Friday, February 24, 2006


I've been sort of compulsively reorganizing my books over the past few days. Taking them all down off the shelves and putting them into categories. Memoir, history, science, fiction. I had some debate as to whether I should segregate the science fiction from the general fiction. I ultimately decided against it, because it somehow cheapens the science fiction. The best science fiction transcends the genre.

Other than the pleasure of running across books I love and had forgotten about (I happened upon a well-worn illustrated copy of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," from my childhood, which filled me with warm sentiment) or that I look forward to reading (Stanislaw Lem's "His Master's Voice), I experienced an odd elation at the strange bedfellows created by alphebetization. A William Buckley potboiler ended up next to Burroughs's "Naked Lunch." I imagine Buckley being outraged and smile.

Today / Nothing Special

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Nader for President 2008

Mock Ralph Nader all you like, but he's got things to say that no one else seems to care about. Why can't someone with a legitimate shot of winning talk about what really matters? Because they will be shouted down by both parties. Called cooks and losers by the media, lambasted by the talk show and late night hosts. In short, the money will bring to bear its weight and such a party will be effectively marginalized. Sorry, Ralph. If the "progressives" would listen to you and then listen to Hillary, they'd realize that you are their obvious choice.

But maybe its just easier to be herded.

The following is from an email from Nader 2004 (they're still trying to pay off their campaign debt!)

Did you know?

Top executives now make more in a day than the average worker makes in a year.

Plutocracy: 1. The rule or power of wealth or the wealthy; 2. A government or state in which the wealthy class rules. 3. A class for group ruling, or exercising power or influence, by virtue of its wealth. (Webster's Unabridged Dictionary)

Of the world's 100 largest economies, 47 are nations, and 53 are corporations.

Seventy-five percent of major corporations hire a union-busting firm to stop employees from forming a union.

Stretch limousines are longer, yet more people are homeless.

Thirty zip codes in America have become fabulously wealthy.

Meanwhile, whole urban and rural communities are languishing in poverty, crumbling infrastructure, growing economic insecurity and fear.

"Inherited economic power is as inconsistent with the ideals of this generation as inherited political power was inconsistent with the ideals of the generation which established our government."

-Franklin D. Roosevelt

Born on home plate -- Forty-two percent of those listed have inherited sufficient wealth to rank among the Forbes 400.
[Economic Apartheid in America]

In 1999, the 225 richest had a combined wealth of $1 trillion. That's equal to the combined annual income of the world's 2.5 billion poorest people.

The richest 10 percent of the world's population receives 49.6 percent of the total world income.

The bottom 60 percent receives 13.9 percent of the world's income.

The wealth of the world's three most well-to-do individuals now exceeds the combined gross domestic product of the 48 least developed countries.

Half of the world's population of six billion live on less than $2 a day, while 1.3 billion get by on less than $1 a day.

The image above was taken with explicit permission (for once) from fernando_graphicos.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

New York Minute

It probably didn't take any longer than that. The kind of moment people who live elesewhere suspect is a major component of life here in the big city.

Let me paint the picture. A crowded morning rush hour F train, between Carroll and Bergen Streets in Brooklyn. People packed elbow to elbow, trying not to touch each other. A typical, blandly uncomfortable subway ride.

Then I hear a woman saying "Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me." A mid-to-late middle aged black woman with shabby attire was politely enough making her way through the subway car. She wasn't panhandling, just pushing through the crowd. I immediately became wary, because, despite the polite words, her action was aggressive. Only someone spoiling for a confrontation would be pushing through that rush hour crowd.

Well, a bit past me, I heard her say "Excuse me," more insistently. Both pitch and volume increased sharply. Then, she started screaming. "Exuse me! Excuse me!" in the face of a young asian woman who backed off a little, saying "What's wrong with you?" Of course, the screamer went ballistic, tearing her voice with volleys of "I said excuse me! I said excuse me!" The target of the abuse flinched and looked frightened, but made a meek attempt to verbally defend herself, which incensed her attacker further.

