digital hearts analog

yes, you can use to turn your digital pictures into polaroids.
It is fun to play with  and instead of $1 a pop it's cheap as free.
but it's still not as fun as shake-shakin' it.

(photos are a mix of mine, and ones via ffffound and flickr)

Pick one. (From MRR #307)

I’ve been waiting for two hours to turn in my Food Stamp application and talk with this, the gatekeeper of social services. She wades through and confirms all of my information line by line: Name, address, Social Security number.

She looks like uncannily like Teresa Covarrubias from the East LA punk band The Brat. I know it isn’t her, but can’t help but think of her as some other punk turned social worker (probably the fate of more than a few punks) working for the state and serving the public. Doesn’t seem like a bad gig either. I know more than a few punk teachers who love it, and I read somewhere that Exene is a librarian.

Feeling warm toward her, as an imaginary punk, I interrupt to ask her name. I feel like it’s the polite thing, she knows who I share food with so I might as well ask her name, but she is awkwardly surprised and skeptical. She stares at me for a moment, and then says, “Just call me ‘lady’.”

I feel momentary embarrassment for crossing some kind of unspoken line, but we are right back to my application, moving forward as if I never said a word to her. She is inputting my information into her computer when we hit the stumbling block. Ethnicity.

"It will only let me check one."

“I’m pretty sure at least one of the forms said ‘check all that apply’ for that portion,” I say shifting from foot to foot on tired legs.

She is still staring at the screen, brows furrowed, not hearing me. “I just don’t know what you do in this case.”

Looking around the room at all the people, thinking of the volume of people this woman has assisted, I could not imagine I was her first mixed person. It seemed a statistical impossibility. An involuntary flush began rising in my cheeks. I’ve been waiting a long time; I’m tired and, well, hungry.

“This doesn’t affect how much I get in benefits right? Can we just check “other” or something? What do people usually check?” I ask, hoping this doesn’t take longer than it has to.

“They pick one, sometimes they say you are supposed to side with the mother. But it is self-identifying.”

“What happens if I don’t want to pick?” I ask, starting to feel like I just want to leave.

“The county will do it for you,” she says matter-of-factly, looking up at me.

So much for self identifying.

As of the 2000 census the county where I live, Alameda County, had 1,443,741 people living in it, of which 5.63% were of two or more races. Even with statistics almost a decade old Alameda county had somewhere in the neighborhood of 81,000 mixed race people, and still Social Services has no way easy way to categorize them? The “mark all that apply” option is usually the best in terms of inclusion, so why not make it so in their internal system? Why this checkbox category system to begin with?

Sure, for Social Services, the need to collect data is understandable. They are trying to answer pragmatic questions: Which communities are underrepresented and in need of more outreach? Are there languages other than the ones they are offering that they need to hire translators for? Etc., etc.

But if their forms aren’t dynamic enough to really represent people, isn’t it flawed data to begin with? If people simply have to choose one, won’t our understanding of others and ourselves stay as stagnant as the forms we must fill out?

The human impulse to categorize isn’t limited to race/ethnicity. It’s in gender, sexuality, class, and for many the fewer categories the better. For a long time the dominant paradigm saw the world as such: man/woman, straight/queer, white/not-white, rich/poor, Christian/godless, good/bad. Things have certainly gotten more complicated, but instead of understanding that the system of categorization was the problem, we have simply added more categories. As if there ever be enough categories to explain or encompass what we really are. Sometimes try to rephrase our category to be more positive, something we can own, but even that isn’t all that empowering. It also has a tendency to reinforce the idea that you are born with certain characteristics, and that they do not and cannot change over time. That your sexuality cannot vary and shift and grow with age, that your gender cannot also be ebbing and flowing more toward one end of the spectrum or another across your lifetime. We are made to choose, and when we choose, we are expected to stay. Like good dogs.

It’s usually only those who fall between or outside of these categories who see them for the human inventions they really are.

