Dec 12 2009



Pretty scrubbish, Duncanville.

Dec 2 2009


Is Blackface Ever Okay? [click for video]

I can dig it

I can dig it

I think there’s something to the idea that there’s a “beautiful girl exception,” as silly as it sounds.  If the intent of ‘costuming’ in any particular fashion (and that’s what we’re talking about here) is to participate in the guise of some other identity – through culture, ethnicity, race, gender, etc. – and that participation takes the form of beauty, then there shouldn’t be a problem with that. Pretending to be an Egyptian Pharoah or a Nubian princess shouldn’t automatically be out of bounds simply because it takes the form of racial disguise. One should always be careful of slipping over this line into parody (something Ted Danson did innocently enough, way back in the day, thank you I am getting rather old), but the rote response that ‘blackface is never okay’ is grounded in an increasingly anachronistic mentality in which racial categorizations were only crossed in order to inflict shame or pain. We’re rapidly heading toward a future in which race becomes harder and harder to define – in which ‘multi-racial’ children become the norm, and the hard fast divisions between black and white don’t mean as much. When we get to that (and it’s going to be here a lot sooner than most any of us recognize, I think), participating in and celebrating classically distinct racial identities will not seem so shocking. Pretending to be an African queen won’t be so anathema then, even for Caucasian (or Asian or Hispanic or whatever) girls.  I think when blackface is okay – or rather, when it’s okay to engage in the intrinsic aesthetic beauty of other ethnic characteristics without an overbearing cultural shame – humanity will be a bit closer to doing away with the inflicted social fiction of ‘race.’.

Nov 21 2009

Squarejaw Shack


Nov 20 2009

Open Letter to the Easily Confused

jonah goldberg

Even Goldberg Can't Believe the Shit he Says

Mr. Goldberg
You recently wrote, “If we are at war, then the rules of war apply.”  This is evidently a question open to debate.  If KSM and his cohorts had been treated as prisoners of war, then absolutely they should be tried by military tribunal.  The argument has been made many times, with considerable merit, that these terrorists are not prisoners of war, but rather ‘unlawful combatants.’  This means that they are criminals, not soldiers, and as such subject to civilian justice.  The argument is largely academic at this point, for the purposes of this case.  These men have already been handled as unlawful combatants.  I fail to see how following the rule of law in recognition of the actions pursued by the Bush Administration is a ‘travesty.’  You really can’t have it both ways.
Omar Abdul-Rahman was successfully tried and convicted in civilian court, in New York, for bombing the World Trade Center.  The effective difference here is a matter of scale, not of underlying legal disputation.  Your reasoning on the differences between Abdul-Rahman’s case and KSM’s does not seem clear.
If we are, indeed, at war, I would encourage you, in your capacity as a writer with a public voice, to argue for the need of implementing war-time taxation policies in response to our brutalized deficit.  Failing this, I am extremely curious as to how you can argue that we are, in fact, at war and that these men should be tried by a military tribunal.  Clarity of moral reasoning is something you have argued for at length in the past, but it seems that you have abandoned all pretense of coherent logic on this issue. If you have not, then you and/or your editors need to sit down and clarify where you stand vis-a-vis your writing, because it’s coming off as extremely muddled.

Nov 12 2009

November Evergrind


Oct 28 2009

Job Hunt



A dusty Ford pickup truck swings around the corner and parks next to a curb.  Before the wheels come to a complete stop, a mob –  maybe 15 or 20 men – swoop across the concrete like migrating birds.  They crowd pushes in close to the cabin of the truck, waving their hands and shouting out their trade in Spanish.

Three men emerge from the bustle, and the other workers make way in silence.  The chosen laborers hop into the back seat of the cab.  The grumblings of those left behind quickly subsides, replaced by the distinctive cadence of jokes and small talk, as the workers find a decent spot – maybe up against a street sign, maybe next to a tree – where they will wait for the next truck.  They may wait hours; there may not be another truck that day.

