Wednesday, July 31, 2013

20 Years in Arizona

Today marks the day 20 years ago in 1993 when I officially moved to Phoenix.  I've written about my "Arizona-versary" several times in this blog so I won't go over things that I've already talked about, but it is somewhat of a milestone.  Just short of one-third of my whole life I have lived here, and in spite of being born in Pennsylvania, I consider Arizona my home.

I have always loved the desert, even as a little kid when the only desert I saw was on our black-and-white TV.   Something about the dramatic starkness and the beautiful barrenness of the land spoke to me, and I was always mesmerized by the craggy, windswept mountains and vast expanse of sun-baked earth.  Where a lot of my peers saw nothing but brutal desolation and debilitating emptiness, I saw life, history, color, art and intricate, ageless patterns and rhythms.  This is a land that holds more ghosts than people, and the footfalls and songs of countless previous generations echo down the canyons of time right to the present day.  The desert might appear to be a lonely place, but you are never alone here.  Wherever you go, spirits walk with you.  Monument Valley, in far northeastern Arizona, is one of those places where the veil between the temporal world and the spirit world is especially thin.

Arizona is a place where cultures collide, intersect, conflict, separate and come together again, over and over.  Cultures such as the Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo have mixed uneasily at times but have still melded together to form a uniquely colorful and vibrant pastiche.  A fine example of this is the church at San Xavier del Bac, in southern Arizona.  Known as the White Dove of the Desert, it rises in hallucinatory splendor from the shimmering, heat-blasted expanse of ochre- and olive-colored desert near Tucson.

It seems, though, as time goes on the various cultures who make up this land are increasingly at odds with each other. Discrimination and bigotry are rampant in Arizona, particularly against Native Americans and Mexicans who have lived in this area for a very long time.  A lot of those doing the discrimination are people who have moved here from somewhere else, and really have no claim on the land or any of its residents.  I guess Anglos have a way of doing that, moving into a land and then taking it over and appropriating its culture as their own, making aboriginal residents feel like outsiders and trespassers.  They did that with rock and roll music of the 50s, when black gospel and rhythm-and-blues music were co-opted and taken over by white artists like Elvis Presley and thus made palatable to the presiding (white) culture, who milked it for as much money as they could get out of it.  They took everything, and gave nothing back in return.

The Anglo culture has been dominant here for a long time, but that is coming to an end. The increasing Hispanic population fairly guarantees that the white population of Arizona will become a minority, as early as 2025. What that will do to this state, its culture and its population cannot be reliably foreseen, but it will be amazing and fascinating, and it will blaze a trail to a new reality and a new state.  Maybe Arizona, as it rushes into the future, will find that it more closely resembles the Arizona of 100 years ago than anything else.

I feel that I have carved myself out a really good life here in Arizona.  I have a home which I dearly love.  Buying this house was one of the best things I've ever done, and it is a place where I feel perfectly safe, secure and satisfied, and where I can enjoy my beloved rabbits in peace.  I have made many wonderful, faithful friends who I value very highly, and a new chosen family in Brambley Hedge Rabbit Rescue. I've been a volunteer with BHRR for going on 13 years and it has made a huge, incalculable difference in my life.  BHRR is also one of the best things that has ever happened to me, and I feel that I have gained much, much more than I have given.

The yearly parade of what passes for seasons here in the Phoenix area never ceases to fascinate me, and a beautiful desert sunrise can still imbue me with an awe and an appreciation every bit as strong as the first time I witnessed one.  The cranberry-colored clouds of a December sunset can fill my mind with a beauty and serenity unsurpassed by any other.   The summer monsoon can set the sky ablaze and turn the evening twilight into a living painting of the most amazing and intricate textures and colors.  And most certainly, a clear nighttime sky far away from the lights of the city is absolutely one of the most mind-blowing and awe-inspiring things I have ever witnessed in my life.  The sheer number of stars you can see defies comprehension and is a treasure beyond any valuation, and far beyond my ability to adequately describe.

The vast diversity of the land and the eternally-changing tapestry of the sky turns this state into an artist's-canvas of the soul, a multifaceted prism which shows you many, many different, new sides and angles of something you have seen dozens of time.  The desert renews and reinvents itself constantly, but in very subtle ways and if you don't tune your mind to these changes, you will most likely miss them.

