Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dear Facebook

by Gaije Kushner

Dear Facebook -

I remember when I first found you.  I thought you were kind of douchey, with that whole sending to friend requests to every one of my email contacts, without asking me if I thought that was a good idea or not.  So, you know, I had a look around, was unimpressed, and went back to myspace.

You know how the rest of this went, don’t you?  More and more people started using you, myspace became sad and empty, and even a little creepy, in a To Catch a Predator kind of a way.  All those nonexistent, allegedly hot girls started sending everyone friend requests, or whatever they called them on myspace, and it was over.

I’m not going to lie.  I was resistant to you at first.  But over time, I got used to your little idiosyncracies, your foibles.  Eventually, they even grew charming.  I’ve had a lot of fun with you.  Every so often you’d make some little change, and I’d adjust in time.

Then along came google+.  It was exciting at first, maybe because things had grown a little stale between you and me.  All those circles, so conveniently accessible from gmail.  But really, that was just a summer fling.  The excitement faded, and like myspace before it, though without the predator hunting, google+ emptied out.  I came back to you, wholeheartedly.

That’s why I just don’t understand why you’ve done this to us, when things were going so well.  Personally, I hate Top Stories.  I’ve never once chosen to look at your Top Stories.  What do you really know about what stories I’d consider Top?  Not much, that’s obvious.  As long as I could avoid Top Stories, choose to see my Recent Stories instead, it wasn’t so important.  But now, now you’ve taken that choice away from me.  I can’t get away from your fucking Top Stories, no matter what I do.  There’s no setting I can change, no box anywhere for me to click, to make them disappear again.

And then, what is this Ticker thing on the right side of my screen?  Why would you think I’d want anything like that?  If I wanted Twitter, I’d use it.  I don’t, but look, there it is on my screen anyway!  Taking up space, making me claustrophobic, and enraged.  That’s not really my best look.  It’s really one I try to avoid as much as possible.

If other people want these screens full of crap, I don’t care.  Give them what they want.  But you’ve taken away my right to choose, Facebook, the prevention of which is a cornerstone of my political beliefs.  I’ll wait around for a little while, I guess.  I do tend to have trouble letting go.  But make no mistake, I hate every single one of these changes.  If you don’t change them the fuck back, I’m going to be making a long term commitment to my summer fling over at Google.



Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Gays Out in the Military

By Lee Waites

Well, late last night it happened. They came out of the closet and I hid under my rock.

At midnight, Eastern time, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell took effect. I waited by my door with my homemade Molotov Cocktail. By the way, I don't think the inventor knew much about making drinks. It was horrible. My hangover started with the first sip.

I knew a drink would come in handy though. I wanted to be relaxed when all those homo soldiers started invading my house, Red Dawn style. Patrick Swayze, God rest his soul, must be turning over in his grave. There was a real man.To think, Patrick and those kids fought off the Cubans, renegade style, just to have our military handed over to a bunch of homos.

I knew this would happen. As soon as they decided that not asking and don't telling was off the table, the Gay Army was bound to take over the straight Army. I'm sure the soldiers will all have to get designer uniforms now. And the barracks will be redecorated. That might be a plus. Some new curtains, a splash of color.

Not like in my day!

I was a member of the KISS Army when I was growing up. We could have taken over the Army, Army. That would have been rockin'! Just imagine the pyrotechnics. General Gene Simmons. Admiral Stanley. That cat guy with the misguided solo career. Dude, that would have been great. And we could put on our make-up and platform shoes, our spike shouldered fatigues. Now that would have been something. Not gay at all.

Is the KISS army still a thing? We need to find out.

I waited through several cocktails, hunkered down. Eventually they waited me out. I fell asleep slumped over my teddy bear by the front door. I woke up this morning feeling horrible. I'm not sure if the gay soldier pride parade passed my house while I was sleeping. I was too bombed out to notice.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Angry Day

By Lee Waites

It's an angry day for me. I should be enjoying the beautiful weather outside. I should be happy at the success of the paper, the things we've been able to do with no money, and no cliquish connections, no large advertising budget.

I worry. I watch the cloud of complacency settle time and time again over Birmingham, to be stirred slightly at punctuated intervals, then settle again. There is so much to do.

Motivation is hard on an angry day. I could be motivated to cuss. I could be motivated to give up and drive away. I could be motivated to do all the things that in doing would kill the things that need.

