Saturday, September 05, 2009

Protesting the protesters

Today, I went to my first protest. Or, maybe I shouldn't say I "went," more that I "held" my first protest. I was one of only three people standing with signs outside of the Texas Capitol, the others being my boyfriend and our housemate, Becky. Despite our small numbers, we were going to make a show of a counter-protest of the Austin Tea Party

The impetus from the event was Marshall hearing a story on NPR about the Tea Party Express, a conservative movement well versed in inflammatory and in some cases, untrue, statements, and channelling his liberal rage into this Facebook "Protesting the Protesters" invite. Becky works answering questions about health insurance from people struggling with cancer, so she has no lack of frustration and outrage with the direction of this debate. I have never protested before, and shamefully cannot describe "the public option", but I was along for the ride. Because I am tired of the way that political debates have been clouded by disinformation and lies, and I am willing to take a stand for honesty and truth. 

So the Tea Party Express was coming our way on Saturday, complete with Joe the Plumber and a black conservative and an Arab guy to sing the national anthem so no one could accuse anybody of being racist. When we arrived at the Capitol, we were surprised with how big and how organized this event was. Gigantic coach buses idled on Congress, letting off a stream of people from all over Texas who wore shirts of various conservative slogans. There was the traditional "Don't Tread On Me" and stuff about not liking taxes, and a Tea Party take on the overly designed t-shirt so popular with the douchebags. Everyone had a sign. An old man carried one that said, "OBAMA SUCKS." I was aggrieved to see depictions of Obama as Hitler and the Joker. I thought those were stories meant to scare liberals! There were signs using the Nazi SS emblem to spell out social security. It made me a bit sad to see kids holding signs too, pushed along by their ideologically-driven parents. They are defenseless. 

We stood as a stake of sanity in a sea of crazy. Okay, not everyone was crazy. Early on, we got a warm reception. People peered at our signs, and approached us to say that they disagreed, but they were glad that we were here. One man handed us bottled water, saying, "I'm sorry it's not cold." (It was too genuine of a gesture for me to pull out my Nalgene and explain why I hate bottled water.) We held signs with information dispelling several popular conservative myths. A quote from Obama saying that he will never take guns away. "Barack Obama was born in the USA." "Global Warming is Real." The signs I made said, "Value Truth!" and "Value Facts (not rhetoric.)"

A few people commenced to argue with us, before they went onto the Capitol lawn. I felt like I had a small bit of success with an older man who said that the government wanted to take care away from seniors. I told him Medicare and Medicaid are government programs that won't be taken away, they work, and we want to extend them so that everyone has care. "Hm," he said, and moved on.  I was getting my protest legs. Every so often, passerbys would wave or give us the thumbs up, or mention to us that the Tea Party was a whole lot of crazy. It felt good to be out, offering that perspective. 

But then, there was the group of three. Two women and a man who would not leave us alone. I was out there to try and bring an open, honest discourse to people with whom I disagreed, but I quickly saw that this is fundamentally not the case. These people argued not on the principles on which we disagreed, but on a slanted set of so-called facts. "Value facts?" they said, pointing to my sign. "Here's a fact!"

They claimed that Van Jones, an Obama advisor on the green economy, is a self-avowed "black nationalist." I sincerely doubt that, I told them. "You doubt it?" They shrilled. "Look it up on YouTube! It's right there! He says it out of his own mouth!" Marshall looked it up on his iphone and got a set of results including the name, "Glenn Beck." Ah. So here's where they were getting their facts. In fact, there is no footage of Van Jones saying this, it's just Glenn Beck calling him that. How could they claim Van Jones said this about himself, when he did no such thing? I am at a loss. 

