Monday, November 28, 2011

Drug War

I read this article in the HuffPost, which features a girl that had been brutally attacked yet the police refused to investigate even as she dogged them for a year, investigated the crime on her own, interviewed witnesses, and identified her attackers. Still the police didn't do anything until a story was published in a local paper. Topping off the irony is that about a year later, a full SWAT team broke down her door on a drug tip. So the fight against marijuana gets lots of agents, time and money, the fight against people that would bash your head in doesn't even get a police report filed. Another Chicago PD member offers great insight as a response to the article.

The problem isn't the Chicago PD. It's the perverse incentives of our drug war that rewards police departments nationwide for drug busts but provides few incentives for capturing murders. It's the same incentives that caused officers in New York to admit to planting marijuana on innocent people as well as tricking others into a committing crimes (PDF) that they would not otherwise have committed.

We all understand how things such as our current drug war as well as it's perverse incentives occur. They come from good places. The problem is that laws are necessarily course instruments and therefore always have unintended consequences. But what has it accomplished? It directly supports Evo Morales and has resulted in thousands of deaths and nearly open civil war in Mexico. It has concentrated an enormous amount of wealth and weapons in the hands of the worst. It disproportionately punishes people of color, which slows down our improvement in national race relations. It fills our jails with non-violent offenders costing us billions of dollars each year... and it takes away detectives within the Chicago PD that should be capturing the brutes that bashed that poor girl's head in. Change is needed.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Contemplating Barak

I've listened to and heard the discontent with Obama for quite a while. In some ways... I don't get it. He's passed more common-sense legislation than anyone I can remember. But still, I guess when your campaign is about excelling and being different, perhaps being very good just doesn't live up to expectations. Well I recently read an email from a young, black attorney that wrote to Andrew Sullivan and it really gets to the heart of how I feel about it:

Thank you so much for writing such an eloquent defense of Obama. I'm a black attorney in my mid-20s and I'm very gainfully employed at a big law firm. My parents grew up in poverty, raised themselves to the middle class and then sacrificed so that I could go to elite schools for my entire life with the hopes that I will do better than them one day. Things are good for me mostly, but times are tough for a majority of my friends. My minority friends and I are very happy with the president and take attacks on him very personally. To the first point, we are happy because it seems that minorities, unlike the liberal white students I went to school with, had reasonable expectations. We knew that Obama could only do but so much in the face of the opposition he has to deal with and we are happy with what he has achieved.

And not to be too racial about this, but myself and a lot of my minority friends sense that white liberals' disappointment from Obama comes from a sense of entitlement.

Unlike affluent white liberals, minorities in this country seem to have a better grasp of a key truth in life: you don't always get everything you want. We know, if not firsthand then from the stories of our parents, that America isn't always a nice place, and all you can hope for is incremental change. Unlike a lot of our affluent white liberal friends, we are used to not getting it all and have learned to live with it.

To the second point, the way Obama is attacked hurts us personally because so many of us see ourselves in the president. We are middle-class black and Hispanic kids who did all the right things. Worked hard. Went to elite schools. Got the right jobs. We did what conservatives often accuse blacks of not doing. We pulled ourselves up.

And then what? We are torn down, doubted by our white coworkers and called affirmative action phonies by our white supervisors. We see it in the workplace in a thousand different subtle ways. We are held to a different standard. So when we see the best of us, a man who has independently climbed to the top of the American meritocracy, be attacked in such unreasonable and personal ways, we take it hard. If the editor of the Harvard Law Review can't be accepted as competent in this country, then how can we?

But again, we still 'know hope' because we know how the world works. We know how America is. We hold onto incremental progress and don't fixate on what hasn't been achieved. We've done it for 400 years. We'll keep doing it because this is home and we don't have any other choice.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Burning Man 2011

Once again this year, I did the GNI Gathering and Burning Man on back-to-back weeks. I just can’t help myself as these are two of my favorite events of the year. Based upon my experiences of last year, I persuaded/demanded that the BF accompany me this year so this year we went to BM together. Once again we stayed with the same camp that I stayed with last year.