But, all things have a beginning and an end, and I am starting to get a bit restless.  I find the right-wing, ultra-conservative politics of this state to be destructive, suffocating and toxic.  Too often these days conservatism is just a convenient cover for racism, homophobia, religious intolerance and bigotry.  American politics is fracturing along many different fault lines, not only by political orientation but also racial, economic, gender and class lines, to name a few.  People are much less inclined to open their eyes and their minds to new outlooks and opinions, and many of them opt to shut out any voices which are different from their own.  They choose to not make an effort to understand what their neighbor is saying to them, and prefer instead to surround themselves only with others who share their narrow views.  Understanding different points of view takes a little effort and so many people in this state are very disinclined to do to make that effort.

So, I am starting to look elsewhere to live, most probably out of Arizona.  I'm looking toward New Mexico or Oregon/Washington state.  I have no concrete plans as of yet, but this is how things happen in my life.  There will be a slow, almost imperceptible change in me and eventually, when the time is right, I will leave Arizona and move on to the next adventure in my life.

There will come a time when I will have no more Arizona-versaries, but I will always have memories of the great times and unrelenting beauty of my desert home.

Friday, July 19, 2013

American Justice: An Oxymoron (Part 2)

One of the tenets of the American criminal justice system is the idea of trial by jury.  Having its roots way back in the British Magna Carta, the idea that a "jury of your peers" could provide the purest, most unadulterated dispensation of justice possible has been a central pillar of the house of cards which passes for our justice system.

But just how good is this "jury of your peers" idea, and how does the court system maximize the ability of a jury to provide this invaluable service?

I have a little bit of direct experience with the jury system, having served on a jury in the city of Phoenix court several years ago.  I was seated on a case involving drunk driving, which make up like 95% of all court cases in this town.  I was chosen as jury foreman, which I wanted because I thought it was my best chance to hurry things along and get the hell out of there.  I had to almost immediately jerk one of the other jurors back in line, because he loudly announced that a long time ago some cop gave him a traffic ticket which he considered unfair, and because of that he was going to vote for acquittal no matter what.  I explained to this dickwad in no uncertain terms that nobody gives a crap whether he was fairly ticketed or not, and he wasn't there to exact some kind of vague revenge against the system which he felt unfairly persecuted him.  His job was to examine the evidence of this particular case and render a verdict, and not launch a vendetta against some perceived injustice he suffered years ago at the hands of a traffic cop.  Admittedly I was tired, in a really REALLY lousy mood and I would have slapped the shit out of any fellow juror who pissed me off in a hot second.

Fun fact: I was called for jury service a couple of years later and yet another drunk driving case (I know, boring as hell) but since I think people who drink and drive are absolute scum of the earth, I made those feelings abundantly clear during the courtroom interview.  When asked about the law providing a "legal limit," or a level of alcohol intoxication under which it is permissible to drive, I loudly announced that "I don't care what the law says," (exact words) and I would vote to convict anyone who has a B.A.C. other than 0.  Needless to say I was hustled out of the court room and actually dismissed from serving on a jury that day.  I was home by 9:30 that morning and was incredibly happy and delighted with myself.  I will definitely do that again the next time I'm called for jury duty.

Jurors bring with them all manner of batshit-crazy experiences and biases which have nothing to do at all with the case at hand, but which can affect any decisions they make, and in the privacy of the jury room the judge knows nothing about these biases unless someone tells them.  When jurors are selected, the judge and lawyers are looking for people who don't know a lot about the case being tried, and supposedly their ignorance about the facts of the case would be a "tabula rasa" (empty tablet) on which the relevant facts would be written and their conclusions drawn, outside of the refractive lens of pre-existing knowledge.  The case of George Zimmerman was such an immediate national sensation that it's very difficult to understand how anyone in the Sanford, Florida, area could have missed hearing about it.  Call me an elitist, but I think the more intelligent you are, the more you know about news events happening around you.  Smart people tend to follow current events and watch news shows on television; less intelligent people watch "The Bachelorette" and other such drek.  Therefore the lawyers favor people of limited intelligence to serve on juries.