Things were different six months ago.

200,000 people moved into Denton over the preceding decade, increasing the citi0’s population by a third.  Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, sheetrockeros, manual laborers: all were in demand.  Americans were improving their homes, building permits were hot, and contractors had an unending need for labor.

Today things are different.

“Business used to be good,” says Ben Shaw, a 28 year-old carpenter from Fort Worth.  His clothes hang loosely from his body, and two searching blue eyes peer out from a pre-maturely grizzled face as he perches on his bicycle.  “You wouldn’t know what truck to run up to.”

Today the corner is just as crowded, but work has become scarce.  The real-estate bust has dragged heavily on new construction starts, and the general economic downturn has eaten jobs that used to be plentiful.  City documents show that new residential building permits are down by as much as 2/3rds since this time last year.

On a drizzling Wednesday morning the laborers are still gathered at the site, hands in their pockets, intently watching as the traffic hustles by unaware.  There are few trucks to be seen, and none of them appear to be looking for help.

Shaw points to the work-site street corner, and grimaces.  “That used to be a spot you could get a hand up . . . now you can’t even get a hand-out.”

Victor Cardena, a life-long Denton resident, shares some of Shaw’s frustration.  “It’s kinda aggravating,” the softly-spoken man says slowly.  “I used to work every day, 7 days a week.  Last week, I worked one hour.”

The economic pressures are not the only difficulty the day laborers face.

Cardena gestures to the gas station just around the corner.  “We don’t both nobody, we’re customers too but they [QuikTrip employees] treat us like we’re not.”

Managing the movements of so many people jammed onto so small an area is a perpetual challenge.  Many of the laborers cross the busy Fort Worth intersection and patronize the bustling QuikTrip.  They buy a warm breakfast, maybe a couple $5 phone cards, sometimes a lottery ticket.  The bathrooms are clean, and the cool air-conditioned quiet of the business can be a swift repose from the outside conditions.

QuikTrip employees asked to comment on their day laborer customers refused, saying they were barred by management from answering questions about it.

John Cabrales Jr., Intergovernmental Relations Officer with the City of Denton, says that from “time to time there have been complaints from some of the businesses,” mostly about laborers loitering on business property.

It is illegal in Denton to solicit work anywhere other than the Day Labor Site and the Denton Police Department takes an active role in trying to keep the workers out of traffic and off business properties.  Although some of the laborers complain about the cops ‘hasslin’ them, Officer Ryan Greeley says most of the workers are compliant.

“The day laborers pretty much understand the rules,” Greeley notes.  Incidents are remarkably low, even non-existent, considering the number of people gathered on such a small area.  Creeping squad cars on the Fort Worth block attest to the vigilant commitment of resources made by the city.

But as the economy sputters, day laborers face other issues hidden from the sort of cursory glimpse so often tossed their way.

“The recession is affecting immigrants more than other groups,” says Pia Orrenius of the Dallas Fed.  Orrenius works as a senior economist and research officer, is a former member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, and is of the foremost researchers of migrant labor patterns in the country.

Construction workers, she says, are “more sensitive to the economic cycle.” Day laborers, in particular, are vulnerable because they work a fluctuating hourly basis.  “They often work fewer hours in a downturn,” Orrenius says, meaning drastically reduced income.

Even when these laborers get work, there is an increasing chance that they will not get paid.  Emily Timm, a 5-year veteran of the Workers Defense Project based in Austin, says that reports of wage theft – instances wherein laborers do the work, but employers pay them half, a third, or none of was originally agreed upon – have doubled since January 2008.

Workers at the site seem to confirm this trend.

Seven Hispanic men crowded next to a fence adjacent to the QuikTrip spoke with this reporter on an early morning.  One of them was looking for work, and inquired about a job – in violation of city ordinance.  The workers wore blue jean jacket and paint-stained pants.  Some look on from under creased baseball caps.  One of the men – with a particularly well kept mustache – smiled.

