Who do I blame for progress?

It’s not exactly bellwether, but it’s one hell of a statement.

These are wrenching times for San Francisco’s historic gay village, with population shifts, booming development, and a waning sense of belonging that is also being felt in gay enclaves across the nation, from Key West, Fla., to West Hollywood, as they struggle to maintain cultural relevance in the face of gentrification.

I am easily reminded, when reading notes about labor actions abroad, that American strike actions must seem absurd to some insofar as some of our neighbors abroad would think, “I wish I could strike for something like that.” Indeed, such a thought struck me when reading of a French labor action in which firefighters were preparing to strike over the pension age. Was it fifty? Fifty-five? Of course, if retirement in France is anything like vernacular has it in the United States, the extra years of going crazy with nothing to do would explain a few things about what’s wrong with the French. So, yes, sometimes it does seem strange that American workers should strike over things like health benefits, cost-of-living increases, and retirement plans.

And so it is when homosexuals, as Patricia Leigh Brown’s article for the New York Times suggests, face the horrifying prospect of becoming passé.

Because, let’s face it, passé is, simply, a new height for any oppressed minority. Certainly, dressing and sounding like a street thug according to the latest record-label press release became so hip that we nearly drowned in the market saturation, but that, despite what some might say, had nothing to do with actually being black.

So the thought that actual gayness has become passé? It marks a new height in social evolution.

And that makes sense: the aesthetics of being gay are different from those of being black. Mainstream Americans–those who enjoy the benefits and vistas offered being part of the empowered majority–find it much easier to appreciate the appearances that come with being gay than being black. Homo chic involves dramatic clothing, sculpted hair, perfect nails. It involves picture-perfect settings drawn straight from the exaggerations of stereotypes and fashion magazines everywhere. The aesthetics of being gay involve beauty and purity. The aesthetics of being black, on the other hand, involve being black. For those isolated in the American mainstream, it’s an ugly proposition. They already know that being black involves being treated poorly. A ridiculous portion of American history involves the empowered majority doing everything it can to make dark-skinned people miserable. It involves rhetorical twists and ideological ironies on an artistic scale engineered to a pretentious vice akin to Boeing, Microsoft, or the United States government itself. It is an absurdity captured cinematically in small moments like Kathy Bates fitting South American tribal girls for brassieres, and however many real-world analogies such perspectives legitimately include. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation seems almost prophetic in its example: modern hatred is a fierce and determined caricature.

For those isolated mainstreamers, though, it is the practical consideration: all they need to do is be stylish and organized and dynamic and whatever else the homosexual stereotype demands. They get to envy something they would otherwise dislike. Sure, they might fit a gay stereotype, everybody knows they are not actually gay. And they figure it should be just as easy for gay people to pretend they are not gay.

Which really screws up what would otherwise be a beautiful symptom, what makes the whole mess so tragic. It’s a disaster.

But life, despite daily suggestions otherwise, is not a bad movie; and I, for one, am not C. Thomas Howell.

Homosexual rights activists will frequently remind that Huey P. Newton told his Black Panthers that they should relate to their homosexual neighbors because their struggle, too, is the real thing. That relationship, however, is inherently challenged by the diverse relationships between these neighbors and their common oppressor, e.g., the empowered majority. While the stereotypes suggest that heterosexuals expect a good deal of pretense in their dealings with homosexuals, such pretense is not possible between whites and blacks.

And that is what we must remember. If the establishment could ask black people to pretend they’re not black, they would.

So when I look at the idea of an oppressed minority becoming passé, I should probably not be so amused at the notion that the constriction of a people to mere style suggests progress. “You’re passe,” he said, without spending a heartbeat to consider the irony of such a charge.

See? It is entirely possible to take what looks like a sign of progress and find a reason to blame somebody for something.

Reflections on Taco Tuesday, or, Thoughts on Apathy

Well, as Bageldog saw fit to remind, yesterday was, indeed, Taco Tuesday. Monica Guzman, writing for the Seattle P-I’s Big Blog:

Yesterday at 4:30 p.m. I asked the woman behind the register at the Taco Bell on 15th Avenue in Ballard how the free taco day promotion was going.

By the looks of it — well. Ish. The place had mostly cleared out, but the taco tornado had hit and hit hard. Yellow bits of cheese sprinkled the tabletops. Paper wrappers littered the floor. Corpses of drink cups lay where they fell. Poor woman had had had a long day. She looked at me and laughed.

“Oh my God,” she said. Her eyes went wide and she shook her head. “They made a huge mistake doing this.”

