Monthly Archives: June 2007

Over at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick and Walter Dellinger pre-emptively discuss the possibility that racial “preferences” used by Louisville and Seattle to enforce a “minimum” and “maximum” African-American presence in each school (while conveniently neglecting to watch other races) might be struck down as unconstitutional. Both opposed the idea.

The eventual decision (by 5-4 ruling, as most of this term’s have been) was that opponents were right. I think Justice Kennedy’s line was the best: “Crude measures of this sort [as illustrated in this case] threaten to reduce children to racial chits valued and traded according to one school’s supply and another’s demand.”

Where I grew up, there was a forced busing system actually worse than Louisville’s. Instead of being limited to within ISD districts, it actually was an “exchange” system; students from certain districts with high minority populations were bussed out to less-populated suburban districts. The results were staggering, and I’m confident in saying not helpful.

But I don’t think the results actually had anything to do with race.

The actual results of the program, which may or may not still exist (and hopefully will die with this decision if it does still exist) were the following:

– Increase in violence and gang activity in the suburban schools.
– Decreased involvement by parents and bussed kids alike in school programs.

By the time I was of high school age, these were bad enough for the local high school that my parents sent me to a private school (another 7 miles away). The high school had had at least one violent incident involving a weapon every week.

However, I believe that neither of these complaints has a direct relation to race. For the first, if a majority of kids were from any low-income area (“white trash”, latino, asian, black) there would likely be a larger number of latchkey kids, bad parents, violent behavior, and yes, crime and gangs and drugs.

For the second, I believe the primary problem was partially the income of parents, but also partially the onerous nature of the busing program. When kids are near a school, or “nearer” compared to a 3-hour bus ride, it’s not as far for parents to pick them up after school events. It’s not as far for parents to drop them off early. And it’s an extra amount of time for parents to drive to make it to games and cheer their kids on, and then bring them home again.

Even if the 3-hour bus trip equates to a normal 30-minute ride (and my parents usually dropped me off rather than have me have to sit and wait for a bus that took 2 hours to make what would have been a 30-minute bicycle ride, 15 in the car), that’s an hour lost from someone’s day trying to participate in these extra things. It’s harder for them to make it to parent-teacher conference night, harder for them to be there for band practice or sports programs, harder for them to be there even for a school dance. It’s also an hour of lost sleep, or lost potential study time, for the child.

And that’s setting aside the fact that school buses, even more than the school building themselves, are havens for a Lord of the Flies mentality – bored kids sitting in a confined space, with nothing to do but cause trouble and the only “supervision” an adult whose primary point of attention is not the kids, but the road. A lot of damage can be done to kids on a bus, and the longer the bus trip, the worse it gets.

The end result is a net loss for the kids on both sides of the equation. The school attendance numbers may not change, but the school community numbers do.

Category: Courthouse, School

Online Dating

Mingle2Online Dating

It looks like it was primarily my post on the death penalty that did me in. Benoit and the Internet posts didn’t help, either.

Category: Server Room

To those who knew who he was, the death of Chris Benoit is old news, and to those who didn’t probably don’t care. It was just a sad little story of another dead wrestler until the gristly details of how he murdered his wife and children before taking his life (all without the use of a gun). Details are still forthcoming, but there is no way I can piece all that together without it being awfully an harrowing tale.

Benoit was on the periphery of things back when I was following the WWF/WWE, but he was a sight to see in the ring. Political blogger Marc Armbister calls him “one of the reasons why professional wrestling, despite its ridiculous pretenses and bewilderingly predictable storylines, remains popular, profitable and culturally relevant.”

The WWE apparently pre-empted their usual show to do a Benoit special, bringing WWE president Vince McMahon back from the dead (his character was in a limo that blew up not long ago) to give a eulogy. Some people are wondering why they were doing that, but I figured that they must not have known the grisly details surrounding the death. Never mind the tastelessness of it, it exemplifies every negative stereotype about wrestling except the fakery. McMahon may be a bastard, but he’s not stupid.

