Wednesday, October 27, 2010

An October Parable

Strictly speaking, a parable is nothing more than a brief story detailing some kind of moral or religious lesson. They merely differ from the fable in that parables do not rely solely on animals or natural objects, but utilize human beings to convey the message. In this sense, what I'm about to relate is not actually a parable, as it is the retelling of an actual event - parables are fictional creations. But I'm going ahead anyway, because it seems to have at least something to do with getting at a conundrum particular to the human experience - the ways in which a good deed can harm another, and the means by which we measure the harm we dole out to others.

With a one-gallon plastic water jug in one hand and some coins in my pocket, I set out over the Vermont Street pedestrian bridge to the nearby shopping complex in order to replenish our water supply. The water in San Diego is not to our taste. The water dispenser charges 30 cents per gallon (a 5 cent increase from our old digs in Ocean Beach). I had counted out coins for what I thought was just enough to fill up the water jug.

On my way towards the water machine, I walked past a slouched, heavyset young man with a thick beard, a full mane and a tired expression. His backpack rested beside him as he slumped on a bench near the Trader Joe's. He was clearly down on his luck. "Can you spare any change, sir?" he asked as I walked by. The thought quickly raced through my mind that I only carried with me enough coins to fill the water jug, and had left my wallet at home. If I gave this young man even a nickle, I would then have to turn around and walk home without filling my water jug. In this case, my needs outweighed his, I reasoned. I said, "Sorry, man," and shook my head with what I hoped seemed a sincere grimace of regret. He said something to the effect of "have a nice day," and I walked on.

While filling up the water jug at the nearby water machine, I discovered to my surprise that I had actually grabbed an extra coin on my way out the door, and that four dimes lay inside my pocket, rather than the exact-change three. And while a measly ten cents wasn't going to make the difference in whether or not this down-on-his-luck fellow spent the evening outside, I could at least give him one coin and not pretend that I could not afford to help out a struggling individual. I felt pretty good about this, having gotten my water yet still able to give away.

However, as I turned from the water machine and walked towards the down-on-his-luck individual, I saw that a new, equally rumpled and down-on-his-luck individual had sat down on the bench immediately preceding the young man I'd earlier spoken to. This individual was older and rougher, and seemed to have been weathering the streets for a lifetime. He watched me approach and as I came near, he asked, "Can you spare a little change, fellah?"

And there I was, equidistant between this new individual and the other individual who'd previously asked me for spare change and to whom I'd said no. This previous individual looked up at the sound of the older man's voice, and could see and hear all. So the decision became : do I hand over the dime that I now knew was sitting available in my pocket, in full view of the individual I had just refused to hand any coins over to? Or did I say "sorry" to this newer individual and then give the coin over to the individual who'd previously asked me for help? In either case, I risked upsetting or insulting the other party, by seeming to suggest I had money for one and not for the other, or that I was choosing favorites in my decision to hand over money.

There was, of course, a third option, which was to say "sorry" to the new individual and then walk past the original individual, also without giving up my dime. In a way, this seemed utterly ridiculous, a real lose-lose situation. On the other hand, given the fact that I only had a single coin in my pocket (which couldn't be divided up in any way) and given the fact that in no way could I hand over the coin to one party without the other seeing me do so after denying them the same, it seemed perhaps the wisest choice. And so this is what I did. I said "sorry" to the newer individual and walked past the original one. The newer man yelled out something about how he wanted a "cheese-bugger".

So, did my decision not to give either individual my coin stem from a desire not to hurt or insult the other, which, in a way, is mostly just thinking about myself (i.e., this will be awkward and uncomfortable)? Or was it a legitimate response to a situation that was going to be impossible to resolve in a way that wasn't awkward or uncomfortable? In the long run, was a dime going to make any long-term difference in the lives of these two individuals? Would ten cents go farther in creating positive results than any negative results that might be created through a seeming act of disdain? Or was this the most brutal sort of social darwinism, avoiding the awkward social encounter deemed ultimately more important than committing an act of empathy or selflessness?

And this, of course, is why I have trouble sleeping at night.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Boosterism Will Get You Nowhere (or, Whatta They Got That We Ain't Got?)