Naturally, the first question that people ask about BM is “What is it all about?” Honestly, I still haven’t quite figured out to answer this yet since it is so vast and varied that it is very difficult to provide a single answer that does it justice. The best description is one that I had found an re-posted a year ago:

For those unfamiliar: It’s an art festival, showcasing thousands of sculptures and modified cars and creative structures. It’s a music festival, with hundreds of makeshift venues for DJ’s and musicians. It’s a costume festival, with everyone wearing something extraordinary, if they choose to wear something at all. It’s a conference for the mind, offering free lectures and educational seminars from thinkers across the creative-arts-and social science spectrum. It’s a religious festival, steering clear of organized dogma into the realms of free expression, open worship of the universe, and a deep reverence for the beauty of diversity. It’s a love festival, where nudity is accepted, sex is acceptable, and tantric workshops are held. It’s a community of like-minded individuals gathering in a remote place to avoid the confused, ignorant reaction of those who simply don’t get it, and probably never will. It’s a backlash against corporate America, where no brands or advertisements or promotion is allowed. It’s the wildest, most hedonistic party you’ve ever seen. And most of all, Burning Man is none of these things at all.
Here is a list of some of the most memorable experiences of this year’s burn:

1. I am Blondie!

While on the playa, many burners have what are called, "playa names". A playa name is an alternate name that you use while at BM. Many say that your playa name has to be given to you. At our camp's last year superhero party, I dressed as the Greatest American Hero and so a guy I met at the party gave me the name "Blondie", which I instantly liked.

After last year's burn, I wondered if I should keep a name that only represented a costume I wore once or whether I should wait for a new name to come. I got my answer as soon as my feed touched the playa dirt! I instantly knew that I am Blondie! The funny thing is that I can't tell you how often people came up to me and remembered me simply as Blondie throughout the week. There were even people from last year that remembered me as Blondie even though I don't recall using the name last year as much as I did this year. I am Blondie!

2. The Temple

The temple this year was absolutely AMAZING! The beauty and grandeur of it was completely awe-inspiring and I was totally blown away. Even though this was my second burn (year), I still cry every time I visit the temple and it is readily apparent that I am not alone in this. Written all over the walls of the temple are representations of struggles and losses of the thousands that have visited it. Within each of these writings one gets a profound sense of the shared struggle that we all endure. It reminds us that although we sometimes feel like we struggle alone, we are not alone in our humanity. It is too hard to ready the inscriptions for too long, but it does serve to remind me that we are only here upon this planet for a short time and very definite part of this existence will be comprised of pain, struggle and loss. But there are other parts as well and perhaps the greatest tragedy of them all would be to squander those when we had the opportunity to hug, love or... perhaps... just say hello to a stranger. I can think of no concept that better embodies BM than this.

3. Naked Pub Crawl

For the second year in a row, the Naked Pub Crawl was my favorite, single event. The event was patterned off of the World Naked Bike Ride, but since it is not officially affiliated with the WNBR was forced to change their name. I guess that's appropriate thought since the WNBR is really a naked-protest ride whereas the Naked Pub Crawl is really just an excuse to get naked and go bar hopping.

The event starts at the Man, which is the precise center of the city and probably just about 1 mile away from my camp. Once there you join the other hundreds of naked participants waiting for the ride to begin. From there we biked to a series of 6 playa bars including:
  • The Barbie Death Camp and Wine Bistro (love this name!)
  • Tribe
  • Party Naked Tiki Bar
  • Celestial Bodies
  • The Duck Pond (complete with a slip and slide)
  • Comfort and Joy
Burning Man is a mixed gay/straight event where it is said that many find that is it environment in which people may feel free to experiment in ways that they normally wouldn't. What I didn't know is that this meant that I would do things with a girl that I hadn't done in 20 years at one of the pub crawl stops!

4. Midnight Shift at the Camp Bar

Since our camp bar operates an open bar from 10am through 2am every day, we all take turns manning the bar. My favorite shift was the midnight to 2am shift since during this period the bar was still pretty lively, yet there was adequate free time to really connect with some of the people in the bar. All I have to say is that no one hates the bartender that gives them an unlimited supply of free drinks!

I do recall one night we met these two guys that had come and hung out at the bar for a number of hours. Afterwards, they waited for us (we didn't finally close the bar until 2:40am) and we went off to Comfort and Joy and the Down Low club where I remember spending time talking and hugging with a beautiful and sweet guy named Angel.

5. Soley Girl, et al

At the camp bar, I met served very sweet girl that I'll call Soley. At the time she was with what appeared to be her longtime boyfriend, but I would learn days later that they had just met. Soley's very energetic and took to me and the BF quite quickly. We would hangout together 3 more times throughout the week. Her entourage included her friend and tent mate, which was another beautiful, young girl who happened to have fallen for the brother of Soley's paramour.

