need to be derived from Federal or other sources before the bulk of the bonds would be sold which means that the gamble is far less than the entire $10 billion amount. America lags behind the rest of the industrialized world when it comes to mass transit and if we ever want people to stop clogging the roadways we need to offer them an alternative.

Proposition 2 Standards for Confining Farm Animals
The opposition raises fears of Avian Flu citing various veterinarians from groups that sound suspiciously like industry shills. The basic premise is that we treat livestock (legally property to avoid any nasty lawsuits about inhumane captivity and slaughter) like shit and it says a lot about a society when they have a billions dollar industry based on cruelty and exploitation. The bigger picture of raising meat aside penning animals up and keeping them captive for the duration of their lives is wrong. Now we can get back to worrying about e.coli and other food-born illnesses.

Proposition 3 Children’s Hospital Bond Act
Again, no one’s thrilled about the prospect of selling bonds, particularly as the previous hospital bond hasn’t been used up yet. However this is a vital part of our state’s infrastructure and I don’t think bake sales are going to pay for what’s needed. The population is growing, insurance is too expensive, people need hospitals to go to.

Proposition 11 Redistricting Initiative and Constitutional Amendment
Creates a commission to supervise redistricting for the future. That can be read as “special commission” if that makes the problem more obvious to you.

Proposition 12 Veterans’ Bond Act
Buys veterans homes. They get screwed on a national level, they get screwed by their military superiors. I don’t support what our military is up to but I’m not going to take it out on the soldiers. It’s beyond difficult to come back from war and pick up the pieces of your life and at its most ruthlessly calculating this proposition helps keep veterans from winding up in various social welfare programs down the line.

If you’re wondering why I’ve skipped comment on Propositions 4, 6, 8, 9 or Propositions 7 and 10 or Proposition 5 than you haven’t cared enough to read them earlier. The full text of all the initiatives can be browsed online for your convenience.

Something else to consider this upcoming election when you vote on three separate law and order initiatives. I’ve already explained to the best of my ability the reasons I oppose Propositions 6 and 9. I support Proposition 5, the attempt to improve the mechanizations of imprisonment when the convicted are non-violent drug addicts. Drug addiction is a mental disorder, nothing more or less. It’s better to help people overcome addiction so they can get out of the system and do something with their lives than to keep sending them back into the system. It’s cheaper than repeatedly imprisoning them and it’s obviously more humane. It also challenges a status quo which sees harsher penalties for possession of crack (minority) over powder cocaine (white) and the delusional society that airs commercials for alcohol dependency treatment in resort getaways during episodes of COPS where people strung out on Meth get tazered.

Photo by Monica Almeida, courtesy of the New York Times.

But it gets worse, as I’ve just learned after reading another cry from the dark. Prison Photography just blew my mind yet again. I had never heard of the “pay to stay” program where non-violent offenders can apply through the courts to, for a moderate daily fee, upgrade their prison experience to a kinder, gentler, whiter and safer one. The New York Times breaks this down in a succinct manner with a comparison price chart (circa 2007); more stunning is the City of Santa Ana official web page where prospective “clients” can learn more about skirting the system. You think the best way to deal with crime is longer sentences, more severe punishment, bring back the labor camps? You think that rehabilitative measures are too soft, we’re just letting murderers and rapist escape their just desserts? Really?

One Take Only (aka Som and Bank: Bangkok For Sale) Written and Directed by Oxide Pang (2002)
Starring Pawarith Monkolpisit and Wanatchada Siwapornchai

Bank & Som

Sometimes you just wanna wade in the shallow end of the pool, not dive in and race a stop-watch. One Take Only is not a serious movie, not by any means, although Oxide Pang’s post-production process attempts to manipulate our emotions. No one told the actors that there was a message, not by judging the obvious glee in every off-handed remark, every sly drug deal, every kick to the head. Rumors abound that the shooting was improvised with a cast of non-actors and this might explain the excitement captured; everyone gets to play the roles they’ve learned from watching movies and TV. If Oxide Pang had left the morality at home and quit trying to prove what a back-lot auteur he could be in the editing suite than this would be a perfect pizza and beer flick.


