Post-Election Thoughts and Getting Back to Normal Life

We at CatSynth are political nerds/enthusiasts, and also believe in civic participation for the greater good.  So elections are always an exciting time.  Yesterday was no exception as we transitioned from our daily routine to preparing to host friends to watch the returns.  There was an electricity in the air that went beyond our unseasonably warm weather.  I took a brief break to rest and meditate before jumping in to watching coverage and interacting on Twitter.  So did Sam Sam.

In the end, it was like a normal election.  Some important things went very well – like the takeover of the House.  Some things didn’t.  The Senate results imply more trouble for the judiciary, often the most important thing.  A few results were heartbreaking, like Beto O’Rourke losing in a close race to the exceptionally odious Ted Cruz in Texas, but I took solace in some other defaults, notably almost as odious Scott Walker, Kris Kobach, Dana Rohrabacher (from Orange County here in California).  I even take a bit of perverse pleasure in watching the infamous Kim Davis go down to defeat. My home state of New York seems as dysfunctional as ever, but perhaps with a better chance to clean things up than they have had in a while.

The day after, one reflects on the mix of results and moves on with life.  It’s another exceptionally warm, sunny day for November in San Francisco, and I’m eager to get back to cats, synthesizers, music, and art.  It’s a far cry from the day after the 2016 election when it truly felt like it could have been our last.  I was working in an office on Market Street, with US flags fluttering on tops and sides of many buildings – it was tragic, heartbreaking, fearful, by far the worst I had experienced in my lifetime.  And it was just days after Luna left us, so the experience was even darker and devoid the comfort of my beloved cat.  This time I woke up much happier, as there was more good news awaiting than when I went to bed the previous night.  And Sam Sam was there to jump on the bed and remind me that it was time to get up and feed her.  There is much unfinished business on all fronts, but that’s ok.  Overall, it feels a bit more hopeful, a bit more optimistic.

Before we move back to our regularly scheduled topics, a few quick thoughts…

  • Close to home, I was happy to see that San Francisco’s Prop E – funding for arts – passed.  This is great news for organizations that I am involved with, whether as a board member, artist, audience member, or reviewer.
  • The people of Massachusetts affirmed the rights of trans people and other gender minorities in a ballot proposition.  It’s great to see support at the ballot box, but it should have never been there in the first place.  California’s Prop 8 (2008) may seem like ancient history, but the memory is still pretty raw…
  • If anything, the rural/metropolitan-area divide seems starker than ever.  We at CatSynth are city creatures, but also love many aspects of rural America, and it’s sad to see that division get even worse.  That’s one I would like to write more about, but with a little distance from political events.
  • Another is the continued push-and-shove around “nationalism”.  For me, it’s an unequivocally dirty word, and it’s frustrating to see centrists offering bromides to nationalism even as its most sinister aspects are ascendant at home and around the world.  I still believe in cosmopolitanism and the idea of an “anti-nation”.  But this is another topic that requires careful thought for a future article.

Fun with Highways: #TX07

Primary election season is in full swing.  In a couple weeks, we will be having one here in California (as well as an election for mayor here in SF).  But tomorrow, there is a runoff in Texas’ 7th Congressional District (TX07) in which we at CatSynth are taking a keen interest.  As illustrated in the map, TX07 cuts an odd shape through the western neighborhoods of Houston and the adjacent towns in Harris County.  It is a diverse area and intersects with all three of Houston’s loop highways, which is no small feat.  It includes several wealthy enclaves, but also middle-class neighborhoods, and areas that have been hit by serious flooding during Hurricane Harvey and preceding events.

US 59The southeast “bulge” part of the district includes sections of Houston that lie within the I-610 loop, or “Inner Loop”.  I-610 separates the downtown sections of Houston from outer neighborhoods and surrounding communities, including towns like Southside Place.  It is bisected west-to-east by the new I-69 (US 59).  The area where these two highways intersect would not look out of place in Los Angeles.