“Lady” surprises me with a personal aside, but it’s almost like she is speaking to herself. “My husband is from Ukraine, and my family is Mexican and Filipino… my children are mixed too. It seems silly that they won’t know what to check. Okay, I know what to do. I want you to check “other,” but we are going to write everything in the margin, and I will input it in the comments and show to my boss.”

She handed me a stubby little pencil and I wrote as small as I could in the margin. In alphabetical order: Apache (Junimano), Basque, Catalan, English, Scottish, Yaqui.

It felt good. Once the need to categorize was eliminated I could for the first time in my life spell them all out. One by one, each portion of “makeup.” As soon as I had, I felt how arbitrary they were. Little pieces of the past, people and places no longer remembered, collected together. I had thought the world at large was just too lazy to understand, and for my whole life, even I had labeled myself in order to make it simpler for others to understand. Now it seemed like just stories about people no longer remembered, with no real ties to my life.

I crossed out my little list and wrote “fuck you” below it.

When I handed it back to her, lady laughed, and dutifully typed “fuck you” into the comments field. Maybe she was a little bit punk after all.

It's Fucking Free (from MRR #306)

photo from Sam K.

As I try to lean over most of the piss puddle to tape an "out of order" sign to the urinal's makeshift trashbag covering, there is nastiness seeping in the sides of my shoes. My right foot slips and I catch myself on the handle, saving me from a face first tumble into the urinal, but instead sending another little wave of pee water over my shoes.
It’s already been a long day, full of problem after problem: the bands are late, there are not enough volunteers, not enough small bills for change — but as of then, no injuries, no fights, no vomit… it’s not as bad as it could be, not as bad as it has been.
I start laughing at the sad little list of things I’m thankful haven’t happened yet.
I laugh harder when I realize that I’m not alone in the bathroom and that to the boys sheepishly crowded near the door I must look bizarre, awkwardly bent over the urinal laughing to myself, one hand now tangled in the duct tape I was trying to employ.
I reach a hand out and one of the boys helps me to drier ground, and they all begin to chuckle with me about my ridiculous situation.
“Shit, I hope you’re getting paid extra for taking care of this,” the tallest says, headed for the stall with a door.
“No way, you couldn’t pay me enough to do this.”
Blank perplexed stares.
In a culture that values money above all else it seems hard to explain the satisfaction of giving your time and labor freely to anyone, besides those already well acquainted with working in volunteer-run collectives.
My mother tends to portray it as altruism. She tells her friends, “Ari works with at-risk youth,” which in itself is too crazy to try and correct. Or maybe is hilariously correct, but misleadingly vague. Yes, the people I work with (my coworkers) are sometimes pretty young, and are, if it’s a good night, totally at risk of getting into some kind of mischief — but then so am I. But the kind volunteering I’m talking about isn’t based on a selfless devotion to others, its work like any other, just unpaid.
Sure, part of the time I work for money. I work in a steel fabrication shop at the end of the BART line, in an underserved and violent little city at the edge of the East Bay. I work in a steel box inside of a bigger steel box that is always hotter or colder than seems natural. I sit in a swiveling chair, stare at a screen making figures add up. I’m not particularly good at it, I don’t think anyone can be good at that kind of work, it’s automatic. It’s like breathing, but more boring. But I don’t work there for fulfillment: I work to eat, to pay rent, to have some cash on hand to buy things I want or need (records, paint, cans of mock duck, plastic cameras, etc., etc.)
The real work I do, the most valuable time I spend, I do for free, for the joy of doing. Like the work I do as a show coordinator at 924 Gilman St.
There the work itself has intrinsic value. To be given money for it would cheapen it, would break the magic spell that makes it all worthwhile.
Why? Because as soon as you begin to accept money for work you begin to calculate the value of your work in terms of hours and in terms of dollars. You begin to say what can my time buy me? (Or how much money is it worth to wade through the mini pee lake in the dank grimy bathroom to tape up the urinal?)
Whereas, unpaid work is valued by the people it helps, the art it creates, the world it inspires. Or in my case, the crisis it averts, the shows it keeps running, and the bands it supports.
And make no mistake; I’m no martyr, no lone figure fighting selflessly to keep punk’s head above water. I am just a part of a community of volunteers, and a scene of punks committed to keeping the place open, to keep it thriving. I know what I do helps in that aim, and there is the value, there is my pay. And no money is worth that feeling. It’s fucking free.
But still, you ask, why not earn a living doing what you love? Like say, playing music? As soon as you make your music a product you depend on for your life’s expenses, the shift in emphasis will swing immediately from playing to selling, from moving bodies to moving units. Soon to follow are all the hallmarks of a corporately marketed band: a press kit, a booking agent, a glossy 8 x 10, and a repulsive air of entitlement. In that moment everything good and true and punk about your band will start to die.
Even in bands who know better than to try to make a living off of it, who consider themselves as punk as can be, I’ve seen a worrying trend developing. It happened gradually, almost imperceptibly, that less and less of them freely give their money to other bands after I pay them at the club. It used to be common, every band would give most if not all their pay to the touring band, maybe keep a couple bucks for bridge toll, but that was all. There are definitely still bands that do that, but less and less of them. It also used to be bands would regularly give money back to the club, but that’s so rare that I am surprised when it does happen.
It seemed there was this code of conduct among bands that has started falling away. A general sense of camaraderie is still there, don’t get me wrong, but the generosity is what I see less of.
There are expenses to being in a band, I know (my band is currently a couple grand in debt after putting out a bunch of vinyl), but on a show with one or more touring bands you can’t convince me they don’t need the money more.
Shit, you can’t convince me that the money should matter at all to local bands.
Another place I see a rampant and gross use of price to equate value is in record collecting. In any conversation about records, particularly about older ones, it seems inevitable that someone will pipe up with a report of how much something went for on eBay, the riculous price adds a layer of mystique to the record, and whether or not anyone in the group would deem it to be good, suddenly they must concede that it is valuable.
You can almost hear the gears turning. “If it’s valuable, lots of people want it or are willing to pay exorbitant amounts for it, therefore it must have something about it, maybe something I don’t get. Better think twice about how I feel about it.”
This kind of thinking is in opposition to everything punk is about, so why are we all a little bit guilty of it? It’s because we don’t overtly think it, it’s just lurking there in the back of our minds, the product of a culture dazzled by money, and obsessed with getting their due.

