No More City on a Hill

From In These Times:

San Francisco isn’t some carefree utopia for queer people, says trans activist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore.

BY Yasmin Nair
October 23, 2013

As a leading trans, queer writer and activist whose work has been hugely influential in the realm of radical politics, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore has frequently contested what she sees as the mainstream gay agenda of assimilating into intrinsically homophobic and capitalist power structures. Her works have earned praise from sources as diverse as Michelle Tea, Edmund White, the San Francisco Chronicle and The Times of London. They include anthologies like That’s Revolting!: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation and Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform. In 2007, her novel So Many Ways to Sleep Badly evoked the beginning of the end of the dream that has been San Francisco for generations of queers. Her most recent work, The End of San Francisco, is a memoir about the city where she lived off and on from 1992 to 2010.

The End of San Francisco moves between her life as a survivor of incest and her attempts to create and sustain a queer, radical home in the city. Even as Sycamore describes San Francisco’s potential for a queer politics and ethics in the book, however, she unstintingly records what she describes as crushing disappointments from people and groups she trusted.

I met with Sycamore, a longtime friend and comrade, when she was in Chicago recently as part of her book tour. We talked about San Francisco and its slide into a fiercely contested site of neoliberal gentrification, dotted with million-dollar mansions brought about by the money from corporations like Google and Twitter. We also spoke about her ideal vision for the radical queer movement in the future.

Your new book, The End of San Francisco, is about a city that has long been a destination for generations of queers—a kind of nesting place for all kinds of gay and queer politics. Do you think that the potential for radical queer and trans politics has ended?

I’m not interested in promoting the idea of a Golden Age, because I think no matter when or where we’re living, if we’re living in the dominant colonial power in the world, we’re living in a horrible time. And we still need to be creating transformative ways of challenging the status quo.

[That said], for decades San Francisco has sheltered radical visions of queer politics, sexuality, community-building and ethics that have perhaps not existed in as concentrated ways in other places.

In the book, I’m trying to investigate the ways in which this idea of a queer autonomous space or a home for the fringe or a place where marginalized queers can come together to cope—I’m investigating the hold that idea has had on me. And so of course it was always everything, and it was always everything that let me down.

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How Sleazy Christian Con Artists Took Over the GOP

From Alternet:

Conservative politicians are exploiting their voters the same way Christian fundamentalist charlatans exploit the true believers.

By Amanda Marcotte
October 23, 2013

The culture of fundamentalist Christianity has had profound impacts on the Republican party in the past few decades, moving Republicans to the right on various issues and forcing Republicans to prioritize gay-bashing and attacks on reproductive rights. The shutdown, however, ended up demonstrating something even more sinister. Republicans are no longer just cribbing their political ideology from fundamentalist Christianity. Increasingly, conservative politicians are abandoning the basic task of representing the interests of their voters and instead are exploiting their voters in the same way televangelists and other fundamentalist charlatans exploit the true believers that come to them looking for spiritual salvation.

Ted Cruz is the most prominent example, at least in the past month. After the shutdown debacle, it became clear that Cruz has no interest in using his position as a Texas senator to work on behalf of the voters who got him there. Instead, his M.O. is pure sleazy televangelist: Lots of public grandstanding to convince his marks, previously known as constituents, that he’s on their side, for the sole purpose of shaking them down for money and support without offering anything in return.

The Houston Chronicle  lamented ever endorsing Cruz, comparing him unfavorably to his predecessor Kay Baily Hutchinson. Hutchinson actually bothered to represent her voters, putting a priority on the state’s economic development. Cruz is as different from Hutchinson as a miracle-promising conman taking old ladies for their Social Security checks is from the local minister who actually bothers to do the unglamorous work of holding hands, wiping tears and performing weddings and funerals for parishioners. Being an actual working politician is boring. Cruz is a new breed of conservative politician who is forsaking even the semblance of governance for mugging for the camera and then cashing some more checks.

That Cruz resembles a faith healer selling lies to gullible people more than a politician working to represent the interests of his voters shouldn’t be too surprising. His family is wrapped up with some of the worst of the worst when it comes to sleazy preachers seeking to exploit vulnerable people.  Cruz’s father is a member of Purifying Fire Ministries, founded by Suzanne Hinn, the wife of one of the nation’s most despicable fundamentalist con-men, Benny Hinn. Hinn is a minister only in the loosest sense of the word: He goes about the world conducting fake faith-healing “miracles” that make him a lot of money, but he doesn’t actually provide any services real people need. It’s all just magic tricks to con the rubes out of their hard-earned money.

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Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?

From The Guardian UK:

What happens to a country when its young people stop having sex? Japan is finding out… Abigail Haworth investigates

The Observer, Saturday 19 October 2013

Ai Aoyama is a sex and relationship counsellor who works out of her narrow three-storey home on a Tokyo back street. Her first name means “love” in Japanese, and is a keepsake from her earlier days as a professional dominatrix. Back then, about 15 years ago, she was Queen Ai, or Queen Love, and she did “all the usual things” like tying people up and dripping hot wax on their nipples. Her work today, she says, is far more challenging. Aoyama, 52, is trying to cure what Japan‘s media calls sekkusu shinai shokogun, or “celibacy syndrome”.

