Thursday, November 6, 2008

"Yes on 8" it is.

After a night of partying in the streets of San Francisco, feeling unbelievable pride in my country, I awoke to see this picture which made me feel ashamed of the state I've adopted as home.

I want to say something to the people cheering in this picture, Bob Knoke, of Mission Viejo, Amanda Stanfield, of Monrovia, Jim Domen, of Yorba Linda, and J.D. Gaddis, of Yorba Linda:

"How can it make you so happy that I will never be able to marry someone I love? It isn't just that it looks like you are laughing at the misfortune of others, because it's beyond that; this is something you did to us. It feels like you've punched me in the stomach and are standing back to cheer about how great punching me is. How can I see the fervid enthusiasm on your face as anything other than hateful and vicious cruelty?"

I have to remind myself that these people probably aren't sadists in their everyday lives. And that makes it even more baffling that they can take such obvious pleasure in hurting others. They obviously think marriage is a really good thing, otherwise what would be the point of gloating 'You can't have it! You can't have it!'

It's like I'm a game of keep-away, where it's great fun not to let us gays have the ball. And what really scares me is that once you're playing keep-away, you might as well let it turn into a game of smear-the-queer.

Monday, April 7, 2008


My last post, for some reason, has received a number of spam messages in the comments. If you see a message on a blog that says "please click here," don't click on the 'here." It leads to a nasty site that messes up the size of your windows, pretends to be scanning your computer for viruses, and then presumably installs something evil on your Windows machine. I'm not sure if this started to appear because of the topic of my last post, or if it's just hitting the most recent entry. I guess with this message, we'll see.

Friday, March 28, 2008 Review: No, it's just creepy.

I recently came across a new search and networking site,, that's getting some buzz. Right off the bat, let me say that the way I discovered it creeped me out. I noticed that my youtube video of the bigwheel race was linked to by a stranger's myspace and was the video of the day on the Boston Fox affiliate. Curious about who else might be mentioning me, I googled myself and found a link to a whole page dedicated to me on, with a picture, info about my likes and dislikes, pictures of my friends, links to my wikipedia contributions, teaching portfolio, youtube videos etc. I had no idea this page existed. I certainly didn't create it...

The biggest difficulty in starting a social networking site is that for it to be useful, it has to reach a certain critical mass. On one hand it's easier for new sites to reach this point than it was in the days of sixdegrees and friendster, because people understand the concept and see the value. On the other hand, the market is crowded now and you need to be offering something exceptional to generate new registrations. gets around this problem by creating a critical mass of usefulness without needing anybody to sign up. By combing other social networking sites and the internet at large, has created millions of profiles of people who aren't even aware the site exists. And since their userbase is potential employers and stalkers as much as the people being profiled--they bill themselves as a "people search engine"--it's already useful to at least the first segment of their users, the people who are searching. The question is how the site deals with the second group, the people who are profiled. That's where it gets troubling.

What's powerful about this site is that it figures out that info from multiple sources is all about the same person and puts it in one profile. They are far from perfecting this though, so there are a couple less-complete profiles for me, and my main profile has a link to information about when I was picked by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1983 NHL draft. Even if you don't know me, you can figure out that that isn't the same Craig Butz. But did you know I have a Ph.D. in education and have been the director of a charter school in Las Vegas?

Because a profile isn't just a random list of links like a Google search, it becomes more likely that users will believe inaccurate information they see on Grouping the information into profiles inherently makes a claim that it's all about one person, otherwise what would be the point of the service? When most of the information is accurate, it adds to the credibility of the page as a whole. Because the whole page is credible, it's easier to assume that individual facts are--a psychological effect called "credibility by association."

