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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ecuador 2

The internet here being somewhat unreliable, and it being impossible (effectively) to upload much in the way of photos, this will be replaced when possible... but most likely there will simply be a surge of "ecuador X" articles all at once on the 18th or 19th of January.


I'll drop what I can here, photo-wise, until I get home:

From the statue of the Virgin

From the balcony of the Secret Garden hostel.

You should be able to click on either for a larger image.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ecuador 1

In the morning, the sun breaks over the mountains and rains down upon an ocean of buildings that would look decrepit in St. Louis, yet somehow here do not. Laundry hangs across their balconies and people swarm up and down the street in cars, on motorcycles, and on foot. The atmosphere is much like you would expect if New York City suddenly adopted a laissez-faire atmosphere about zoning laws, electrical grid layouts and building construction. I am staying with a friend of mine in a (temporarily) vacated room in her apartment, which takes up an entire floor of the building, contains a relatively spacious kitchen, a washer, a dryer, a living room, a dining room, two full bathrooms, two (and a half) bedrooms and is costing each of three roommates 190 dollars per month.

Food here is cheap, and a taxi ride from one end of the city to the other will run you about five bucks, if you're foreign and your driver feels like gypping you. Today, I've been driven all over the city, all day, for a sum total cost of three dollars and change.

Electronics (and anything related to them, including internet) are not cheap here, and I'm told that I could hawk the ancient iPod I brought with me for five hundred if I were so inclined (if I find a buyer, I am so inclined). The “cable” here runs at 256 kbps down, in theory (about a twentieth of what you get in the states), but actually delivers only 33 kbps of that in practice. Combined with cable, it runs them 50 per month, which isn't cheap for what they're getting, but could be worse.

Aqui, con frequencia, otras personas estan aqui que hablan Ingles, pero si que hablas un poco de Espanol, todos las cosas estan mas facil.

My Spanish is, of course, terrible, but it does help that should I need to find out quantos quadras or donde esta Calle Rumipamba, I am not totally fubared.

Mosquitoes are not a problem in Quito. The altitude probably helps. Nonetheless, if you buy anything from a local market intended to be used as clothing or as bedclothes, be sure to wash it before you use it, as arthropods do tend to be a problem here. In the case of blankets, I recommend boiling water and dousing them for a few minutes, just to be sure. Otherwise, the blankets will infest the sheets, and if (like me) you sleep in boxers, the sheets and blanket will infest your boxers which will, in turn, infest your pants. Anything thus made problematic can also be boiled to remove the problematic insects (you go, River Tam). My friend recently made the mistake of not washing a blanket she purchased in the market and we're now facing the prospect of boiling every inch of cloth in the apartment. You live, you learn.

On the whole, though I've been here only a day, I have noticed already that the pace of my existence is both slowing down and speeding up. I spend more time on food than I do at home, and I am more grounded, somehow. Perhaps because of this, this article is not actually going to foray into a philosophical discourse of any kind. I guess that makes it, to my regular readers, a reverse Bel-Aire of sorts, and for that I plead forgiveness. Ma. and I spent much time digesting philosophy today (over some of the best wine I've ever had, which costs three dollars here and comes in a box) and that part of my brain is full, but tired. Overnight it shall digest things, and I suspect tomorrow, or the next day, shall bear fruit in that vein.

For now, goodnight to all.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I was looking back today and thinking of all the times that I have made really close, binding friendships with people. They come about in different ways, of course, and I wonder sometimes if all people are really capable of having them. A really close friendship has as a necessary pre-condition that you consider that person more important than almost anything else. If they show up at the door dead tired with a dead hooker and a pound of cocaine, you show them the futon, hide the hooker and the coke in the closet and hold the questions until they wake up in the morning.

I see people go through their days bound up in things, and money, and apartment square footage and cars as though they have a little list in their head of the things they want to have. I’ve tried to make one of these check-lists, myself, and it always feels hollow. I don’t really want the things. The things are merely necessary pre-conditions.

