Good News For Fans Of Public Libraries In Arizona

According to its Legiscan page, Arizona HB 2379 has been in the House Rules Committee since February 17. I’ve been told that this means that the bill is effectively dead and that it’s too late in the legislative session for this to be passed.

It certainly looks like the bill’s legs have been cut out from underneath it. If you look at the Legiscan page in depth, you can see how fast things were moving on the bill from January to February. And then it hit a wall and promptly stopped moving, likely due to the massive public response that supporters of the library raised in opposition of this legislation.

There are a few ways for bills to die. They can die dramatically from a governor’s veto, which is what happened with SB 1062. They can also die quietly, buried in committee until the world has forgotten that they ever existed. HB 2379 seems to have died that quiet death.

It’s unfortunate when such a destructive bill dies quietly because for those whom the bill would have harmed, it’s hard to say when the battle is really over. There’s no moment to take a victory lap and celebrate the fact that we won. There’s just a vague feeling of unease that slowly lifts as we look at one another and ask “is it over?”

But we did win and our public libraries are safe, at least for another year. This cynical blogger has a cynical feeling that we’ll be seeing another version of this bill come January 2015. There was an incarnation of HB 2379 that was vetoed by the governor back in 2011. If a veto wasn’t enough to keep this revenant piece of legislation down, I can’t imagine that a quiet death in committee will either.

But that doesn’t matter right now. What matters is that we won. And we couldn’t have won if the people our libraries serve hadn’t stood up and spoken out against this bill.

Well done, Arizona. Thanks for standing up for your libraries.

 

Arizona SB 1062 Is Dead But Arizona HB 2379 Is Very Much Alive

Arizona SB 1062 is dead and that is a very, very good thing for everyone, both in Arizona and the other states in the Union who were considering their own versions of this bill. It’s even good for the people who were supporting the bill, although they’ll never admit it.

But although the “Gays Stay Away” bill is dead on arrival, the other piece of legislation that has my ire raised is still very much alive. Despite reports to the contrary, Arizona HB 2379 is still very much alive.

The Arizona Daily Star reported that:

A major change to House Bill 2379, written by Rep. Justin Olson, removes language limiting how much the secondary property taxes levied by county free library, county jail and public-health-service districts can be increased.

A strike everything amendment, passed by the House Ways and Means Committee, replaces the original text with new language requiring the taxing entity to annually disclose tax-rate information.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the bill has essentially been neutralized and the county does not oppose the current version of the bill.

On the one hand, hooray for us, we get to keep our libraries, the state government doesn’t get to arbitrarily tell us what to do with our communities and I get to keep my job for at least another year. But to celebrate in the streets à la the protesters of SB 1062? Not so fast.

This is where an understanding of language in politics comes in handy. Politicians choose words very carefully and words don’t always mean the same thing in a political context as they do in others. Sure, “neutralized” might mean “killed” in a military context, but in a political one, it means exactly what it says; the bill is neutral now. It’s not moving forward . . . but it’s also not dead. It’s “gutted” . . . but a gutted beast can recover. It can still inflict harm.

Neutralized is a good thing, but it’s not a great thing for fans of public libraries in Arizona.

Maya Castillo, president of SEIU Arizona had this to say about the neutralization in a Facebook post:

HB 2379, despite Joe’s [Arizona Daily Star] article, is not dead. The striker does gut it to an extent. But I hate this striker too! Why? First, there shouldn’t be any additional restrictions on how library increases happen. It’s our money and any additional requirements are designed to hinder increases– we shouldn’t be hindered, especially when it comes to our library.

Second, it’s a legislative trap. So here’s what happens: we choose through our elected to raise the rate 3%, have public hearings, etc. The next year we do the same but say 4%. Year three, the state leg[sic] comes back and says “See! We told you they needed more oversight! 7% in two years?!” And then we’re back where we started!

