What, me worry?


Great article in the New York Times sums up the anxiety:

Many liberal Democrats watch MSNBC, but some say it sounds too much like comfort food. CNN serves its election coverage with a stiff little chaser of doubt for Democrats, and many liberals say that CNN and NPR are their regular evening companions. If they really want to rub the sore tooth of worry, they dial over to the “Obama’s radical friend Bill Ayers” channel, otherwise known as Fox.

“Mostly I flip between CNN and MSNBC, but I go to Fox if I want to get enraged,” Mr. Downs said.

Dog walkers and inexact change


Continuing my investigations into the minutiae of Buenos Aires life, I want to share with you two more small signifiers of the culture here.

– Inexact change. In almost every situation involving paying for something (restaurant, store, pharmacy, grocery) if you or the vendor doesn’t have exact change or can’t give exact change, everyone just lets it go. It seems that for anything under a peso (about 30c) this is true. Everyone makes do with what they have and provides whatever centavos they have, but if a few are missing in either direction, no big deal. I can’t imagine this working in a place like a grocery in the US, where everything is accounted for to the penny. I am not sure how it all works out in the end, but I like this easygoing attitude about a few pennies.

– Dog walking. This could well be a feature only of my slightly upscale neighborhood (Palermo), but I notice on a daily basis an inordinate amount of dog walkers, usually leading a group of about 10-15 dogs. During any given day I will come across at least 3 different walkers, one day I counted 7. Are there really THAT many dogs in (this part of) Buenos Aires? Perhaps that explains all the shit.


Reaching out


I’m sure you all know by now how important I think this election is at a national level and in my home state of California. I have spent a lot of time the last few weeks sending emails and badgering people to vote and/or give money. Recently, I have been wondering if I am really doing all I can. As I feel somewhat comfortable with the direction of the presidential race, my focus is turned to the much-too-close-to-call fight against Prop 8 in California. As you probably know, if this proposition is passed it will remove the right of same sex couples to marry, and write discrimination directly into the state constitution. As I was surveying my friends who live in California, I realized that a few of them have family that are generally much more conservative and would probably be voting in favor of Prop 8. In particular, my best friend Marites, who lives in Berkeley had told me that she could no longer talk politics with her father, that he was unwilling to hear any argument and would definitely be voting for McCain and most probably be voting for Prop 8. I asked Marites if it would be ok if I made a personal appeal to him in a letter. She said it couldn’t hurt, so that is exactly what I did. Having known Marites (and her husband Keith and their kids) for so many years, I wanted to try to reach her father on a level that is beyond mere politics, one that speaks to our human connection. I hope I was able to do so. Below is the letter that I wrote and sent out earlier this week.

Dear Dr Abueg,

I hope you remember me. I am your daughter Marites’ best friend, as she is mine. We met 23 years ago while we were at the University of Cincinnati studying architecture, and over the years have developed the deepest affinity for each other. I can’t express to you the depth of my love and admiration for your daughter and the friendship we share. Marites, Keith, Anika and Teah are as much my family as my own flesh and blood. Many years ago, I came to your house in Ashtabula a couple of times and we shared dinner and conversation. We have also had a couple of brief exchanges at Marites’ house in Berkeley over the years since you moved out to California.

I am writing to ask you a personal favor. I am writing to ask you to vote NO on Proposition 8 on the ballot this November.  As you may or may not be aware, Prop 8 would remove the right of same-sex couples to marry. In essence, it would render me a 2nd class citizen in our shared state of California.

I remember stories that Marites would tell me of growing up in Ohio and feeling different because she didn’t “look like” everyone else, because her family was from the Philippines. I’m sure when you moved to Ohio for the opportunity it gave you, you had no idea what it would be like, and what kind of reception you would get from the people there. It must have been tough, speaking with an accent and looking so different from most of the people in that rural community. But you soldiered on, for the well being of your family, to raise them and provide for them and to give them a chance to flourish here. We all want that same chance. And it doesn’t matter how different we are culturally or racially, we share a common humanity.

Marites tells me that for a variety of reasons, she thinks that you are opposed to same-sex marriage. I’m not sure if you think that being gay is somehow a choice, but if you do I would ask: do you believe that you chose to be straight? That, assuming there was no hatred or prejudice in the world, that you could have chosen to be gay instead? That it is only for the betterment of society that you chose to enter into marriage and have children? Or perhaps you don’t think orientation is a choice, but a challenge God gave to certain people, and that they must deny who they are? Why do you think a loving god would do such a thing? Perhaps you think it is “against nature” despite the overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary?

There are a lot of reasons I could give you to vote against Prop 8. That it is as wrong to discriminate against someone for their orientation as it is their race or ethnic background. That it is no threat to your marriage. Do you realize that Keith and Marites would not have been allowed to get married in a previous era? Surely, you must think that that was wrong and racist. Even if your church is opposed, you know that this has nothing to do with anyone’s church. Not a single church will be forced to perform any marriage with which they disagree. This only has to do with equality before the law, and insuring that all citizens are treated equally.

There are so many good reasons, but I will ask you in the name of the deep love and friendship that I have with your daughter, and the love that she has for you and me and her entire family. That, ultimately,  is what opposing this measure is about. The love and respect of families, and the equal participation of all parts of the human family in our society and in our lives. Like any good family, we don’t have to always agree on every issue to see the human worth and dignity in all of us. And to act on that by opposing hatred and intolerance where we see it.  Will you please join me and Marites (and Keith and so many other people) in voting NO on proposition 8?

If you have any questions about the issue or to me personally, I would be happy to answer them. And whatever your decision, I want to thank you for taking the time to read my letter and consider my request.



Mimi Melancholy


Ricky invited me to go with meet some friends of his at a sort of restaurant/cabaret/bookstore called Clasica y Moderna. The place has great atmosphere, but the quality of the food is absolutely atrocious. If you go there, the only safe things to order are wine and water. The entertainment, on the other hand, was great. We watched the enticing tango singer Mimi Kozlowski, and not all was sad sad – there were a few uptempo numbers in the mix. But her version of Jaques Brel’s “ne me quitte pas” was definitely a slice-up-your-wrists kinda moment. After the show to ease the pain (of the food as well as the song), we stopped by my favorite ice cream place, Volta for a dulce de leche. Mmmmmmm. Works every time.

Infrastrucural details


I’m probably one of the few people to notice or care about these details, but it is probably as a result of the multitude of places I have been. Seemingly small facts about the built environment can add up to a very different experience of it. Here are two small things I have been noticing in Buenos Aires:

1. Sidewalk paving tiles. Unlike many other places, Buenos Aires sidewalks are largely covered in thin tiles of all shapes and sizes, and in many colors and patterns. This causes all manner of problem in the long run as they loosen, break, and crack due to a variety of factors. Most annoying after a rainstorm, when one is very likely to have a loose tile squirt up onto one’s pant leg whatever sludge is trapped below. Also annoying as they sometimes shift and slip, and generally look like hell after a few years. Compare this with their cheaper cousins of poured concrete which hold up better (if not perfect) or the more expensive (such as French) sidewalks where heavy, much thicker stones of granite are put in place and grouted. Thin paving tiles are an eyesore and menace if you ask me.

2. A pause between reds. One of the traffic details I quite like here is that there is a couple second pause between a light turning red and its cross street turning green. This seems to make crossing the street for pedestrians quite a bit safer, as it is a couple of seconds longer before the cross traffic lunges forward. During this pause there is a yellow to warn of imminent change in the cross direction, not solely when the light is about to turn red in the first.