Monday, October 17, 2011

Lip Service

by Leon Couch

What is it about those lips?

Are the eyes really the gateway to the soul? Or should you close your eyes and instead, kiss those lips? Chances are, if there’s someone whose eyes you feel you could stare into forever, someone you find that enchanting, you’ll wind up kissing them if you can. And I bet we can all agree that kissing tells you a lot more about someone than eyeballs.

Look at the different shapes and sizes, the slight color variations. They come in large, small, smooth, rough, light, dark, puffy, thin, sexy, scary—all kinds. Just look for a while at all those lips. Find a place where you can sit, maybe a diner, maybe a bar. But you should definitely be sitting alone, so you won’t be distracted. Don’t worry that you’re creeping people out. You are creeping them out. But worrying just doesn’t solve problems.

For the next week or so, just look at the different lips around you. Yes, that’s a crazy thing to do. Go ahead though, you should do it. I highly recommend it. Trust me. It’ll be fun. I prahhh-misss.

Now this part is crucial, when someone gets just too creeped out by you and calls the police, be ready. When you see the policeman coming toward you, led by a group of angry people, and they’re all shaking their fists and pointing at you, RUN! Go! Now! Run as fast as you can! And scream! (It’s always best to scream at the top of your lungs while running, either toward or away from trouble. It’s probably good for recreational runners too. But that’s another story.) Scream as high-pitched a scream as you can! And wave your arms in the air above your head! “AAAAAAHHHH!” (Unfortunately, and I should have told you this a minute ago, this actually hurts your chances of escape. But it really, really, really adds style.)

Once they catch you, which they will, and the policeman and the crowd are done beating you, you can throw a few facts at them just for spite. That’ll show ‘em. At least you know some things they don’t. Rest assured, they won’t listen to what you say. They’ll just see a crazy pervert who by that point is bleeding, drooling and crying some nonsense at them. And know this…it will lead to another round of beating. But once again—style man, style!

Here are a few things to yell out through your own swelling lips:

  • You feel 100 times more with your lips than with the tips of your fingers. (So when your blind friends start rubbing their lips all over your face, don’t be a jerk. They’re just getting to know you.) 
  • A man who kisses his wife on the way out the door every morning will live an average of 5 years longer than other men. (He will live longer than everyone except the UPS driver that is, who rolls up 15 minutes later with, ahem…a package. According to logic UPS drivers will live an extra 10 to 15 years longer than the husband…more kisses from your wife. Women can’t help it. We’ve all seen those uniforms. It’s the shorts, right ladies?)
  •  A small kiss burns around 3 calories. A passionate kiss burns up to 6.4 calories per minute and 600 calories per hour. (So pucker up. To hell with Zumba.)
  • The French call a French kiss baiser amoureux or “love kiss.” But they also call French fries “fried potatoes.” Go figure.
  • The Eskimo nose kiss is actually just a form of greeting. I’ve never been invited into an igloo, so it’s none of my business what goes on inside. (I’m sure they’re keeping warm somehow.)
  • Injecting fat into the lips is one form of augmentation plastic surgeons use. (That one is too easy. You fill in the joke for yourself.)
  • The brain has special neurons that help you find your lover’s lips in the dark. (There’s nothing funny there. That one is just really sexy.)
  • There is no evidence at all, in fact much to the contrary, that lip balm is addictive. Of course this means addiction in the literal sense. It coats the lips and prevents them from drying out. It keeps them soft and smooth. You surely derive some sort of pleasure from the application, since your lips are so sensitive. We all know someone who’s a balm junkie. They might keep it well hidden. But someone you know needs to kick.

When you’re done telling the angry mob of your lip knowledge, when you find yourself in lockup for lip staring, drop us a line. Better yet, write us a letter. You’ll have plenty of time to jot down your experiences. You’re getting a free meal and some drugs. It’ll make a great story for us. And I’ll be happy to give you some more advice. I can tell you how to handle your situation.

Good advice: It starts with kicking people in the knee. When the guys in the scrubs come around to give you your medicine, kick them in the knee. This move, by the way, will get you better drugs, making it easier to perform your next move. You guessed it . . . also kicking. When the psychiatrist comes to see you, kick him in the knee too. This will help continue your little vacation. Then when the men in scrubs return . . . and so on, you’ll get the hang of it. Also, cross your eyes and laugh a lot. Use certain words over and over, like “them, cats, Elvis, detectors, transmitters and kill.” Don’t forget either, all of this, the kicking, the gibberish, this is all best delivered with a high pitched scream.