Complaining and bitching and moaning. It's all the same worms wiggling in the same old dirt. That's fine too. But I feel the need to stretch my legs and get to walking.

Abstract question: Are we going to do it all again and again?

Milquetoast answer: Define " it."

It's hard to see. The physical intrinsic.

Sundays are wonderful. Pain, humiliation, suffering, angst, worry, wait to sneak out for some time in the jail-yard sun.
That's why it hurts me to watch you. For a time they are my eyes, my arrogance.

Milquetoast answer: Define " we."


Monday, September 12, 2011

Good Deeds Punished

By Jim Reed

"The Big Bosses say we've got to get busy making Downtown Birmingham work better," City employee L.G. says to fellow city employee G.L., as they sit down at the Formica conference table under the blue-tinged fluorescent lights.

"Well, what could be better than what we're already doing?" asks G.L., who is willing to implement rules if it could just be determined what the rules are.

"I don't know...but the Bosses say we need to do some brainstorming and bring them some new ideas," L.G. grumbles, pulling out a legal pad and a pocket-protector ballpoint pen.

After a period of silence, during which both employees realize they don't have any ideas but had darned well better come up with something to fill the pages of that legal pad, they start rattling off thoughts.

"I know—why doesn't the City impose a fine that punishes visitors and shoppers for breaking the rules? That would bring in some extra revenue and maybe please the Bosses," says L.G.

G.L. says, "How would that work?"

L.G. nibbles the tip of the pen and begins to get excited. "Well, let's say some shopper breaks the law and parks in one on-street parking space for more than two hours. Any idiot should be able to get their shopping done in less time than that—then, they'd be taking up space that other people could use," L.G. proudly exclaims.

L.G. likes this idea and is on a roll. "Yeah, let's make the shopper really suffer, so that this won't be repeated. What if we charge a $15.00 SHOPPING PENALTY for each infraction? That should teach 'em!"

G.L. approves but has a sudden out-of-the-blue thought. "Is there any precedent for this? Like, does Homewood have parking meters, or do the Summit and Galleria malls charge their shoppers for staying too long and spending too much money?"

L.G. is impatient. "Don't be silly. Those places would close down within a month if the public learned they'd have to pay for parking and pay extra shopping penalties—they'd just go someplace else."

G.L. is confused. "Well, wouldn't that be the case Downtown, too? I mean, wouldn't people stop visiting and shopping here if they learned about these penalties?'

L.G. is trying to impart wisdom to the less experienced G.L. without being critical. "No, you don't understand. This is BIRMINGHAM! Birmingham doesn't have to follow the same rules as the Malls and the Suburbs. The City doesn't have to make money off of retail like those places do—in the City, we can make more money imposing fines than we could ever make from having free on-street parking for retail businesses."

G.L. wants to learn but is still puzzled. "Are you sure? I mean, like, if you attracted a whole lot of retail and service and professional businesses Downtown, wouldn't you wind up making big bucks from taxes…maybe even more bucks than the Meter Maids bring in?"

This is an alien concept to L.G., who was brought up in the post-Costa Head/Birmingham Green era, when it was assumed that the City would never again be a retail center. "Look, it's just plain easier this way. We won't have to exert much effort to get this extra income. Just impose the parking fines, impose the loading zone fines, enforce the parking limits to a T and rake in the revenue. We don't even have to be polite to the shoppers and merchants. Just do our job. The Bosses will be proud."

G.L. at this point makes a mistake and begins to think outside the box. "But, what about the merchants? Won't they lose customers and consider moving to the 'burbs? What about the customers, won't they realize you can park free and friendly at every strip mall and shopping center in the state? What about the tourists and conventioneers and layovers and others who come through the City every day? Won't they get a bad taste in their mouths, knowing that the Tourist Association is begging them to come to Birmingham but isn't warning them about all these shopping penalties in advance?"

At this point, L.G. makes an important notation on the legal pad. Something like G.L. isn't going to make it in this department. G.L. needs transfer. G.L. troublemaker.

"Well, let me spell it out for you, G.L. The more we punish the merchants and visitors and shoppers and loft dwellers, the more money we make. If they're not willing to pay the penalties, let 'em go elsewhere. There are always plenty more fresh faces coming to town."

