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Archive for August, 2009

Leave The City

trek4300A bike went missing today. My bike, the lock snapped on Salt Lake’s Main Street that never lacks for people.

Yet, nobody saw it, or at least none of the do-nothing, meth-addicted homeless who have put downtown Salt Lake under siege admitted to have seen the bike disappear.

Barring a miracle of either stupidity or laziness, the bike is now gone forever, leaving me to either hike it to TRAX or pay for parking that is two blocks away.  Notice I don’t hold any hope for the cops to find my bike, since it’s under $1,000 and they apparently cannot be bothered.  Which is, you know, understandable since they having to actually investigate downtown crime might lead to a scratch on their own mountain bikes or a dent in their personal scooters.

I took pride in riding my bike every day, I enjoyed the small dash of exercise and the 15 minutes of semi-fresh morning and night, andI enjoyed time to think outside of home and office. I enjoyed not driving, not parking, not running needless small errands simply because I had a car.

This theft comes on the heels of our neighbor having the connector on his hose stolen. Slashed with a knife, and gone. Not the hose, just the end of the hose. Previously, we have had solar lights and a bird bath stolen from our front yard, which is close to downtown. In fact, every day there are dozens of crimes like this: missing bikes, stolen stereos, forged checks.  All petty crimes with small bills that draw zero attention from actual investigators. Reporting a crime like this is almost as effective as reporting computer problems to a call center in Bangalore.

Walking home tonight, I carried the snapped bike lock. Why? It had no purpose. The cops, as I said, didn’t care for evidence. Obviously, the lock is useless even if the bike is found. Except every time I went to throw it away, or even put it in my backpack, I could not loosen my grip. Maybe I hoped to fix it, or realize it was a joke, or stumble across the thief and beat them senseless.

I don’t want to loathe the city, hate its populace, despise its cops. Except I do, at least right now, and every time something like this happens the loathing erodes my soul a little deeper, stretches my anger a little further.

Constant petty crimes undermine my faith in the overall abilities of the police. Even worse, they undermine my faith in humanity. When I walk along Main Street tomorrow, I don’t want to look at the regulars sitting at the chess tables and on the planters and think, “Fucking meth heads. Give me my bike!”  I don’t want to glare at the police officers, or spit at the pawn shops where my bike may be sitting, or growl at the skateboarding youth. At night, I don’t want to think that every single person walking past is potentially going to steal lawn ornaments, break into my car, or worse, break into my house. I don’t want to wonder if I need more locks, thicker windows, or burglar alarms. I don’t want to wonder, every time I do something, am I protected well enough? Is locking my bike next to a dozen other bikes safe? Or should I have two locks, maybe each costing $100 instead of one that only cost $20? Maybe I should carry the bike to my office?

I don’t want feel that way, except I do. Common sense tells me that my frustrations are not valid. My compassion tells me that not every homeless person is a meth addict, that not every person on Main Street is homeless. Experience teaches me that the easiest to blame are generally the least likely to have actually committed the crime. Frankly, none of it matters.

After all, somebody stole my bike.

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Exubria Recast

Big house. Vinyl siding. Manicured lawn.  Two-car garage, maybe three.  Backyards to hide from neighbors.  Faux brick front.

Pavement for miles.  Parking lots.  Stores with acreage of stuff.  Stuff to eat, stuff to build, stuff to consume, stuff to waste.

Work in the city.  Drive on the interstate.  Eat in the chain.  Home.  Rinse. Repeat.

Suburbia spreads like bindweed, one interconnected, land-swallowing swath of humanity.  Beige blooms in the brown desert while its denizens stare at high-definition television shows about life in paradise. They bought their homes to live the American Dream, and spend the rest of their lives dreaming of escape.

Escape they will, fleeing to the latest and newest refuge. Maybe it’s the “green” subdivision with colorful houses, maybe it’s the high-rise condominiums with restaurants on the ground floor and a freeway entrance within walking distance.  Maybe it’s a boat, a cabin, an RV.  Or maybe it’s similar more of the same, super-sized.

America is a very young country, as anybody who has ever visited Europe can attest.  Many Europeans have houses that are older than America, yet we as Americans search for everything new.  We created a democratic civilization built with the most adaptable legal document ever created, yet we cannot adapt as a people to minor nuisances.  Need four outlets in every room instead of the one in that 50-year old house?  Buy a new house.  Ipod adapter in the car because you cannot listen to the radio?  Buy a new car?  Bored with the long-standing cafe run by your neighbor?  Hey, there’s an In N’ Out burger opening!

This ceaseless need to fulfill every want and desire has a number of negative impacts, most of them on a person’s soul.  But there are also smaller ones, such as the eventual desertion of the existing new for the New New.  That leaves behind empty homes, deserted lots, and discarded shopping malls.  Eventually, something will have to be done with them.

To that end, Dwell Magazine and inhabit.com are sponsoring a ReBurbia contest. Entrants proposed new uses for these existing buildings that litter suburbia.  While the impetus was the current economic crisis, which has greatly compounded the problem, this is a noble effort for what is going to become a continually bigger problem.

The focus of the finalists on sustainable energy, environmentally-sound travel, and bizarre urban agriculture (trellis gardening over parking lots, for example) is laudable.  However, reading through them still left me feeling empty because, once again, they are simply the New New.  A Big Box garden is great, but what happens when people tire of that?  Once again, empty building.