Another "fact." John Holdren, Science and Technology Advisor, argued for putting sterilants in the water, in a 1977 book. I respect John Holdren very much and I also sincerely doubted this. They also claimed that he had not been "vetted" by Congress, when I have distinct memories of John Holdren, along with Jane Lubchenco (now of NOAA), waiting for their confirmation hearings. I looked this up. Yes, John Holdren was confirmed - unanimously by the Senate. My search for John Holdren and sterilants returned many results. Allegedly, he said it in a book co-written with Paul Elrich and his wife. Paul Elrich of the "Population Bomb," a book widely lauded at the time but now acknowledged as off the mark, even by the writer himself. "Ecowise" was written around this same time, when everyone was talking about population control, and how to do it. John Holdren was the third author. A writer I read on Scribd claimed to "provide untouched scans" of the full pages, so no one can claim they were "taken out of context." Guess what? They're printed out of context. John Holdren's wikipedia entry says that these passages were written to describe the methods of population control proposed, and then advocated milder methods such as access to birth control and abortion. 

Okay, so facts? These are not them. And guess who has perpetuated these John Holdren myths? That's right, Glenn Beck. The man who said Obama hates white people. Even though Obama's mother was white. To say the least, this man is not a trustworthy peddler of facts. 

The pro-protesters realized that it was no use talking to us about Glenn Beck. One of the women was a 9-11 Truther, and the man was just a plain old argumentative wack job. "You're being spoonfed!" he yelled, as about a thousand up the hill were being spoonfed by high pitched and hysterical white male voices. A few others joined in our protest. A college professor and his daughter picked up signs. "I used to protest here," said the white-bearded man in sandals. "Except it was to legalize marijuana, and we were all smoking pot."

The professor took a very effective approach to the argumentative protester. When he tried his spoonfed line, the professor tilted his head back and said, "Oh yeah, I'm being spoonfed. Feed me more!" A major line of the pro-protesters was asking if we had jobs. Like we were doing this because we were just a bunch of lie-abouts who required the government to support us. The professor said, "I'm a professor, and the worst part is, you're paying ME to indoctrinate your children!" 

"This is turning into quite a lively afternoon," I told Marshall. 

And so it went on. I was happy to explain to another Teabagger about why climate change is human-caused, until he started telling me how water vapor is the biggest greenhouse gas and so all the scientific evidence that points to anthropomorphic global warming is just a lie. I tried to get across my point - it's happening, so now the question is what can we do to stop it - but he didn't want to discuss that point and ran off. A Hispanic man joined us, and Marshall almost punched the argumentative guy who said that the Hispanic man did not speak English. 

By that point, we'd been out in the sun for 2 and a half hours and I was hot and cranky. It was time for sandwiches. "Quitters. Losers." The argumentative man taunted us. 

"Excuse me, sir," I said. "That's real mature. I'm glad you're trying to further the debate by acting like a thirteen year old." 

Marshall got up in his face and did a bit of pushy pointing with some final words. We had both gotten a feel for this. 

"Quitters, losers!" he yelled as we walked away. 

On the way to the cafe we were stopped by several Austinites who lauded our expression of speech against the grab-bag of crazy that was the rally. People were against a whole bunch of stuff, in no cohesive way. Some hated Obama, some hated taxes, some hated taxes and health care reform and the people who would pull the plug on their grandpa. Some just hated liberals. It didn't make a lot of sense to me, but they had organized into quite a show for downtown. With only three - or sometimes more - of the very unorganized opposition. 

The question is, how did this rhetoric of hate and lies come to dominate the public debate? And how can we take it back? I want to live in a society where reasonable discussion thrives, where decisions can be made based upon a set of relevant, agreed-upon facts. This might make me an idealist, yet I don't think it's unreasonable. No society, and certainly no government, can be perfect. Citizens will always disagree. But I think - I hope - it might be possible to someday have an informed and civil public discourse. Today was not that day. 

Monday, August 31, 2009

Dog life

I love how the dog drops subtle hints. I'm sitting alone on the couch reading a book, and he walks by me and nudges his leash on the side table with his nose. Then he goes and sits down on the landing of the stairs and looks at me, with his head resting on his paws. It's as if he's talked to me. "Just wanted to let you know, I'd appreciate a walk today."

Oh, the pupster. I've never lived with a dog before in my life, despite many years of begging my parents, to no avail. I eventually gave up on wanting a dog, preferring to be more free of responsibility. Now I live with one by default.