San Diego may be the eighth-largest city in the United States (the ranking does keep moving around ) and the second-largest city in California, but even with a population of 1.3 million and the ownership of one of the most perfect climates on the planet, we've got a little self-esteem problem. Perhaps it's the combination of that perfect climate - which in and of itself, of course, counts for absolutely nothing in the grander scheme of Great Urban Attributes - and our self-identification as a Family Friendly Vacation Destination, which tends to rub off the hard-bitten gleam larger cities often aim for. Maybe it's a reflection of the fact that many of our residents are originally from places elsewhere, moving from much colder or much hotter places and settling in with gratitude at the ability to maintain year-long open windows while not being bothered to do much of anything to actually improve or challenge the city. It also probably has something to do with the larger and more cosmopolitan megalopolis of Los Angeles that lies just an hour or two up the coast.

So I tend to ignore the local newspapers in their year-round attempts to highlight the awesomeness that is being a San Diego resident, 90% of which seems to involve the weather and nearly the remaining 10% the San Diego Chargers. Beach volleyball may take up a half of a percent. When the results of Most Livable City polls or Money magazine investigations are released, San Diegans eagerly peruse the rankings, looking to see where we've landed this month, how we've fared compared to the Bay Area, and keeping an eye out for new slogans to plaster along development corridors.

We're a catchy slogan type of city, after all, and our addiction to slogans is directly related to our low self-esteem. It was in 1972, for example, that our Republican Mayor Pete Wilson announced that San Diego was "America's Finest City," and set about launching a massive PR campaign to link the city with this newly-coined phrase, through a massive city-wide festival that August. The reason for this sudden pride in San Diego's national ranking was the result of the Republican National Committee rescinding their selection of San Diego as the host of the 1972 Republican National Convention, after months of careful planning by the city's Republican leadership. Miami became the replacement location, largely due to the fact that the Nixon White House anticipated massive protests for the occasion, and thought the city of Miami had an urban layout that would allow stricter control of access to the convention, although the official story at the time was that San Diego lacked proper convention facilities. Smarting from the public humiliation, and struggling to offset accusations that San Diego would never prove anything more than a second-tier convention town, Mayor Wilson conjured up both the slogan and the week-long festival of parades, half-marathons and a massive picnic in Balboa Park that directly coincided with the Republican Convention. The mayor's office was not merely a supporter of these celebrations, but the schedulers and the promoters. "America's Finest City" was thus born, and lives on today in the onslaught of advertising dollars dedicated to never again allowing our waterfront city a convention snub.

So it should come as little surprise that the recent release of the results from an almost charmingly-simplistic Harris poll - to wit, "Which American city would you like to live in or near?" - have set tongues wagging, at least in the editorial rooms of our struggling newspapers. For once again, the great metropolis that is San Diego has failed to ascend to the highest summits, and has placed a disheartening second, just under that pretender to the throne, New York. We beat Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, Boston, San Francisco - Christ, we beat everybody except New York. And yet still we feel the pain.

The San Diego Union-Tribune has penned a short piece on the latest outrage that opens with the ominous phrase, "This is getting old". The article reads like the petty gripings of a Kaukauna high school newspaper taking potshots at the coach for Combined Locks after a third quarter fumble recovery. "What gives? New York has Eli Manning. We, thankfully, don't." Later, it is noted that, "In the winter, it snows in New York. In the summer, it’s muggy in New York." A kind of funny bit about TV filming locations (ie, New York has 30 Rock, San Diego has the "much better Terriers") suggests the editorial staff may be in on the joke, but then they go ahead and bluster, "Broadway? Well, San Diego has the Old Globe Theatre. And as the song goes, If you can make it there ... Over the years, more than 20 plays produced by the Old Globe have gone on to Broadway or off-Broadway venues," which comes off as humorless and pouty. A few comments from one-time New York residents who've moved out our way and a side panel query concerning, "What do you love about San Diego? Use the comments space below to share your favorite features, places, shops, spots or what have you," closes out this hard-hitting slice of journalism, along with a photograph of a bucolic San Diego draped in a thin strip of marine fog and surrounded by glorious sunshine. The available images of also-ran cities such as Los Angeles (a sky view of a cityscape cloaked in view-obscuring smog), Denver (a darkened figure huddled forward against the onslaught of snow and ice) and Atlanta (two people with their backs to the camera, standing in front of a giant CNN statue) make their final points.