[By Socrate76 [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons]

Heading north and west, we come to the middle section of the district, which is largely a horizontal rectangle bounded by the mighty I-10 to the north, and which extends almost to Katy in the west.  Beltway 8, also known as the Sam Houston Parkway/Tollway, bisects this segment of the district.  Just to the west of the beltway are the Briarforest neighborhood and the ominously named Energy Corridor.  Not surprisingly, several major energy corporations have operations in this area, as do several other businesses.  The Buffalo Bayou – we at CatSynth are still not entirely sure what separates a bayou from a river – cuts through the district.  It was subject to major flooding during Hurricane Harvey.  In addition to the bayou itself cresting at record levels above flood stage. releases from the Barker Reservoir caused severe flooding in adjacent low-lying neighborhoods.  We have sources that have informed us that the floodwaters in the Energy Corridor area were most unpleasant.

The final section of the district cuts an inverted “L” between State Highway 6 and State Highway 99, the outermost loop around Houston, bounded on top by US 290.  In all, the district has an odd shape indeed, but not so odd when one considers the tradition of gerrymandering, an art which has been taken to new heights by Texas’ Republican-controlled state government.  Its shape has long preserved it as a safe Republican district – it has elected Republicans to Congress consistently since George H.W. Bush in 1966.  But the city and surrounding area have been changing, and it is seen as vulnerable to flip to 2018.

Several Democratic candidates have vied to take on incumbent Republican John Culbertson, including Laura Moser, a progressive candidate who also just happens to be the sister-in-law of CatSynth author and founder Amanda Chaudhary.  As such, we are watching her candidacy with great interest and excitement.  Leading up to the main primary in March, things got a bit nasty, with the DCCC (Demoncratic Congressional Campaign Committee) throwing its weight behind another candidate, more mainstream and connected to the Democratic establishment.  This was an unusual move for a suburban primary election, and some of the opposition was rather mean-spirited.  But that is a long-standing part of elections, and it only served to galvanize support for Moser, who placed second in the crowded field and made to the runoff which happens tomorrow, May 22.  Not having learned their lesson the first time, the DCCC has continued to attack her, including some rather nasty opposition-research-style drops (in some ways, they reminded me of some recent attacks on Jane Kim on our local mayor’s race in SF).  But in this case, it was against family, and therefore personal in addition to being against my political views.  So we at CatSynth are pulling strongly for Laura Moser in Texas’ 7th Congressional District tomorrow, and hope she wins both the runoff and the general election in November.  You can find out more about her history and positions on her website, and if you have any friends in TX07, please encourage them to get out and vote!

Election Day (of the Dead)

Well, it is Election Day in the U.S., the closest thing we have to a national civic ritual. And in California, that means another of our exceptionally long ballots. Here is this November’s sample ballot plus voter guide:

[Click to enlarge.]

I have to admit, as voter guides go, this one has a pretty cool cover with a detail of the spiral staircase at San Francisco City Hall. And although it’s not the largest we have had, but still pretty substantial.

[Click to enlarge.]

Indeed, elections here can be a bit unwieldy. I find myself voting on all sorts of things, like arcane budget issues or judges that I feel completely unqualified to make a decision on. Of course, there are fun things like having our Proposition 19 (legalization of marijuana for sale in the state) and serious things like Proposition 23, an attempt to suspend our leading climate and energy law – a law that is actually a point of pride for many of us as we watch the much of the country (and our national leaders) fail on the issue. One sign I particularly liked was a dual “Go Giants!” and “No on 23” banner hanging from a building on 3rd Street, with the subtitle “Beat Texas (Oil)”. As often happens, baseball and elections collide. Our celebrations yesterday may end up being short lived depending on how things go today.