We happened to pull into a station at this point, and I stuck my head out the door to see if perhaps a policeman might be summoned. No dice. In another moment the crazy moved on, with the same "excuse me"s with which she had begun. The poor woman who had been attacked looked freaked and exchanged a word or two with a concerned fellow straphanger.

Now all this happened maybe eight feet from me, but with a clutch of people between myself and the conflict. Nevertheless, immediately afterward, I began to wonder whether I shouldn't have done something else. Something more. Maybe stepped in or at least verbally confronted the screaming crazy so as to provide her with an alternate target. But, besides that this would have been an unpleasant experience, I also did not want to escalate the situation. There was never any physical contact, just outrageous menacing. If there had been I am sure I or someone closer would have stepped in.

I hope.

But, it also reminds me of the stories you hear of the dead man riding the train for hours without being reported. Of people mugged and passersby doing nothing. I believe there was a famous rape in which the woman's screams went unheeded. The thing is, people are afraid. To speak up is to make a target of oneself. If nothing else, when someone else is being abused, it means that you are, for the moment at least, safe from abuse yourself.

There is a further component to this. I don't want to go into blame-the-victim land here, but she violated a sacred rule of this stupid city: never engage a nut. Never contradict them, never make eye contact with them, just move out of the way, and let them move on. I think perhaps she mistook the screamer for a normal. She didn't look necessarily homeless, just poor, and she was observing a social code in her use of "excuse me." What maybe the victim of this assault missed is that Excuse Me Woman was being very confrontational simply by forcing her way through the car. The asian woman said maybe three or four things. Each time she did, I cringed, knowing it would incite Excuse Me further. Only by keeping quiet could she escape the situation.

I try to avoid the subway as much as possible, especially at rush hour. Unfortunately, I think the bike's got to stay inside this week. (We got a bit of snow.) Hopefully I won't have any more New York Minute updates.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Frisky Frist Fist Fits First

Okay, the title has nothing to do with the rest of this post, but it's a headline that will never otherwise be. So there it is, bold and farcical.

I am putting the call out to ALL MEN to volunteer to mentor with the Big Brothers or a similar program. Why men specifically? Because, while there are a fair amount of female volunteers, the guys just aren't showing up. Which means there's a long waiting list for boys enrolled in the program, girls are matched with mentors fairly quickly.

I know, it seems like a really big deal, and a tough assignment, but my experience has been otherwise.

I started in November when I submitted my application and three references. From there there was a short training, an extensive interview that involved my background, sexual orientation, substance use history, family life, etc. They did a criminal background check, and after a couple months of vetting, I was informed that a match had been made, and I got to meet my Little.

We met in a moderated meeting with a social worker and his mother, and then went to a party for mentors and their Littles together.

Our match is still very new, and I can't say I know the kid really well yet, but I already care deeply about him. And it's become clear that this experience will be about more than taking him out for pizza. In our one solo outing thus far, we went to the Transit Museum, which he wanted to visit. We got along, played in the cabs of the fullsize buses and in the subway cars, but it was while looking at a model that the most profound moment came. It was a model of a bus from the 50s or 60s. He pointed at the back and matter-of-factly said "That's where the black people sat." Man, that freaked me out. I got scared that he was including me in an indictment of whites. So I said: "That's right. But they don't anymore. And I don't know if they had to in New York." It was one of those moments of truth. I wish I had allowed it more space and not gotten freaked out about it. If I am timid about race, he's going to sense very quickly it's something he can't talk about with me.

In some senses that was a big moment, but against the backdrop of the day it was a small moment in the first day of a burgeoning friendship.

It's not as hard as people think. Sure, the application's a pain, but after that, you get to do fun stuff with a kid who's matched to you by personality and interest. All you have to commit is 4 hours every two weeks. Go to a game, a museum, a movie, the park, do the stupid tourist stuff you never get to do, the stuff you always loved or wanted to do when you were a kid.

Do that for a kid who's lost his dad. You're not there to replace the father, just to be someone stable who the kid can trust.