At the local level, I can only imagine that is how it felt. But this had nothing to do with the locals. After all, this was a national promotion, and spectacular enough to generate controversy. In Bellingham, Washington, the only two Taco Bells in the area decided late that they would participate in the giveaway despite earlier statements to the contrary.

Bellingham resident Alex Hardie, 20, was the first customer at the Sunset Square location to get his free crunchy seasoned beef taco.

“This is a special thing,” said Hardie, who said he saw the promotion while watching the World Series.

“I live out on Northwest, and I took a bus, so I really had to make a wild stretch.”

Store manager Staci Caralis said two extra employees would join the staff midway through the giveaway to help out.

The restaurant cooked an extra 30 pounds of beef in anticipation, Caralis said.

She added that the initial announcement that the location wouldn’t participate was a “miscommunication.”

Perhaps there were logistical concerns. Then again, Bellingham is a long way out. Considerably closer to Boston, Dennis Tatz fills us in:

Taco Bell restaurants in Quincy and Norwell had their fill of Sox fans during the three-hour window. People flocked to the restaurants to take advantage of the “Steal a Base, Steal a Taco” promotion.

In Quincy, police ordered the Taco Bell drive-through window shut down as traffic backed up on Hancock Street in the city’s Wollaston section. Inside, the line of eager customers was long.

The promise of free food at the Taco Bell on Route 53 in Norwell caused some tempers to flare and car horns to blare.

Taco Bell worker Kevin Sigourney of Hull looked relieved as he left the Norwell restaurant following the frenzy.

“All I can say is it was the craziest day I’ve ever had,” Sigourney said. “It was a sea of people and free tacos.”

There’s even a picture of Jacoby Ellsbury signing autographs at a Boston Taco Bell.

I confess I skipped Taco Tuesday. I also confess that I was so not enthralled by the World Series that I only realized it was over in retrospect. I saw Game 3, figured it would be over in four, and promptly forgot about it.

Life goes on.

You know, last month I happened to be down in Irvine, California, and actually stood in the shadow of the Taco Bell building. Drunk, weary, and mulling a shortcut back to the hotel, I remember looking up that night and thinking that Taco Bell was mocking me. And then I fell down the hill and lost my glasses.

TB spokesman Will Bortz apparently told someone that the promotion was a tremendous success. And why not? This one was big enough to hang a guilt trip on:

Nearly 10,000 people signed an online petition aimed at getting fast-food giant Taco Bell to donate money to help the American Red Cross provides services to those displaced by the California wildfires.

The online effort was tied to a nationwide promotion Tuesday in which Taco Bell gave away free tacos to customers nationwide for three hours. The promotion was tied to the recently concluded World Series.

Organizers had hoped that Taco Bell would donate money to the Red Cross that approximated the value of a free taco for every person who signed the petition.

Taco Bell, however, isn’t playing along ….

Taco Bell was, nonetheless, impressed by Mike Escordi’s effort. And Escordi himself found some redemption in the failed campaign:

“This was a tremendous effort on so many levels and we could not have been any more pleased at the response we got to a campaign costing nothing more than the $10 or so to buy the URL,” Mr. Escordi said. “Watching the numbers increase exponentially throughout the day provided a bit of renewed faith in human nature.”

It’s very easy, I suppose, to sign an electronic petition asking some large corporation to make a small gesture of decency, but let’s think about this for a moment. Fire danger. Refugees. Taco Bell saturation. If I’m making a bad joke here, it’s what I’ve got to work with.

When the cats won’t eat it ….

Glow-in-the-dark seafood.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Creepy, eh? In a way, not really. Seattle Post-Intelligencer senior correspondent Andrew Schneider reports on glowing seafood that has turned up around the Seattle area, of late.

It sounds like a Halloween joke. A pile of brightly glowing cooked shrimp sitting on the counter in a darkened kitchen.

But Randall Peters doesn’t see the humor in it. He bought the shrimp last week from the West Seattle Thriftway. He ate some that evening and returned to the kitchen a few minutes later.

“It was like a bright eerie light was shining on it,” said Peters, who works for a natural food store.

“I thought that maybe it had been overirradiated, you know, too much radiation. Now, whenever I buy seafood, I take it home and turn out the lights.”

Mr. Peters is not alone. Schneider reports that a local woman named Barbara called in to tell the story of some shrimp she bought at the Wallingford QFC for her cats. The cats did not touch the treat, as she discovered while investigating the mysterious green-blue glow on her front porch. Checking in the refrigerator, Barbara found the bag of shrimp glowing brightly.