Because it seems that jurors are kept in the dark about a lot of stuff happening during the trial, and the more poorly-informed you are about everything the more desirable you are as a juror, that is the best incentive I can think of to live a crime-free life.  I consider going on murderous rampages at least two or three times a week, but it's the prospect of having my fate decided by a bunch of clueless, detached "peers" in a circus court of law that keeps me from acting on these feelings.  I may have regular homicidal urges, but I'm not stupid enough to get caught for them.

So, I really was not surprised by the torrent of outrageous idiocy when one of the jurors on the Zimmerman case decided to speak out to the media about her experience.  "Juror B37," as she was cryptically called, spoke to Anderson Cooper about her jury service and you can read her bewildering thought processes here.  Some highlights:

"I think George Zimmerman is a man whose heart was in the right place, but just got displaced by the vandalism in the neighborhoods, and wanting to catch these people so badly that he went above and beyond what he really should have done."

Since when does "above and beyond what he really should have done" include shooting a 17-year-old to death?  That's a little bit more serious than having a minor lapse of judgment.  Poor judgment is when you post something stupid on Facebook or say something horrible about your boss when they are standing right behind you.  A lapse in judgment usually does not result in a teenager being shot and killed.  Also:

"...I think his heart was in the right place. It just went terribly wrong."

Well yeah, occasionally things do go "terribly wrong."  But I thought in our justice system there are legal consequences when things go "terribly wrong."  This shooting was no accident; Zimmerman knew what he was doing from the moment he racially-profiled Martin in his hoodie.  He took deliberate, intentional actions despite being warned, and precipitated this confrontation.  He could not be more guilty, and yet he walks.  Because the state of Florida has decided that under a wide range of circumstances, you have a right to act as judge, jury and executioner of someone whom you think is acting in a threatening manner.  Another quote from Juror B37:

"Anybody would think anybody walking down the road, stopping and turning and looking -- if that's exactly what happened -- is suspicious."
"I think all of us thought race did not play a role. We never had that discussion."
That is one of the most transparently stupid and simple-minded things ever spoken.  Anyone who thinks race is not a major factor in what went down that night is either a complete idiot or being deliberately disingenuous.  Zimmerman was clearing gunning (pun not intended) for a black youth because he felt they were responsible, as a subset of citizens, for all the vandalism and crime occurring in that neighborhood.  The fact that Martin was wearing a hoodie branded him as a "thug" in Zimmerman's mind.  Juror B37 even went so far to say that the fact that it was raining also contributed to Martin acting "suspiciously."  How many people do you see on a daily basis who look, act and walk "suspiciously?"  If I took a shot at every dirtbag in Phoenix who I thought was looking or walking in a suspicious manner, the police wouldn't be able to keep up with the bodies piling up.

Reading through a transcript of everything Juror B37 said in her interview illustrates every single thing that is wrong with the criminal justice system in America.  The fact that someone as blatantly stupid and ignorant as she would get anywhere near a courthouse is an abomination.  Sadly, the whole vast spectrum of things that have made up the regrettable jigsaw-puzzle that is the Trayvon Martin case show how spectacularly dysfunctional, unfair, and racist the American justice system is.

Monday, July 15, 2013

American Justice: An Oxymoron (Part 1)

This past weekend on a hot and sultry Saturday evening a bombshell was dropped on this country which is still reverberating three days later.  The Florida trial of 29-year-old George Zimmerman, killer of 17-year-old Skittles-carrier and chronic iced-tea abuser Trayvon Martin, came to an end with Zimmerman's acquittal.  The moonpie-faced defendant sauntered out of the courtroom a free asshole man (not really totally free, more on that later) while Trayvon Martin, well, remains buried in his grave.

The largely arcane, inscrutable wheels of the American judicial system churned and wheezed and rattled one more time, and once more left huge numbers of people extremely upset and disappointed in a very obvious miscarriage of justice.  Our court system has a way of doing that, ignoring the big-picture for the niggling little details and minutiae of process.  Remember O.J. Simpson?  There wasn't a shadow of a doubt that he committed the murders, yet he got let off by a jury who was talked into having reasonable doubts.  Now, almost two decades later, it is an indisputable fact of public knowledge that he murdered two people in cold blood.  Casey Anthony, who murdered her daughter and failed to notify authorities of her disappearance for a month because she was too busy partying and participating in wet t-shirt contests, also skated out the front door, thanks to the jury.  On what planet is it considered justice when obviously guilty criminals can get away with their heinous actions scot free?  Also, how is it possible to have a shred of respect for such a system that allows such glaring, atrocious failures to happen?