He's looking at me. "Hey, are you thinking about that walk thing? Maybe? Okay." Head goes back down.

I've had to get used to an animal rushing at me every time I open the door. Hearing the rush of his claws as my key turns in the lock. Learning how to control my anger when I figure out that he was sitting on the couch, as evidenced by a crinkled up newspaper. He is slower to greet me those times we forget to put our makeshift fence across the couch, as moving away from such comfort requires him to do a luxurious stretch in front of me. A downward dog pose, expertly executed.

I'm never going to be a person obsessed with dogs. I promise myself - never. I don't even try to convince myself that the dog is particularly smart or special or twice as cute as other dogs. He's a handsome mutt - exceptionally unbred to no distinction but generic dog - who likes to sniff things. He likes to sometimes run around very fast when people are watching, showing everyone what a dog he is. He's done laps at a barbecue, leaping over another dog with great athleticism and ease. He plays the piano and sings. In a dog way, of course. Sometimes his singing sounds like an uptight woman crying.

He's sleeping. Or pretending to sleep, with his head slung down over a step. He's really just holding out hope. If I were to say the word "WALK" at this moment, his triangle ears would immediately perk up and he'd be all over me, ready to go. I think this is kind of sad. The highlight of your day is walking a few blocks? The same few blocks that we always walk? But then I remember that he's a dog, and I'm a human, and we don't think or feel the same things. I think sometimes people forget this.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A mental note on communicating with humans

Sometimes, in more extreme moments, I think of Andrew Revkin's Dot Earth blog as a Bible of science and environmental issues, and how to communicate about them. This is certainly gospel:

We’re Talking About Humans Here

Everyone associated with environmental communication needs to read The Cluetrain Mainfesto of 1999 and take it to heart. The environmental struggle is one big exercise in persuasion. What the Cluetrain folks pointed out is that humans respond to human voices. You can “frame” all you want, but if the communication is coming from robots, the only ones who will respond will be the robots. People have enormous perceptual power and instincts, the science of which is only beginning to be explored. Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink” provides a starting point. The bottom line is it only takes a few seconds for people to listen to a voice and decide whether they trust it or not. If that voice is devoid of human qualities, and worse if there is a clear sense that the voice is speaking with “messages” that have been “framed” and “focus grouped,” it just ain’t gonna work for the masses. And double that for the younger masses.

Obama is making enormous strides now on science and environmental issues because he’s been placed in the position of power to do so. He got there not through cold, calculated messaging, but by being an EXTREMELY likable (a crucial trait for today’s increasingly style-driven world), deeply humanized person who is able to convey the central human qualities of humor and emotion. When he addressed the Reverend Wright issue in one of the pivotal moments of his campaign, he did so with an impassioned and vibrantly human voice which succeeded in putting out a potentially lethal fire.

These are elements of style in communication which are central to our information-glutted world. Yes, language does matter, but that is primarily an element of substance (i.e. the text of what is communicated). You can come up with all the clever terms you want, but if they are spoken by environmental leaders who are perceived as cold, calculating, and manipulative, the broader audience will simply disconnect. Not because of the language, but because of their basic instincts leading them to not trust the voice they are hearing.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Moving out/Moving in

I've been in the moving process this week. Gah. I'm deep enough in the stress of a seemingly never-ending shifting of stuff to find this video absolutely hilarious. Although fiscal sense isn't the primary reason I'm moving in with my boyfriend, it became particularly relevant after a large recession-caused salary cut. Then he asked me to sign a 2-year lease/girlfriend commitment.

Nation's Girlfriends Unveil New Economic Plan: 'Let's Move In Together'

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Adventures in weekend gardening

This is Marshall's dog, Sir Johann Ratsbane the Emotional. Like a Von won in a war, the Dog Formerly known as Johann received his title after valiant and victorious battle with a rat.