In addition to a sense of civic duty, you get a cool sticker:

I quite like having English, Spanish and Chinese all represented – there is something that feels right about it, a sense of people from different backgrounds coming together for a collective purpose.  Of course it is not all the languages spoken by residents of the city, but it is still a decent cross section.  It also made me think about a statement I had heard yesterday, thinking more optimistically about the future, that demographics is currently on the side of those with a more cosmopolitan and progressive view of the world as the older generations with their traditional notions of racial, linguistic, religious, national and sexual boundaries fade away.  But that’s a story for another time.

My current polling place is at SOMArts Cultural Center, so going to vote also means taking in the current exhibition, the annual El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) exhibition. This years theme was “Honoring Revolution with Visions of Healing”  and featured  “altars and installations that will honor the dead and provide offerings to the living.”  It was certainly interesting to have an exhibition with the theme of “revolution” adjacent to the place where I was voting.  And while the theme may be connected to the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, many of the pieces were more general in nature, honoring loved ones who have passed away, or tied to current events, such as disasters and war. For example, I was drawn to this piece because it featured musicians:

[Judy Johnson-Williams and Judy Shintani. Honoring Construction Workers, Rebuilding of the New Orleans, Revolution with Visions of Healing. (Click image to enlarge.)]

At first I was not quite sure what the construction workers were about. But once I understood that it honored the workers who were helping to rebuild New Orleans, the combination of music and construction made sense. It has a double resonance, looking back on Hurricane Katrina, but there are also echoes of the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this summer. The piece was a collaboration by Judy Johnson-Williams and Judy Shintani. The also had another piece nearby, “All Cats We Have Loved”:

[Judy Johnson-Williams and Judy Shintani. All the Cats We Have Loved.  (Click to enlarge.)]

Their accompanying statement was very touching:

For all our kitties who have been run over by autos, are missing in action, and disappeared into the ethery to go onto their next lives. Hopefully you are having fun pouncing and are purring up a storm! We miss you! Meow!

The passing of a loved was also the subject of one of the featured pieces, an alter by artist Adrian Arias to his mother who passed away this year.  The large installation was almost entirely white, but with bits of color in the arranged objects.  Please visit his blog for images of this piece, including a performance by the artist.  Individual remembrances were also part of Susana Aragon’s Life is a Revolution.”  This piece featured tribute images on transparencies arranged on the wall, a series of moving screens onto which images were projected, and a mirror in which ones own reflection was project (as the artist suggests, it was a bit of a challenge to make the reflection work).  The piece has a very moody but also clean quality to it that kept my attention:

[Susana Aragon. Life is a Revolution.  (Click image to enlarge.)]

In their piece “Trapped”, Ytaelena and Bruce Lopez present a narrow and dark cave-like space which viewers can enter.  It seems inviting enough, with a warm earthy aroma.  But inside there is the faint sound of a person calling for help, and a detached hand in the middle of some vegetation.  The piece is inspired by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the earthquake in Chile.

Finally, on a more positive note, Lanell Dike invites viewers to write messages of love and gratitude, and place them on an array of lights in her interactive piece “Make a Love Offering.”

[Lanell Dike. Make a Love Offering (close-up view)]

I did decide to participate and left a message, not far away from where I cast my ballot only a little earlier.

More "Primary" Highways: Hawai'i

Well, another Tuesday, and another primary election here in the U.S. This time we visit the state Hawai'i, one of only six states I have not actually visited.

Even though it is disconnected from the U.S. mainland, it does have interstate highways, such as H-1 in the Honolulu area. Hawai'i uses a separate numbering system from the contiguous U.S. states, all prefixed with an “H”. Other than that they are pretty much like any other freeways around a major city:

wikimedia commons

Except of course for the cool Hawai'ian place names:

This last photo is from the site Both this site and are great resources for highways of Hawai'i, about which I knew very little before this project.

Of course, the part of Hawai'i I most want to visit is not Honolulu, but rather the “Big Island” of Hawai'i. In addition to being the largest, it is the youngest, and the one that is still volcanically active. Highway 11, which is part of the belt highway around the “Big Island”, passes through some of the most active areas including Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.