The skeleton plot is tried and true. Two kids from the more septic side of the gutter are trying to survive the rough and tumble poverty of Bangkok, possibly the world’s most bankrupt cesspool that’s not an active war zone. Bank (Pawarith Monkolpisit) runs small packets of dope from drop to drop, sometimes selling to users, sometimes buying from the bigger dealers. Som (Wanatchada Siwapornchai) is a prostitute working one of the innumerable clubs, having her hostess set her up in hotels with clients. Neither of them seems to have any idea what they would rather be doing but they can both agree that they would rather be doing something else and they would rather have more money than they’re making at the nickel slots. They meet randomly several times without realizing it until Bank’s good intentions find him surrounded by some guttersnipes tougher than he can manage. Fortunately Som is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get her hands dirty. The courtship leads to romance but both are keeping their lips sealed about the most tawdry aspects of their lives. The truth will come out and it’s not an easy truth for either of them.



Sorry to be such a Japanophile but Pink Tentacle scores again. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries recently commissioned an educational video to discuss the current and future issues the Japanese will have to tackle in regards to their dietary needs.

While I don’t agree with all of the conclusions the video reaches (glossing over degrading fish reserves and the ecological impact of the seafood industry is a crime against the world) I do think that if there had been more videos like this when I was growing up I might have learned a thing or two when I was in school. Japan’s situation is very unique in regards to its food production (they produce less than half of what they consume) but there are enough universal issues highlighted in the video to cause everyone pause. Any discussion about how we interact with our surroundings is worthwhile.

On Monday, October 20th, biologists from UC Santa Barbara announced the publication of their research into grassland plant extinction. We are currently experiencing the worst mass extinction in 65 million years, and the scientists involved in the study have concluded that our planet will lose fifty percent of its flora and fauna species within a single lifetime. Efforts are underway to determine which species of threatened plant life, based on the uniqueness of the plant’s evolution and genetic make-up, should receive the focus of conservation; the basic assumption made by the authors of this recent study is that you’re not able to save everything so save what you might miss the most. The previous mass extinction, referred to commonly as the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event, is thought to have been caused by impact of one or more asteroids or a combination of such an impact and increased volcanic activity; the atmosphere became so choked that sunlight could not penetrate very well and photosynthetic development was ruptured. This announcement that we will lose one half of all plant and animal life within a single lifetime, the sixth mass extinction event recorded in geological history, is being blamed on human development.

Time Life Cover T. Boone Pickens
Image appropriated from Businesspundit.com

How can you stop something which rivals the end of dinosaurs? The upcoming November election will bring to the ballot two environmental policy initiatives for voter scrutiny. Proposition 10, Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Renewable Energy Bonds, would provide $3.425 billion for rebates and other consumer incentives to encourage the purchase of “certain high fuel economy or alternative fuel vehicles, including natural gas” as well as to fund whatever research you might like to do in the field of alternative fuel technology. The initiative also earmarks $1.25 billion for research and development of renewable energy technologies and offers grants to cities who might like to have their own research and deployment. The total sum of the money-pot would be a cool $5 billion which should be paid off in thirty years for the price of, well, $10 billion.

I’m all for investing in renewable energy and other forms of hug the whales policy, however I’m particularly wary of anything resembling a consumer/market solution. Ethics aside I have seen no evidence that throwing development into the marketplace to allow economics to determine the course has been good for the planet or, in many ways, for the development of mankind. Opponents to the bonds including the Los Angeles Times argue the claims that the rebates are for renewable/alternative energy vehicles, stating that most of the money is allotted for cars which run on natural gas. The person behind the push for Proposition 10 is T. Boone Pickens, a Texas oil-man who rides the Forbes richest bastards alive list. Opponents also seem to disregard the lesser money slates for research and development, accusing Pickens and his chain of natural gas stations of sugar-coating a greed grab. This is all pretty damming on its own, but isn’t it fundamentally damaging to sell California’s future debt for people’s cars? I consulted a friend who has been to school for engineering and transportation, worked for the state and private companies in renewable energy and who happens to be a very smart guy what his take on a precursory look at the initiative is:

Prop 10 comes from the “Jumpstart the Market” camp – with the idea that if you pay for a few of these new expensive new vehicles, suddenly they will become cheap and everybody will buy one. They propose 250 Million for incentives, meaning $2,500 for 100,000 Priuses running off cow turds (a technology I support, by the way), or some more likely cars like hydrogen Ford Explorers getting the equivalent of 10 mpg, or Ethanol Chevys running off the lunches of starving Bangladeshi children. I’ll probably vote for it. But the basic thing here is that policy makers are getting pretty far ahead of reality here. Every day, big fat bald guys buy SUVs that get sub-10mpg… why not just pay former Lehman Bros employees to give each one of them a handjob if they buy a normal car? That would only cost $100 (I’m not speaking from experience here) and everyone would walk away happy… not to mention job creation to boot…