My final year at University was marked by a time I spent living with a group of people who were initially mostly strangers. I knew S and L from dancing, of course, but I didn’t know them terribly well, and the other four occupants were a mystery to me until I moved in. It was one of the best years of my life. I was rarely unable to find another person in the house to play games with or sit around watching TV with or drink beer with or go down to the store with. I didn’t always want to do, or have time to do these things, but the constant availability took a load off my chest. I was happier that year, on net, than I had been anywhere, ever before, and as we were relinquishing that house to the subsequent occupants, it occurred to me that I really didn’t want to.

I didn’t want to move out. I enjoyed life there. I liked my little room and the little living room we shared. The roof leaked, the squirrels and raccoons were constantly warring above us and periodically invaded the house itself, the heater didn’t work right and for a few months the fan-blades were so choked with dirt and rust that we couldn’t hear ourselves think, let along talk to each other without shouting. We shouted a lot. The bathroom wasn’t much to speak of, the oven didn’t have knobs and there was a naked power-box of some sort on the kitchen wall that would threaten to burn the house down if you left the kitchen lights on too long. The basement was filthy and appeared, at one point, to have been used for child abuse and/or BDSM. Several of the windows leaked.

I didn’t want to move out.

It was “home.”

It occurred to me then that “home” is a very mutable subject. Literally, it often refers to the place you go when you sleep. But this isn’t “home,” necessarily. I have slept in many places that were not “home.”

I played with it, in my mind, removing objects and doors, moving rooms around, going from one location to another and trying to decide which of these things could be changed without making a place not be Home anymore. Whatever I changed, Home was still Home, until I removed one essential component that I had previously (born and raised American) overlooked.


Home is where your people are.

I think people move around a lot because there’s a better job here, or they like mountains and there’s more mountains there. They move to beaches, they move to rivers, they move to warmer or colder climates and everyone nods their heads and says “yeah, that makes sense. I get that.”

But if you say you’re moving because you’re following a person, or people, everyone freaks out and says “but what about your future?

This is intrinsically ridiculous. I can’t think of any better thing to follow than people. Why would you follow anything else? I can learn to live in hotter climates, or colder climates, on bigger or smaller salaries, but fuck all if I’m going to live without swing dancing, board games and people who laugh when I crack a joke about a cat in a box or the Medici family.

People speak of moving as if it’s a big commitment, and I suppose it can be. If you’ve settled before you find the people you want to settle near (some people not only do this, but consider this “wise”), moving means uprooting from your career, finding a new place to live, and moving or throwing away a bunch of the crap that has accumulated in your living space over the years.

If you’re not there yet, though, if, like me, most of your more important possessions can be packed up into a trunk with room spare for clothes and a cooler of beef jerky (the books and the cello can be piled in the back seat), then why bother with places and things? Eventually, you’ll have kids, and you’ll want a refrigerator and lunch boxes and four bedrooms and two bathrooms and a little white dog, but these things weigh you down. They tie you to the Earth, and this leash is easier to make than it is to break.

Breaking it is often not even morally right. You’ll have dependents, and debts to pay. Travel while you’re young and free. Endure great discomforts and wash clothes in whatever rivers you may find along your way. Freeze half to death in the winter and hide in the shade of the dunes from the summer sun. Incur great debts if necessary and pay them back later. The person you will be when you put down your roots will thank you for it later.

For anyone reading this who hasn’t yet figured out my intentions, my next road-trip will begin before this year is out, and will be long. I may have the good fortune to be accompanied by a friend more experienced in these matters than myself, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

I’m considering writing a list before I start, of things I want to do before I come home. Swim naked in a (clean) river, climb another mountain, write down the day every night, sleep under the stars, meet someone with a point of view so different communication is almost impossible, take a picture of something perfect, take a picture of something perfectly awful, watch the stars where there are no lights, smoke pot for the first time. That sort of stuff.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Overcoming the Self

I don’t remember what age it was exactly that I began cataloging my weaknesses and designing interrelated strategies to defeat them. It is a convoluted process and the list of weaknesses is longer than I like to admit.