Unfortunately, Benoit (and his wife, who was involved in wrestling) joins a long list of wrestlers that died before their time. What’s particularly remarkable about that list is that there are a lot of very familiar names on that list, so it’s not populated with amateurs or the product of their being more wrestlers out there than we knew. Presumably Benoit won’t be mourned as the rest. The question is whether or not this will get the authorities to take a closer look at what’s going on the wide world of wrestling. It won’t be a pretty sight.

Category: Theater

Far out, man…

Category: Theater

I was just down at the Post Office sending off a couple of packages when I swore I could recognize the guy behind the counter. I sat there and tried to figure it out the entire time that I was in line. He looked vaguely like my friend Tony, but he was like thirty years too old to be. The name Mike Nelson kept running through my head. Or Matt Nelson or Mark Nelson or something like that. But I couldn’t think of any Mike/Matt/Mark Nelson that I knew even though I did know the name. When I walked up to the counter I saw the name Mark Nielson. At that point I knew that I knew him from somewhere.

Then it hit me. “Did you marry into the Douglas family?”

He looked at me and said, without any intonation, “Yes.”

“I knew that I knew you! I dated Julie for almost five years.”

“Right,” he replied.

“Interesting to meet you way out here,” I said.

“I’ve lived here for ten years,” he told me without an ounce of enthusiasm.

What was funny was that up until I identified myself, he was unusually warm and friendly for a customer service civil servant. He made jokes with the guy before me and with me. But the second I said that I used to date Julie, his face just clammed up.

I can’t figure out if it’s because when I left Julie I became a villain in the Bernard/Douglas household or if it’s because at some point after I left he became a villain. He was a knight in shining armor when he first started dating Julie’s aunt. Julie had just been left by her husband, whom nobody liked, for a younger woman. In came Mark and all was right with the world. Then, at some point everything flipped and they all liked the ex-husband and Mark was the bad guy.

I figured that even if he knew that Julie’s family didn’t like her one bit that we were on similar ground there. An estrangement to bond over!

As soon as I got back to work I IMed Julie and asked what the state of Mark’s marriage with her aunt was. Pretty lousy, it turned out. He still does nothing but drink and smoke when he gets home (one of the reasons I had such trouble placing him was that he looked twenty years older than the last time I saw him seven or so years ago). They sleep in separate rooms.

I guess I can’t blame him for being less than warm to a former would-have-been in-law of a family that he got that kind of marriage from.

Category: Downtown

One day when I was driving through Colosse, I saw a sign that said “Tattoos & Piercing”. My most immediate thought was that was a rather odd name for a lawfirm. Piercing I could see, but who in the world had the last name of Tattoos. What nationality would that be? How is it pronounced? Of course, once I figured out how it was pronounced I felt like the dumbest person on the face of the earth.

When I was in college I nearly made the fatal mistake of changing my universal password to reflect the name of the new love of my life, Evangeline. Considering that things fell apart (albeit not for good) a couple weeks later, it was fortunate that I didn’t put myself in the position of remembering that heartbreaker every time I needed to access anything. I think about that every time I see a tattoo with a partner’s name on it.

My brother Mitch is more-or-less the All-American guy. Blond hair and blue eyes, solidly built, degreed, and outgoing. Among the Truman boys he is the only one that continues to go to church week in and week out. He’s also the only Truman boy that has a tattoo (a lightning bolt on his shoulder).

When I was in Deseret I knew this girl named Judy. Judy was one of the most prudish, scoldish people I never met. She had a really Betty Bowers quality to her except with a Mormon twist. Nothing got her going on the morally decadent nature of Democrats, non-Mormons, not-exactly-like-her-Mormons, people that engage in non-procreative forms of sex, and on and on and on. On the subject of rape, she pricelessly exasperatedly said, “Don’t they know that you don’t have sex with people you aren’t married to?” (presumably she gave the raped woman a pass, though it was interesting that she felt that non-marital sex was his primary moral error).

But despite all this Judy the Prudie was not the most conservative dresser. Enough so that we could see the small of her back and see a tattoo that she had there. The day I saw that was the day that I determined that the butt-cleavage tattoos had lost any of the edginess they may once had possessed. If Judy was wearing them, they were by definition non-edgy.