It's not often that I turn to online reader's comments for sanity, especially not in this fairly reactionary town, but for once, I'll have to admit, the readers of The San Diego Union-Tribune can smell a load of horse manure when they're standing next to it. "I've lived here for 37 of my 45 years," one reader posts. "I left once, came back, and almost left again. San Diego is a pH-7, shoulder-shrug town. We're neither as great as our cheerleaders make us out to be nor as bad as our detractors do. There's nothing keeping me here except my job, and there's nothing driving me out of here." Another realist notes, "Both cities are great and both have their advantages and disadvantages. People who have never been to NY never believe me, but it's a lot easier to find friendly people there and strike up an interesting conversation than it is here." Someone who's obviously a big fan of the old L.A. hardcore band Fear pipes in, "New York's alright if you like saxophones... ". And some words of wisdom are offered up by somebody after my own heart, who calmly states, "Until you have spent some time in a real world-class city, you can't know how far short San Diego falls. There's a lot more to life than nice weather."

But how much fun is reasoned discourse and mild self-deprecation in this age of rage, rancour, suspicion, idiocy and miasma? So this is why my favorite "reader's comment" came not from any of the above individuals who no doubt love sleeping with the windows open but wish we had a few more Vietnamese cafes and a bookstore or two, but with the admirably focused individual who saw his/her opportunity and took it. Because when one hopes to dissuade fellow citizens on arguments regarding the supremacy of San Diego versus New York, you make a lengthy post regarding Unarius, the "sadistic rape suicide cult of El Cajon". Actually, you make two lengthy posts, each (again, admirably so) distinct documents with individual points and highlights.


Post #1:

What does New York have that San Diego doesn't?? It has a sane, normal code of business conduct that does not allow sadistic rape suicide cults like Unarius in El Cajon, San Diego to exist, let alone steal money from the public by pretending to have licenses or degrees or certification to teach or do therapy. Unethical amatuers cannot practice therapy or teach in New York. In San Diego, you can do any corrupt criminal activity you like and get away with it, just as Unarius set me up to be raped, stole my money and made me homeless. Read my lawsuit and you will see the truth of this million dollar cult who lies to the IRS in order to not pay taxes on their profits from their high prices books and classes. They should be shut down, but in San Diego, no one cares. In New York, they could never pull off their scams. Unarius 16 members are mentally ill, liars, promiscuous rapists, sociopathic predators, swindlers, unethical, corrupt ex-alcoholics, murderers who served time in prison, suicide indulgers, prostitute users, who continue to engage in Consumer fraud, False advertising, and sell their opinions as facts. They are amateurs posing as professionals; their fake school is a front for their illegal activities, for preying on the gullible public and finanically exploiting and sexually abusing innocent victims. {{personal email deleted}}

Post #2 :

New York does not have the criminal corrupt fake school Unarius, in the poverty town of El Cajon,San Diego run by 16 ruthless mentally ill, sociopathic, dysfunctional, sexually promsicuous, unlicensed swindlers, rapists, pimps and predators who are amateurs posing as therapists, teachers and scientists in order to financially exploit and sexually attack fragile, vulnerable, naive, gullible, susceptible pretty women and the throw them out. They are not licensed nor degreed nor certified by any state or federal agency or college to do therapy or teach science to the public and take money for it. They are sadistic con artists who ripped me off, stole my money, set me up to be raped by one of their unlicensed teachers who made me homeless. They generate a profit by selling their opinions disguised as facts, in their useless and dangerous classes and sell their diaries and fake outer space transmissions filled with violence, rape and murder crimes and fantasies. Unarius members are skilled criminals who use mind control, brainwashing techniques on their recruits along with their secretive suberfuges, ruses, ploys to hypnotically induce altered states of consciousness in their victims. They use their own manufactured hypnosis tapes to do persuasive coercive subliminal induction on their unwilling victims, without obtaining their permission or consent. Unarius was arrested for prostitution and solicitation to commit prostitution. They have a secret cult conspiracy of silence among their aging members and hide their true identities and home addresses from the public while ripping them off with their fraudulent useless classes. As one of their victims, I can tell you, they would NEVER have been able to pull off their scams in New York. Shame on San Diego for not shutting down Unarius, the rape-suicide cult of El Cajon. {{again, personal email deleted}}


Somebody grant this individual an editorial column. The reasoning and logic in the above paragraphs make at least as much sense as denigrating the island of Manhattan and the other four boroughs solely due to the existence of Eli Manning.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Autumn Cornucopia

As an unseasonably cool summer gives way to an already unseasonably wet autumn here in San Diego, our local farmer's markets show no sign of slowing with fresh produce, and those of us lucky enough to live on the 33rd Parallel against the Pacific can count on the appearance of newly seasonal fruits and vegetables as we begin our slow descent into a gentle winter.