It happened last weekend, as Marshall and I were pulling out the Wandering Jew I so loathed. I'm not quite sure why this plant is called Wandering Jew, but it's purplish and ropey and gross and the name makes it awkward to express how much I dislike it. It spread across the whole front of Marshall's house, where a row of shrubbery usually goes, and it looked like some kind of mutant weed. Marshall is obsessed with buying plants, so it wasn't hard to convince him it needed replacement. 

So we're pulling out this Wandering Jew, which is a thick tangle of grossness that also smells bad. (Note to gardeners: You have to get this thing called the "Cobra Head" - which is like an iron fingernail for pulling out weeds. It's amazing.) I get to hacking at the corner of the house and the cement porch when suddenly there's all this scurrying action. I jump back and scream. I know it's a rat because unfortunately the house has some rat problems. I'm not sure about the current location of the rat but I manage to calm down and get back to work, as I am in the swing of satisfying, result-driven manual labor. 

The Wandering Jew shrinks and shrinks as we manage to pull out the mass' roots - bulbous structures with dirty tentacles dangling like dead and mysteriously land-borne octopi. And when there is nowhere left to hide, the rat makes its return. It scurries back into its former nest, and according to later accounts, panics. Marshall and I freak out. I'm jumping up and down. We have no idea what to do - seriously, do you catch a rat outside? But then, Johann's nearby! Do dogs kill rats? There's only one way to find out. We start yelling his name and pointing furiously at the rat. Johann looks confused. And then he sees the rat, and it dawns on him: He is a dog. This is his purpose. This is his moment. 

He lunges for the rat with his mouth, grabs it, and shakes it. The rat goes flying onto the lawn. Johann chases, grabs again, rat is airborne again. The rat scurries through the fence into the backyard. There's a big plywood board back there, loaded up with lumber we were going to make into a frame for a garden bed. It's actually there to block a hole in the fence where Johann can get out. Johann strongly suspects the rat is underneath. He stands guard, poking his nose under the board, but he can't lift it up.

After the initial excitement with the rat, Marshall and I go back to gardening and let Johann stay distracted. But during a break, I want to see what will happen if I lift up the board. I take the lumber off and let Johann get underneath - the rat goes shooting out. Johann is all action. He catches the rat in his mouth and shakes. The rat squeaks EXACTLY like a squeaky toy from the pet store. And suddenly, pet toys make a lot more sense to me. They're about causing death. Fun. 

Johann drops it and the rat's tail goes up, in its death throes. I've called for Marshall to come watch and he looks at his dog like an owner - there is some meaningful dog-master interaction going on. Earlier that day, we were joking that Johann's economical worth to the household was his entertainment value. We spend so much time making fun of the dog - doing silly voices for him, watching him fall down when he gets excited about food and then laughing - it might replace going to a movie, or a show, for example. We might say, "Hey, let's stay in tonight and make fun of Johann." 

But that was the day that Johann decided to prove us wrong. It was almost as if he had overheard us, and understood, that we were demeaning his proud heritage. Johann stood proudly over the rat he slayed. He became Sir Johann Ratsbane the Emotional*. 

*The Emotional because he cries a lot. 

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Phrases He'd Be Pysched to Hear

Advice/ material to invoke gag reflex for your bulimia, from Cosmo. And the subtext, from me.

  • "Tonight, dinner is on me... and all the booze, too."
  • He'll only like me if he's drunk, and somewhat appreciative.

  • "I bought some new DVDs to add to your porn collection."
  • Please, let me validate and encourage your objectification of women, and by extension, me.

  • "I promise, you don't ever have to hang out with my friends again."
  • WTF? Why would you ever say this?

  • "It's really unattractive when men are too muscular."
  • You're not muscular, and I'm being really awkward now.

  • "Don't talk. Just take off your clothes and come over here."
  • We have nothing to talk about.

    Oh, please, Death of Print. Oh, be merciful and take Cosmo with you!

    Wednesday, March 11, 2009

    In which we pursue greater knowledge

    "If a hole remains in it, although one is somewhat deaf, one can blow tobacco smoke out of the ear in question, which is a social accomplishment."

    - Scientist JBS Haldane, referring to his burst eardrums caused by a series of decompression experiments he did on himself. 