The fact that all of the information they cull is "already out there," stuff that would show up in a google search anyway, is little consolation when you examine the details. While I've published all kinds information about myself, and have always realized that you can piece it together if you want to, I expect some control over its context. If I check a box saying I'm single, I know I'm putting that bit of info on my myspace page, not my teaching portfolio. If an employer or potential client does go snooping on myspace or facebook, they know from the context that they're looking into my personal life, and I expect them to have different expectations about what they find than for my professional actions. When it's all lumped together by, you lose the ability to make those distinctions for the people you interact with. You no longer get to have a professional life distinct from your personal life. Teenagers figuring out who they are, trying on identities, can no longer have a home-self distinct from their school-self, a version of themselves that they present to friends in person that's different from the one they reveal to people they've met online. Maybe someday such different selves will seem old-fashioned, but I think most people today expect to be able to present themselves differently in different contexts. A tool that undermines that ability isn't good for most people.

When I emailed my concerns,'s answer was for me to register with the site. There are two problems with this solution. First, most of the people profiled don't know their profile exists. Second, even if you register (giving tacit approval to the contents of your profile) you aren't actually allowed to delete inaccurate information, or stuff you just don't want included. You can only "vote down any incorrect information." What's reported about you is determined democratically! How can democracy be bad?

Even if we were to accept that what's public in one context should be public in all, the model assumes that the information about you is still coming from you or from credible and well-intentioned sources. Unfortunately, anything written about you on the Internet by anyone is fair game for inclusion. In fact, if the bots are doing what they're meant to, it's inevitable. There are already horror stories. Wired reports on a blogger covering the Mark Foley scandel being automatically tagged a pedophile. In the comments to another article about the site, a high school teacher complains that an angry student created a spoof myspace profile about him. While he was able to get myspace to remove it, the bogus information had already made it into his spock profile. Imagine the potential for a kid to be bullied relentlessly through this site. Since it's an information popularity contest, they would have little power to stop the terrible things that kids say from being included on their own profile page. isn't the only site that has to deal with vandalism. But it's one thing for wikipedia to grapple with it when their notability rule disallows articles about most of us. The potential consequences aren't much more severe than some kid including the wrong dates for the Civil War in a report. When the entire content of the site is real living people, the company is risking people's reputations in a way that could seriously damage their lives.

If you have an internet presence, they're compiling a profile on you whether you like it or not. In response to my request to have my profile removed, the Spock Team said, "If I were to remove your Spock search result you will eventually be reindexed." The only way to influence your profile is to register. What an incredibly coercive business model! The draw for registered users is to gain some influence over a profile that will exist whether they want it to or not. Unfortunately, this aspect is unlikely to change. For the service to be useful, they need to rope people into registering. While they're doing a better job than most of attaching information to the right person, it's unlikely they will ever be able to automate the process perfectly. Ultimately, I'm the only machine that can tell whether a page is about me or not.

If I don't want there to be a page about me at all, there is an alternative. They told another peeved profilee that she could be permanently deleted by completely removing herself from all social networking sites. They've decided that you don't get to choose whether or not to be a part of The only way not to be profiled is not to allow any mention of yourself on the internet.

It is true that other sites, like zoominfo are doing similar things, but none in such an intrusive way. Spock Networks apparently thinks of this as being more successful.

Many people certainly do want tools to check up on those around them, and Jay Bhatti and Jaideep Singh hope to profit off that craving, whether it's wise to feed it or not. The question, I guess, is whether they'll put their energy into building safeguards against the blatant potential for their site to be abused, something which will be technically difficult and likely to decrease the site's usefulness as a search tool, or whether they'll stay on track to develop it into the best privacy-invading search tool in existence.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Big Wheel Race

My view of an annual Easter event that pretty well captures the quintessence of contemporary San Francisco.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Fun

If you didn't come see and taste for yourself, you missed out. Brunch was a fantastic success, with a spread of at least 20 dishes, including white bean garlic polenta with porcini and parmigianno, tomato and fennel pizza, figs stuffed with gorgonzola and walnuts or wrapped in prosciutto, leek and arugala quiche, and coconut cranberry cookies. Yes, you should have been here. Even more important were this years Peeps decorations: a Peep wonderland (me) and a giant Peep rosary (Eileen.) Since our peep wreath a couple years back survived long enough to become our Christmas wreath, I suspect you have a little bit of time to come and appreciate the marshmallowy magic.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