Over the last few days, my wife and I have been lucky enough to sample or experiment with a number of foods that were either new to us or through presentations we hadn't previously been aware of. Some of this may be old news to home chefs and food enthusiasts. But I've heard enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that many others might be equally surprised by what we've found.

1) Roasted Butternut Squash Seeds Are As Tasty As Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

I've long suspected that one of the many reasons autumn is by far my favorite season has something to do with the smell and taste of roasted pumpkin seeds - a treat that the eight year old Jason would gladly bypass tubs of ice cream and bars of chocolate for. In the years since, heavily-salted crispy handfuls of pumpkin seeds have continued to ascend in my estimation. I cannot explain why it took so long to apply the most basic logic to the scientific facts surrounding pumpkins and question the direct relationship between pumpkins and what we Yankees call "winter squash". The fact that Australians and the British refer to winter squash as "pumpkin" should have been the tip-off that all members of the cucurbita genus (one of the highest gifts on offer from the New World) are filled with decent-sized seeds just waiting to be washed, dried, drenched in seasoning and roasted.

So, I'll ask - how many of you out there regularly sort out and save the seeds from a butternut squash for future roasting? If you've tended in the past to merely discard the seeds along with the stringy gops of squash flesh surrounding it, I caution you to set down your instruments and step away from the gourd. The only thing standing between you and a scrumptious small bowl of salty goodness is an oven cranked to 350, a handful of salt (and maybe a sprinkling of chili pepper or similar hot seasoning), and no more than 5 minutes roasting time. Turn the seeds to keep them from burning. And listen for the distinctive pop as they cook.

2) The Distinctive Pleasure of Fresh Black-Eyed Peas (The Legume, Not the Chart-Topping Pop Act From East L.A.)

This past Sunday, as we picked up our weekly CSA farm box, we were stopped by the farmer in charge of the entire J.R. Organics operation, who wanted to make sure we had a fresh clump of black-eyed peas in our plastic bin. Farmer Joe also wanted to pass along a recommendation on how to prepare the peas, an easy method involving only a few ingredients, all of which were helpfully already included in that week's crop. I've spoken before of the importance of speaking with the individuals who grow your food, but how cool is it to also receive cooking recommendations from these individuals as well? What follows is Jane's adaptation of Farmer Joe's recipe.

I suspect that 99% of Americans come into contact with black-eyed peas through the canned or dried variety. These being fresh from the fields, I had to set about shelling them, a task which wasn't nearly as arduous as I'd feared.

The freshly-shelled peas were a lovely shade of light green - a pleasant departure from the pale white hardness of dried varieties.

The large heap of leftover shells were destined for the compost pile.

Next, the shelled peas were simmered in a bit of water until they were just softened, then removed to drain.

In the meantime, we diced up fresh grape tomatoes, one garlic clove, a few green onions, added salt and pepper, and squeezed some fresh lime juice over the top. A little stock would be a nice addition, too, although we just used a bit of water.

Just before serving, we added the black-eyed peas back into the tomato/garlic/onion/lime juice mix, and stirred until heated throughout. The result was a small, simple yet flavorful dish.

3) The Attack of the Three-Foot-Long Armenian Cucumber

So, over the past month or so, we've been spotting these elongated, green, cucumber-like objects snaking their way around the produce stands of some of the local farm tables, and it didn't take long to start inquiring as to what exactly they were. "Armenian cucumbers," we were told, although we quickly discovered they weren't exactly Armenian and were not really cucumbers. Dubbed the "snake melon" for obvious reasons, this crisp fruit can grow upwards of 40 inches in length and is actually a type of melon (they cannot be cross-bred with regular English or garden cucumbers). We've found them to taste much like a mild cucumber, and have tended to consume it sliced (and peeled, although the skin is quite edible) and raw with a few tomatoes, basil leaves and/or chunks of feta. More difficult to grow than the regular cucumber, this may be another one of those rarer produce types that we're lucky enough to easily find in our own big backyard. But if you spy any in your produce section, don't hesitate to grab it up and use it just as you would regular cucumber.

