Potpourri

Bill McKibben's 350.org Organizes Protest and Mass Arrest at MA Power Plant

Originally published in Open Media Boston. by Tate Williams (Staff), Jul-24-13

Cambridge, Mass. - The climate movement is a unique one, longtime activist Bill McKibben told an audience in Cambridge Sunday night, because it doesn’t gain its strength from a few powerful advocacy groups or high-profile leaders.

“What we are getting are thousands of nodes of people all around the world, groups in the community, fighting particular things—particular power plants, or fighting for wind on Cape Cod, fighting on all those fronts, but also realizing that they are connected and part of something much larger,” he said to the crowd at a rally and fundraiser.

And that’s why, McKibben would conclude, he wants you to get arrested in Somerset this weekend.

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Same-Sex Marriage Supporters Return to Cambridge City Hall to Celebrate Defeat of DOMA

Originally published in Open Media Boston. | It was right here on the steps of Cambridge City Hall, on May 17, 2004, where it all started. To the cheers of a crowd waiting eagerly outside, Cambridge opened its doors at the stroke of midnight on the day Massachusetts became the first state to cross the federal law of the land and allow same sex marriage.

So it was a fitting place for hundreds of supporters, many of whom were married here on that day nine years ago, to reconvene and celebrate the defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act, struck down by Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision.

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End of An Era for Boston Media as Phoenix Shuts Down

Originally published in Open Media Boston by Tate Williams (Staff), Mar-15-13

BOSTON - When the Boston Phoenix announced it was shutting down Thursday afternoon—after nearly 50 years of often being at the cutting edge of alternative media—the response was a mix of utter shock and resigned acceptance.

After all, while it had been a staple publication for the city for decades, there was general awareness that it was struggling in a world where classified ads are all online, and “alternative media” has fractured and bled into every corner of the Internet.

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Crashing Nader's party

Originally posted on mrchair, 4/6/2004. Fiery Portlanders lined up outside in droves, so passionate about the liberal cause that they would support it to point of sabotaging Democrats in the 04 election. Other fiery Portlanders picketed the first crowd, so passionate about that exact same liberal cause that they would protest their own people to save the Democrats in said election.

Then there were the socialists, the mayoral race stumpers, the Greens, local petitioners, the press, and inside a woman was performing an awful lounge version of “Anarchy in the UK.”

I was there with a Democratic Party card in my wallet, a McCain 2000 T-shirt under my sweater, a Kerry for President button on my bag and no intention of signing a petition to put Ralph Nader on the Oregon ballot in November.

And the cause that brought us all to the Roseland Theatre last night became the punchline, when Ralph’s hopes of getting his foot in this progressive state’s race ended a few hundred people short. Nader needed 1,000 people to make it on our ballot, and after I stood in line to see the spectacle with hundreds of Portlanders (such a convention hadn’t happened in more than 20 years) it was pretty surprising that he didn’t make it.

The line outside was tense when I first showed up, wrapping around both ends of the downtown concert hall, with protestors telling the indies that they would waste their votes, prolong an unjust war and drive the country into the ground by sacrificing the state to Bush. Gore won Oregon by a slim margin in 2000, with a whopping 5 percent going to the Green Party spoiler.

A woman and her husband handed out $100 worth of flyers to try and sway the lined-up Naderites. When one person in line threw her pro-Kerry flyer back at her, her husband observed, “You’d think they’d at least recycle it.” One conservatively dressed man walked by with a sign stating that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush. Some shaggy people in line made fun of his shoes.

I couldn’t help but be impressed, if a little disgusted, that so many people in town were either this idealistic, this hopeless about the democratic process, or so completely irrational that they would make a protest vote for Nader. Equally impressive was the fragmentation visible outside the theater. It reminded me of the anti-war protest in March, which piggybacked the causes of justice for janitors, migrant farm workers, social anarchy, socialism and Dennis Kucinich along with the initial intention: “Peace.” You have to wonder if these are the people you want to line up with. I’ve always thought that liberals are more passionate, intelligent or thoughtful, and therefore harder to organize. But the result is kind of fucked up. The left is divided, make no mistake.