When asked if any of them had been a victim of wage theft – if someone had ‘ripped them off’ – two of the workers nodded.  Another one, in a blue baseball cap, raised his hand and began to speak, but was cut off.  Taxes were brought up, and it was quickly decided that the conversation had ended.  The mustachioed laborer was no longer smiling.

Workers at the day center site are not the only one’s choosing to stay silent.  Some local business owners refused to speak on the issue, preferring to not have their names attached to a debate that appears to be nowhere near resolution.

“There’s the situation of ramped-up [immigration] enforcement in the labor market,”  Orrenius said.  The legal status of many of the workers has drawn the attention of anti-illegal immigration groups, and cities through North Texas have experienced intense debate over how to handle the issue.

The city of Denton has tried to strike a balance, by maintaining the work site but not operating it outright.  The city assumed ownership of the site when the Denton Humanitarian Organization dissolved in 2003, thereby returning the property’s lease to the city (which had initially leased the plot from TxDOT in order to donate it to the DHO).

Confusion with the paperwork means that, for now, “It’s not clear for how long the agreement is for between TxDot and the City of Denton,” Cabrales said.  Cabrales suggested the lease could last for up to 30 years, meaning the city is most likely tied to this arrangement for the immediate future.

The arrangement means that the city will be responsible for maintaining a site that could see rapid growth regardless of academic conditions.

“In other states, like Arizona and Oklahoma, legislation has targeted illegal labor,” Orrenius said.  “They [the illegal labor] didn’t go to California.” The implication is that many laborers fleeing the widespread crackdowns in neighboring states are coming to Texas.  More workers for fewer jobs, since “low-wage workers in industries such as construction are the most hard-hit by recession,” Timm said.  “they are the first to lose their jobs.”

A startling number of local contracting firms have gone out of business, their posted business lines just beeping dead-ends.  The food truck lingers longer on the asphalt lot at the site, doing business with the idle.  Wages are being stolen, but fear stays the victims from reporting it.

Things could get better – many of the workers interviewed expressed hope that things were about to turn around.  The recession can’t last forever, after all.

But for now they wait, corralled onto a patch of concrete, hopeful that every truck turning the corner might be the one that earns them a day’s wage.  Most of them are still waiting.

Oct 13 2009

Ask Not

Any able bodied man or woman, with the requisite qualifications and intent, should be allowed to serve their country with pride and dedication.

Oct 2 2009

Mean Green Morons

Not in Texas!

Not in Texas!

The UNT Student Government voted to not allow same-sex couples to participate in the race for Homecoming King and Queen.  Among the reasons cited: parents threatened to take their kids out of class.  Damned children shouldn’t be taking up parking spots at the University anyway.

The decision does technically follow the by-lines of the student charter; unfortunately, the decision is also illegal.  The Homecoming Dance takes place with the tacit approval and coordination of the University – the University that accepts state and federal funding.  They are barring participation in a public school-sponsored event to students based on their sexual orientation.

The fact is, sexual orientation is physiological.  It’s not a choice.

Discriminating against people on the basis of something that they were born with is shameful garbage.  Get with it, UNT.

Oct 1 2009

Conversations with the Invisible Man

Would You Let Me THINK woman!
  • give voice to the voiceless
  • illuminate the hidden characters
  • write the truth about ordinary people
  • advocate for those in need
  • demand dignity for the outcast
  • tell the stories that need to be told, to the readers that need to hear them, about the people who could be invisible