Consider the fact that Justin Olson, the sponsor of this bill, has been trying to pass a version of this legislation since 2009. Consider that it seems like Republicans were trying to fast track this bill before anyone could raise an outcry. With that in mind, I don’t think that anything short of a resounding defeat in the state House or state Senate or a veto from the Governor will fully kill this odious bit of legislation.

There’s some lobbying muscle behind this bill and I doubt we’ve seen the last of it. I’d rather not have to worry about half the libraries in Pima County suddenly vanishing every single year and I don’t think members of the public (who have been overwhelmingly supportive of us) want that, either.

I hope the momentum keeps up against this bill. We saw the power of political pressure against SB 1062. Hopefully that power will kill HB 2379. If not, the library’s collective neck will certainly come up on the chopping block again, perhaps even from the next version of the same bill.

HB 2379 isn’t dead. Until it is, it’s too early to let our guard down.

Arizona’s Favorite Beer Is Not What You Think

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I enjoy beer. It’s basically a cliche at this point; if you’re a writer, you drink (you may also smoke, although I don’t). If you looked at my desk right now, the evidence would confirm everything you suspected. It might also tell you that I desperately need to clean my desk.

I pride myself on being a bit of a beer snob. At a bar, the minimum I’ll settle for is a craft beer. I drink local and regional microbrews with a fierce passion. I can tell you that my favorite region of beer is the Pacific Northwest, although Arizona does have some excellent options and my very favorite beer in the world comes from San Diego.

If you had asked me what the most popular beers were by state, I would have described the Northwest as being into craft beers. Maybe some of the more affluent regions of the Northeast. But the Southwest? Good ol’ Arizona with its cowboy hats, Wild West-esque love of guns, and its proximity to Mexico? Bud Light, maybe. Possibly Corona, if the Mexico angle is played up enough. Certainly nothing more exotic than that, though.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I read this map of the most popular beers by state. From the article: “America has a new king of beers – and it’s Blue Moon.”

Bud Light still has a strong grip on the Midwest, which isn’t surprising. I’m still surprised to see a Belgian-style witbier like Blue Moon is popular with my home state. Blue Moon still has a reputation as a craft beer, even if that reputation is the subject of controversy and disagreement among more elite beer aficionados.

I’m really curious to find out what prompted the shift away from a staple like Bud Light. Is it the taste? Is it a sign of a cultural shift away from “good ol’ ‘merica?” Is it becoming cool to be elite again? I certainly hope so. I like to think that beers like Blue Moon are the gateway beers; gateways to appreciation of excellent microbrew and craft options.

Your State Is The Worst (At Something)

According to the Cartographic Research Lab at the University of Alabama, Arizona is officially the state with the worst alcoholism problem in the Union. Judging by the contents of my desk, that sounds fairly accurate.

Interestingly, even though Arizona has the worst alcoholism, we don’t have the worst rates of drunk driving (Montana), fatal car crashes (Wyoming), binge drinking (Minnesota), or poorest health (Kansas). So, there’s that. Although how we can be the most alcoholic state but lose out in binge drinking is beyond me. Maybe Minnesotans are better at holding their liquor.

If this study is accurate, I’ll definitely be avoiding Virginia (most motorcycle deaths), South Dakota (most rape), and Louisiana (most gonorrhea). Washington must be an uncomfortable place to be for dogs, sheep, and goats (most bestiality) and Mormon capital of the world Utah has the most porn usage, which actually explains a lot.

The odd part is some of the things some states are the worst at are much, much, much worse than others. Ohio, for example, is “the nerdiest state,” which is “based on highest number of library visits per capita (6.9).” Um, wow, way to be a bunch nerds, Ohio. Yeah, I bet you feel bad, don’t you, Ohio? Bunch of library-using eggheads, bookworms, and nerds, the whole lot of you!

(Editor’s note: apparently, I can’t pass a fifth grade geography class, since I wrongly accused Nebraska of having the poorest health, when actually it was Kansas. It’s possible that I’m actually a resident of Maine (the dumbest state). Nebraska still sucks, though, having the most violence on females, so it’s basically a wash.)