One time we I was with a bunch of camp mates and we decided to go down to Ashram Galactica. Ashram is a camp whose theme is that the provide period-themed hotel rooms that they raffle off free of charge. They also boast that their bar is so complete that they can make any kind of drink. I had champagne as well as Stoli and cranberry. Nice! For the second year in a row, I had a moment while at Ashram when all in the universe just seemed perfect. When I first arrived it was way too crowded and some of our party immediately walked out. But within about 20 minutes it thinned out just enough to make it enjoyable. I then ran into Soley and her party as well as a number of other interesting characters. It turned out Soley's paramour is now a Spanish-language instructor so we spoke in Spanish for about 20 minutes. I also remember this 20-something year old pretty blond girl walking up to me and putting her tongue down my throat, which was completely unexpected. I think she might have said hi or something, but not much else.

There were many other experiences besides these that are just too many list here (or maybe I'm just too lazy). There was the Salvadorian lady in my camp that came with her siblings with which we hung out several times. There was Jeremy with whom I spent a whole afternoon discussing everything and nothing and on a playa-wide search for Vietnamese coffee. In the end we settled for snow cones. There was the time we spent with Miguel, whom I have known for about 3 years now and have seen multiple times in 3 different cities. There was the intimate time with Bob who said this was his 8th burn, but his first time having sex on the playa. There was going to the toga party at Moonbow only to later serve drinks to a group of the guys from the party that showed up in our bar all the way across the playa still in their togas. There were the sweet Japanese boys I met at the end of critical dicks march that spoke hardly a word of English. There was meeting Mario while out and about and going together to get some of the most tasty french toast ever. There was more eye candy that has ever been accumulated in place ever before. There was being part of the greatest camp on the playa. There was the burning of the Trojan horse, the man and greatest of all... the temple.

... and above all else... there was a deep sense of belonging.

Naked Summer 2011

It's been a while since I've posted and yet so much has happened over the past several months. It hasn't been anything earth-shattering or life-changing, but nonetheless these events combine to comprise a slice in the greater blip in eternity called my life and it is my duty to embrace, live, use, enjoy and learn from it. I thought that as the summer vacation season draw to a close, I'd commit my experiences to virtual paper.

The next set of following posts will speak of these adventures as well as the things I experienced and the people I met. In addition to the events that I will speak of, there have been a number of smaller events that have dotted my summer, each of which have likewise enriched my life such as naked cocktail parties and weekend retreats with groups of friends secluded in the countryside.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

World Naked Bike Ride - Toronto

I've often seen pictures of WNBR and have wanted to participate for quite a while. For those that are not familiar with it, perhaps this quote from the WNBR website best sums it up:
It's time to put a stop to the indecent exposure of people and the planet to cars and the pollution they create.
WNBR takes place simultaneously in 70 cities and 20 countries throughout the world so it is truly an international event. This year I chose Toronto because (a) it was relatively close, (b) they seem to have an active and growing event and (c) the BF and I have been wanting to visit the city anyway.

So the first obsticle was finding two bicycles. Through the magic of the Internet, a local referred me to bicycle rental places close to Coronation Park where the ride was set to start. In the end I winded up just getting bikes from a closeby Toronto Bixi location. The Bixi is one of those city-wide bike sharing programs that first began popping up in European cities several years ago and are now being replicated in the states As a side note, I did cover the seat with a towel.

The ride itself lasted for about 1 hour and 45 minutes. The ride route went down some of the busiest streets in the city including multiple parks, the university, city hall and down Church street in the gay village.

The ride itself was even more fun than I expected. I really enjoyed riding towards the front of the group and seeing the reactions of the people as they first noticed us. It's like they had no idea what to think.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Danger of Statistics

Today I was looking at videos of stories by Story Corp over on vimeo and came across this video of a soldier, presumably from WWII, recounting the day that he looked a young enemy soldier in the eyes and shot him dead.

The story made me profoundly sad for his loss as well as the kid who never got to experience so many things. My mind couldn't help but leap from Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya, Syria and other conflicts around the world both past and present. Each statistic that we stoically hear is a profound loss and deserves to be mourned by us all.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How Osama Changed America

I had to write this as a direct dissent from an article I read in the the CNN Opinion section.

The writer says,

"... utterly disregarding his own safety. ..."