I want to know my neighbors, know their children, know the neighborhood.  As much as people protest otherwise, suburban development generally discourages community because community is not a cost-efficient method of building.  Cookie-cutter houses built on straight roads is cost-efficient.

All of these entries lacked possibly the most essential aspect of any home I live in: a front porch.  If you want to reinvent suburbia, embrace community.

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Wolf vs. Man

The Lone Wolf

A conference of Western attorneys generals in Sun Valley has yielded an interesting environmental tidbit: wolves will be shot this year, whether legal or not.

That was the assessment from Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Randy Budge, according to a story from the Idaho Mountain Express.  He was referencing lawsuits filed by conservation groups following a decision from the federal government that wolves could be hunted.  So far, it looks like Montana will allow up to 75 wolves to be shot, while Idaho hunters may get to take wolves numbering in the hundreds.

Wolves are incredibly noble creatures, rare to see wild, symbolic for many people, and absolutely spine-tingling to hear howl.  They also kill livestock, which even if only a small part of the overall livestock economy can deal significant blows to individual ranchers.

Initially, I planned to write a post about the unnecessary and puzzling need for people to kill wolves, something I still don’t understand if the motivation is simply to kill a wolf.  But the original draft didn’t sit right.  Despite my deep love of nature and disgust at urbanites who move to the woods and then want the trees, bears, coyotes, and every other natural “nuisance” removed, I know ranchers and farmers.  I was raised in sheep country in central Utah, and most of those who raised livestock for a living balanced on a thin financial line.  If they need to kill wolves to protect themselves … killing wolves doesn’t sit right with me, but neither does protecting them at the expense of small ranchers.  (My sympathy does not extend to corporate feed lots or their ilk.  The greater their losses, the better, as far I’m concerned).

So instead of mocking those who need to kill for the sake of killing, I simply make a plea: respect the animal.  If a rancher kills a wolf to protect his herd, the least he could is somehow return that wolf to the natural world.  Don’t stuff it and put it in the living room, don’t turn it into a rug.  If hunting wolves is desirable, at least do it with dignity.  Pursue the wolf through the wilderness, as a predator, instead of flying in a plane and targeting the animals as if playing a video game.  And as with any hunting or fishing endeavor, appreciate the magnitude of what you have done.  Feel the animal’s blood leaving it body, look in its dead eyes.  At least give it that much respect.

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Herbert’s Huntsman

Soon-to-be Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a noted conservative, tabbed a well-respected moderate, Sen. Greg Bell, as his lieutenant governor Wednesday.  The selection will help Herbert is he gets to the 2010 general election, because of Bell’s support of such conservatively-reviled issues as gay rights.  Bell does not support gay marriage, but he does support at least the appearance of equality for committed gay couples, which is sometimes more than even Utah Democrats support.

Herbert has also essentially flipped the Utah administration on its head, since Bell is on the opposite end of the Republican spectrum as Herbert.  When soon-t0-be-former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman selected Herbert as his running mate in 2004, he did so to shore up the conservative base, and now Herbert is shoring up the moderate base.

I give Herbert a lot of respect, a lot of which I detail in a blog posting for City Weekly.  He has always dealt very fairly with the media, and he lets disparate voices have their say.  As the second-in-command, I fear that he will get lost, but maybe he can actually make the difference on ethical issues that I detail in the above-mentioned blog.

What Herbert/Bell will not provide Utah, however, is the national respect that Huntsman gave.  Utah will once again be a bit player on national politics, since Huntsman larger aspirations gave Utah some credence as a presidential stomping ground.  It still would not have been a state that mattered in the electoral college or Congressional elections, but the presence of Huntsman made politicians in both parties respect it.

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Democrats in Republican-dominated states such as Idaho or Utah are eternal optimists.  After every election trouncing, they still find things to raise their spirits.  Maybe they cheer the fact that they had a candidate in every single “important” race, or that they had repeat candidates who, even if they had lost multiple times, are getting name recognition and campaign experience.  Above everything, they find solace in those rare major victories around the region, dreaming of the day they can actually win the governorship or take over at least one of the legislative houses.

In the last couple of cycles, however, Western Democrats actually have reason for optimism, thanks in large part to a new breed of politician for their party’s regional standard-bearer.  These are politicals who are pro-civil unions, pro-gun, pro-environment, and pro-energy.  They support drilling for oil, but not at the expense of natural treasures.  They support gun ownership, but also realize that many people are actually scared of the deadly weapons and some places (churches and schools, especially) are not appropriate for packin’ heat.

The Western Democrat is also becoming a significant player in national politics, as evidenced by President Obama’s flirations with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson for the VP slot and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s well-received speech to the Democratic National Convention.  For Democrats in those Western states, the national recognition will also mean that, more and more, they may actually have strength at the state levels.  At the very least, it means that the GOP will have to run moderates that may actually support some of the Western Democratic stances, especially on issues such as education funding or green energy initiatives.

Later this month, Democrats from around the region will gather in Denver to plot their next steps in making the mountain states two-party states. The gathering is hosted by Project New West and will feature speakers such as Robert Redford and Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.

Mark Barabak at Top of the Ticket (an amazing political blog run by the L.A. Times) has a post with more details on the gathering and a deeper look at the surge of the Western Democrat.

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