L.G. leaves the table, dismisses G.L. and starts preparing a report for the Big Bosses.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Chiming in on 9/11

 By Lee Waites

I was driving to a job when one of my employees called me and told me what was happening. It was such an absurd notion at the time I remember giggling, thinking he was joking. He convinced me to turn on the radio. When I got to my customer's house she was watching it on television. I remember mumbling, "Oh, this is gonna change things." She stared at me. It's impossible for me to interpret, or translate that stare.

At the time I remember thinking very rationally, about the earlier attempt to bring down the Towers under Bill Clinton, the failed basement bomb. I remember thinking about the big picture, what our military and covert responses would be, what would happen to our economy. I remember thinking we would surely wind up losing some more of our rights as a result of the attacks.

Then my thoughts began to wander. What had we done to bring the attention of such hatred? What was actually coming next? Would there be more explosions?

After I got home and sat down to watch the planes fly into the tower, again and again, I realized I and my family were safe for the moment. Who knew at the time? I began to cry. I thought about all the families of the people, the phone calls, the dead, the lost, the not knowing.
We can argue, bicker and debate. We can care, forget, plan and react.  We can imagine the pain, remember the loss.There are a million different ways and things to think about the events on that day. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those who lost lives on, or because of, that day. I especially feel for the young children who lost a parent. I cannot think about it very hard.

Things did change after all. Of course. Reactions we had always criticized other countries for became common place. We failed somewhat, but only somewhat. The game isn't over yet.
I know if we change, lose our rights because of 9/11, or lose the vision of our Founders, we have lost the fight. If we honor the loss of those lives, call them patriots, then we must honor the ideal of freedom. 

I know there are tragedies all over, all the time. This one is ours. Own it. Whoever you are. Speak your mind. I try to be open to more than my own response. I would not presume to tell you how to feel. Wave a flag if you want. Cry. I personally recommend you be decent to your fellow humans.

I also know there will always be more dead than living, one day to include all of us. They stack up behind this point in time like an ever increasing wave of what has been, that will eventually wash away everyone. As the crashing approaches closer to my person, it's a blessing to assume the dead no longer care.      

It's My 9/11, Not Yours

By Gaije Kushner

Having been in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, I’ve never understood the rest of America’s responses to it. Immediately afterwards, talking to people out there somewhere, they seemed to feel a little left out. They wanted to be part of it all somehow, without having to think too much about any unpleasant details. The euphemistically designated Patriot Day lets them have it all. They get a day in which to participate, without much requirement for contemplation of the first such day.

In Salem Missouri, a Patriot Day rally offers a pie competition, fireworks, and some appalling religiosity.

There’s no terror on Patriot Day. No fear at all. No thoughts of anyone on the second plane, heading straight for the North Tower, seeing the first, burrowed deep inside its own tower. No space left for hope, not one inch of plausible deniability, all taken over by terror. Nor of the fear that could push people out into the air, off of rooftops 110 stories high.

South Whidby, Washington promises, on Patriot Day, “This year’s event features a picnic buffet, dessert, and silent auction.”

There’s no meaningless death, on Patriot Day. The word patriot alone imposes artificial meaning, where none existed. Even implies a choice no one would have made. Not one of those 2606 people, inhaling smoke, crushed by falling towers, burned alive, or killed on impact, woke up that morning harboring thoughts of patriotic self sacrifice, not even all those first responders. Their deaths didn’t serve any purpose. There was nothing patriotic about any of it.

Scottsdale, Arizona sees things differently, telling us, “The Patriot Day celebration commemorates those brave civilians and first responders that heroically sacrificed their lives for our freedom on 9/11.”

Maybe the best thing about Patriot Day is its being just one day. Sept, 11th went on and on and on. The smoke, and smell, for weeks above the city. Missing fliers posted everywhere, before everyone understood the missing would not be found alive. Even then, it felt so wrong to cover them up with fliers for a show, an apartment to sublet, used books to sell. The New York Times series, “Portraits of Grief,” brief profiles of each victim, ran daily through the end of the year. Remains kept turning up for years, on roofs of nearby buildings, in manholes, in construction debris. Earnest James, then 40, was identified just last month.