By “interrelated” strategies, I mean that I use one weakness to overcome another, or overcome one weakness by overcoming another. For example, in college I would save up big, scary assignments and then offer myself false dichotomies: “you can either work on the thesis paper, or you can do that little philosophy reading assignment.” The big projects would sometimes suffer for it (I essentially turned “procrastination” into a study strategy), but not as much as they would have suffered from my ignoring the daily grind.

My tendency to procrastinate is, even now, problematic for me. Even if I enjoy an activity, I will procrastinate if it becomes “work.” I enjoy writing to no end, and given a piece of paper and a pencil will fill every inch of it with words, just because. Yet while detritus surrounds me, my novel inches forward like molasses. Yesterday I designed a method to defeat this.

I hate exercise with a passion. Mind you, I’m in fairly good shape, because I dance, and hike, and sometimes climb, and because I view eating with a largely utilitarian bent. But I hate exercise for exercise’s sake, and the holiday season makes it difficult to accomplish exercise for “fun,” because the dancers I know are out of town.

I love writing, but it is “work” now, so I procrastinate it. On this newest attempt at “the novel,” I have made a rule. Each day, the number of pages between where I am and the number 100 get added to a little list I made and converted into minutes of exercise. I don’t have to do the exercise on the day on which I rack it up, the minutes just keep adding up until they form a scary, impossibly huge barrier. At that point, exercise becomes the “big scary assignment” and writing becomes not only the small, enjoyable assignment, but a way to minimize the big scary one. The more I write, and the more I focus in on the primary project, the less I have to do an activity I hate, but which is good for me. When I breach 100, I will begin counting down to 200 (equivalent to approximately 400 paperback pages), which should be about as much space as this story will need.

It is interesting how the human mind works. There are wheels within wheels within wheels. Thinking about the manner in which I trick myself into doing things makes it possible, on some level, for me to relate to people who have either had their brains divided, or have multiple personalities. There are so many different kinds of people within one person.

I myself have done wonderful, and terrible things to people, just depending on who I was the day they ran into me. Was I the nervous, socially awkward geek, or the grandstanding, in-your-face geek? Was I the confident, experienced lead, or the new dancer with two left feet?

I contain people capable of great emotional involvement, and people capable of great emotional detachment. I have loved women deeply and shallowly. I have used people for sex and cried on the laps of virtual strangers. I have made immense sacrifices for people I hardly knew, some of whom will never know what I gave them or why. But I have also taken things that were not mine to take.

Watching American movies is a little funny, for me. People are so steadfast, and sturdy. They always are what they always were. They are allowed to be interesting, but they are not allowed to change unless that change is permanent, meaningful, and the basis of the plot.

Yet the people I meet from day to day are fickle, like me. They are one thing to one person, and another to another. Sometimes they are kind, sometimes cruel. Sometimes they laugh at a joke and sometimes they become offended. They like, hate, love, and fear things before they know why, and spend days, weeks, even years surrounding their emotions with reasons, because ultimately, mankind must rationalize everything that it does.

The people who are most successful, I think, are the ones who decide which specific subset of the people inside them are going to be allowed to come out. They decide who they are, and defy any internal voice to deny it. They overcome their demons and their angels alike.

There may be something to this, in terms of understanding structured religion. Overcoming your own demons and angels is exhausting. Believe me. Coming to where I am now (and I do not think I have succeeded yet) has nearly killed me twice over. A religion is a structure through which you can be told which demons and angels to listen to and which demons and angels to ignore, and be given the tools with which to rationalize your decision and stick to it. Done right, it frees more of your mind for other things.

Those of us without this structure, though, must continue to overcome the self. If you are among us, I can only wish you the best of luck and assure you that if you succeed, you will be better and stronger for having done things the hard way. It may not be true, but you don't really have any choice in the matter, so you might as well believe it.