A little while back the New York Times had an article on the newly tentative nature of tattoos:

Removing tattoos is costly, uncomfortable and time-consuming, but the
affinity for body art is so strong that some people say they do it to
clear space to tattoo all over again. {…}

On the horizon is a development that could change the very nature of
tattooing: a type of ink encapsulated in beads and designed to break
up after one treatment with a special laser.

The technology for the ink, called Freedom-2, was developed by
scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital, and Brown and Duke
Universities. It is to go on sale this fall.

Part of the very notion of a tattoo, in my mind, has always been the permanency. It’s actually hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of an impermanent tattoo. Maybe it’s because it’s the permanency that made me decide never to get one. I am always at my worst when making life-altering decisions. I left Julie only once I was contemplating an irreversible lifetime commitment to her. Clancy and I survived that leap, for which I am grateful, but only barely. I almost transferred out of Southern Tech a year and a half in and less than a year of going into computers I decided (too late) that I didn’t want to. There really was no doubt in my mind that if I chose to get a tattoo, I would regret the decision the next day.

But is a tattoo that is removable still even a tattoo? It used to be that the reason for a tattoo was a marker of rebellion, but Judy and my brother put the final nail in that coffin. Mark Morford and others lament that once tattoos are easily removed, it won’t be the same.

Then again, I suppose that once the technology is there for easy removal and application, there’s nothing to stop it from becoming a long-term accessory. I remember I was at an outdoor music show many years ago and saw a woman with the old logo of Colosse’s professional football team. “Why would she get that?” I asked a friend, “didn’t she know that there was a pretty good chance that the logo would change in her lifetime?” Easy removal, I guess, allows for such frivolity without the consequences of becoming outdated.

The tattoo industry is excited about it for just that reason:

“We think the fence-sitters who always wanted a tattoo but have been afraid of the permanence will jump in and get tattoos,” said Martin Schmieg, the chief executive of Freedom-2. “But as your life changes from young to middle-aged to older, from single to married to divorced, you get tattoo regret, so we think the tattoo removal market
will increase as well.”

Be that as it may, I don’t think I will be among those getting a tattoo. The most immediate obstacle is that I would like my arms to be a little more toned before I do something like that. There’s nothing that makes a little chub more unattractive than tattoo decoration. Then again, if I ever get a toned arm, why in the world would I want to besmirch it?

The permanency of a tattoo is both one of the most appealing and least appealing aspects of a tattoo for me. I’m a pretty wishy-washy guy

Category: Coffeehouse

According to a new study, young people spend a lot of their online conversation talking about sex and drugs:

A new study by Caron Treatment Centers finds 1 in 10 messages analyzed involved teens seeking advice from their peers on how to take illicit drugs “safely” and without getting caught. {…}

In the messages, teens confessed to destructive behavior while they were under the influence.

“It’s very, very frightening,” said Dr. Harris Stratyner of the Caron Treatment Center.

In the messages, while few teens expressed any regret, many chalked it up to having a good time.

The basic premise behind the article is that online talking is potentially unhealthy and dangerous.

You want to know what’s potentially unhealthy and dangerous? Doing ecstacy and cocaine, and engaging in indiscriminate sex. That’s what’s dangerous, not chatting via instant messenger. The worst that can be said of instant messaging is that it is enabling anti-social behavior. But it does that the same way that a phone does and a car does. By the time the kid is online trolling for cocaine, you’re no longer in prevention mode, you’re in damage control mode. Their unmonitored access to IM is the least of your problems.

I could go on and on about the media’s portrayal that all sorts of problematic behavior also exist online and treat it as a threatening new discovery, but I’ve been doing that for over ten years now. It’s gotten kind of old.

More broadly, I’m tired of parenting culture simultaneously abdicating the uncool portion of their parenting responsibilities and then complaining about what a dangerous world it is out there. If your kid is using cocaine and you don’t realize that something is wrong, that’s not the Internet’s fault. If you realize that something is wrong (even if you don’t know that it’s cocaine) and you do nothing to reign your kid in, that’s not the Internet’s fault.

