Happy New Year everyone! I'm finally back from my holiday break. Both my parents and my fiancee's parents live in Texas, so that's where I was for the entire break. It was nice to see them and have some time off. But I'm very glad to be back. It's only been about two years since I lived there myself, but it's amazing how already things that previously I didn't even take notice of really bothered me while I was there and made me really appreciate living here in the Bay Area (around San Francisco). Of the smaller things was the lack of recycling facilities. Where I live I'm used to getting roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of my weekly trash volume getting picked up on the curb and is taken to be recycled. It seemed so strange to fill up trash cans with wine bottles and cans and just throw them away with the rest of the trash. It made me feel very wasteful and actually bothered me a lot more to not recycle than I would have ever imagined it to. But I think the biggest thing was the complete dominance of large retail and restaurant chains. Driving through Houston on the highway you almost wonder if you're going in circles. Best Buy, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Chili's, Olive Garden, Office Max, Bed Bath and Beyond, etc. just repeat over and over again. I must have (honestly!) seen a dozen Best Buys as I drove through one part of Houston. Coming from an area which has very few corporate chains and the only big box stores we have are on the outskirts of the city, I thought this was very depressing. And while it may just be because I live in a fairly urban area in which it doesn't pay to advertise in this way, I was also irritated by the fact that you could see advertising and billboards in every direction that you looked. Everything was an advertisement. Nothing was sacred. And people seemed completely complacent, even happy, about this situation and spent their days rushing about in their SUVs to the next occurrence of the corporate consumer troughs already mentioned. I know this is a generalization and not everyone and every place there can be described like this, but I felt isolated and surrounded in a completely corporate controlled area by politically and socially unconscious people who were fully content with living a "McLife".
One of the exceptions was when I visited Austin. Austin, at least parts of it downtown, were very nice and reminded me very much of where I live now. I had some very good local Mexican food and one restaurant had the best margaritas that I had ever had at a restaurant. I was also lucky enough to meet up and talk with Mookie of Meme Processing. He showed me a little about the area around where he lives and then we had a beer and talked for a couple hours. It was certainly a pleasant experience and I thank him and his girlfriend (let's call her 'Tookie') for their hospitality and for taking the time out of their schedules to show me around.
While I was visiting my fiancee's parents (who are divorced) I had a fun 3-hour long political discussion with her brother, her father, and his new girlfriend. All three of them are very conservative and read and listen to O'Reilly on Fox News. So you can imagine how lively the discussion was with someone who doesn't shy away from the word "communist" and who counters "Islam is a religion of death" with "yes, all religions are". I should really give thanks to the generous amounts of alcohol we all had for our discussion to be so candid. While I was certainly outnumbered it takes no time to refute GOP talking points and, as I expected, they hadn't even heard of the historical events which I cited to support my positions. At one point her father tried to argue that history isn't relevant, but at least her brother had the sense to disagree with him on that.
Over the break I've been reading Homage to Cataloniaby George Orwell. It's an account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War (and defeated social revolution). Orwell actually fought in this war against fascism and almost died from being shot in the neck and his experiences are said to have greatly shaped his outlook on the world before he wrote his famous book 1984. I'm not quite done with the book yet, but I think it's probably going to be one of my all-time favorites once I finish it. It's very interesting and I am very impressed with Orwell's understanding of the nature of capitalism, mass media, and the church that he displays in his writing. If you like the Spanish Civil War I think you'll really like this book. And if you don't know much about it, this would be a good introduction to it if you want to get a feel for what happened.
I'm planning on having my next major post describe, as best I can, how I changed from being a jingoistic Bush voter (twice!) to a libertarian communist. I tried to write this post back in August but had to stop because I started getting ashamed and depressed writing it. So I'll try to approach it in a different way and see how that goes.
It's nice to be back blogging again. I hope you all had (or are having) a great break.