P.S. You’re welcome.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Alabama Immigrants on Strike

Opponents of Alabama's new anti-immigration law are encouraging Hispanic immigrants across the state to boycott work, school, and shopping. The strike may last between one and five days. Its purpose is to demonstrate the impact Hispanic immigrants have on the state's economy. Word about the strike has been spread on Spanish-language radio and television, through the internet, and by word of mouth.

Several area businesses that depend on immigrant labor are closed today in support of, or as a result of, the strike. Rojo management placed a sign in front of the restaurant saying that they were closed in opposition to the immigration law. Rojo's Facebook page indicated they would be closed today only and would re-open as usual on Thursday.

Alabama for Obama

by M. David Hornbuckle

Politically speaking, Alabama is one of the reddest of the red states, but Jefferson County runs a little more to the blue side than the average. In 2008, President Obama won 52.2% of the vote in this county (against 47.1% for McCain)—not a huge margin, but enough to color us more purple than pink. Since then, a sluggish economy and continuing wars have contributed to a decline in the president's popularity across the board. From January 2009 to September 2011, his approval rating (according to Gallup) has shrunk from 67% to 43%. In the South, it has gone from 64% to 37%.

What do President Obama's supporters in our area think about his progress and policies since his election? And what do they think needs to happen in the next year if he's to be re-elected. We spoke to some leaders of local Democratic organizations about both of these topics.

Craig Niedenthal is chair of Over the Mountain Democrats, the largest Democratic grass roots organization in the state of Alabama. He says, "Obviously, we support the president. He came into office under terrible conditions, the worst I've ever seen. Some people had unreasonably high expectations. But there’s only so much he can do with a Republican congress who’s number one goal is to see him fail, even if it at the cost of destroying our country. . . As far as what needs to happen in the next year, I personally think he needs to take some tough stands, even if he ends up losing on those issues. It will expose his opponents in Congress as the obstructionists that they are."

Richard Mauk, the chair of the Jefferson County Democratic Executive Committee, seems to agree. "The loyal opposition is trying to paint him into a corner, and they're doing a damn good job of it," Mauk says. "They want to create an impression that this economy is an 'Obama economy' rather than a 'Republican economy.' [Obama] needs to roll his sleeves up and start getting specific. He's starting to do that. People don't like to rally around vanilla. They like to rally around salsa. Just ask anyone at your tailgate party."

Mauk, who has a degree in Economics and worked as a bankruptcy lawyer for many years, now runs a credit counseling firm. He explains that the Republican's metaphor about the national debt has been "a family of four that makes $30,000 a year can't spend more than $30,000 a year. If they do, they go into debt, and that's bad." But he says that Democrats should counter that with a metaphor of a small business. You can't start making money unless you have some money to start the business with. So you have to borrow it. That helps you build the infrastructure you need to start gradually paying the debt down. Mauk says that the only time you should cut spending is when you have full employment, because that situation can lead to inflation. Otherwise, spending cuts increase unemployment. "The Republicans didn't want to cut spending eight years ago," Mauk says. "They want to drive up unemployment so they can pin the blame on Obama."

The opinions of Niedenthal and Mauk jibe with what we take to be the general opinion of most progressives. The president's biggest weakness has been in giving up too much to compromise, starting with propositions that are perhaps too reasonable and leaving himself too little room to bargain with a decidedly conservative Congress. Of course, progressives are not jumping ship on the president. There's nobody else they can reasonably vote for next year anyway. Among registered Democrats, President Obama's approval rating has dropped only a few points.

Whatever Obama does in the next year to help his chances of re-election, Niedenthal says, there is something progressives groups at home can do to help. They can educate the public about how progressive policies will benefit people in their own communities. Therefore, the goal of local grassroots progressive organizations in the next year is going to be to convince moderate to conservative white working class people to stop voting against their own interests.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Occupy Birmingham Holds Meeting, Spontaneously Marches Afterward

by M. David Hornbuckle

Occupy Birmimgham, the local group that has formed in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement, held a public meeting today in Brother Bryan Park. Approximately 100 people gathered at the park for a combined potluck picnic and split committee meeting.

During the meeting, individual committees planned strategies for the group moving forward, and then a general assembly discussed the march planned for October 15, which will coordinate with an international day of protest.

After the meeting ended, the group spontaneously marched from the park to the Five Points fountain and back, sporting signs and chanting.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Cleaning Power of Storms

by Lee Waites

Air pollution has become a major problem for the people of Birmingham. Weather events directly affect the atmosphere’s ability to process and clean the air we breathe. Knowing and understanding the effects of weather on manmade contaminants and pollution will help us better react to the needs of our environment. Knowing and understanding the needs of our environment can help us make better choices about what we do and do not allow to happen.