If you fail, of course (as I might), then you are basically screwed.

Ganbare o, as they say.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Gay Marriage

History as a subject is in many ways the study of patterns numerous and wholly unreliable. Some few have attempted to treat history as a social science, with amusing results, but for reliable practitioners the order of the day (when it comes to predictions) is wide error margins and general trends.

With one exception.

Given two nations with similar access to resources and reasonably even military might (each nation possesses at least enough military that a prolonged occupation by the other would be economically impossible), the nation with fewer institutionalized restrictions on ways of life will always, without exception, rise above the other. The reason is simple. People (on average) prioritize where they live in the following way, most-important first:

  1. Safety

  2. Fun

  3. Future

What this boils down to (at the end of the day) is that if countries A and B are identical, except that in country B you can wear hats on Sundays and in country A you can't, people in country B will spend their Sundays marching up and down the border making fun of the people in country A for being backward. People in country A will wonder why people in country B can wear hats and they can't, and will either start breaking the law (just to find out what all the fuss is about, at first, but later as a matter of principle), or will move. Country A suddenly finds itself with overpopulated prisons and an emigration problem, where everyone who can afford to move, moves, and everyone who can't afford to move breaks the law.

Now, in America, we don't really have that much fear of brain drain or people moving away. Most other places are less attractive as places to live for a wide variety of reasons, be it simply language, job opportunities, or generalized freedom of [whatever]. Thus, when we speak of restricting freedoms, we often don't consider the effect it will have on the immigration/emigration balance, because it probably won't have any international effect whatsoever.

Which is, incidentally, why folks who want to fight for same-sex marriage should really be fighting for it to be a state-level issue. Brain-drain between states does happen and is a factor, and the “Sunday Hat” effect is almost case-study-perfect since most states are, mostly, exactly the same in terms of what rights you have and how you can live.

If you want to have sex with a fourteen year old girl or get away with polygamy, you move to Utah. If you want to smoke pot, you move to Denver. If you want to blues dance, you move to San Francisco, and if you want to live a nice quiet life in the plains surrounded by other nice Christian folk, you move out somewhere in the rural midwest. People move around all the time within the United States, based on relatively minor differences in living conditions. We make a big ruckus about things like a tax difference of a tenth of a point.

There's a study out ( that has created something it terms the “gay bohemian” index. Essentially what it says is that the most reliable way of predicting prosperity in America is not tracking money or business growth. It is, in fact, tracking the homosexual and artist populations. It takes a little thinking to get through to the point, but here's a short assist:

People in America can generally find a safe place to live in any state or city, if they are so inclined and can afford it. The primary motivator, then, for where they live, is number 2 on the list: Fun. When you want fun, you don't go out and find a good math conference or lecture to attend (well, you might, but you'd be in a gross minority). You go out to the pub, or go listen to a concert, or go hang out in a coffee-shop. My friend in Houston (who I just returned from visiting) initially lived close to where he worked, but moved because he'd rather have a (daily) hour commute to work than a (weekly?) hour commute to fun. The friend who introduced me to the index himself chose the city he was going to live in based on what life would be like there and bought his plane ticket before finding a job. In his case, St. Louis having a dull night life cost it a brilliant engineer.

Fun, in other words, generates population, and population generates income. Business is not fun. Money is not (in itself) fun. Art, music, gaming, dancing, these things are where your fun is at, and who makes the art, music, and dancing? artists, musicians, and DJs.

But why does the gay population tend to follow the bohemian one?

Perhaps because bohemian crowds tend to be more liberal, and liberal crowds tend to be less homophobic. Perhaps a disproportionate amount of the bohemian crowd itself is gay? Who knows. But where those two groups go, prosperity follows, and if you want prosperity, you invite them.