Japan’s under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren’t even dating, and increasing numbers can’t be bothered with sex. For their government, “celibacy syndrome” is part of a looming national catastrophe. Japan already has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060. Aoyama believes the country is experiencing “a flight from human intimacy” – and it’s partly the government’s fault.

The sign outside her building says “Clinic”. She greets me in yoga pants and fluffy animal slippers, cradling a Pekingese dog whom she introduces as Marilyn Monroe. In her business pamphlet, she offers up the gloriously random confidence that she visited North Korea in the 1990s and squeezed the testicles of a top army general. It doesn’t say whether she was invited there specifically for that purpose, but the message to her clients is clear: she doesn’t judge.

Inside, she takes me upstairs to her “relaxation room” – a bedroom with no furniture except a double futon. “It will be quiet in here,” she says. Aoyama’s first task with most of her clients is encouraging them “to stop apologising for their own physical existence”.

The number of single people has reached a record high. A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all. (There are no figures for same-sex relationships.) Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan – a country mostly free of religious morals – sex fares no better. A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact”. More than a quarter of men felt the same way.

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If Oil Spills on the Heartland, Who is to Know?

From Common Dreams:

Report reveals since 2012 nearly 300 incidents of oil spills went unreported

Lauren McCauley

New reports reveal that since 2012 nearly 300 oil spills have occurred in North Dakota alone without any notification to the public, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.

This fact—that on-shore oil spills occur all the time, with little notice or fanfare—has come under increased scrutiny since the disclosure last month that the government failed for weeks to report a spill of over 865,200 gallons of crude, fracked oil in Tioga, North Dakota—one of the largest on-shore oil spills in recent U.S. history.

AP reported Friday:

Records obtained by the AP show that so far this year, North Dakota has recorded 139 pipeline leaks that spilled a total of 735 barrels of oil. In 2012, there were 153 pipeline leaks that spilled 495 barrels of oil, data show. A little more than half of the spills companies reported to North Dakota occurred “on-site,” where a well is connected to a pipeline, and most were fewer than 10 barrels. The remainder of the spills occurred along the state’s labyrinth of pipelines.

Further AP notes that under state law North Dakota regulators are not obliged to tell the public about oil spills.

In a state that’s producing a million barrels of oil a day with nearly 17,500 miles of pipelines, the risk of spills are likely to increase posing untold risk to the region’s water and farmland.

“If there is a spill, sometimes a landowner may not even know about it. And if they do, people think it’s an isolated incident that’s only happening to them,” said Don Morrison, director of landowner group, the Dakota Resource Council.


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Waterworld USA: Climate Is Adversely Impacting Regional Water Resources

From Common Dreams:

Population is rapidly rising and agricultural, energy, and industrial demands for water are growing. Those needs are now colliding dangerously with climate change, destabilizing water resources with very different and serious repercussions across the U.S..

by Sharon Guynup

Current climate change trends and a wide range of climate computer models point toward very difficult hydrological times ahead across the United States. While the West appears to be moving inexorably toward “super drought,” the Northeast is swinging in the opposite direction, with intense thunderstorms bringing more frequent, record-breaking flashfloods. The Midwest and South appear to be heading in a third direction: into whiplash weather, seesawing between alternating years of extreme drought and deluge.

The solution in all four U.S. regions is the same: conservation, preparedness and adaption—along with a real effort to curb fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Hard Rain Fallin’ – Northeast Deluges Intensify

I live in the Northeast, and now, for me, climate change is personal.

It’s been almost a year since Superstorm Sandy submerged my city, Hoboken, NJ—and my home—in toxic floodwaters laden with oil, sewage and chemicals.

On that horrific night, my family and I gathered in the dark with neighbors on the top steps of our building, stranded in a waterworld as winds roared and storm waters surged. Though we live a half-mile from the Hudson River, a wall of water flowed up our street—it felt like a sci-fi movie—and blew our basement doors off their hinges. Six feet of water rushed in, knocking out the building’s heating and electrical systems, ruining a lifetime of uninsured personal possessions and doing some $50,000 in damage.

The next day, streets flowed with reeking black water and the National Guard arrived with lifeboats and military vehicles to save thousands of stranded Hoboken-ites. The flooded PATH tunnels to New York halted trains used daily by 30,000 commuters. In just hours, Sandy brought city life to a shuddering halt, and flooded coastal communities from Maryland to Maine.

But Sandy tells just part of the story of the Northeast’s intensifying storms. The magnitude and regularity of freakish flashflood-causing thunderstorms here has grown exponentially in recent decades. In August, for example, flashfloods struck the towns of Waterville, ME, Torrington, CT, Cranston, RI, and Tewksbury, NJ; this month, record rains fell in Washington, D.C.  The heaviest of these sudden storms can dump a foot of rain in just hours, inundating homes and businesses that lack flood insurance because they are located on high ground not historically prone to flooding.

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