What is happening in the world around us is not always obvious, unless we know what to look for.
Inversion, one common weather event, which occurs often in the cooler months, is when the cold air in the upper atmosphere pushes down on the warmer air below. According to Matt Lacke, Meteorologist for the Jefferson County Department of Health, “Calm conditions overnight, not a lot of wind, cause an accumulation of particulates, especially the valley areas.” This is basically what it sounds like, a blanket of cooler air trapping in the warmer, stagnant air, which is full of pollution. “So topography plays a role as well in Birmingham, not just weather. Especially across Downtown and Northside which are kind of in the valley. The cooler air traps the particulate matter closer to the ground, mostly in the morning hours. So when the air begins to heat up a little later in the day, the particulate matter is allowed to disperse more into the atmosphere.”

These days we don’t think of calm weather as a possible emergency. We’ve had years of federally mandated environmental policies that have somewhat protected us from particulate pollution. But with the growing population beginning to overwhelm our outdated regulations, as evidenced by our constant poor ozone quality throughout the summer, we could easily see these inversion events leading to more severe situations for public health, especially if we allow the EPA to be hamstrung as many are attempting now. It’s too easy to forget why the EPA was created.

Kirsten Bryant, with the local environmental advocacy group GASP, recounts one historical weather event that heavily impacted Birmingham, “In fact it was 40 years ago in 1971. It was a weather inversion that Birmingham was experiencing that held particle pollution in place . . . And this was when Alabama was not enforcing the clean air act, and it actually created a public health emergency. Thankfully our air is a lot cleaner than it was back then. But we still have weather inversions. And we still have a pollution problem.” GASP is a rebirth of a group that started years ago, whose original members tell stories of smog so bad you could not see across the city. GASP focuses on educating the public and advocating for clean air. “One good thing is when we have a weather event it can cool down the air, which helps reduce the ozone problem. And the rain can help clear out our particle pollution problem,” says Bryant.

Rain events and thunderstorms have a very beneficial effect on the air we breathe. The falling rain actually pushes the particle pollution to the ground where it can be washed away, wind brings in fresher, cleaner air. Unfortunately there are other consequences for the environment. Heavy rains and storms, with rapid rainfall, do not give the ground time to absorb the falling water. It flows rapidly across the ground, catching debris, spilled oil, litter and other pollutants. In an urban setting this means the water is carried directly into the storm drains, bypassing the regular filtration channels where eventually it winds up depositing its contaminated load into creeks, rivers, lakes and streams.

Industry and mining are also issues in storm events. Nelson Brooke, of Black Warrior Riverkeeper points out many issues of concern. “Harder rain and more volume of rain is definitely going to cause runoff patterns to change significantly . . . since our landscape has changed significantly. These bigger storms are going to be able to push off lots more water than we’ve seen. Riverbank erosion is going to be a bigger issue. That’s going to pull sediment, rocks and shrubs and wash them downriver. “According to Brooke, there are many problems created by the increased volume of rain, and intensity of storms. River banks become overwhelmed, allowing flooding of surrounding areas. As the water washes back out, the pollutants picked up are carried into the rivers as the floodwaters recede.

Brooke is mainly concerned with the impacts of industrial waste, which he says gets carried into the watershed in different ways during severe weather. “Industries are permitted to discharge pollution in certain amounts. There are certain basic controls that are put into place through these permits …most of those designs are put into place for certain types of rain events. They’re not really set up to handle your 50, 75 or 100 year storms. I don’t even know how they calculated those things back in the day. But things are changing. Storms are happening more often, more violently. The landscape has changed alot. Clear cutting, strip mining, development, it’s all getting rid of the forest and land-cover that would slow down runoff during a big storm. There’s a definite connection there for a construction site or a coal mine that has a sediment pond that’s designed to handle your typical 24 hour rain event. When you get a much larger storm they’re not going to be able to handle that. These larger rain events are just going to overload their pollution control systems.”

Finding ways to convince or force industries to respect and further advances in clean environment technology is impossible at times. According to Nelson Brooke reducing profit margins is the argument he hears most for avoiding change. One has to wonder if that is even a successful business move given the example of the auto industry. Ford, the now dominant US auto maker owes its current success, in large part to its new, smaller, more fuel efficient cars. The Chinese are rapidly moving forward with government aided green industries, as their economy moves to overtake ours as the strongest in the world. Everywhere are examples of the profitability of going green with few exceptions. Even if it could be argued as slightly less profitable to do the right thing, isn’t doing the right thing just, well…the right thing to do?