There is an argument to be made that journalists must remain as objective as humanly possible; that the journalists only job is to report the stories the readers want to see.  Some say that if a journalist gives up his/her objectivity, and imposes a moral value on a story’s worth, their credibility is shot.  I strongly disagree with these ideas.  The Hearst Newspaper were ‘objective’ in their reporting, and those filthy rags damaged the American discourse in a very deep and personal way.  CNN prides itself on objective reporting, yet their corporate slant is often so apparent you wonder why Wolf doesn’t just come on out and admit his real name is ‘Tool O’Shuckin.’  What an absolute clown, a fraud!  An unpleasant empty beard of a man who plays with fake holograms tricked up to look legit, gets dominated on Jeopardy by Andy Richter, and couldn’t form an incisive question if Bigart himself rose from the grave and scrawled one on that giant Etch-A-Sketch in the Situation Room.  But he is objective!  It is a silly conceit that confuses the truth with non-commitment.  The truth, ultimately, is viciously subjective – it will only be caught and observed in the skull of whatever stumbling fool who happens to find himself face to face with a wall of reality.  Objectivity is a flighty hand-maiden to Judgement.  As journalists, lets use our judgement to tell a story, and if we have to abandon objectivity for the sake of understanding a perspective we would otherwise hold at arms length, well those are the wages of Truth.


i shook his hand once


i shake my fist at him


shaking violently; bat country

The Objective Mainstream establishment treated all vectors of information as equally valid in the run-up to Bombs Over Baghdad (DubYa Remix).  Some vectors of information are bullshit.  Officials, bureaucrats, politicians, entertainers: the bullshit will flow thick and rancid many times, and the fact is, those glommed up chunks of gibberish very often make pretty decent copy.  The story’s we read everyday are indentured to the same corridors of power, the same carousel kaleidoscope.  Jerry Jones, Tom Leppert, Mark Cuban, Max Baucus and Nancy Pelosi.  Yes, they are important, yes the news must cover what they sling at us, but no, let’s not pretend any of that is Objective.  I don’t mean the gibberish that leaks out of their mouths.  I mean covering their carefully crafted PR statements and acting as if it matters.  Objectively speaking – I mean, if we are observing the intersection of truth and reality – objectively speaking, Jerry Jones is a crook, Tom Leppert is a liar, Mark Cuban is unstable, Max Baucus is a crook and a liar, and Nancy Pelosi is an extremist.  The Objective journalist could never dare such a statement, of course.  And so Jerry Jones ripped the taxpayers of Arlington for $400 million, Tom Leppert sold us a Bridge in a Levee that will Never Work, Mark Cuban makes his players look bad, etc.  Perhaps I digress.

0320daylabor Rarely Seen Evidence of the Real World

The point I was trying to make, before we took a blind 180 degree turn into some unpleasantness, is that executing an agenda is journalistically important.  Giving voice to the voiceless requires an active and considered move to do just that.  Finding the unseen characters, and writing about them with import, will not succeed unless one makes a conscious effort to extract value from the story.  It is absolutely crucial that you find out ‘why this story matters to your readers.’  The ugly fact is, if you’re covering the voiceless, the unseen and the invisible, the story doesn’t matter to your readers.  By and large, they don’t care.  Let’s take another look at that 600 foot JumboTron.  The journalist must take the dangerous step of deciding this story is important, and working to convince the reader that they should care.  This is not Objective.  It is a declaration of intent.  Talking with the Invisible Man is not an easy prospect: he could be distrustful, unbelieving, comfortable in anonymity.  Shucking the Objective aside, there is a choice as to what you consider true: the voices of the marionette parade, always ready to babble on for a good soundbite just so long as you don’t call them on their invisible faults . . . or the voices of the shadowed souls, swallowed up by the wide wicked world, too concerned with reality to bother talking to an infiltrator.


Sep 23 2009

Through a Glass, Darkly

The Problem of Personal Experience

When you stare into the Space Bunny, the Space Bunny stares into you

When you stare into the Space Bunny, the Space Bunny stares into you

Most educated people like to think that their beliefs are borne out of careful consideration, and their positions rationally upheld by objective evidence and moral clarity.  It is not inaccurate to say that generally, this is how I feel.  How else could I argue my positions, and participate in the cultural debate, and attempt to sway my colleagues and friends to my perspective?  It’s one thing to subscribe to the Platonic ideal of questioning everything and never taking what you think you know for granted.  More often than not, this approach results in academic dithering, the occasional bout of self-doubt, some drunken introspection, and maybe you finally change your feelings on a subject that is no more pressing than the lightshow’s projected up on Plato’s cave.