    An interesting (and kind of gross) article in New Scientist today. 

    Monday, March 09, 2009

    I miss David Foster Wallace

    This week's New Yorker had a long piece about David Foster Wallace's career and his final work. It's good, I recommend it. 

    This is a photo I took of David Foster Wallace reading this story at my school in 2006. At the time, I was in a fiction workshop in which we read his short stories and complained about how the stories were all about how smart David Wallace was. Max, pictured here in the front row, was an avid champion of everything David Foster Wallace. 

    David Foster Wallace rarely read in public, but when he did, he didn't charge. Before the reading, in my workshop, we griped about how that was still David Foster Wallace showing how he was smarter and better than the rest of humanity. But at the reading, I was struck by his humility, and how approachable he seemed - so different from his long, difficult, mostly tedious sentences. I remember him laughing at one of his own jokes. And his hair - his hair was so gorgeous. It was long, and it shone. I admired it. 

    And that's when I turned in the road of my feelings about David Foster Wallace. 

    Thursday, March 05, 2009

    No, you may not get up from the table until you eat your X-ray Vision carrots

    I was trolling deep within the stacks of my online science press release service today, and found this gem. Let's hear it for good old fashioned trickery:

    Names turn preschoolers into vegetable lovers

    Do you have a picky preschooler who's avoiding their vegetables? A new Cornell University study shows that giving vegetables catchy new names – like X-Ray Vision Carrots and Tomato Bursts – left preschoolers asking for more.

    When 186 four-year olds were given carrots called "X-ray Vision Carrots" ate nearly twice as much as they did on the lunch days when they were simply labeled as "carrots."

    .... "Cool names can make for cool foods," says lead author Brian Wansink. "Whether it be 'power peas' or 'dinosaur broccoli trees,' giving a food a fun name makes kids think it will be more fun to eat. And it seems to keep working – even the next day," said Wansink.

    Similar results have been found with adults. A restaurant study showed that when the Seafood Filet was changed to "Succulent Italian Seafood Filet," sales increased by 28% and taste rating increased by 12%. "Same food, but different expectations, and a different experience," said Wansink, author of "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Eat More Than We Think."

    How about, Mindless Typing of Typing of Book Titles? Here's another, where the researchers decided to open "The Oldest Trick in the Book Book" for publishing:

    Politicians can use fear to manipulate public

    Arthur Lupia and Jesse O. Menning examined how select attributes of fear affect a politician’s ability to scare citizens into supporting policies that they would otherwise reject. They argue that politicians’ use of fear will depend on critical aspects of mass psychology.

    For example, manipulation is more likely when the public doesn’t understand an issue or is unlikely to be able to overcome the fear created by politicians. By contrast, the easier it is for citizens to observe that the politician has made false statements, the less likely it is that politicians will attempt to use fear at all.

    It must have taken them the entire Bush presidency to figure that one out.

    Tuesday, March 03, 2009

    And I quote

    As a result of our combined braininess and fecundity, humans have managed to colonize the planet; exploit, marginalize or exterminate all competing forms of life; build a vast military-industrial complex all under the auspices of Bernard Madoff and with one yeti of a carbon footprint, and will somebody please hand me that baby before it’s too late.

    - Natalie Angier, In a Helpless Baby, the Roots of Our Social Glue, New York Times science section

    I'm working on a similar piece about the role of mothers in human evolution.

    Monday, March 02, 2009

    In which I suspect the amaryllis is my stalker

    It bloomed!

    I'm feeling like this gift amaryllis has been genetically bred to a fine sense of instant gratification. Rocket-like growth, gigantic blooms that last, little feeding or watering requirements, it's all too good to be true. Too good to be... evil?

    One of the downfalls of living alone is that you always suspect that someone might be stalking you - "What's that sound?" "Did I leave the blinds like that when I left?" "Wasn't that photo facing slightly the other way?" These thoughts plague me when I'm alone. At first I thought it was just my nerves, which as I'm a lady, naturally run on the side of hysterical. But no. I've been told I am an unusually rational woman.