The image below features an apple and an avocado for matters of scale. This was one of the smaller individuals.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Always Read For Content: The Stunted Candidacy of Carl Paladino

Take a good look at the asinine image posted above and ask yourself the following question: if I was running for the position of Governor of New York state, and I came across this Internet image in the middle of the campaign, even if for some reason I found it funny or witty rather than racist and stupid, would I be hapless enough to forward it on to friends, coworkers and associates? If you answered "yes" and would like to also forward some bestiality videos and a poster prominently featuring the word "niggers," then you, too, might be qualified to run for governor of the great state of New York.

As a one-time New Yorker, the ongoing tussle between Carl Paladino and Andrew Cuomo for the position of Governor is something I can't help but take some interest in, but the race and in particular the details surrounding Mr. Paladino's campaign would probably be of interest even without my four year sojourn to the Empire State. Because in the guise of Paladino I see the larger national pattern of insurgent candidates trying to unseat political careerists (not always a bad thing) by tapping into a vague populist rhetoric (not always a good thing) that ultimately masks their utter lack of either original or practical ideas (almost always a bad thing). Let's examine the evidence, shall we? Paladino's resume contains few surprises - real-estate CEO (and thereby a pure product from the bedrock of contemporary political expertise), Italian-American (certainly not the first Italian-American to espouse the conservative cause, cf. Justices Alito and Scalia), a prior registered Democrat (from 1975 until 2005), married with three children.

I won't dwell on this final point, but it should at least be noted that Paladino has had to grapple with the untimely revelation that he also has a ten year old daughter from an affair conducted with a prior coworker. And while the details of this act of adultery don't interest me in the slightest, it's worth keeping his cheating in mind as one details some of the stances and positions Paladino has taken in his race to the top of New York politics. This controversy was merely one of several to rain down upon Paladino over the past six months, and with each new outrage or pseudo-outrage, the pundits have definitively produced death certificates, only to be stunned by Paladino's resurfacing the following week, scarred but generally none the worse for wear.

Make no mistake, Paladino has committed gaffes that any reasonable outside observer might logically conclude would sink a governor's quest in one of our more consistently left-leaning states. Consider his pious announcement that, if elected governor, he would utilize the machinations of eminent domain to halt the construction of the Lower Manhattan mosque that has so captivated the minds of millions of American citizens who spend most of their time dismissing New York as a cabal of radical elitists but perk up their ears whenever a hack politician or talking head utters the phrase "scared ground". More specifically, Paladino insisted that members of the Islamic faith not be allowed to erect "a monument to those who attacked our country" and added that, "Ground Zero for me is the extended site over which the dust cloud containing human remains traveled" - a fallout zone where any and all traces of Islamic culture must not ever desecrate.

It's the kind of principled opposition that rouses the patriotism of a certain subset of voters, even if the calm certitude Paladino expressed during the above exchange almost instantly devolved into cringe-inducing absurdities (interviewer: That was a vast [dust cloud] -- if you recall -- it stretched all the way to Weehaken, to parts of Hoboken, miles from where this thing happened. Candidate Paladino: Well, I don't think it went out that far. It went out about a quarter of a mile, I think. Well, I don't know the exact distance. I don't mean to make out that I know the exact distance. But wherever it went, wherever that dust is caught in the crevices of buildings or in the crevices of sidewalks, that's human remains, and it should be treated that way).

I'm pleased to note there was much less backtracking when Candidate Paladino offered up his thoughts on the concept of a free press when he snarled at New York Post reporter Fred Decker his plans to "take you out". There was little in the way of outrage when he confidently suggested that the recent passage of health care reform legislation would prove a day that "will be remembered just as 9-11 was remembered in history". And when confronted with the undeniable reality of the explicit and racist emails he forwarded to friends and associates, he offered up an apology only to "the ladies" out there, coyly adding that he'd apologize to any man who never forwarded similar Internet outrages during their time here on earth. When pressed for a more specific explanation of why a candidate for governor was forwarding bestiality videos in the first place, he simply noted that he "was human". I'll admit, it's a potentially risky stance for a politician to take.