Turning The Rocks Over

I avoid reading the Arizona Daily Star online. I avoid it because of its comments section. I avoid it because whenever, whenever, I click on a story, I can’t help but look at the comments section afterwards. I think I’m compelled to do this for the same reason that people stare at trainwrecks and car accidents.

Much like staring at a horrible accident, I come away from the experience feeling disgusted and questioning the possibility that we live in a kind or just universe.

Imagine my amusement and surprise when I saw this little headline. In just a few weeks, comments on the Daily Star site will need to be linked through your Facebook account. The amount of hand-wringing and whining this announcement has produced is truly legendary. Over 1300 comments the last time I checked!

Of course I read some of them.

To be fair, this won’t stop all the idiots from posting idiotic things. If you’re a bigoted asshole, you probably are Facebook friends with other bigoted assholes or you don’t have any friends in the first place, in which case public shaming won’t really do much. The fact that  your comments will stick to you is nice, although a truly motivated troll can create a fake Facebook pretty easily. Still, it’s a nice gesture.

If nothing else, the fact that it will sweep out the paranoid conservatives will be amusing to watch. The number of “I’m never posting here again!” cries is especially good; these guys are clearly amateur-hour when it comes to understanding forum ecology. Almost anybody who feels betrayed enough to post a “gone forever!” comment is almost certainly going to keep on posting, or lurking, or both. Seriously, guys. We figured this out during the BBS days. You need to catch up.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

It seems like my previous enthusiasm was misplaced. The Arizona state Attorney General seems determined to prove that he and the party he represents are the enemies of any form of social progress or forward thinking. The AG has threatened to sue Bisbee if the town’s proposed civil union ordinance allowing same-sex unions passes, since that ordinance would conflict with a state law that bans same-sex unions.

Whew, I’m glad we have somebody keeping an eye on this kind of thing. After all, we can’t have people thinking that Arizona isn’t a haven for prejudice and bigotry. That just wouldn’t be proper.

The part that really fills me with dark amusement is when you consider the implications of the Attorney General’s actions in light of this comment made by Bisbee’s mayor:

The main intent was symbolic more than anything, it was to communicate to the gay and lesbian community in Bisbee that we accept and recognize them and that we will help fight for their civil rights and equality.

In other words, Bisbee wants you to know that they accept and recognize the rights of the LGBT community. Arizona wants you to know that it most decidedly does not accept you. It’s my unfounded and wildly speculative assumption that in the first draft of the AG’s statement, somebody had to strike an admonishment to “go back to San Francisco, queers.”

That’s the trouble with striking down a symbolic action; you’re also striking down whatever the symbolic action represents. In this case, that symbol is equality and civil liberty for all citizens. Oops.

Well done, Arizona conservatives. Thanks for reminding us that in this state, everybody is equal but that straight white people are more equal than everybody else. I’m glad we cleared that up.

I’d also like to make a public service announcement: never read the comments section of the Arizona Daily Star. It seems to attract the lowest dregs of asinine Internet users in an echo chamber of ignorant opinion. I could do a post just highlighting the stupid comments attached to this article alone.

Credit Where It’s Due

I’ve been really harsh on Arizona in my last few posts, mostly because of brilliance like Free Shotguns and the stubborn zombie that is SB1070. It’s easy to find things that are wrong with this state and for that, I am correspondingly despondent. However, at my heart, I remain an idealist, however cynical I may seem, and at its heart, Arizona proves that it, too, is capable of brave actions that offer a glimmer of hope.

Bisbee, Arizona, you give me hope that this state can be better. That we can all be better. From my own little corner of Tucson, thanks for being excellent. I’m proud of you guys.

Tucson, You Continue To Disappoint

I know that the state I’m from doesn’t define me. I’m my own person, after all. Just because I’m from Arizona doesn’t mean I fit the mold of what Arizona is to the rest of the country. I shouldn’t let this kind of thing bother me, right? It’s just that it’s hard to even want to call a place home when you have brilliance like this:

A former mayoral candidate in Tucson, Ariz., is launching a privately funded program to provide residents of crime-prone areas with free shotguns so they can defend themselves against criminals. . . McClusky said citizens need to do more to protect themselves because city government is failing to do the job.