It seems that the easiest course of action for parents is to give their kids ulimited leeway and then complain about what they do with it while never actually trying to get a handle on the situation. Baby boomer parents have an almost pathalogical aversion to being considered uncool by their kids and a faction of Generation X parents have apparently fallen into that trap. So instead of tightening the screws of a loose, rattling young adult, they complain. Society is forcing them to be the bad guy (to say “no”) and they don’t wanna.

This is all remarkably easy for me to say seeing as how I don’t have any kids and may not ever have them. To be honest, I really can see the other side of the story. I know that if my wife and I did have kids I would almost certainly be the permissive one. I am on the “cool parent” side of every disagreement we’ve had thus far, excluding daughters and nail polish and dating. (a subject for another time)

But my sense of what freedoms a kid should have requires more rather than less monitoring. It means letting them do things that I don’t like, but making sure that they’re still on top of their lives. It means watching them fall even when I can prevent it from happening, but making sure that they’re nowhere near the cliff. Instead, parents seem to want to prevent them from falling when within sight and then giving them unlimited freedom out of sight. A desire to prevent them from hurt but not at the expense of preventing them from getting into situations where they can really hurt themselves.

I’m definitely not saying that it’s the parents fault whenever something bad happens to the kids. That actually represents another cultural problem, in that parents consider themselves absolutely responsible but then render themselves helpless with permissiveness, which creates insanity-inducing anxiety, making them irritating as all heck to backseat driving non-parents such as myself.

Category: Server Room

Will offers up his experience with beggars and bums below; I maintain a normally steadfast refusal to give money. My refusal is based partly on the behavior of those in Colosse.

When I was still a student at Southern Tech, we had experience with the bums. Generally they didn’t come onto campus (or campus cops did a good job herding them off), but they sat (and sit to this day) at the entrances to campus by the freeway, hounding people for money. Absurdly, they take shifts, and you can see them switching if you know what times they do it; one time we even followed one as he got “off shift” and went to a rather nice and well-maintained sports car to drive off.

The other thing that’s always a lark is their shifting stories. A couple summers back, there were some rather rough hurricanes; the local bums (whose signs had previously indicated out of work status) quickly shifted, all claiming to be refugees or that their places of work were destroyed by the hurricanes. When the second hurricane came by, that name went up on their begging signs, replacing the previous hurricane’s name; as if we wouldn’t notice that they were the same bum who’d claimed to be an evacuee of the previous weather the week before.

There is, however, one person I’ve given to in the past few months. I consider him the exception that proves my case. Driving home late on a wednesday night, I had the misfortune to hit one of the miscellaneous pieces of debris that inevitably come up in Colosse’s roads. It punctured a tire, and a mile down the road I was stopped.

Colosse’s freeways, alas, are severely lacking in proper-width breakdown lanes/shoulders, so when my can of Fix-A-Flat didn’t work, I got out my jack, set up to swap the tire… and realized it would be a VERY dangerous operation by myself.

A couple minutes later, a car pulled over and a gentleman got out and walked up; he asked if I needed any help, and aided me, keeping an eye out so that I didn’t get hit by anyone while the tire was switched. My spare was a bit low, but I was confident I could reach a gas station on it; I gave him what I had in cash ($20) and thanked him for his help.

I got to a nearby gas station, but my spare didn’t quite manage; the old thing had popped on the way up. Called my roommate for assistance, and as I was waiting for him, my earlier benefactor came by; he’d come back to check and make sure I got to safety.

As we were waiting, I got to know him a bit better; he was a military veteran who was a bit down on his luck, had his apartment and a car, but an expired drivers’ license and a job interview with UPS to become a driver later that week. He showed me his documents – they matched. I didn’t have any more money to give him, but my roommate had a few bucks, and we both thanked him – for his military service, for the help, for coming back – and then wished him good luck with his interview and getting the license renewed in the morning.