Prosecutors in the Zimmerman trial certainly had their work cut out for them, because the investigation of the case was horrifically botched up from the start.  Evidence was contaminated or not collected at all.  Martin's body was physically moved from the sidewalk to a grassy area, disturbing and tainting the evidence.  The now-famous hoodie he was wearing was placed in an airtight plastic bag after being moistened by rain, further destroying and corrupting evidence.  At first it seemed like a slam-dunk for the state.  The initial statement by the prosecutor was riveting and emotional, and the opening statement by dickwad defense attorney Don West started off with a supremely ill-advised and staggeringly unfunny knock-knock joke, which seemed to imply the jurors were idiots.  Laying the biggest egg since the brontosaurus walked the earth, the silence in the courtroom that followed that incredibly stupid attempt at comedy was deafening, leaving West chortling and grinning at himself like the biggest jerk in the world, which he is.

Slowly but surely it changed from George Zimmerman being on trial to Trayvon Martin being on trial, for having the audacity of dressing like a thug and walking through a neighborhood.  Zimmerman, a wanna-be cop with apparently a lot more free time than common sense, decided that Martin was surely up to no good being in that part of town looking the way he did and took it upon himself - despite clear admonishment from a 911 dispatcher to mind his own business and stay put - to confront Martin for ... what?  A cell-phone recording of someone calling for help became a bone of contention as families on both sides claimed it was their relative screaming for his life.

Central to this case is the concept of self-defense and when it is appropriate to use deadly force to save your own hide.  Florida's recent "stand your ground" law makes deadly force a much more viable option because it says if you perceive yourself to be in imminent danger of death or severe bodily harm, you are justified in the use of deadly force to defend yourself.  If you PERCEIVE yourself to be in danger!  You don't have to actually BE in danger, only THINK that you are.  Think about the ramifications of that for a second.  Someone you don't like because of the way they dress or the color of their skin is walking in a part of town where you don't think they belong, and they turn to look at you as you approach them from behind to confront them, and you think THEY are being threatening??  How many dimwitted, gun-happy douchebags would find that a "threatening" situation when in fact they are the ones doing the threatening?  Just think of all the batshit-crazy, mentally-unstable nut cases there are in Florida and then imagine them given carte-blanche by the authorities to shoot anyone who happens to look at them the wrong way.  That's what "stand your ground" does.

Some people think this trial was only about race, and others think it's about self-defense.  Personally I think it's about both, with the added complication of guns and gun use in America.  Again the problem of mentally-deficient faux-vigilantes carrying firearms and being all too eager to use them has resulted in a pointless loss of life.  But how can we expect anything different if twenty young children in Newtown, Connecticut can be blasted to smithereens by a deranged gunman and months later Congress is too cowardly and spineless to pass even the most innocuous, toothless law about background checks?  Because of such selfish, narrow-minded cowardice, these types of ridiculous, tragic murders will continue until every street in America is stained with blood.  And still the NRA, their ape-like, knuckle-dragging supporters and their bottom-bitches in Congress will bleat and complain about how their precious, god-given Second Amendment rights are being trampled and violated.  Well, BOO-FUCKING-HOO.  You want a nice Camembert to go with that whine?  At least your damned kid is still alive.

The trial may be over, but Zimmerman's life will be forever changed.  He will need to be on the alert every minute of every day, because he must be painfully aware of the millions of people who are outraged at this travesty of justice.  Some people will not be content to move on; still others will seek some sort of vigilante justice (which, in a weirdly ironic way, is not at all different from what Zimmerman was instigating on that cool, damp, February evening in Sanford, Florida).  It will be next to impossible for Zimmerman to function in the general public, being instantly recognizable (read: targetable).  No one will want to hire him with the toxic baggage he will carry for the rest of his life.  He is the one who will be in a kind of solitary confinement for the rest of his life.  Meanwhile a seventeen-year-old person lies in a grave and a family, along with millions of American citizens, grieve at how spectacularly broken our justice system is when an obvious murderer can be set free and walk among us.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Hell On Earth Weekend 2013

Oh my my my I have been such a bad person, ignoring my blog like this.  I really love writing my blog but I go through phases where I just don't have the motivation to write. It's been three months since my last post, and I said I wouldn't let months go by without posting.  Oh well enough with the recrimination.  I'm here now and I'm ready to WRITE!