After a 30-minute wait I was accosted by a scrawny young man in a Nader T-shirt, guarding the door like a bouncer. Jesus, is this what the third party push is about? Giving assholes like this a chance to act like Pancho Villa for a night? He asked me if I voted in the last election, if I was registered to vote, if I had moved recently, and if I planned to sign for Nader on the ballot.

“Uh, no.” I said. That wasn’t going to fly, I figured, and I really wanted in. “Maybe, I don’t know.” That was good enough for him, but I wondered if I’d have been bounced if I held my ground. I later remembered my Kerry button and realized I was wearing rival colors at their homecourt. I thought it would be funny to get my ass kicked at a Nader rally. The inside was dark and packed and the lounge singer was doing some god-awful smutty song about Rumsfeld and Cheney and Bush fucking each other. Gross. Pretty fun atmosphere inside though, and even a much-appreciated bar upstairs. I snapped a bunch of pictures of the hippies and punks and the wine and cheese crowd, and tried to call Catfish only to be later reprimanded for missing the NCAA championship. He had a point.

One more band and two beers later, I was positive Ralph had the nomination wrapped up, and was stewing over the fact that he would turn a Democratic state into a swing state so carelessly. He claims his candidacy will teach the Democrats to beat Bush, and draw Republicans as well as liberals. Huh? Following a “Ralph, Ralph,” chant, and one guy yelling “Slayer,” a Nader rep came out and broke the news that they didn’t make the cut. 750 people (minus me). They needed 1000 in the room at once, and then get them all to sign a petition. A spot on the ballot would now be very difficult. I was relieved, but honestly, not happy. A few plastic cups with shots of brown liquor were passed among the crowd. Ralph came on stage, and I watched the man I voted for in 2000 as he moved the crowd with a powerful rant against corporate America and the sorry state of the country. I loved almost everything he said and found myself applauding.

It wasn’t a happy moment to listen someone speak such strong messages to such a dedicated crowd, knowing that this country, this world would never have him as a leader. It wasn’t a happy moment to watch someone take his powerful grassroots movement on an ego trip, and fail. He pointed his finger at Oregon, saying we were losing our progressive tradition, and the NCAA, and Friends reruns for making us complacent. Called Dean all but a turncoat. I was watching Nader go down with the ship. I thought I saw an old college professor of mine, a brave and respected faculty activist, walk across the floor of the theater, but I remembered that he died a year or so ago.

I listened to the speech and left a little jaded, a little sympathetic. The sympathy faded though, as later on I realized that during the convention some fucker had, no shit, stolen my Kerry for President button right off of my bag. The left is divided, make no mistake.

(photo credit Flickr user soundfromwayout creative commons)

Justice

Originally posted on mrchair, 10/29/2007. I had to go to trial over that time I got punched in the face with the snapped off car antenna. I never thought it would come to that, and going to court over the whole stupid event seemed ridiculous. But Sara and I decided that annoyance probably wasn't a good enough reason to shirk civic duty. This guy had been in and out of the system (I picked up this lingo from the time spent with the DA. DA, that stands for District Attorney) for years, and had a felony robbery on his record already. He isn't even homeless. The cops told me he lives in Gresham and comes downtown and fucks with people.

Still, I didn't foresee trial. We had to meet in court early Monday morning, the whole time expecting the guy, Matthew, to plea down and call the whole thing off. He didn't. The attorney prepped us, told us Matthew's attorney would goad us on, and that we should not "take the bait." This is stuff of TV. The night before, Sara had said, "It's not going to be like TV." But lo and behold.

We sat in the hallway, me terrified. Sara, as usual, seeming largely unaffected and a little bored. The arresting officer sitting across the hallway in a nice pantsuit. She looked lovely really. Sleek even. I suddenly decided I should have worn a tie, instead of black Levis and a rumpled blue button-down. Dammit. Stupid.

The DA told us we had to await jury selection. We could go get coffee. We didn't need coffee, so we walked to the river. Stood along the waterfront, making small talk. Me too nervous to be funny or charming or the normal things I would try to do in the company of a woman, much less an ex-girlfriend. I commented that the DA referred to Matthew's antics as "monkeyshines."