Dry words, on paper or on a glowing computer screen. Yet one of the grand and humbling truths about life in the United States is that there somehow has never been a shortage of those whose actions time after time reflect those words to the letter. Bin Laden managed to change a lot of little things -- trifling, really -- in American life, but he couldn't change that.

What has regrettably changed in the US is our heightened fear of the “other” and our move away from truly espousing freedom of religion to an environment where worshippers fight public backlash to build a place of worship anywhere. We now live in a society where the government has admitted to wide-spread incidences of it spying on its citizens without cause. Where assignation orders are placed on the heads of citizens and non-citizens alike. Where our basic tenant against unlawful search and seizure has been forfeited. We live in a country where, once again, the president can order an assassination and where you and I can be incarcerated merely for whom we associate with. We believe that we can bring peace, democracy and our ideals at the barrel of a gun.

One of Osama’s goals was to destroy our way of life but this he could not achieve. It may not be necessary though since we seem intent on doing it ourselves.

The author of the article says that these changes are “trifling”. Somehow I think we’ve lost something profound.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Burning Man Pics

My camp consolidates our respective pictures and shares them amongst ourselves. My copy got held up so I just received it last week and have been looking through 6,500 pictures that were included. So many bring back memories of the playa while others reveal things I had not even seen. I decided to share some of those pictures that I didn't believe to display others in too compromising of a position. Here's batch 1...

The start of the naked pub crawl

Unplanned, but zaney socks became my signature last year

There was an incredibly beautiful double rainbow the day I arrived

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Remember the 18 y/o college freshman from Rutgers university that jumped off the George Washington bridge when he discovered that he was video tapped having gay sex? Well evidently the guy (and girl) that participated in tapping him are in a world of trouble.

Although there's a part of me that wants to see justice done, I can't help but feel the pain of loss as three young lives are irreversibly ruined when they should have been looking forward to a hopefully wonderful future. I wonder what the assailants motivations were. Was it to cause emotional harm? Was it as a asinine joke or perhaps just one of those incredibly dumb things that we do when we're that age? I sure don't know, but the consequences are all too clear and it is all so unfortunate.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What Is Burning Man

This is something I get asked quite a bit and yet still have trouble answering. I found this description on the web the other day and thought it a perfect even if incomplete description.

For those unfamiliar: It’s an art festival, showcasing thousands of sculptures and modified cars and creative structures. It’s a music festival, with hundreds of makeshift venues for DJ’s and musicians. It’s a costume festival, with everyone wearing something extraordinary, if they choose to wear something at all. It’s a conference for the mind, offering free lectures and educational seminars from thinkers across the creative-arts-and social science spectrum. It’s a religious festival, steering clear of organized dogma into the realms of free expression, open worship of the universe, and a deep reverence for the beauty of diversity. It’s a love festival, where nudity is accepted, sex is acceptable, and tantric workshops are held. It’s a community of likeminded individuals gathering in a remote place to avoid the confused, ignorant reaction of those who simply don’t get it, and probably never will. It’s a backlash against corporate America, where no brands or advertisements or promotion is allowed. It’s the wildest, most hedonistic party you’ve ever seen. And most of all, Burning Man is none of these things at all.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Er... Huh?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Happy Naked Saturday

Today is naked cocktails day and I'm really looking forward to it. I haven't been for 3 or 4 months now since somehow I seem to always be out of town when it is happening. I love the event for sheer camaraderie of it. Just spending time with people I know and others I don't in a free and accepting environment having nothing to do except to enjoy each others company. One thing that most people that haven't done anything naked before often don't realize is that you when you're naked for an extended period of time is that after a while, you'll often forget that you're naked at all.

Later this evening, there's a part out in Upper Marlboro that I'm planning to go to. These parties are clothing optional, but most of the people are naked. Those that aren't naked are almost always stripped down to their underwear. Although these parties are also very social, they also have a sexual aspect to them as well. I heard that they had 100 people RSVP so far, so it should definitely be a blast.

Monday, February 28, 2011


The BF and I went on the Atlantis 20th anniversary cruise at the beginning of February. This is our 5th gay cruise and the first in several years. The 20th anniversary cruise was to be on the brand new and largest ship in the world named the Allure of the Cruise. With over 5,400 passengers, I call it the "big gay cruise". There were a ton of guys from the Washington area that went.