Jobs that pay more (or at all) aren’t better jobs, expensive records aren’t better records, and just because your band gets paid doesn’t mean that you can’t give it away.

From the ‘this is why we can’t have nice things’ dept:

The Long Haul info shop in Berkeley was raided by a cooperating task force of University of California police, FBI agents, and Alameda County Sheriffs. News sources point to the recent surge in ALF activity at UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley as the cause, at least one source suggested the raid was due to threatening emails traced to the info shop. The first outrage is, of course, at the space being broken into, that the warrant is inappropriately non specific, and that the computers that aid in publishing the Slingshot newspaper, as well as computers belonging to organizations renting office space in the Long Haul were seized, not just the Long Haul’s free access computers.
This, however, ought to be a lesson to us.
Our radical free spaces are vulnerable, and if you are going to be doing some online activism and want to remain anonymous, send your shit from the fucking library! (They’re not about to seize all the library’s computers…not yet anyway.) Or maybe a bougie internet cafĂ©. Not from a valued space that is already a target. The point is to be careful, and be aware of where your actions are traceable to.
We know they’re out to get us; lets not leave a trail of breadcrumbs.
Donate to the Long Haul by PayPal (to or send a check to 3124 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, CA 94705. Make checks payable to “Long Haul”. They’ll need it for a legal defense fund, new computers and to repair damages.

Oh, and please send a dry pair of shoes to:
PO Box 301, Berkeley, CA 94701 USA

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