But let's look once more upon these forwarded emails, these proofs of Paladino's humanity. Not literally - aside from pasting the image of the President and First Lady as Pimp and Ho, I don't feel an aching desire to trawl the Internet for white supremacist propaganda or woman/horse love. But let the record show that Candidate Paladino did forward a video entitled "Obama Inauguration Rehearsal" that consisted solely of footage from an African tribal dance. Equally hilarious was a fake motivational poster of a small airplane crashing into a dusty field, with African men rushing out of the flight path. The legend for the poster reads: HOLY SHIT - run niggers, run! For those uninterested in the politics of racial antagonism, Paladino included a few instances of hardcore pornography and the aforementioned moment of tenderness between woman and horse.

What's that you say? Tsk, tsk, a man's previously visited websites history is his castle? Even if said man constantly offers up encomiums to his own identity as a guardian of the family?

Then what to make of his most recent public statement, in which he turned an address to Orthodox Jewish leaders in Williamsburg, Brooklyn into an anti-gay rant that dominated local and national coverage? His talking points were run of the mill - he spoke of innocent children being "brainwashed" by seditious homosexuals, noted that homosexuality was "not" a "valid and successful option" for life, and attacked his opponent for choosing to march in a recent Gay Pride parade. "That's not the sort of example we should be showing our children," he loftily concluded, later adding details on just the distasteful sorts of man-on-man gyrations he observed during the parade festivities in some major Canadian city.

We could reflect momentarily on the sheer audacity of a man who has publicly admitted to forwarding videos of a woman being mounted by a horse also claiming to be mortified by the image of a man dancing during a parade. And any discussion of the Williamsburg event must take into account the cold and tone-deaf timing of a politician choosing the first week of October to launch a preemptive attack on the gay community - a mere two days after the New York area was startled by the kidnapping and torture of three gay individuals by a Bronx street gang, and a few weeks after a Rutgers student committed suicide off the George Washington Bridge after being secretly videotaped and outed by fellow students. Advice columnist Dan Savage's response to the Rutgers case and other recent gay teen suicides was to start up the ongoing video project It Gets Better, in which grown individuals offer words of encouragement for making it through the horrors of high school. Paladino's response, apparently, was to speak of imperiled children and brainwashing.

And yet. I must admit to harboring a bit of sympathy for the hapless Candidate Paladino. Having actually viewed the video footage of his anti-gay speech to the Orthodox Jewish audience, it's difficult to argue with his eventual excuse that he had simply been handed a speech prior to taking the stage and that the views expressed within were those of the speechwriter, supposedly a member of the synagogue, and not himself. Being a bit of a public speaker myself, I'll agree that he reads the statement as if he was seeing it for the first time, with long pauses, mis-pronunciations and awkward phrasing. And news organizations have widely reported the fact that the original text of the speech included the sentence, "There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual. That's not how God created us". Paladino declined to read this particular sentence, and I suspect that this on-the-spot editing accounts for at least one of his long pauses during the video (see here to decide for yourself).

It's become immediately clear that the Williamsburg speech was actually written by Rabbi Yehuda Levin of the Rabbincal Alliance in Brooklyn, which should come as no surprise to anybody even remotely familiar with Mr. Levin's career. Yet another classic example of a fraud hiding behind the cloak of religious respectability, Mr. Levin is a former Pat Buchanan supporter who has routinely sided with Christian evangelicals over matters of gay rights. Most notably, he inserted himself into plans for a Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem, urging protesters to resort to violence to stop the event, warning, "I promise there's going to be bloodshed". This would not prove the first time Mr. Levin has advocated the spilling of blood to halt the outrage of homosexuality - he went on record blaming the gay lifestyle for the recent Haitian earthquake which killed over 200,000 individuals.

Paladino has since apologized for his Williamsburg speech, which promptly led to today's news flash that Rabbi Levin had withdrawn his previous support for the candidate. While claiming he did not write the speech in question, Mr. Levin noted that he did offer some "input" on the text and at any rate "stands ready to defend it". Whatever Mr. Levin's input did or did not consist of (and for the record, I'm guessing he wrote a considerable amount), the controversy is important for several distinct yet related reasons. Lest we forget, it's notable to acknowledge the existence of hateful religious rhetoric emanating from focal points other than Christian evangelicals, as in this case the bigotry spewed forth from Orthodox Judaism. And Paladino's decision not to read the "nothing to be proud of" line is to his credit. One might even note that during the whirlwind final month of a major campaign, a candidate might simply find themselves reading aloud speeches without first analyzing them for content (although it must be noted that Paladino had earlier complained of Gay Pride parade activity without any speech in hand. And, cough cough cough, that he also somehow attempted to compare his anger over the Holocaust with his anger over gay marriage - it's a deep pit you're digging there, Carl, better take a lunch break).