For those of you in the cold, I thought I'd share a picture of how much produce you can get for $25 in San Francisco in March, if you know where to look. For those of you who live in SF, I can't give this great find away unless you interrogate me in person, which will be easy if you come eat some of this bounty at Easter brunch.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How the St. Patrick's Day fire didn't start

For those of you who've seen a christmas tree burn, you know that there is almost nothing more flammable than a christmas tree that's still around in March. So I was pretty astonished to see this one, completely uncharred, lying amid the sad mess of burned and smoky stuff that had been thrown from the burning apartments on Valencia Street. Bizarre.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fire down the hill

The way we find out about breaking news on the side of Bernal Hill is
by listening for the sound of hovering helicopters. This evening they
are out in force because of a four-alarm fire on Valencia by the Dovre
Club. Our roof provides a good view of the smoke, but the fire is just
behind the hospital.


I saw this sign on someone's house the other day. I wonder if it's really true. The sign seemed a little permanent and like it had been up for a while. I suspect it's just a ploy to keep people from letting their dogs poop in the yard.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


We bought some peeps this evening. You'll have to come to Easter brunch to find out why.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Approaching Graffiti

I got scooped by boingboing today, when they posted a picture of the exact same sign in the bathroom of Little Star Pizza, where I had dinner with friends on my birthday Saturday:

As David pointed out, the message, which is still terse, even if it does try to engage the "'artist's'" intellect, does seem to have worked, as the restroom was graffitiless. So, it was all the more amusing to see the restroom at the 500 Club a couple blocks away, where they seem to have taken a different approach to dealing with tagging:

I'm not going to take sides, just say I'm glad both exist.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Roll Sound... Background Action...

For the past few weeks, San Francisco has been abuzz with movie talk. Gus Van Sant is in town making a biopic about Harvey Milk, the SF supervisor, and probably the first openly gay elected official in history, who was assassinated along with the mayor by another board member in 1978. Part of the history of gay liberation in the City is marches, protests, and celebrations in the streets. Hundreds of volunteers came out last week to recreate some of these mass events for the cameras, a good number of whom had participated in the actual events 30 years ago.

They'd restored the theater marquee, unrenovated store fronts, and parked 60s and 70s cars on the streets. After being introduced to some cast and crew (James Franco--swoon) and watching an earlier documentary about Milk, hundreds of extras filled the intersection of Castro and 17th, where bright lights were shining down from the rooftops on every side. They lit some shots with piercing smokey flares, making it seem dramatic even before the music is added.

There was also a lot of standing around, but it was pretty interesting seeing the movie-making process first-hand. And I got to see Sean Penn in a couple shots.

I found myself standing right next to Emile Hirsch, and saw gay icons Cleve Jones and Gilbert Baker. At one point Carrie Fisher even showed up to promote her one-woman stage show. Overall, a pretty cool thing to be a part of.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Allemande Left and a Right Left Grand

It's sort of ironic, coming from the rural midwest, that it's only in San Francisco that square dancing has become part of my life.  Every year there's a wildly popular dance at the Swedish American Hall in the Castro that we always attend.  It's full of midwest-transplant gays, geeks, and hipsters reveling in post-ironic pleasure.  It's part of the wintertime bluegrass and old-time festival that balances the summertime Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.  This year the band came from North Carolina and the caller did a great job of teaching a bunch of clueless Californians fast and getting us to do some sort of complicated seeming dances.

Friday, February 8, 2008


I noticed this former bank of telephones in an Oakland BART station. I forget that there used to be rows of pay phones in public places. The architects of this "modern" transportation center foresaw six people needing to talk on the phone at the same time, standing next to each other along the wall to do it. Now a single phone remains, with nobody using it. I wonder how they decided that the fifth phone should be the one that stayed. Did the other five get removed all at once, or were they phased out one at a time as demand decreased. Perhaps as they wore out or were vandalized, they just pulled them out instead of repairing them. How much longer till they get rid of the last remnant of the pre-cellular age, leaving just a mysterious row of unneeded metal panels?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Is 'HELO' an election anomaly?