He waived right to a jury and we were called back to testify immediately.

I was called in. Sara was told to wait in the hallway. A nice woman swore me in. I didn't put my hand on the bible, but I think I held my hand up. Matthew was sitting at a table across from the judge and me, wearing a suit but no tie, and his long hair pulled into two wild pony tails, jutting from each side of his head at right angles. His ankles were chained together, and he was looking at me. Not scary, but definitely looking. I felt bad for him. I felt guilty. He was in jail, not because of me, but because of me.

I testified. Told the court what happened. The public defender started his cross-examination. It was long. Really long. He asked me how much I had to drink. I told him the truth. He asked a lot of questions about what I had done that night. About Sara and I. What we were talking about. How long we had known each other. For a second I relaxed. I like to talk about myself, and I kind of felt like I was in therapy, or telling a story in a bar. Then things took a turn.

PD: Do you dislike panhandlers Mr. Williams? DA: Objection, irrelevant. Judge: How is the question relevant? PD: I'm establishing that Mr. Williams was the aggressor. Judge: Objection overruled.

I told him that, no, I do not dislike panhandlers. I wanted to tell him that I kind of panhandle for a living, or at least that I work downtown all the time. But he was wily, and I figured I better not give him any ammo. He was trying to make it sound like I hate panhandlers and when Matthew asked for money, I became aggressive and led him to attack. A fine strategy. But I didn't take the bait.

There was a re-direct: DA: How many times did you tell the defendant to leave? Me: Between 10 and 20 times. DA: Did you see him about to hit you, or expect him to hit you? Me: It came completely out of nowhere. DA: Did you ever threaten him? Me: Absolutely not. DA: Did you make any threatening motion toward him? Me: Absolutely not.

I walked out. Sara walked in. I felt so bad for her. Nervous for her. I was afraid she would get ripped to shreds. She said the defense was a lot nicer to her. It's tough to attack cute little girl on the stand.

We left and the cop was going in to testify. We said goodbye. I walked out and felt like I was breathing for the first time all day. I couldn't go back to work yet. We stood outside court and decided to go eat. We weren't hungry. I got a coffee and a pumpkin bread. We walked to Pioneer Square, where on the bricks it was warm. I drank my coffee and shared the pumpkin bread. Sara gave some to a little kid to feed the pigeons. She told me she feels her biological clock ticking. That things are going well with her new boyfriend. I opted not to pursue the discussion of personal lives, either out of exhaustion or common sense.

There were pigeons everywhere. "Look what you did," I said.

We walked around a little more. I was almost feeling back to normal, like it was wearing off. I was about to leave a world in which I say things like, "in and out of the system." A world where I am cross-examined and re-directed. Where I am sworn in and speak into a microphone. Where I eat pumpkin bread and force smalltalk with someone I used to share a bed with. Where we are both so tired from waking up many hours before we used to wake up together. And annoyed, and not really hungry.

I was in a work meeting, and I got a call from the district attorney, who told me Matthew was found guilty.

A fascinating evening at a local bar

Originally posted on mrchair, 6/2/2008. A couple of weekends ago, around midnight, everyone was going home from the bar and I didn't feel like it yet. You know, those moods where you have to stay out in public and can't quite withdraw into your little bunker quite yet. So I walked around the neighborhood and watched folks carouse Capitol Hill on a late Friday night.

I slid into the most obscure bar I could find for a nightcap, which in retrospect I'm 90 percent sure was a gay bar. I sat at the bar next to an unattended drink, and its owner soon returned. He was one of those guys who looks about 10 years older than he probably is, and was missing his top-front four teeth.

A couple of minutes later, he started talking to me, and told me a couple of jokes about Jesus. I don't know what it is about lonely drunks and jokes about Jesus, but this is not the first time this has happened to me. So I told him a couple of jokes back, and we were getting along just great. He asked me what I do for a living and I explained it. He asked if I ever wanted to run for office, and I told him there's no chance.