Woah, I think that enlightenment is starting to kick in

Woah, I think that enlightenment is starting to kick in

Personal involvement in an issue tends to scatter the academic detritus, and can have a profound impact on the way in which one perceives an issue.  The intellectual demands of being immediately involved in an otherwise hypothetical question can very quickly demolish your entire carefully constructed argumentations.  Activism and advocacy can only really be explained by the personal experience of engagement, and yet activists and advocates are easily dismissed from consideration as ‘being too close to the issue.’  Does this speak to a weakness in any person’s carefully constructed belief system?  Or does becoming personally involved in an issue really sap one’s objective clarity of thought?

These are questions that I have struggled with recently, after finding my house-of-cards thinking woefully inadequate for dealing with reality.  The implication I take from this, and it’s not a pleasant one, is that people are 95% full of shit.

The first count is gay marriage.  Sure, why not? I thought.  Equal rights, let em be as miserable as the rest of us.  Truthfully, I thought the gay community had other, more pressing issues to bring to the national debate.  Marriage seemed fairly low in the struggle for equality.  But then the country voted for change, and an ugly reality spoiled the mood.

California voters went to the polls, and an increased number of black voters showed up to vote for our first black President.  These same voters overwhelmingly supported the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage.

Would Somebody Think of the Children?

Would Somebody Think of the Children?

What should have been an unvarnished, unequivocated vote for progress instead became, in the California vote, an ugly reminder that all Americans, regardless of race, are assuredly capable of hate.  Now, I should mention that one of my younger sisters is gay.  This turn of events made me angry.  Under the cloak of a national reconciliation, agents of ignorance decided to play to a populations prejudice, and explicitly deny a right to my sister that we usually take for granted.  My thinking on this has changed, now.  I feel this is a civil right’s issue, and the refined air of academic detachment is no longer relevant.  It’s personal now.

The second count is America’s involvement in Afghanistan: in the war of necessity.  In the moral war against jihadists.  It has been plain for a very long time that the Afghan operation has been poorly executed.  It has been clear that the resources diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq were critical, and the diversion itself a towering mistake.  But hey, we voted for change. Obviously we cannot allow insurgents to overrun that ravaged country yet again; we cannot allow al-Qaeda an unmolested operating space; we cannot abandon our national commitment there while extremists still wage guerrilla war across the Pakistani border.  I supposed that if the generals on the ground said we needed more troops, who was I to argue?  After all, I seem to have been proven largely wrong about the Surge in Iraq.  It’s half a world away!

Of course, all of this wasn’t quite so near the surface; my arguments were sincere, my thinking thorough.  There were grave misgivings, to be sure, but the level of personal engagement simply wasn’t there.  And now a very good friend of mine, who wanted to fly but got knocked down on a bullshit technicality, is being shipped out to Afghanistan in the infantry.  My thinking is now very confused, my positions not nearly so neat.  I looked in the mirror, and saw something different.  Something I didn’t like.  What else do I hold in near-certainty that will just as easily away at the first engagement with the real-world?  The experience to be had in this world is so vast, and our understanding of it so infinitely limited, is it no wonder the cultural debate devolves rapidly into caricature and gibberish?  Attempting to be open-minded as new information emerges is of little use in the data-spiraled maelstrom of the 21st century.  Question Everything! is a trendy cliche; Question Yourself! can only go so far.  Question what you know?  I am deeply unsure as to how effective that can be, when what you know is so easily changed.  Knowledge is the distorted reflections of our lives, through a darkened glass . . . and what we come to know can be as terrifying as what we thought we didn’t know.

A Long Way from Home, A Long Way to Go

A Long Way from Home, A Long Way to Go