There are, at present, no reports of illness. Furthermore, Dr. Bill Robertson of Washington Poison Center told the P-I that he “wouldn’t hesitate to eat the stuff”. The WPC toxicologist said, “I don’t know of any studies that show it’s hazardous but, then again, I can’t envision anyone spending the money to do the costly tests to prove it’s safe”.

According to the FDA Seafood Product Research Center in Bothell, data on glowing seafood is sketchy. A spokeswoman explained to the P-I that the only research into luminescent bacteria in seafood began twenty years ago by an FDA microbiologist. Patricia Sado’s study, published in 1998, examined diverse reports of glowing seafood, and asserted that the luminescence came from the presence of certain bacteria. Glowing products included crabmeat, lobster, shrimp, herring, and sardines. In some cases, all researchers had left to work with were styrene trays or plastic wrappers.

Fresh, uncooked fish also were reported as glowing in the dark. A team of Environmental Protection Agency investigators evaluating the pollution of the Columbia River near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation were stopped by members of the Confederate Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon. They had 200 to 300 pounds of brightly glowing fish — whole King salmon they plan to use in a ceremony.

They were afraid to eat it because they believed the fish were radioactive, Sado reported. The analysis found the salmon — skin, intestine and gills — heavily contaminated with a bacteria called P. phosphoreum.

The reports the microbiologist collected listed only one death attributed to a bioluminescent seafood, and this was not from consumption of the bacteria but rather a 72-year-old man who cut himself while cleaning fish.

The ailments most often reported by Sado were headaches, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping and diarrhea — symptoms similar to most food poisonings. However, many of her case studies — like Peters and Barbara — reported no health problems.

The FDA scientist — now retired and living in the Seattle area — still retains her interest in bioluminescence.

“It is just fascinating to study,” she said in an interview this week. “But people who see their seafood glowing should not think they’re crazy nor that the aliens have landed. There are reasons backed by solid science.”

She believes the problems at the Seattle stores probably were the result of cross-contamination. Cooking the product kills the luminescent bacteria and pathogens,

“Boiling the shrimp would have killed the P. phosphoreum so the contamination probably happened after cooking,” she said. “Somewhere, either in the grocery that sold the product or the plant where the cooked shrimp were packed, contamination from uncooked seafood had to get on the shrimp. This could present a problem.”

In the meantime, a director for Ocean Beauty Seafood–who supplied the seafood to Thriftway and QFC–told the P-I, “We’re going back to the eastern Canadian company that supplied the shrimp to us to discuss the procedures that they use. That’s only common sense.”

Meanwhile the FDA is not investigating the current claims for lack of any formal complaint. Also, according to a spokeswoman, “it’s not a food safety issue because no one got sick.”

You know, my thing with shrimp has to do with texture. I cannot say that phosphorescence would encourage me to get over that aversion.

Brust on writing

Steven Brust notes,

You’ve lost the power of thought and speech
The iron ore is out of reach
The horses run at double time
Upgrade to muskets and you’ll be fine

You must save face
Don’t let the French be first in Space
Bed calls but its no use
Until you can make that bank produce

Whoa, you like to think that your will is completely free, oh yea.
And you’ll stop when you’ve built the Observatory, you know you’re
Gonna have to face it, you’re addicted to Civ.

Might as well face it you’re addicted to Civ ….

Taco Tuesday? Somebody stop them!

So, anyway, Taco Bell is back with one of their absurd bets. This time, however, instead of waiting for a spaceship to crash into a target in the middle of the ocean, they’re just staking their tacos on stolen bases.

“Millions and millions of people will be watching the Series and hopefully tuning in to see when they are going to get their taco,” said Taco Bell spokesman Rob Poetsch.

There has been at least one stolen base in every World Series matchup since 1990. When the first base is stolen, the unit of Yum Brands Inc, will announce a Tuesday afternoon when consumers will be able to walk into the chain’s participating 5,800 outlets and ask for a free taco. Anyone who walks into a participating outlet during the give-away period would be eligible for a free taco.

Despite the promotion’s name, stealing the taco will not be required.

This won’t go well.

Don’t get me wrong, I do eat Taco Bell from time to time. It’s cheaper than buying laxatives.

I can’t believe Jose Padilla is in prison.