I refuse to give to a bum – but I also believe that my benefactor that night wasn’t a bum, and he was absolutely welcome to all the help I was able to give him.

Category: Downtown, Road

-{Alms for the Poor}-

Southern Tech, my alma mater, is not in the best part of the city of Colosse. In fact, if you go across the Interstate or South Boulevard, you’re going to find yourself in the worst part of town. I’ve been approached by pimps* in the six times in my life, four times across the street or Interstate from the university. While there I got used to being approached by people looking for money. When I was younger and a bleeding heart, I was sometimes inclined to help them out. You get tired of it after a while.

Once I left the university I only found myself in the city when a lot of suburbanites are in the city, namely on weekends or when a professional sports team (or the Southern Tech Wolf Pack) were playing a game. Back then I had the perfect rejection: I don’t carry cash with me into the city. It was amazingly effective.
I wish that I could impress upon Santomas’s considerable homeless and panhandling population, it would be that none of the following are solicitations for solicitations:

  • Smoking a cigarette outside a gas station.
  • Going into or out of a convenience store.
  • Having the porch light on at my home.
  • Walking anywhere within the city.
  • Filling up my gas tank.
  • Waiting in my car going through drive-through.

Ironically, the only real safe place in Santomas is waiting at a red light, which was the surest way that you would get approached back in Colosse. Santomas is something of a liberal haven that is very kind to its homeless population, but I gather that’s the one thing that the local PD does not put up with (probably for congestion reasons). They’ll be out there on the corners, but they do not get on the street unless you signal for them. Interestingly, they’re a much more industrious lot here than in Colosse. There are a lot of curbside entrepreneurs, selling everything from fake flowers to (very practically) cold water out of a cooler. But again, they won’t approach you unless you signal for them to. The only time I’ve been approached has been by firemen with their boots or the occasional church collecting funds for something.

But with the exception of that, as you can probably gather from above, they are everywhere and not the least bit shy. So much so that I now consider it something of a downtown tax. If I smoke a cigarette outside of a convenience store, I am going to get approached. When that happens I have two options: I can either pay them to go away, I can snuff my cigarette early, or I can be pestered until I am done with it. The same goes for filling gas or waiting in line at a drive-through.

If you flatly tell them no, they don’t go away. Instead, they politely say “that’s cool” and continue to chat with you. Their chatter will almost always be how hard up they are and how rough it is in George Bush’s America or since 9/11 or whatever. They won’t ask for money again until the end. In the meantime, you will find no peace. If you tell them to go away, they’ll say that they understand, that they won’t ask again, and give you the sob story and eventually go back on their word and ask again.

I keep two wallets on me at all times. The first is my cash-and-cards wallet and the second is a glorified key-holder that typically was a wallet but has become ruined one way or another (typically it won’t hold change anymore). I have a driver’s license in each (my Deseret license in my keyholder and my Estacadoan license in my cash-and-cards wallet. I’ve taken to keeping a dollar or so in my cash-and-cards wallet. I’ll pay them to go their marry way and tell them that’s all the money I have. If I don’t have any money in there I will show them my empty wallet. The reason I don’t always do the latter is some of them will say that since I don’t have any cash would I mind going into the store and using my card to buy them something, anything, cause they’re so hard-up.

I’ve now actually factored that into the expense of doing anything in the city. Since I don’t work in Santomas I usually fill up outside of the city unless the dollar-or-two I’ll likely be hit up for is compensated for by cheaper gas (which is actually not infrequently the case, as Santomas gas is cheaper than outside the city). I’ve even taken to going to the suburbs if I want a drive-through burger or whatnot, though sometimes it’s worth an extra buck or two for the convenience.

(I kid you not, I was solicited while I was writing this email. A doorbell ring at 6:30 in the morning.)

Addendum: On an interesting sidenote, Santomas is a Hispanic-heavy city (though certainly less so than other parts of the state). And yet almost none of the panhandlers I see appear to be Hispanic. Most of the ones around my black-dominated neighborhood are black, downtown is mixed between black and white, and most by the freeway and in the suburbs are white. This is in contrast to the charity hospital where my wife works, wherein most of her patients primarily speak Spanish.