I have to say that the ship was absolutely amazing! Having been on a couple of Royal Caribbean's Liberty-class ships, which were the largest just a few years, this ship absolutely dwarfs anything I've seen before. But it wasn't just the size that makes these ships great. It's also the spaces and the views. It truly is very well designed.

Although I enjoyed it immensely, there were some things that could have been better. Some were due to the ship while others were just had to do with the way Royal Caribbean and Atlantis organized this cruise. Here are some of my issues:
  • The ship was so big that I routinely met and clicked with people that I wouldn't see for the rest of the cruise. Perhaps I've actually found a ship that is just too big.
  • The ship was really desgined to disperse people to various parts of the ship and does so wonderfully. The problem is that gay cruises typically have parties in which a large number of cruises will be in a single location during that time. This ship had no space that was conducive to this kind of party. The solarium area was used for the largest parties, but it was too small, too fragmented and way too crowded. It's also, by definition, indoors. Atlantis' normal incredible light show was completely obscured and lost in the space.
  • I'm not sure that I could explain it, but for the first time I felt like we were being watched. I don't typically break too many rules, but I don't like feeling like I'm being watched or policed while on vacation.
  • Which brings me to my next point... Given that we're in a completely chartered ship and in international waters, I would hope that the "normal rules" would have been suspended to some extent. I'm not asking for anarchy, just a more relaxed atmosphere, which I did not feel existed.
  • As usual, they did have a nude sunbathing deck, but I wish it were larger.
  • Unlike all prior cruises I've been on, there was neither a cruising deck or area.
I doubt I'd go on the January cruise next year, although I'd still consider their March cruise. Frankly I think RC contributed to the less-friendly atmosphere quite a bit so maybe I'll have to re-think cruising with RC again.

Some pictures...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

End Times

Sorry... I do get a political sometimes.

Sometimes I like to play thought experiments. One such experiment attempts to look at the proliferation of weapons throughout time and amount of associated damage that can be wrought by a single person. For example, a crazy man 5,000 years ago could try to hit someone in their with a club before being tackled by his villages. Two hundred years ago someone could probably get off one musket shot before needing to reload. Sixty years ago the average person could get a hold of a six shooter.

Today it's fairly easy for one to get a hold of technology that can kill scores, if not hundreds or thousands. So I've often interpolated this into envisioning an ultimate future when all it took was one crazy to change the world as we know it.

Today I am revising my opinion for I had forgotten one thing... that the pen is mightier than the sword. At the same time that weapon technologies are developed and proliferated at an alarmingly ever increasing rate the same is occurring in other areas such as communications.

This epiphany was brought on by watching this clip of Glenn Beck. I've said this before and I'll say it again... It doesn't surprise me that people like him exist nor that they have the crazy views that they do. Nor does it surprise me that companies such as Fox News Corp are willing to anything to make money since that is primarily what companies do. It doesn't surprise me that politicians sometimes seek short term political gain over the greater good because in their eyes they can always do good tomorrow... if they're re-elected.

No, these things don't surprise me at all. What does surprise me is how all these things have been conflated to create an environment where are large number of prominent and leading Americans are seeding the ground and either tacitly or nearly-openly advocating for religious and cultural war (and I mean war in the literal sense).

So Beck has Northern Africa conquering Spain, France, Germany(?), Italy and Greece. Really? Is he serious? Please... can we buy him a risk set and lock him away?

I don't believe that we as a society are as worried about how much this country has changed as we should be.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tom Ford on Nudity

I ventured upon this account of an interview of Tom Ford and just had to repost:
Someone asked me recently about male nudity, and I brought up the subject that, in our culture, we use female nudity to sell everything. We’re very comfortable objectifying women. Women go out and they are basically wearing nothing. Their feet and toes are exposed, their legs are exposed, their breasts are exposed. Everything is exposed—the neck, the arms. You have to be really physically perfect, as a woman, in our culture to be considered beautiful. But full frontal male nudity challenges us. It makes men nervous. It makes women nervous. Other times in history, male nudes have been regarded in a different way. The Olympics were originally held nude. The reporter I was explaining this to said, “This would make a great story.” I explained how when I come home I actually take off all my clothes, and I wear no clothes until I leave. I eat naked. I do everything completely naked. He said, “That would make a great interview.” I said, “Fine, we have to do it nude.”...