In addition to their geological significance, these lava flows have a marvelous aesthetic quality. Indeed, the seem quite modern in their fluid geometry and texture, I could easily see a sculpture of similar qualities at the museums I frequent, or as something I would consider for my own collection.

Of course, one must not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about flowing molten rock, which is of a magnitude larger than ourselves or our highways:

Continuing on highway 11, one arrives at the Kaʻū Desert, a spectacularly lifeless landscape shaped by past eruptions, strong windows and “rain shadow” of the nearby volcanoes:

[Click to enlarge]
[Photo by Steve Young]

The Big Island is an amazing study in contrasts, active volcanoes, barren deserts, and also verdant tropical forests. I do need to find an excuse to visit the island some day.

As for the elections, Hawai'i is likely to support Barack Obama, who grew up there (yet another interesting aspect of his geographical and ethnic story). And it looks like he has one the other major contest today in Wisconsin. So he now takes the lead, but it is hard to know whether this contest is over or not. And so we will be back with at least one more installment of this series on March 4 with Texas and Ohio.

Super Tuesday Fun with Highways: I-80

So how to continue our “primary highway series” when so many states are voting at once? Well, we can't visit them all, but we touch several important places with a trip along Interstate 80. I-80 runs the entire width of United States connecting New York City to San Francisco, two cities to which I have connections. In between New York and California, it crosses three other states voting this Tuesday: New Jersey, Illinois and Utah. We have already visited two other states crossed by I-80, Iowa and Nevada, during earlier contests.

Actually, I-80 never enters New York. Rather, its eastern end is in Teaneck, a town on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge:

It would have been cool if I-80 crossed the bridge along with I-95 into New York. Perhaps then splitting at the Bruckner Interchange in the Bronx (yes, I had to get the Bruckner Interchange into this article) before heading out to Long Island.

North of New York City is Chappaqua, “hometown of CatSynth and Hillary Clinton,” as I have mentioned a few times on this site. And while it is my hometown in that I grew up there, Hillary's original hometown is a little bit west of New York and New Jersey, in Chicago. But of course you can get there by heading west on I-80, which passes through Chicago's southern suburbs.

Chicago is all the home of Barack Obama. So we have two candidates with Chicago roots, either of whom I would be very happy to support.

What a strange position to be in, to have such a choice – and I admit I have had a hard time deciding. There are historic opportunities with each, connections to various aspects of my own life (geography, education, mixed heritage). I guess it's much better than 2004 when I was excited about no one.

Traveling further west along I-80, we eventually come to Utah, a place of striking natural beauty that I would love to visit again soon. In the south are canyons, stone formations and other wonders of the southwest. In the north, along I-80, are the Great Salt Lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats:

[Click to enlarge]

When they say salt flats they mean flat. It is an incredibly stark landscape, and that's part of what makes a great experience. And the silence. Longtime readers know how such things appeal to my personal and aesthetic sensibilities. Although I have been to the Great Salt Lake, I did not get to see Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, which is considered a major work of modern American art, and which I have seen reproduced countless times.

Heading further west, we cross Nevada and then arrive in California, where I-80 crosses the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, my new hometown.

I-80 actually ends as the western approach of the Bay Bridge, although most people (and road signs) suggest that it continues into San Francisco to US 101. This section of freeway actually cuts through my South-of-Market (SOMA) neighborhood, contributing to its urban, industrial feel.

[Click to enlarge]

I did manage to find my polling place, and will soon have to make a choice as this election season reaches home. But it is great that those of us in California finally get to make a difference. Same for the folks in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Utah. So many of us have had very little opportunity to actually have a say in the process, long dominated by Iowa and New Hampshire and the South. The rest of the country will finally have to listen to the people in our major urban centers and in the west. And I'll be satisfied with whomever we end up choosing (at least in one party).