You see reports of voter fraud even during these single-party primaries. Even though I can't really imagine anything fishy in Bernal Heights, since my polling place is literally on the other side of my block, I thought I'd go make a record of the polls opening at 7am. The last time I voted, I got there just at opening and thought it was a treat to witness everyone raising their right hands and swearing to uphold the constitution, the first voters being asked to verify that the ballot boxes were empty. The election workers were a very old lady, a middle-aged immigrant woman, and a teenaged girl. It was all presided over by an no-nonsense, in-charge dyke who was startlingly official and efficient. This Tuesday it went a little less smoothly, as the woman running things admittedly was doing it for the first time. She was concerned that the ballot reader, which read '0' on the back, was greeting us with a "hello" instead of saying '0' on the front as well. Whoever she called didn't think it was a problem, but who knows. Maybe a friendly election robot is how they lull us into letting our votes not be counted!

Thursday, January 24, 2008


The idea of home is a recurrent theme in my thinking, something I've written about before. Feeling at home isn't something confined to your house. I'm intrigued by what defines the boundaries of home, and I think about it in a couple of different ways.

The first time I drove from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the summer I toured the country in my Geo Metro--which I'd converted into a micro-mobile home by taking out all but the driver's seat and replacing them with a bed, cooler, and all my stuff--I had a startling experience when I got back to Columbus, Ohio. For two months, I'd been continually barraged with the new. Covering 11,000 miles through the Northeast up to the eastern tip of Maine, all the way across the country to the northwest tip of Washington, down the coast to San Francisco, back east across the desert and plains, I was, except for in a few previously visited spots, constantly experiencing sights I'd never seen before. I got used to not being used to anything. Constant newness became normal. So when I started heading up I-71 from downtown Columbus, a road I'd traveled hundreds of times, suddenly, unexpectedly I realized I wasn't exploring anymore. I recognized every exit sign, though I'd never been conscious of them before. For a few minutes familiarity was strange, since strangeness had become familiar. Home, I realized, is where you aren't exploring, where things aren't new.

Home is about familiarity, but familiarity doesn't have to be literally knowing a place, as in the above example. It's true that on that long unfamiliar drive I felt a little bit at home when I passed through places I'd been before, even if it had been only once, like Canon Beach , Oregon. But I also felt at home when I got to new places that only seemed relatively familiar. Without planning, I drove up into Quebec for one night, where the signs weren't just in a different language that needed to be translated at 120 km/h, but were different shapes and colors from the US and even the rest of Canada, where the roads were laid out differently, and everything seemed generally confusing. It wasn't entirely unexpected, but it was disorienting. When I drove across the provincial line into Ontario the next morning, things suddenly seemed normal again and I felt strangely at home, though I wasn't even in my own country. The same feeling hit me when I crossed the border from the roadless desert of Bolivia and suddenly found myself on a perfectly modern, paved, striped, signed, guard-railed highway in Chile. Even driving from the Rockies in Colorado, across Kansas and Missouri into Illinois, at some point near the Mississippi, as the trees get larger, the summer air gets more humid, I've been struck with a feeling that I'm in my own native environment. I remember as a kid driving into Ohio on family vacations, and my parents reminding me that we were not home yet. But Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio all look and feel pretty much the same, so when you've been far away for a long time, the feeling of home starts to creep into you hundreds of miles ahead of the destination, where things become familiar even as they remain unknown.