Anyway, we did the interview. The interviewer was straight, and I made it a point to desexualize the interview even though I was sitting with my legs wide open, completely naked. At the end of the interview, I put on a dressing gown and he put on his clothes, and I sat next to him on the sofa and said, “Was that sexual?” He said, “Absolutely not.” And I said, “That’s because I didn’t make it sexual. Sexuality is in the eyes, it’s an expression, it’s in a look.” Then, all of a sudden, I looked at him in a very different way, and it made him very nervous.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Memories of a Burn

I believe my last post before my hiatus was of Burning Man so it's only fitting that it should the first upon my return. Yes... I've been thinking about it quite a bit recently as it was just over a year ago that I first committed myself to going. Now, seeing all of the discussion boards light up with chatter about tickets going on sale puts me right back where I began...

When I went to Folsom this past September, I ran into quite a few people I met at BM including 4 of my campmates. Two of them were the same guys that invited me into the camp that I ultimately joined and came to love. Jon asked me, "so have you had the dreams yet?" and I felt goose bumps. For several weeks after returning from BM I would awaken in bedroom in the early morning, starring bleary-eyed at my obviously rectangular ceiling and somehow my mind repeatedly confused that cieling for the inside of my tent. And for just a few, special moments, I was transported back to the playa. I thought I was the only one experiencing this, but I guess not.

Tickets went on sale just about a week ago. I was a little slow getting online to buy the deeply discounted tickets, but I did get 2 tier III tickets for a reasonable discount. Then this past Sunday I happened to be in my underwear at the Eagle (don't ask) and heard someone call my name from behind. It was Paul from BM. Paul was in my camp and was one of the people responsible for putting it together. Paul, the BF and I sat at the bar discussing and reminiscing for close to two hours.

The BF and I are also taking a cruise in about a week. Although we prepared some costumes for some of the theme parties, the "Angles and Demons" theme party kind of stumped me. Then I had a thought. After I returned from BM last year, one way I kept the experience alive and immediate was by working on BM outfits for this year. One such outfit was a pair of faux fur chaps. Weird huh? But it makes sense... faux fur because faux fur is big at BM and the nights are cold. Chaps... because I am a nudist afterall. So after not being able to think of a custom I like, I had the idea of combining the chaps with demon horns and a litlte makeup and yellow contact lenses to create a demon.

The next weekend the BF and I were in a fabrics store buying material for one of the other costumes when we passed this really lush roll for snow white, faux fur. When the BF immediately mentioned how great that would look in a pair of chaps I knew I had found my angel! So in a day we made a second pair of faux chaps and bought wings (probably too big, but oh well) and a halo. It's the BF's costume, but of course I had to try it on.

He's Back!

It has been a while since I posted anything here. I can't really say that it was for any particular reason. Lately I've been contemplating resuming my postings but was looking for a deserving topic.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Black Rock City

Found this satellite photo of Black Rock City, the temporary city where Burning Man takes place and had to repost it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Folsom 2010

I'm getting ready to leave for San Francisco and Folsom Street Fair in just a couple of days. The BF as well as other friends all decided not to go this year for various reasons so I'll be going solo for the first time. Fortunately I do know a couple of people from the DC area that are going.

Healthcare Reform

So I've given up all hope of the country actually coming together in support of anything even remotely rational and have accepted the fact that something actually got done as consolation. Here's a video created by Kaiser that tries to explain the affects of healthcare reform on average citizens. It's animated but surprisingly complete and helpful.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nudists, Burning Man and Locusts

A while back I read of scientific experiments that claimed to have figured out why locusts swarm. Locusts are normally solitary creatures that on rare occasions will completely change their normal behavioral patterns and team up with millions of other locusts. The cause of the locust swarm has been so baffling since biblical times that swarms were considered to be acts of God. In fact, solitary locusts and swarming locusts even look so different that up until 1921 scientists believed that they were completely separate species.

As it turns out, experiments have shown that changes in serotonin levels within locusts cause them to change their behavior and appearance leading to swarms. Serotonin also naturally occurs within the brains of many animals including humans. Elevated levels of serotonin are known to lead to intense feelings of well-being.

So what causes locusts to experience elevated levels of serotonin? The answer appears to be the scent of other nearby locusts as well as having their hind legs fondled. So certain environmental factors can cause normally solitary locusts to be forced onto smaller and smaller patches of vegetation resulting in the raising of their respective serotonin levels leading to swarms.