If Proposition 10 hit the ballot sans rebates for your natural gas SUV I’d still be wary. Undefined research projects sucking up bond money guarantees nothing except that public health and schools and various social services will have less of a budget to work with in the future and they’ve been struggling year after year as it is. Yes, I support developing new energy technology (where’s our tidal generators?) and yes I think it’s a shame that money is the make or break for many projects but selling out tomorrow to throw money into the wind hardly seems responsible. (more…)

From Flickr user mattlemmon

Kid walks up to me: eyes glazed over from either a lifetime of inhalant abuse or congenital stupidity; lips ringed with irritation and red sores; clothes which could be cleaner but could never be less ragged; stupid haircut as a bankrupt statement of individuality. He had been asking for a light that no one had, no one except me, and I begrudgingly beckoned him to where I stood in the gutter. As soon as his cigarette was lit he began, “Man, you know what sucks?” and detailed a list of woes regarding unemployment, needing three dollars, plans to sleep in the park. All of this came like we had been having a conversation and I knew all the gaps he skipped over. When he paused to ask a passerby for a quarter I slipped away, back into work.

He had been sitting out front the other day too, first pestering me for a cigarette in the afternoon. I leave them inside so that I have a reason as to why I am not giving people one, although most don’t bother listening to my excuse. He managed to fit “bro” into his plea several times before accepting my situation, then proceeded to address me as “sir” asking for a light. He had a cigarette but I was more irritated by the repeat “bro’s” and really pissed about the two “sirs”. He asked passerby for change, politely enough, always leaning against the store wall.

Later in the day I caught the middle of another on-going street saga. A skinny kid in a tie-dye shirt was backing down the sidewalk yelling back at a much larger, more traditionally garbed street kid who followed. Accusations followed Tie-Dye, who may or may not have been groping girls, which he refuted by counting off his sisters. This awkward parade passed the store and continued down the block, Tie-Dye obviously not willing to engage his pursuer but would continue to stop in order to continue yelling. Eventually they both ended up in the street blocking a bus which honked, and carried their quarrel out of sight. The consensus among the collection of employees who bore witness was that, well, if you are actually groping girls you do deserve to be chased off the street. I hadn’t noticed that Tie-Dye had a bloody face, just that he acted out his part clutching an over-sized soda from McDonald’s on the corner.

My last break that night I slipped outside and back into the clutches of my Bro. How long have I been working here? Oh, that’s cool. My shrug of the shoulders might have been a little flippant considering his current status as a street kid, and he replied that at least I had a job. This is true, but I didn’t really want to engage the conversation and had so far expended as little speech as possible without completely ignoring him. He continued talking about his past problems with employment, how stupid his bosses had been, how many times he had been laid off and how many times he’d quit. I didn’t pay attention, even tho he had cut the “bro’s” down considerably and it was obvious he was lonely and just wanted someone to talk to him. I was feeling too selfish to be company and escaped as he began to explain to a newcomer that he only asked guys for change because asking girls could be too easily misconstrued.

Up in rotation these past few days has been the Merle Haggard album “Hag” which concludes with “I’ve Done It All”.

I’ve even been to Frisco wearing regular clothes
with those modern hippie folks staring down their nose

…and it’s hard to imagine a time when the motley assortment of burnouts, lost kids and junkies could have ever been seen as elitist or arrogant. There’s no unified purpose in their coming, no cultural revolution taking place anymore. Not that I buy anyone’s claim that the Summer of Love was a great confluence of like-minded individuals creating their own community but I do believe that initially the mass migration west had been based on a reaction to the national climate and that, where it confronted the standards of America’s 50’s hangover, the smiling, tripping flower-children could be accused of thinking they were too good to participate in their country. When my mind wanders as I’m walking to work I sometimes drift into a debate with some gutterpunk, listening to their arguments that they’ve dropped out of the capitalist society and that their lifestyle of begging and stealing is in fact subversion. That’s not an argument I respect and I’ve worked out many issues to discuss with anyone willing to throw politics into the mix but every day I walk by the uniform packs and no one ever calls me a straight for going to my job or a pig for refusing them change. I wonder if it would make these exchanges any more worthwhile if someone had a reason, any sort of reason, for doing what they’re doing.

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