Beer: a fine obsession

Over at the New York Times website, Eric Asimov writes about his latest obsession, beer. Or, more specifically, cask-conditioned beer:

For American consumers who are reared on fizzy sodas and beers produced in the German lager tradition, in which the level of carbonation is naturally much higher, the diminished carbonation can be a little befuddling. Because the texture of the cask ale bubbles is significantly softer, people may jump to the conclusion that the beer is flat.

Untrue! What you have is a prickle of bubbles rather than an aggressive machine-gun stream, and it does take some getting used to. But the payoff is a texture that lifts and enhances subtleties. These beers are not about power but about nuance, with the zestiness coming from their clear, pure flavors.

To really taste all those subtleties, cask ales need to be served at cellar temperature, around 50 or 55 degrees, cool but not cold. This gives rise to the other stereotype of beers like this, that they are served warm. That, too, is wrong. It’s true only relative to the icy cold temperatures at which mass-market brews are served, which mask their flaws and insipid nature. Serving temperatures for beer are very much like those for white wines – the higher the quality of the beer or wine the less cold it ought to be.

I admit that, for all I love about beer, I’ve never made a point of learning about it, so instead of prodding Asimov by wondering why he’s only now getting around to the cask-conditioned brews, I get to take comfort that perhaps, someday, Americans really will start to understand the difference, and put aside their Budweiser, MGD, and the like, and start drinking real beer.

I suppose it’s something to look into, but the murmur coming my way is that if you go to Germany and order a Budweiser, you might be able to find the iconic American label, but the product will be different. German purity laws forbid calling something like what we in the states know as Budweiser “beer”. There’s a reason Budweiser has such nasty after-effects.

I just think it’s strange that Americans insist their beer be repugnant.

There was a time, several years back, when I popped into the neighborhood pub for a beer–literally two door down the street–and was taken aback by the hulking wooden contraption behind the bar. After eyeing the board, and then the unmarked tap handle on the dark-stained wooden box, I asked the bartender what was up with the thing.

“We’re not advertising that one on the board,” he advised me. “It’s Jubel Ale, cask conditioned.”

I said nothing. My jaw hurt from slapping against the bar so hard. With a gentle smile, the bartender ran his towel out to tend to my drooling mess. “A pint, then?” he asked. And I stood in utter disbelief until he put the beautiful pint in front of me. Deschutes Brewery’s winter line is perhaps my favorite beer on the planet, and here I held a casked Jubel Ale. I had only joked about getting the stuff like this. Really, I had not thought it possible.

Now, admittedly, this isn’t the best kind of beer for baseball season, and I can only imagine it would be hell trying to put down a few of these at a NASCAR event, but that is where I must be willing to compromise. There are many fine beers better suited to baseball season. And I just don’t care about high-speed left turns. I do not, in this sense, feel deprived.

Though Asimov is only now becoming obsessed with cask beers, he is still well-positioned to teach me something about the basics:

When the casks are filled, a light dose of sugar is added to restart the fermentation in the same way that Champagne or bottle-conditioned beers are refermented in bottles. This refermentation produces a byproduct of carbon dioxide, which carbonates the beer. Brewers generally add a fining material as well, like isinglas, which helps to settle the yeast cells to the bottom of the cask and clarify the ale. While haziness is typical of hefeweizen and certain bottle-conditioned beers, cask ales ought to be clear.

By the way, isinglas comes from the air bladders of fishes like sturgeon, cod and hake, and it’s interesting to speculate on how brewers and winemakers discovered its clarifying properties. Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster for the Brooklyn Brewery, suggests that air bladders were once used as containers for ale and wine, and when people noticed that the hazy liquids held within were coming out crystal clear they figured out something in the bladder was acting to clarify them. Makes sense to me.

Cheers. Drink well, drink safely. Make sure to make it home.

Who’s on strike ….

Labor action news from around the Americas, courtesy the folks over at WSWS.org:

Peru – Gold miners threaten strike over wages, retirement, and working conditions.

Urugay – Municipal employees strike in Concepción during contract talks.

Argentina – Teachers in Catamarca stage a work slowdown over wages and subsidy maintenance.

Mexico – Teachers’ strike slated for November; Sonoran copper miners striking since July.

United States – Pennsylvania legislature works to abolish teacher strikes; California sanitation workers (Teamster’s Local 396) reject contract proposal, strike against Waste Management.

Dear Science goes to Germany

Jonathan Golob, over at Dear Science, posted an interesting consideration of his recent trip to Europe. To be honest, almost any excerpt I could possibly give you is insufficient. “Seattle’s Only Scientist” discusses a recent trip abroad, some of the things he saw, and the significance thereof.