"What about you?" I asked him, referring to his line of work. "Oh, no no no. I could never run for office. Too many skeletons in my closet." "Oh, yeah, gotcha. Um, what do you do for a living?" "Well, it's complicated," and he shifted around a little, hesitant. "Have you ever had someone pull up to you in a van, and open the door and try to sell you speakers? Like really cheap because he needs to get rid of them in a hurry?" "Yeah, I have actually. Once in Tucson, Arizona" I said, truthfully. "That's what I do." Pause. "You sell speakers? Out of vans?" "Yep. A van. My van." "Dude, don't take this the wrong way, but I thought people who sold speakers out of vans had, um, stolen them. Do you ... steal speakers?" "No, no. That's the idea, though. We want you to think that, so you'll buy em," he said. "But they're not stolen." "Wait, so you're telling me you sell legitimate speakers to people out of a van, but try to make them think they're stolen so they'll buy them, like in a hurry or like they think they're getting some amazing deal?" "Yep. See the guy you talked to probably told you that it was like a $2,000 speaker system that he'd unload for 300 bucks. But truth is that it's more likely a $100 set of speakers he's marking up. But you think you're getting this smoking deal." "Holy shit, are you serious?" I had never heard of anything like this. "So you sell things totally legally, under the pretense that you're a thief." "It's completely legal. I am not a thief. I do not break any laws. I'm not exactly honest, but they get exactly what they pay for," he said, getting a little defensive. "So where do the speakers come from?" "I don't know. China or something. I get them from my boss." "And how long have you been doing this?" I asked, now completely captivated. "22 years." My jaw dropped. "22 years? This is like your career?" "Yep." Silence. "Do you like it?" "Well, it's starting to wear on me. I mean I'm basically a con man. I gotta say, I'm getting so tired of lying to so many people. I mean I'm not a bad person, but I lie to people all the time, for my job. I lie to people for a living." He was getting a little emotional. "And I really feel like I can do better than this, you know? Like I have this idea. You know how we're having all of these energy problems, and global warming and oil is running out? Well I have this idea, that the Earth is basically a huge magnet. And you can make electricity by running a wire through a magnetic field, generating a current. So why can't we hang a giant copper wire through the atmosphere and run it through the earth's field and make electricity?" "I have to admit," I said, "that's a really interesting idea." "I mean there's a lot of kinks to work out, like how you would make sure the wire wouldn't hit planes and shit like that. But you see what I mean, I have these ideas in my head."

We talked a while more, I tried to lighten things up a bit. We shook hands and parted ways. And it was pouring rain outside. Huge drops. I got soaked on the walk home.

Scuba Gear

Originally posted on mrchair, 7/2/2008.  So Jamie and I were talking about urine tests the other day, and while regaling a classy story of a time I had to take more than one urine test and was unable to go, I revealed a little-known fact. When I was about 12 or so I had a testicular torsion. A torsion is when one of the testicles (or to mrchair readers, 'testacles') becomes partially twisted, cutting blood flow, endangering the testicle and causing a gnawing pain that no 12-year-old boy should ever have to endure. Much less tell his mom about.

As I explained to her, my tangled testicle was of a very mild form, and all I had to do was take some pills and ice it and it went away and now today I have both of them, perfectly fine and full of sperm, ready to be wasted as frequently as I get the chance. But, understandably, this tidy description of what eMedicine describes as "a true urologic emergency," that is "the leading cause of testicular loss" didn't ease her curiosity.

So a couple days later we looked it up on the Internet, and found gritty descriptions that, while funny, didn't match my memory. But anyway, have some knowledge about what happens when your testicle gets twisted:

-"Torsions are sometimes called "winter syndrome". This is because they often happen in winter, when it is cold outside. The scrotum of a man who has been lying in a warm bed is relaxed. When he arises, his scrotum is exposed to the colder room air. If the spermatic cord is twisted while the scrotum is loose, the sudden contraction that results from the abrupt temperature change can trap the testicle in that position. The result is a testicular torsion."

-"If there is the slightest hint of a torsion of the testicle, then doctors will perform surgery; even if the testicle turns out not to have twisted, they will still protect it by attaching the testicle to the scrotum wall. If only one testicle has been problematic, the surgeon may suture both testicles as a preventative effort."