* – I never actually saw all that many prostitutes and was never approached by one. For some reason the standard solicitation is from a man informing me that he can “hook me up” for a certain price.

Category: Downtown

The Supreme Court has made it a tad easier to send people to death row by ruling that people that object to the death penalty when there is a Life Without Possibility of Parole option can be disqualified from serving. The concern is that once you remove those people from the jury pool, you’re not only more likely to get a jury that will execute (which would be the goal) but you’re likely to get a jury that is more predisposed to find the defendant guilty.

Several years ago I was a death penalty opponent that was a candidate for a capital crime jury.

It was shortly before I left Colosse for Deseret and the whole process lasted longer than the eventual trial did. I was unemployed and really had nothing better to do than go to the county courthouse and spent a day or two listening to some traffic complaint. When my number was called out along with 119 others and I was given a packet of 160 questions I figured that this might not be some piddly traffic violation. Particularly when it started asking about my views on the death penalty, my political affiliations, any “radical” organizations I belong to, opposition to government actions, opposition to law enforcement behavior, and so on and so on. By the time I was done I knew it was the real deal. I also figured that there was no way in the world I would get on that jury because I put down clear as day that I am against the death penalty.

It turns out that it’s not quite that simple. There are some idiosyncrasies in Delosian law wherein the jury does not actually sentence someone to die. Rather they answer four or five questions about whether or not a particular murder meets the minimum requirements for the death penalty to be applied (was the murder an attempt at covering up or evading arrest for another crime, is the person a threat to human life in the future, and a couple other things along those lines, is there any mitigating reason why this particular defendant should be spared the death penalty). If any two of the five are int he affirmative and if the death penalty is being sought, the convicted goes to death row.

Had the question been put any other way I almost certainly would have had to recuse myself from the jury. I could not, in good conscience, tell a judge to have a prison guard kill a person. But my mind draws a clear distinction between that and answering the questions that I was asked. The only question that went to the heart of moral feelings about the death penalty was the one about mitigating circumstances. Truth be told, though, if we’re going to have a death penalty it should be as fairly applied as possible. As such it would not be fair of me say that there were mitigating circumstances when there weren’t. So despite my opposition to capital punishment, I was good to go.

What followed afterwards was a pointed attempt by the prosecution to demonstrate that I was not, in fact, good to go at all. I got a battery of extremely harsh questions. The prosecution tried paint me as a lilly-livered bleading heart, an American-hating peacenik (the questionnaire had asked if I had opposed any American military action in my lifetime, which I had), and an anarchist. After he was done to me, the defense attorney got up and asked if I had a problem with people with long hair. I answered in the negative and he was done with me.

The prosecution was trying to get the judge to disqualify me as prejudicial without having to waste a strike on me. The goal I think was to rattle me or maybe get me to indicate that I really didn’t like the prosecution (or prosecutors in general). But I never rattled. The closest I got was when he likened the “war on crime” to an actual war overseas and I was sorely tempted to say something to the effect of “If this is war then why are we wasting our time on trials?” I bit my tongue, though. He had succeeded in getting me to not like him, but at some point I realized that the biggest way I could be a pain in his arse was to force him to use a strike on me.

As luck would have it, the judge absolutely loved me. I’m really not sure why considering that the first thing he learned about me was that I was a softy on capital crimes (he wasn’t). In any case, either he really wanted to keep me around or I convinced him pretty thoroughly that I could be impartial. but he shot down all the prosecution’s objections.

The outcome was never in doubt. Colosse County is pretty Republican (even if the city isn’t) and a hotbed of law and order conservatism. I was an outlier and surely the prosecution had enough strikes to kick by bum to the curb. There was no doubt that the guy did it along with a number of other awful things and I didn’t figure that the jury would have any problem sending him to his chemical death. Sure enough, just a few weeks after I was shown the door he was sentenced to death.

Doing a quick google, he has apparently found Jesus and taken to writing poetry (in English and German) as he awaits execution.

Category: Courthouse