California, my more recent home, is not the Midwest. Driving back here a few weeks ago on I-8, I crossed the Colorado River into California at Yuma, Arizona. In the confusion of traffic I didn't even notice a sign or realize I was in California for several minutes. Even then I drove for another half an hour before I thought, "Oh, California, that's where I live. I'm home!" Driving the highway between towering sand dunes in warm winter air, I felt like I was still in the midst of adventure. Though I love the variety of landscapes, I don't imagine I will ever be able to think of all of California--deserts, mountains, beaches, fields and forests--as home. It's really only when I pass the wind turbines on the Altamont Pass, standing as sentries at the entrance to the Bay Area, that I start to feel like I'm getting close. It's the view from the Bay bridge, passing the Abercrombie and Coke billboards, zigging by Potrero hill, down the branching Cesar Chavez/Bayshore ramp, around the back of the hill and over Cortland that makes me know I'm finally home.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Southern Radio

I decided to avoid the mountains and stay warm on my drive to California, so I had to drive through the Deep South. I risked the high blood pressure and listened to some local radio across Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas so I wouldn't run out of podcasts on my 1GB iPod Shuffle when I got to the big empty places where there aren't any radio stations at all.

The first thing that disturbed me was Christian political talk radio. In California, people know that religious conservatives exist, but the media maintains some sort separation of Church and State. You just don't talk about God while you're talking politics. Even in the Midwest, people seem to have their beliefs and have their politics, but at least pretend publicly that law is some sort of civil contract not determined by religion. But driving through the South, I heard talk show hosts openly explain that their pro-gun, pro-war, pro-death penalty, anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-immigrant politics were right because that's what the Bible says. One caller to a Christian political program suggested that we should deal with "illegals" by deporting them and forcing them to sign a "contract" that says that if they are ever caught in America again, they'd be executed. The explicitly Christian host didn't think that was going far enough. He said we should implant them with chips like they put in pets, except explosive, so that if they ever cross the border, the chip will instantly explode and kill them. I took a deep breath, prayed my car wouldn't break down, and switched to a music station.

There apparently is a whole genre of ultra-backwoods country music that's popular way down south that I was completely unaware of, despite living in the hills of Southeastern Ohio for a decade. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The lyrics speak for themselves:
(Song titles linked to Videos on YouTube, which you have to listen to, though the videos sort of ruin the hillbillyness of the songs with their Hollywood slickness.)

A Different World by Bucky Covington
A song of nostalgia for lead-based paint, getting the belt, and prayer in school.

We were born to mothers who smoked and drank
Our cribs were covered in lead-based paint
No childproof lids
No seatbelts in cars
Rode bikes with no helmets
and still here we are
Still here we are

We got daddy's belt when we misbehaved
Had three TV channels you got up to change
No video games and no satellite
All we had were friends and they were outside
Playing outside

School always started the same everyday
the pledge of allegiance, then someone would pray
not every kid made the team when they tried
We got disappointed but that was alright
We turned out alright

No bottled water
We'd drink from a garden hose
And every Sunday,
All the stores were closed.

It was a different life
When we were boys and girls
Not just a different time
It was a different world

International Harvester by Craig Morgan
Kinda catchy, even if he's proud of the 3-mile line of cars behind his combine.

I'm the son of a third generation farmer
I've been married 10 years to the farmer's daughter
I'm a God fearing hardworking combine driver
Hogging up the road on my p-p-p-p-plower
Clug-a-lug-a-lugin 5 miles an hour
On my International Harvester.

3 miles of cars laying on their horns
Falling on deaf ears of corn
Lined up behind me like a big parade
Of late to work road rage jerks
Shouting obscene words flippin' me the bird

Well you my be on a state paved road
That black top runs through my pay load
Excuse me for trying to do my job
This year ain't been no bumper crop
If you don't like the way I'm driving
Get back on the interstate Otherwise sit tight and be nice
And quit your honking at me that way

Cause I'm the son of a 3rd generation farmer
I've been married 10 years to the farmer's daughter
I got 2 boys in the county 4-H
I'm a lifetime sponsor of the FFA
Hey that's what I make I make a lot of Hay for a little pay
But I'm proud to say
I'm a God fearing hardworking combine driver
Hogging up the road on my p-p-p-p-plower
Clug-a-lug-a-lugin 5 miles an hour
On my International Harvester.