Economically, then, it makes no sense to pass policies that make the base of your prosperity unhappy. Both the bohemian crowd (liberal, remember) and the gay one (gay, remember) tend to find laws restricting the rights of homosexuals to be anathema, and passing such laws tends to make them move elsewhere. California, should it fail to get its act together, has just ensured that whenever a gay couple want to get married, they move, taking their money, artistic contributions, businesses and (often) their friends with them. The wedding itself will happen elsewhere, so a large sum of money will be dumped from your economy into someone else's economy right off the bat. It's a silly, silly policy.

Of course, you could make a religious argument, and many do. But it's a religious argument. What place, exactly, does your religion have in the politics of a free nation? ABSOLUTELY NONE. NONE AT ALL. This is not the case to protect other people from the light of God, it is the case to protect believers from the wrath of nonbelievers. It protects you far more than it protects anyone else. Getting your God into everyone else's business is a sure way to get everyone else's business into your God. There might also be persecution involved. I hear that happens sometimes. Marriage is a civil institution. You, yourselves, fought to make it a civil institution because you wanted people to receive bribes for being monogamous. Well, congratulations, it worked. But now, Marriage is a civil institution.

Civil institutions cannot be closed to specific groups.

You have two options when it comes to gay marriage. Either homosexuality is a choice, or it is not.

If it is a choice, then it falls under the same protections as freedom of religion, or the freedom to choose a political party. In America, we do not persecute people based on the choices they make, so long as those choices do not adversely effect the freedoms of others. If it is not a choice, then either there's nothing wrong with it, or it's a disability/disease/whatever.

In either case, gay people are entitled to all the rights and privileges of straight people, and since marriage is a civil institution, gay people must be entitled to partake.

Civil Unions are not an acceptable compromise. This country has tried “separate but equal” before, and we know how it works out. It doesn't. Why should a nation have two separate (but identical!) laws that do the same things for different groups of people? Well, the obvious reason is so that one law-set can be changed without changing the other. Restrictions can be placed on one group, but not the other. Freedoms can be given to one group, but not the other.

This is unacceptable. This is virtually the definition of un-American, for those of you fond of the phrase.

Proponents of “defining marriage as between a man and a woman” are essentially saying that the rights of married people are dependent on denying those rights to others. The benefits of marriage, in other words, include the benefit of laughing at all the people who don't have your rights.

If your religion doesn't want to give marriages to gays, well fine. That's your right. It is not your right to deny other religions the right to give them.

How does this tie into the beginning of this article?

Inevitability. It is profitable to allow gay marriage because it encourages the immigration of a part of the population which generates prosperity. Thus, given the opportunity, places which allow gay marriages will reap benefits that places who do not allow gay marriage will not reap. Over time, evolution will take its course. The only way proponents of “civil unions” and other such piles of [expletive] will ever win this war is on the national stage.

Gay marriage advocates, the national stage is one you cannot afford to lose. Right now, your opponents want to take the battle to the states. I say, let them. Let it be constitutionally established that gay marriage is a State issue, and then turn the tables state by state. The sure victory is less sweeping and grand than the quick victory, but it has the benefit of being sure.

And if you live in California and they succeed in this idiocy, and show no signs of correcting it... well... vote with your feet, and send letters to your congressman explaining exactly what they're losing with your move. If you run a business, include the amount of taxes they're not going to get every year. Tell them what you make. Tell them what you sell. Tell them what you do. Tell them where you're going. And tell them what they can do to get you back.

I should note, however, that the national stage is an inevitable playing field. I suspect Tiro will be going into more detail, since he disagrees with me on the “let them take it to the states” approach, but suffice to say that the basic issue at hand is defense of minority rights. It should not be the right of any State to restrict minority rights within their boundaries. In America, your rights are your rights, regardless of your race, creed, religion or gender.

In the long run though, time favors the progressive. The longer gay marriage advocates avoid the national fight, the more likely they are to emerge victorious.

The constant attempts to compromise the very founding principle of our democracy (prop 8 et. al.) must be allowed to continue, because the people making them have a right to challenge the system.

Of course, they must never be allowed to succeed, and much like they are fond of saying about homosexuals, “just because we have to allow it doesn't mean we have to like them.”