South Florida residents can enjoy a Patriot Day American muscle car parade.
I still have a hard time understanding how Americans feel about 9/11. The trouble’s not so much with Americans though;it’s all with me. I just can’t see how it’s any of their business, ultimately. It didn’t happen to them. It didn’t happen to their cities. It happened to me and mine. Their attempts to mark the day, their pie contests and silent auctions, their American muscle car parades, demonstrate such a lack of understanding about what really happened. Compared to New York’s own more somber commemoration, a few quiet speakers, a moment of silence at 8:47 am, the time the first plane hit, then reading the names of dead, America’s best efforts feel like sacrilege.

9/11 Didn’t Change Everything

By M. David Hornbuckle

I was in Manhattan that day. I saw much of it first-hand, in real time, not on television. It was horrible. There are things I saw that still haunt me, that I still don’t want to talk about.

Perhaps that’s why I find all the public hoo-ha about the tenth anniversary of it to be disturbing.

A lot of people died tragically that day. A lot of people, including myself, were scarred by what they saw. It is appropriate for those directly affected by the tragedy to recognize this day in some private and personal way. That is what I will do. It makes sense for the government to heighten security. For the rest of America, it’s my opinion that they should not worry about it so much.

That day changed the way a lot of people thought and felt about a lot of things. Much of what changed was wrong. Much of it validated what the terrorists wanted in the first place, which was to make us all terrified.

I’ll tell you what I felt on that day and have felt ever since. It was horrible. It was tragic. It was disgusting. It was depressing. It was angering. But I would be damned if I was going to be terrified.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Jobs Speech

By Gaije Kushner

Tonight, President Obama will be delivering his long promised speech on jobs to a joint session of Congress. For the last few days, commentators and pundits from NPR to the BBC have been busily speculating as to its contents. What do they most want to know? What presidential proposals could possibly make it through the GOP lead house. Smart people around the planet have been pondering this as if it’s a reasonable question. Maybe they’ve been playing some journalistic version of survivor? Shipwrecked themselves someplace hot and green, without access to any form of media. No television, no internet, not even newspapers or magazines.

Can anything else account for this colossal lapse of comprehension? Congressional Republicans don’t want new jobs created, don’t want to see the economy improving. The House will not be passing anything Obama proposes. He could call for a resolution affirming the cuteness of baby Pandas, and they’d block it for showing excessive solidarity with China. Their one and only goal is to get him out of office. They’ve been saying so for years. Anyone who missed it just hasn't been paying attention.

Last fall, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office.” Not to improve the economy, burn the lesbian witches, turn the whole show over to Exxon Mobile, or enact any other aspect of their dubious agenda. Just to get rid of Obama.

Or as Speaker of the House, and overlord of the orange people, John Boehner put it, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one term president.” Every so often Boehner’s hobbies, smoking, drinking, and crying in public, have made him seem almost human. After all, who hasn’t been there? Bumming Camels off strangers, after a martini or ten too many, trying desperately to stop the sobbing, so you can explain the gory details of the break up, the lost job, the most recent rejection letter? But then, almost counts for nothing, once you’re old enough to drink, smoke, and make everyone else at the bar uncomfortable.

Then there’s Boehner’s sidekick, the Booboo to his Yogi, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. He doesn’t even get to almost. Lately, he’s been busy making things worse for victims of natural disasters. It’s not enough for him that they’ve lost their homes, businesses, or lives. He won’t be happy until they’ve lost all semblance of security about their futures. He hopes to achieve his nefarious ends by threatening to block any additional funding FEMA might need for disaster relief, unless it comes with balancing budget cuts.
Cantor kicked off his campaign of terror in May, after a tornado leveled Joplin Missouri, killing 159 of its former residents. Kept it up through August’s east coast earthquake, damage to his own district be damned. And on past Hurricane Irene the next weekend, unswayed by its 43 deaths, or by billions in property destruction.

What has he achieved so far? Well, for starters, to meet the immediate needs of Irene’s victims, FEMA’s had to suspend funding for long term projects nationwide, dating back to Hurricane Katrina. This alone could cost countless jobs. Then, uncertainty about future recovery funds will reduce consumer spending, and it won’t do small businesses any favors. They’ll be struggling to hold onto current employees, forget about expansion or new hires. All it took was a little fear mongering, rendering reality irrelevant.

Which works out well for Cantor. In reality the possibility of his keeping a single dollar out of FEMA’s coffers is so minimal as to be non-existent, like unicorns, anything cuter than baby pandas, or that of the House passing anything this president proposes.