-"A salvage rate of 100% is found in patients who undergo detorsion within 6 hours of pain; 20% viability rate if detorsion occurs after 12 hours; and 0% viability if detorsion is delayed greater than 24 hours."

- "Manual detorsion can be attempted with pain relief. The procedure is similar to the 'opening of a book' when the physician is standing at the patient's feet. For example, in a suspected torsion of the right testicle, the physician is in front of the standing or supine patient and holds the patient's right testicle with the left thumb and forefinger. The physician then rotates the right testicle outward 180° in a medial to lateral direction."

-And my absolute favorite: "Torsion of testicular appendices is one of the most common causes of acute scrotum; it is the leading cause of acute scrotum in children."

And we laughed and laughed. But Jamie a little more than me. And me occasionally saying, "that's not really funny. Hurts." There was one particular section that said "testicular pain is a great source of anxiety for men," that she thought was hilarious.

But pain plus time equals comedy, so a testicular torsion 20 years later must be fucking agonizingly hysterical. Fine, ok, it's funny. But the more we researched, the less satisfied Jamie was with my recollection.

"It doesn't make sense that you could just take pills and it would go away. You must have had surgery, or maybe the doctor untwisted it with his hand and then gave you painkillers," she said. "I have no motive to lie about this, nor is it likely that I'd forget having a doctor untwist my testicle, with surgery or otherwise."

But then I figured it out, and the mystery was solved: The torsion of the testicular appendage.

You see, there's a full-on twisted testicle, where they sew it to your ballsack and a lot of the time they have to cut it off. Then there's the other one, of the appendices. See balls have these little attachments. Inside of the skin, there's a lot going on. Chances are, if you saw the inside of a testicle, you wouldn't even recognize it. You'd think it was scuba gear, or a lizard sunning itself on a river rock.

So one of the lizard's legs, or the snorkel mouthpiece gets all twisty and it hurts really bad and then you tell your mom and it's all embarassing. Then an old man makes you pee in a cup and than another old man makes you do the same, but you can't pee because you just went. But it works out alright and he gives you a bunch of anti-inflammatory drugs and you lie to your friends and sit on the couch with an icebag for a few days and play video games.

So when it was said and done, we all learned a lot. Mostly Jamie. Mostly that I'm usually right, especially with matters of my testicles. But also, now I finally know why I have such acute scrotum.

Snowy Day in Cheesman Park

Denver's been colder than I've experienced during the past couple of weeks. I think we bottomed out at Feels Like 30 Below, but were below zero and single digits for days in a row. When it gets this cold, the dog won't walk. She goes out for a minute or two, excited having forgotten how cold it is, then lifts up one or two of her feet and shivers until you pick her up. I started to wonder what happens to small woodland animals when it's that cold. Do they all hibernate? Do they die?

No, it turns out, they do not die. Nor do they all hibernate. Jamie did some basic research for me, and found that squirrels (or "squee-rells" as her aunt calls them) get fat, hide little stashes of food near their home trees, and just hang out in their nests until it warms up. This little guy was apparently making a trip to the ground to grab some food.

They build pretty good little nests, or dreys, out of whatever kind of leaves and twigs they can find. And then they just hunker down. They'll stay in bed for days without leaving. But here's the interesting thing: Squirrels are solitary little animals. They have their own little dreys and food stashes. But, when it gets really cold, that changes temporarily.

The lone squirrel will allow other squirrels to climb into the nest with him. In fact, if it's cold enough, several squirrels will climb into one nest and huddle up next to each other to share body heat and stay warm. Then it warms up, and they leave. Or as the painfully adorable squirrels.org states, "once the temperature rises, the guests will be on their way."

Cold has a way of messing with things. We didn't have cold where I grew up, at least not real cold. Not snow days or frozen pipes. It snowed a few flakes every now and then and we would go outside and stare at it. When I go out and the city is covered in snow, it's like I live in an entirely different place. Things I walk by every day and ignore suddenly become visible. There's too much to see most days to get a good look. When you cover most of it with the cold blank of snow, things appear.