Occupy Birmingham's First General Assembly

by M. David Hornbuckle

A local group called Occupy Birmingham has come together to express solidarity with the recent Occupy Wall Street protests. The group held a General Assembly last night in Railroad Park to discuss issues, plan protest actions, and further organize. About 200 people attended the assembly. At times, the "human microphone" technique popularized at the New York General Assembly so that speakers could be heard without amplification. In this technique, speakers use short bursts of words, which are then repeated by the crowd.

Speakers discussed various issues related to corporate greed and financial inequities. One speaker read aloud the Declaration that was issued by the New York General Assembly last week. Several committees were formed, included an education committee that will train members of the group in nonviolent protest techniques. There was discussion of a planned protest to coincide with a national day of protest on October 15.

photo by April Scroggins
In addition, the group decided to hold a potluck this coming Sunday, one p.m., at Brother Bryan Park and Magnolia (alongside the FoodNotBombs potluck, which is held at the Five Points Fountain every Sunday to feed the homeless). At that event, the committees that were formed last night will break into groups to discuss their own agendas.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What Are You Kids On?

by M. David Hornbuckle

Youth culture is the life force of the culture at large; it's what keeps us moving ever forward. And so those of us over thirty, who increasingly can't trust ourselves and who want to remain connected to that force, must occasionally take stock of "what the kids are into these days." We can look at what music they like or how they use their cell phones and computers, but another factor that can tell us a lot about today's generation is what drugs they use recreationally.

For all of human history, people have found ways to alter their consciousness, to get high. In ancient times, various roots and herbs were found to have these mysterious medicinal qualities if they were chewed, brewed, or smoked. By the 19th century, morphine, laudanum, and cocaine were discovered—concentrated extracts that could be used in more measured doses. In the past hundred years, as with other technologies, drug innovations have been rapid and frequent. In the early 1900-1950s, barbiturates and amphetamines began finding their way from the laboratory to the recreational user. The 1960s saw hallucinogens, especially LSD, rise in popularity. Then there was heroin, PCP, Dexadrine, and Quaaludes in the 1970s, the crack epidemic of the 1980s, and the "club drugs" of the 1990s and 2000s. Of course, a few less intense drugs like alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and marijuana have remained fashionable throughout the decades.

Young adults in particular have a deep hunger for experimentation in this area, the danger and adventure of feeling and experiencing something new. And the drugs of their parents' generation just won't cut it. Every generation has access to new ways of getting high, newly discovered pharmaceuticals with alluring side effects. Often one drug is made illegal and then is immediately replaced by something new and legal. Meanwhile, the illegal substances of course still find their way to the black market where determined users have little trouble obtaining them.

We did an informal survey and asked a few young folks around UAB about what they've experimented with and what they’ve observed among their peers.

These interviews yielded few surprises. The generation of humans that is now college age grew up during a time of unprecedented ADHD diagnoses. Many of them have been taking Ritalin since they were little kids. Some of them abused it, crushed it up and snorted it. When that stopped working for them, they started taking Adderall. If they don’t have a prescription, it’s easy enough to buy it on the street. Other prescription pills readily available for recreational use include Hydrocodone, Valium, and Xanax. One person told us about a friend abusing Lithium.

"Rolling" drugs are still popular in clubs. These include Ecstasy, Molly (pure MDMA), and GHB. Due to its price, pure cocaine remains a drug for rich kids, but cheaper (and more dangerous) derivatives are easier to get. People still like all the old hippie drugs: weed, LSD, and mushrooms. Some youngsters we talked to had experimented with pot laced with various things, including cocaine.

Something relatively new on the scene is the ubiquity of “synth” drugs. These are herbal products that are more or less legal and sold in head shops. Most of them are essentially fake pot—various plant products mixed together and sprayed with a chemical that’s similar to THC. The packaging claims that it’s incense and “not for human consumption,” but you are supposed to smoke it. It comes in little baggies so it even looks like marijuana. The effects are unpredictable and vary by brand. The problem is that you don’t really know what you are smoking or how your body is going to react to it. You can also buy herbal products that claim to be various types of uppers, downers, and aphrodisiacs.

What does this tell us about the young counterculture? This is a generation with a lot of varied interests, even contradictory interests. Expanding of consciousness doesn’t seem as important to them as expanding of experience. They are drug dilettantes, dabbling in things that make them move fast as much as things that make them mellow. Mystical visions are okay, but tracers and lasers are just as cool. They refuse to be pigeonholed, but in doing so, they have little identity. They exist in a hollow, digitally enhanced echo chamber made of fruit-flavored nihilism.