Well I know you got your own deadline
But cussing me won't save you no time Haus
But this big wheel wide load ain't going any faster
So just smile and wave and tip your hat to the man up on the tractor

What do ya think about that by Montgomery Gentry
A true expression of the love-your-neighbor, do-unto-others Southern Christian culture.

Heard it through the grapevine
My new neighbor don’t like my big red barn
’47 Ford, bullet holes in the door
Broke-down motor in the front yard
I've got a mind
To paint a plywood sign
And nail it up on a knotty pine tree
Saying "I was here first,
This is my piece of dirt
And your ramblin’ don’t rattle me"

Some people care about
what other people think
Worry ‘bout what they say
Let a little gossip
Comin’ from a loose lip
Ruin a perfect day
Saying “blah, blah, blah”
Just a-jacking their jaws
Gotta let it roll of my back
I don’t give a durn
What other people think
What do ya think about that?

I wear what I want to
Overalls, work boots
Crank my music up loud
Like to sling a little mud
On my four-wheel drive
Trick on into town
Shoot a little eight ball
Down by the pool hall
Drink a beer with my friends
Don’t judge me and I won’t judge you
‘Cause we all get judged
In the end

You know, I don’t give a damn
What other people think
What do you think about that?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Latin America's got nothing on these politics

Going through all the mail I missed for the past six months, I found my ballot for the November San Francisco mayoral election. I was amused by the list of candidates, which lists occupation along with name. Besides a profesor, a doctor, a couple of journalists, and some other boring jobs, the following people wanted to run the city:

Michael Powers - Nightclub Owner
Grasshopper Alec Kaplan - Taxicab Driver
John Rinaldi - Showman
Harold Hoogasian - Florist/Coffee Farmer
Gavin Newsom - Mayor of San Francisco

The guy's name is "Grasshopper"? What's the heck is a "showman"? You can grow coffee in California? "Mayor of San Francisco" just fits right in there, doesn't it?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Negative Stars

I write this from perhaps the crappiest hotel I've ever stayed in (besides that place in Uruguay with thousands of cigarette burns on the floor), the redundant "Budget Inn Motel" in South Tucson, Arizona. (Incidentally, in South America, a motel is a place that "rents rooms by the hour.") I'm 1900 miles into the hard push across the US to get from Asheville to San Diego in two and a half days. The highway roars just outside the window. On the back of the door, there's painter's tape, and someone has scrawled in both sharpie and crayon "Ck out tme 10: AM." A heating vent has been taped over. A thin layer of spackle barely covers boards, nails, and tape patching a 2-foot hole in the wall. Someone thought it wise to paint the tiled shower, which is now peeling, just like the plastic trim along the floor. A hole in the ceiling reveals where there used to be a light fixture. It's not only run-down, but years of repairs have been quarter-assed at best.

But I don't mind. I really just need a place to sleep for a few hours, and the bed is fine. I passed up the $40 chains to save $15 knowing what I'd be getting into. The only thing that disturbs me is that the places I've stayed in South America, usually for $5-15 per night, were almost all nicer than the local budget motels of America, even ones much less crappy than this.

Driving through El Paso, I got one clear view of a residential hillside in Juarez, a slum of border-town hovels that could not exist in the US. As a prosperous nation, that level of housing isn't allowed. (If you can't afford any better, you have to live on the streets.) I would expect that the bottom rung of short-term accommodation in the US would also be held to a higher standard than in Latin America, but apparently not. I know hotel rooms are going to cost more here. What I don't get is that if such run-down dumps can stay in business here, where people expect an elevated standard of living, why do South American hotels owners keep there places so much better maintained in a place where people are used to living much more modestly, and how do they afford the upkeep while charging 80% less?

I'm sure there are answers in labor costs, competition, the relative costs of starting a business, and my own culturally-adjusting expectations, but I just thought I'd point out the paradox before being lulled to sleep by the woosh of cars and trucks on I-10.