Volunteer as a Big Brother

Friday, February 03, 2006

1 0 1 0 1 0

Let Freedom

And its implications send me screaming from here to there.
impose its tyranny.
overwhelm and terrify me.
It is an infinite plane. A sphere. Without form or intent.

Consider the following:
You are free to buy apples from any of four merchants in town.
Merchant 1 sells medium quality apples for $30 a basket, but you believe he hits his kids sometimes. You've seen them cringe from his raised arm.
Merchant 2 sells high quality apples for $40 a basket. His behavior as citizen and employer is beyond reproach, but he thinks you are beneath him and mocks you when you enter his stall in the market.
Merchant 3 sells medium quality apples for $20 a basket but treats his workers horrifically, making them work from sunup till sundown without a break. He fires them if they eat a single apple and is suspected of accusing his workers of malfeasance right before payday, and firing them without pay.
Merchant 4 sells low quality apples for $35 a basket. You know his wife is ill and that he has children to feed. Personally, you know him to be untrustworthy.

Consider instead the following:
Merchant 1 sells medium quality apples for $37 a basket. You've only seen him in town for parades. His store has a great selection and attentive service.
Merchant 2 sells medium quality apples for $35 a basket. You don't know him either, but he seems very friendly and sometimes throws in a free potato with your purchase. His store is on a side street, not the main square like Merchant 1.

Why not grow your own apples you ask? Because no one grows their own apples round here. Just isn't done. You could. No one's stopping you as such.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Little Mind Mind Too Much

I've been obsessed with this whole law school thing anew since I've started receiving replies. I just got another the other day from NY Law School with a scholarship offer. I find myself getting nervous as I check the mail. Awaiting a phone call from some dean of admissions or another. Awaiting a laudatory email telling me I made the cut.

And that's the problem: the trap of this whole process. It becomes so wrapped in ego that it loses its original meaning. There's a sort of message board where people post their numbers. Acceptances, LSAT, GPA, etc., so you can see who is getting rebuffed and who welcomed. I find myself feeling competitive with these people for no good reason. Only little mind drives this. I want to be smarter than them. It chafes me when I see higher scores, when I see an acceptance to a school that wouldn't have me.

But I did not begin this law school quest with the intention of proving myself smarter than others. (Or perhaps there is some part of me that, childishly, did.) I did it because I wanted to pursue meaning. I can't think of anything that projects the illusion of meaning like a judgement of worth like a law school acceptance. It's not about the numbers. The numbers are immaterial at this point. I know I will be able to go to school and that should be enough for me.

I've not blogged for a time now because I've been thinking about nothing but L.S., and I do not want to be a bore, prattling on about whether I got in here or there, and how hysterical I am about nonsense. On te one hand it's not nonsense: where I go to school matters. On the other hand, the worry that is driven by ego does lack sense. And the reason I did not want to write about this senseless anxiety is that, if it is tiring for me, how tiresome might it be for a reader.

Anyhow, I am endeavoring to allow my big mind some space. Reading, relaxing. The last chapter of Noam Chomsky's "On Nature and Language," (most of which dealt with linguistics and was over my head), titled The Secular Priesthood and the Perils of Democracy highlighted for me how extreme our cultural indoctrination is. He speaks of the intentional fetishizing of superficialities. By the media, by the corporations, by the universities. He speaks of the secular priesthood. The intelligentsia: academics who believe it is their duty to direct society because they are in fact superior to the masses. Someone recently remarked to me that part of the function law schools serve is as finishing schools for corporations. I will not go down this path. I will not become one of these men, either directly or complicitly commanding the people who supposedly are not fit to do it themselves.

One final note: speaking of ego and petty b.s., I am ashamed to say that in my personal essay attached to my law school applications, I boast of my learnedness, name-dropping authors who I have read, such as Chomsky. I've read Chomsky. I must be some kind of super-intellectual. Blech.

Glad I got that off my chest.

The below pic is the first to appear when one searches Noam Chomsky with Google Images.