    So I'm beginning to think that these thoughts are triggered by this massive plant with its passionate red blooms, which pulls itself up and hops around on its bulb, doing reconnaissance in my apartment for its higher masters (aliens, inevitably), which it accomplishes by changing my stuff in tiny degrees. Then it carefully sweeps up its trail of copper growing medium (or is it something which provides more sinister sustenance?), and plops back into its pot before 5pm, so I suspect nothing when I get home from work. Well, not this time, "amaryllis"! I've caught on. Your eagerly growing "gift boxes" are infiltrating American homes to create a standing army for your alien overlords.

    But, I just can't bring myself to throw you out of my home. You look all dramatic and fiercely pretty. Who knows what lies within your dark and sterile stamens? I shiver at the thought. But I will tolerate it, for the sake of home decor.

    Wednesday, February 25, 2009

    Winter growth

    Here is my baby, my guerrilla garden. I am terribly proud of it. I admire it, give it soft, loving words, and then I eat it.

    Peas which I ate off the vine yesterday. So sweet.

    I ate the main crown of this broccoli with some pasta. Then it grew these precious wee sprouts.

    I was too late to devour this one, and it flowered.
    I'm most excited about this pepper plant now. It was planted by an anonymous gardener, who expanded the garden area to fit this pepper transplant and his larger companion. Someone guerrilla gardened my guerrilla garden! All is going according to plan.

    This is my amaryllis, in my apartment. My mom gave it to me for Christmas. It comes all easily packaged in a little box with its bulb and "growing medium," which was pressed into a coin shape. When I got it home, I opened the box up and looked at it, then put everything back in the box. Fast forward a couple of weeks later, I'm cleaning my apartment and the bulb has already sprouted a few inches of green. I'm like, "Hang on, overachiever! Let me get you in a pot." It has continued at a freakish rate of growth that would excite small children tremendously, and then bring them false expectations of all future planting experiences. Trouble is, it's tremendously phallic. And now that it's about to bloom, it's going through a brief hemaphroditic period. All blushing and pink up there.

    Friday, February 20, 2009

    My newest work

    From - A Society That Expects Its Young To Parent Themselves Faces Eternal Chaos

    I saw this book reviewed in my local newspaper years ago and it threw me for a loop. "I definitely didn't do that," I told my mom, and saved the clipping as testament to the weird occurrences of the universe. Lindsay Patterson as editor of African-American erotic literature.

    Thursday, February 19, 2009

    The ravaging of the nerds

    This is hilarious and beautiful. I cried.

    Via Videogum

    Monday, February 02, 2009

    Seed bombs

    I'm posting these photos to show you I would like to write in this blog more, but I can't, because I am doing other things. Like organizing seed bomb workshops.

    You can read more about it on the Garden Posse blog.

    I only have time to tell you these things about some music I listen to:

    1. This band from Houston, the Wild Moccasins, have been playing in my head for the past week. They played (outside my brain) at Marshall's last show. Then they slept over at his house and appeared in the morning like high schoolers at an awkward boy-girl slumber party. They are tiny and twee and goddamn catchy.
    2. I bought Juana Molina, Un Dia, yesterday, and am very glad I did. It's beautiful.
    3. I'm going to see The Morning Benders at Stubb's tomorrow night. I'm taking my Posse.

    Wednesday, January 28, 2009

    Wednesday, January 21, 2009

    Things on my mind in 2009

    1. Obama. is. president.

    2. Being guardedly hopeful and generally happy

    3. Population ("are we screwed?")

    4. My Studio 360 piece about an amateur fossil hunter and intelligent design versus evolution and how I need to get cracking on that

    5. Integrating video into radio and if video could kill the radio star all over again, or it might just be really frustrating

    6. Arranging a seed bomb making workshop for the Garden Posse


    8. How people think I'm maybe 16 or 17 years old and whether or not I need a makeover, and if so, how would I do that without reality TV or Oprah.

    9. I really like O magazine.

    Possible expansion upon one or more of these subjects may or may not be upcoming.