Streets lose their lanes and cars disappear. Dogs lose their sense of smell. More pets get lost in the winter than any other time of year because their senses are dulled by the static air. They don't know where home is if they go too far.

Stay indoors and enjoy Wintry Mix on 8tracks, with songs from Salem, Glasser, Mount Kimbie and more. Invite some strangers into join you on the couch. When it gets warm again, make them leave.

A Romantic Weekend of Comic Books

Originally published on mrchair Jamie and I spent a good part of the weekend on the couch reading comics we picked up at the library Saturday. The Denver Library has two comic book sections. One is upstairs above the second floor skylight. The second is a young adult section, which forces me to break the rules by entering without an accompanying teenager. If you combine the two, you get a pretty decent collection, but you never really know where anything is going to be, or in what order. That and someone who is clearly ordering fresh stock on a pretty regular basis makes it a serendipitous visit most days. You could find Lone Wolf and Cub a shelf away from Baby Blues.

I usually go for writers I like, but since Jason still ships me comics from Floating World, I usually skim through to find things I otherwise wouldn't buy. Random DC and Marvel, but also indie stuff that missed me, like a lot of Drawn and Quarterly books by Joe Matt, Seth, Chester Brown. Point being, a trip to the public library is a good reminder that comic books (or graphic novels or comix or whatever) are full of surprises even for someone who reads a lot of them.

Or, in Jamie's case, for someone who reads very few. She has a knack at scanning the binds and finding little treasures that are exactly what she's looking for. This is another singular benefit of comic books -- you can and should judge a book by its cover. Or more accurately, the entirety of the publication, the layout, the cover, the word balloons, the fonts, the placement of words on the page, are all part of a complete composition when done right. You can glance at it for what pleases you, like you would a framed painting. But then you can settle into that painting the way you would a short story or novel. Or in the case of autobiographical novels, as many comics are, you can make a real connection with another person.

On Sunday, I settled in with Julie Doucet's "My New York Diary," a grungy memoir comic of Doucet's years gaining popularity as an artist, while living in a low rent apartment full of cheap beer and drugs with her insecure unnamed boyfriend. She's now something of an underground legend, but I had never read any of her comics. It reminded me a lot of Bagge's Buddy comics, but with chilling, intimate moments like a miscarriage and some frightening scares with epilepsy. And a good share of awkward sexual scenarios that make any autobiographical comic whole.

Jamie found a younger artist who also does memoir comics, Lucy Knisley. Discovering someone totally new to you is always exciting, and Jamie has an impressive obsession with finding things she likes, and hunting down related work. With the Internet being all that it is, a library book or magazine article can turn into days of exploring blogs, webcomics, flickr feeds, novels. Knisley has many of the above to explore. I knew her primarily from a couple of amazing comics she did about Twilight. Her "French Milk" graphic novel is a travel journal from when she was young, living in France for a short time with her mother. It's a little raw, but full of tender young moments of magnified adoration and anxiety.

"I really like finding comics that I like."

"Yeah I like it when you find them too. It's a common interest."

"But I only like comics like this. You like all kinds of comics."

 

True, but there's something about a good comic that when you find something you like, has an immediate and powerful connection. There's the art theory about it, about iconic images being easy to imprint with your own feelings, more than realistic images. About the reader making the action happen between frames in his or her mind, as a complicit narrator. And along the same lines, sharing comics with people is a joy that I've always felt is stronger than sharing a movie, or even a book.

I also spent the weekend reading Surrogates, a sci-fi comic that was recently turned into a movie. I also, semi-coincidentally watched the Surrogates movie with Bruce Willis Sunday night. I didn't hate the movie, thought the comic was pretty good. But there was something missing in the movie. With all of the special effects and fancy real life images, it was totally missing the real life in the rough brush stroke figures.

Harvey Pekar famously said "comics are just words and pictures. And with words and pictures, you can do anything." Even with a bajillion dollar budget and a cool concept, a Hollywood movie can so often fall short of what one or two people can do with paper and some pens, that two other people can find on the library shelf.