But more to the point, the Williamsburg controversy highlights the deep instability and confusion displayed by many politicians attempting to huddle under the Tea Party dome, from true libertarian Rand Paul actually expressing some examples of libertarian thought to the anti-onanistic absurdity of Delaware's rising star Christine O'Donnell. By aligning themselves unreservedly with reactionary figures on the religious right, the hopefuls of 2010 simply dilute whatever mildly interesting argument they might otherwise be capable of making in regards to governmental overreach.

I can't bring myself to condemn taxation, I don't shriek socialism when mild health care reform passes, and I have never prayed at the alter of the free market. But as a rational and open-minded individual with a keen sense of my own limitations and ignorance on many matters, I'm always willing to consider reasoned arguments in favor of reigning in spending or halting the growth of a steroid-injected government. While I don't sympathize or agree with their worldview, a true burst of authentic libertarian sensibility might prove a useful counter punch to the untrammeled greed and corruption at the heart of both major political parties.

But if the U.S. military budget is off limits for spending cuts, if attacks on gays and opposition to gay marriage continues unimpeded, and if unwavering opposition to abortion rights remains the rule of the day among the Tea Party crowd - well, you'll have to forgive me if I suggest that the members of our newest third party uprising brush up on their Ayn Rand and Robert Nozick texts. And I'd further recommend that Carl Paladino best rethink his campaign strategy of reading out loud a third-party speech handed to him by a superstitious bigot who thinks earthquake fault lines were put in place by an angry God to rid the world of queers (actually, I don't recommend he change his strategy at all, and therefore continue to flounder,but I digress). Prove to me and to any other moderately open minded individual that one can run a fiscally conservative campaign without resorting to culture war vocabulary, and without groveling at the feet of censorious crusaders wielding religious dogma and their own tax-free status as a weapon. That in itself might prove to be revolutionary.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Meet the New Blog, Same as the Old Blog

My interest in photography extends back at least to my early teens, when I started pestering my father to teach me the rudiments of development techniques and cropping. An amateur enthusiast himself, my father had set up a small yet fully functional darkroom in our basement, and I well remember the heavy smell of the stop bath, the eerie glow of the safelight, and his constant fidgeting with the enlarger. A handful of photography courses added to my basic awareness of the photographic method, but it would be many years before I had the funds necessary to actually pursue this interest successfully.

The rise of digital cameras has been a bit of mixed blessing, allowing many the opportunity to experiment with relatively high-quality equipment without being fully immersed in the challenging world of "real" photography. The fact that my father has long ago packed up his darkroom and now relies on digital methods means he is able to continue exploring his hobby while avoiding the time-consuming methods that often frustrate the enthusiast. I'd still like to get back in the darkroom someday, and can't exactly take phone cameras seriously unless they're being utilized for journalistic purposes. But one can only fight the current for so long.

So, after several years of becoming increasingly frustrated with the limitations inherent in the entry-level digital camera, it was decided to take a moderate step forward in quality. Having no particular allegiance to either Nikon or Canon, I went with Canon due to the recommendations of several friends and acquaintances who had high praise for their latest models. While the EOS 7D would seem to be everything a mere enthusiast like me could hope for in a camera, both the price point and the intimidating level of expertise suggested by the instruction manual convinced me that I needn't pretend to be something I'm not, and I chose the half-step-down EOS Rebel T2i, a lovely piece of hardware. While the world of advanced lenses still beckons, I'm content for now with the basic 135 mm attachment, complete with an image stabilizer. And I still need to explore the video options included with the package.

What does this all mean to you, the reader? Not much, except a promise of higher-quality photographic offerings in the near future, and probably more than a few failed experiments with lighting and composition. I've also decided to start up a new blog to showcase photography, having always felt that this blog should focus primarily on writing and words. I'll periodically offer links to the photos if I think they're especially noteworthy. I hope to upload photos every week or so, with some kind of general theme more often than not.

The first post offers just under a dozen shots taken around our house of the numerous types of flora coaxed into life by copious watering practices. Landscape and urban environments remain, at the moment, my area of interest - not much for portraiture or photoshop, I'm a big fan of documentary realism and the cultural landscape works of Stephen Shore. This may change in the future.