I can personally say that something very similar occurs when you get a group of people that are willing to be close enough and open themselves up to each other. I've seen it happen at most nude events as well as on gay cruise ships and of course at Burning Man. In each of these cases the feelings of closeness and connectedness with those around me rose as the hours or days passed. I could tell that it wasn't just happening to me because I could simultaneously witness the same changes taking place in those around me. These events have been some of the most intimate and memorable times of my life and are a great reason why I (and likely others) feel such a draw to such events. It is at these times that everything in the universe just seems most perfect.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Burning Man Video

I love the way that this video captures the spirit of Burning Man.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More O'Donnell

I swear that I am not obsessed with the primary victory of Republican Christine O’Donnell. Nonetheless she seems so emblematic of what is wrong with the tea party faction of the Republican Party. And one of the major problems with the other factions is that they feed the tea party faction.

Here are two quotes from O’Donnell:

I think that drug use is out of control here and there is something called tough love and what has happened with the liberal welfare program implemented in the last decade is they have cultivated an attitude of dependency. The reality is, especially in my own city here in D.C., is that a lot of those people who do deal drugs are using federal money that they get from welfare programs. We need to implement a tough love program.

We know that people will abuse the system. They will find a recovery program that can enable them to continue in their drug use as long as they get federal funding. We see the same kind of abuse with food stamps... people are abusing our compassion.
So my problem with these statements is their lack of intellectual rigor. What is the basis for her statement that “a lot of those who deal drugs are using federal money?” She states this as fact, but provides no supporting info. Perhaps it is supposed to be implicit because both of these groups tend to live in the same neighborhoods. This too is a misnomer too, but I can only cover so much in one posting. Would her “tough love” program allow the children of America to become like the children of third-world countries? That is, would America’s poorest children be starving on the street and condemned to caste system where education and upward mobility become even further out of reach?

She also implies that the fact that some people abuse a system means that the system should be abolished. So I could say the same thing about voting, so should we abolish this too?

She goes on to say:

We sit there and scratch our heads and wonder why sexual harassment is out of control in this country. It is because we are setting a precedent through our pop culture, through the songs that penetrate the airwaves and the sitcoms that are on television that are just saturated with sexual themes, that respect no boundaries. We need to just do a U-Haul of our pop culture. I think legislators, Hollywood film producers all need to reevaluate why they are doing what they are doing... We end up feeding a demon, feeding a monster and we are feeding this appetite so much that our generation is going to self-destruct quite honestly.
So here she conflates a legislative agenda with a cultural one. She suggests that politicians should do a ‘U-Haul’ (seriously… U-Haul?) of our pop-culture. I have no idea what the hell she means by this and doubt that she’s thought about it enough to know herself. I can’t think of any steps that politicians could take short of legislating pop culture that would help in this area. The only countries that I can think of that currently attempt this are totalitarian regimes such as Iran where they now have a list of acceptable haircut styles.

Half of me is giddy with delight at her nomination given that she has a snowball’s chance in hell at election in a state such as Delaware. However, a more insidious part of me asks… “what if…” and this part terrifies me. I just cannot help imagining an army of people like O’Donnell, who believe that (a) masturbation is evil, (b) morality can and should be legislated being in control of this country.

Tea-Partiers as Cylons

As an avid Battlestar Galactica fan and a political junkie, I just couldn't resist re-posting this:

The Tea Partiers were created by Republicans.

They devolved.

They rebelled.

They look and feel like Republicans.

There are many copies.

And they have a plan. (Maybe)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Burning Man

As some of you may know, I spent the last 8 months figuring out how to go to the Burning Man festival this year. I have to say that I had a wonderful and surreal experience and am still trying to figure out how to describe it all. Until then, I'll just post a few pictures...

I love this next pic. While on the Critical Dicks march, I ran across a heart-shaped mirror somewhere near Esplanade and 4:30p. The guy in the background was someone I was speaking to and said that he intentionally positioned himself into the picture to add some additional flair.

Burning Man is like an alternate universe. Therefore many people there go by what they call their 'playa name'. On Thursday at our superhero party someone asked me what my name was. I told them, but only after explaining that I don't yet have a playa name. He conferred with two others before naming me. Now I'll forever be called 'Blondie'.

Anyone who's followed my journey to Burning Man will likely know that I've researched and read just about everything available on the topic. Even so, there were still some things that just blew me away. One of which was the scope of the artwork. There a massive amount of incredibly creative pieces of large-scale art that looked like it took years to make. But likewise, there were seemingly thousands of smaller works of art that were no less inspiring.