The policy reflects underlying conflict in the Germany constitution, between requirements to respect human life and the independence of science. This duality is reflected in North Rhine Westphalia Stem Cell Network’s structure, combining both scientists and ethicists together in a cohesive program. As one of the local scientists delicately put it, “concerns over the lingering consequences of Nationalism-Socialism cause conservatism on the use of human tissues in research.” Slowly, the policy is liberalizing.

Really. It’s that interesting. Even more so, if you think the above is boring, obscure, or unnecessary.

Vocabulary: Premillennial dispensationalism

This is not a comic strip:

Premillennial Dispensationalism: Designed by J. Dennsion Jr. Typeset by Clarence E. Veld. (via New York University; undated)

This is just one of those phrases that has escaped me. I knew there was a term for the scheme, but never knew what it was. Bill Maher raised the issue a few years ago on Larry King Live in 2003, and on his own show, Real Time, the next night. I mention Maher because I remember that episode. And I remember the Larry King appearance.

And that’s why I love the web. From Larry King Live, August 28, 2003:

MAHER: They don’t want what President Bush is trying to push for in the Middle East. They don’t want a peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Because then, if you had a peace then the Palestinians, the Arabs would have part of Jerusalem.

And we can’t have that, because when Jesus comes back, which he’s going to any day now, it has to be the way he left it. It has to be that the Jews control Jerusalem, because when he comes back to take all the good people up to heaven, the Jews have a place in that situation. Which of course, Larry, is to die. Or to convert. So in other words, they want the Jews to retain all of Israel. Because when Jesus comes back down, the Jews have a job to do, which is to die.

KING: You lump Mel Gibson in that group?

MAHER: Oh, yes. He’s even further to the right than that. He’s truly in the wacko. He’s in part of that group, I forget what they call them, not conservative Catholics or something, but they don’t believe in Vatican II. In other words, Pope John and the reforms are no good. Do the mass in Latin. The Jews are the Christ killers.

And Real Time With Bill Maher, August 29, 2003:

MAHER: This is also the week when a little boy was killed because he was autistic, and his parents thought he was possessed by demons. So during the exorcism, they smothered him. This is all just to make the case, as I always love to do, that religion is stupid. [laughter] [cheers] [applause]

Now, in addition to this, with all the press Mel Gibson has been getting about making his movie about Jesus, I think people would like to know that the road map to the Middle East which our president is trying to put forth – and I agree, it’s a good plan – is opposed by some people in our government, including Tom DeLay – they call themselves Friends of Israel. And what they really are, are people who do not want to share the Holy Land, because in the Bible, the Jews have the Holy Land, and when Jesus comes back, the Jews have a part to play, which is, of course, to die.

As a punch-line delivered during unsettled times, I remember thinking it had some weight. The audience reaction noted in the Real Time transcript was not entirely comfortable. It sounded like a really crass joke, which it is, except that it’s not.

Enter Salon.com political writer Michelle Goldberg. In 2006, W. W. Norton published her book Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. No, I’ve not read it yet; I only heard about it yesterday.

Which, incidentally, is the reason I bring any of this up. Earlier this year, Ms. Goldberg spoke in Seattle at Elliott Bay Bookstore, and KUOW, on Thursday’s edition of Speaker’s Forum, broadcast portions of those remarks. It’s a fascinating talk, and finally introduced me to the phrase “premillennial dispensationalism”.

Seriously. I knew there had to be a word for it.

California Democrat hurts GOP’s feelings

Wow. Someone actually said it.

Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA):

You don’t have money to fund the war or children. But you’re going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement.

Jonathan Weisman briefly covered the GOP response for the Washington Post:

In the wake of the failed veto override, clips of Stark’s comments were posted on YouTube and were being e-mailed around by Republicans. GOP news releases have been furious. The National Republican Congressional Committee called Stark’s statement “an outrageous and delusional tantrum.”

Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) declared that Stark “dishonors not only the commander in chief, but the thousands of courageous men and women of America’s armed forces who believe in their mission and are putting their lives on the line for our freedom and security.” He called on Stark to apologize.

The 18-term congressman, however, responded only by calling those who voted to deny children health care “chicken hawks.”

It is unseemly at least that the GOP, after pushing Bush’s war agenda through several years of accusing dissenters and doubters of treason, should be upset that someone finally made the obvious point.

So I’m sorry if the GOP’s feelings are hurt, but that’s a risk they run. If the truth hurts, perhaps they need to take a few minutes to think about their position.