Just got through Hell on Earth Weekend, which is what I call the weekend right before July 4th.  And it really lived up to its name.  Friday and Saturday the temps rocketed up to 118 degree territory.  The very air seemed to be burning, and you can tell when it gets above, say, 115 because you notice how hot the air is when you breathe.  I don't know what's going on or why there's any reason why it has to be so hot.  But even at 10pm it was still 100 degrees outside.  This is such a strange place where I live.

I keep thinking more and more that I have to get out of Phoenix and get away from these horrible, awful, miserable summers.  I was sick and tired of the heat three weeks ago, and there's still at least three, and more likely three and a half more months of this crap to get through.  It seems the air conditioner runs all the time, valiantly waging a war against the blistering heat outside, doing its best to maintain as much of a difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures as possible.  It wouldn't be so bad if it cooled off during the night, but summer low temps are almost never under 80 degrees, and more often in the upper 80s or low 90s.  That makes for a nasty climate where the heat is unrelenting and constant.  And debilitating of mind and spirit.

When I first moved here 20 years ago I loved the heat; I thrived on it.  Maybe it was moving from the San Francisco Bay Area where the marine fog layer was often an enemy, a spoiler.  Many times I would awake on a clear morning anticipating a day at the beach, and I would begin the drive out there and it was beautiful and sunny but one mile away from the coast the gray clouds started spreading out in front of me.  When I got to the beach itself it was gray and overcast and windy and cool.  Some of my fondest memories of the Bay Area were the days I spent at the beach.  The days when there was an offshore breeze and all the fog got pushed way out over the ocean, the beaches were spectacularly beautiful.  The sky was a crystalline blue and the air felt so very fresh and clean.  I would get to the beach at 10am and stay till 6pm, broiling constantly in the sun.  I know now that was not a smart thing to do, skin-cancer-wise, but I would not trade that experience for anything in the world.  I felt so perfectly happy and content, surrounded by a world of unbelievable beauty at the beach on those crystal-clear, perfect days.  I didn't want to be anywhere else and never wanted it to end.  It truly was a paradise on earth.

There are great days here in Arizona, mostly in the fall, winter and early spring.  I find I function much better in the cooler weather.  I feel more energized and excited to do things.  When it's so hot that you end up sweltering in your own home, even minor chores like cleaning are a real pain in the butt.  I hate the fact that the hot weather is so horrible outside that you spend way too much time indoors.  It's just the reverse of when I was a child.  The wintertime was when you hibernated, stayed indoors because it was so nasty and cold outside.  Here, you hibernate during the summer, when it's disgustingly hot outside.

I used to love living here, but the political climate in this state is so vile and hateful I can't stand it anymore.  There are so many hate-filled conservatives here, and they are some of the most ignorant and uneducated people I have ever encountered.  The state legislature has some of the the most repugnant excuses for human beings that ever befouled a voting booth.  There are also more burned-out meth heads and white-trash dirtbags than I'd ever believed possible.  Racism is absolutely rampant in this state and runs wide and deep - racism against Mexicans, native Americans, gay people.  There are dimwitted, bigoted, fundamentalist Christians who are totally delusional in their Bronze-Age beliefs and superstitions, and robotic, insular Mormons who try so very hard to conceal their virulent bigotry and prejudices with their thin, studied smiles and carefully chosen words.

The question is, where would I go if I moved?  I like Payson, about an hour and a half northeast of Phoenix.  There, up on the Mogollon Rim, they actually have seasons and the occasional covering of snow.  But it's still Arizona, and everything that goes along with it.  I don't want to move back to California, since my love-hate relationship with that state still hasn't resolved itself.  You need a lot of money to live there, and I'm not sure it's worth it.

That leaves moving out of state, and possible places are northern New Mexico, north of Albuquerque and south of Taos.  I would consider Oregon or Washington State, too.  Colorado would be nice but the winters can be very harsh, and I don't want to get into a reverse-situation like I have now.

So, with the twentieth anniversary of my move to Phoenix (July 31, 1993) coming soon, I am looking to move again.  I am forming a five-year plan to be out of here, and on to my next adventure in life.