On the top of Malmart:

Christine O'Donnell versus Jerry Falwell

Ready Andrew Sullivan's blog I came across these two episodes of Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect. The point of his posting these were to shed insight on Christine O'Donnell, who won the Republican nomination over Michael Castle in Delaware last night. O'Donnell is a tea-partier (I could use 'tea-bagger', but why be pejorative) and enjoyed the support of the likes of Sarah Palin. The Delaware Republican Party actively and ardently campaigned against her to no avail.

Anyway, the first episode can be seen here and here in which she discusses the topic of telling the truth. As a complete aside, as someone that tries not to lie, the episode did make me consider my own thoughts on the topic. Perhaps I'll write about that later. The second episode featured O'Donnell and Jerry Falwell discussing the their views of the inerrancy of the Bible.

Here's what I got from these episodes:
  • Wow is she annoying to listen to! I try not to judge people along such superficial lines, but honestly it is hard to deny that some people are easy to listen to and others not.
  • Although I disagree with almost everything that Falwell said, I have to give him credit. Except for his faith (which by definition is not subject to logic), he comes across as reasoned, logical, human and I have to admit... quite intelligent. O'Donnell on the other end seems to spout an endless stream of illogic and nonsense by contrast.
Even if I did buy the tea-partiers anti-tax rhetoric, God help us if her like wields any sort of significant power in the upcoming political landscape.

[Update] Oh wow. Somehow I missed O'Donnell's anti-masturbatory segment she did for MTV in the 90s.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Good Data, Bad Conclusions

As someone with a background in science and mathematics, I often read reports and studies and question the conclusions that are reached. In all fairness, true studies tend to be pretty careful, but we typically hear about these reports via a synopsis over public media, which inevitably leaves out the details and often draw obvious but bad conclusions from the study results.

So today I came across Allstate's annual Best Drivers Report. The full list of the city-by-city breakdown can be found here. I initially read about it here where the article's author stated "Once again, DC boasts the country's worst drivers." Even Allstate themselves state that the purpose of the report is to "identify which cities have the safest drivers." They further state that a goal of the report is to "facilitate an on-going dialog on safe driving."

So what's the problem? So I can find a number of problems with the methods used in this report such as it assumes that Allstate claims data is representative of all accident, which may or may not be true. It is also possible that, because of rate differences present in each state, safer drivers flock to Allstate in some states but have less of an incentive to do so in others. This would certainly skew the result. That said, I realize that they wanted to put numbers together based on the data they had so I'll ignore this problem.

The real problem is that what this report actually tells us is "in which city is it safest to drive" and not which city has the safest drivers. Here's why:
  • The report definitely states that some cities have higher incidents of accidents than others, but it emphatically DOES NOT tell us why. The report assumes that the only (or primary) cause is the quality of the driver, but other possibilities include traffic patterns, road conditions, density of cars on the road, etc, which the report completely and conveniently ignores.
  • By this report one would believe that bad drivers love big cities since no city with population >1M is less than the 50th percentile. I find this hard to believe. More likely cities with lower density by definition have less opportunity for collisions and greater margins of error than cities with higher vehicular densities.
  • The report suggests that cities on the lower half of the list should "fix" something. Although this may be true, it doesn't necessarily follow. As long as humans continue to drive, there will be accidents. We could take draconian measures to lower accidents to virtually zero by erecting barriers between lanes, instituting a nation-wide 5mph speed limit and stop lights at every corner of every street that only allow one car to proceed at a time. Although this would certainly reduce accidents the cost of doing this would be counter-productive as the nation would come to a stand still. So just because cities in this report could improve, doesn't mean that they necessarily should improve.
  • It also seems to me that it is more likely that roads conditions such as lane size, traffic lights, stop signs, visibility at intersections and other factors are more likely to yield improvements to safety than just telling drivers they need to drive better. It seems this report is better targeted at city transportation departments than individual drivers.
That said, I like the report in that it does tell us the relative safeness of driving in various cities. It also gives us some clue as to which cities might want to evaluate if changes are in order. But it definitely does not tell us which cities have bad versus good drivers.

Pics from GNI Gathering

Everyday at 5pm, there's a themed cocktail party. Many people dress up according to the theme and group cabins will all make an entrance all dressed either the same or in complimentary ways. My cabin and our sister cabin (20 guys in all) dressed up everyday. This last picture was from theme called "What not to wear." We all used lavender-dyed mops as wigs. It was a big hit.