“We need to take back our city, and it needs to come back to the citizens and not the criminals,” he said.

There are so many things wrong with this, I don’t even . . .

I don’t even feel the need to point out the idiocy of just handing out guns to people with nothing more than a background check, considering how thorough and reliable such background checks are. I imagine there’s also a part in this program that plans for each person to “solemnly swear that they will use this free shotgun only for good.” Maybe they’ll swear on a Bible, ’cause, you know, that always works.

The thing that really bothers me? It’s not even about the guns at this point. It’s about the fact that there are people that think like this and even worse, there are people that look at the first group and say, you know, I think that there is a good idea.

I’m not afraid of guns. I understand their place and their purpose. I own a gun myself. But to launch a plan to “take back our city” makes it seem like it’s a gunfight a minute around here. Honestly, it’s not, although I suppose that will change when everybody has a free shotgun and it’s like that time all the neighborhood kids had a big Super Soaker fight, except that everybody will be dead instead of soaked. Can’t wait for those good times to roll.

It’s like the people that moved out here arrived in the Southwest with their minds filled with images of cowboys and gunfights and OK Corral shootouts. And when it turned out that, surprise, the Wild West isn’t, those people were disappointed. There’s a part of those people who really wish, deep down, that they could tote their shotgun and their revolver and just lay waste to the first motherfucker who does something to deserve it. It’s like they’re disappointed that we don’t need to solve things with shootouts.

Every single time Arizona does something, it’s embarrassing for anybody that engages in rational thinking. I’d really like for that to stop, but I won’t be holding my breath, because then somebody might see me holding my breath, assume I’m up to nefarious purposes, and it’ll be another Wild West shootout.

When it comes down to it? I think that for the vast majority of people, even so called responsible gun owers, guns are just another form of toy. They’re dangerous toys and they’re expensive toys and they carry an awesome burden of responsibility, but I think that years and years of immersion in a pop culture where the dramatic gun cock is considered the ultimate form of punctuation have made us forget that this isn’t a fucking game.

I’m not blaming pop culture and movies and video games for making us violent, especially when statistics show that overall, things are getting better. It’s not the media’s fault for making violence sexy. I’m blaming us for being too immature not to realize that violence in reality is not fun or sexy or exciting. Deep down inside, we think it’s going to be just like the movies and that’s why we want it. That’s why we long for a zombie apocalypse. That’s why we hope for the chance to shoot a home invader so we can be a hero, even though if we really wanted to “be prepared,” we’d eat better and exercise more instead of buying more guns, considering the likelihood of dying to cardiovascular disease in comparison to violence.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

Politicians, Guns and Insanity

My general attitude towards my state’s particular politics oscillates from resigned disgust to abject horror. Resigned disgust is the default position and one that, under better circumstances, might more properly be called “cautious optimism” if not for the sobering comprehension that the largest voting bloc is filled with terrified, elderly white people who continually seem to loathe the very idea of social and technological progress. I live in a state whose voting majority seems to hate almost everything I value and has repeatedly demonstrated its capricious self-interest and overall incompetence seemingly at every turn.

The reality is that whenever I encounter people from other states, I feel a near-pathological desire to apologize for Arizona. “I’m sorry,” I say, “we’re not all racist, gun-loving psychopaths.” It’s sort of like when you’re in a restaurant with a senile grandparent who loudly speculates “there sure are a lot of Mexicans here, aren’t there? Why are there so many Mexicans?” All you can do is cringe and whisper that no, we don’t say things like that and hope that everybody else in the restaurant just will nod their heads and understand: right, right, senile, we understand. We don’t blame you.

Those are the good days, by the way. The bad days are when the local news informs you that:

PHOENIX – State senators voted Wednesday to allow a teacher, administrator, custodian or even a cafeteria worker at rural and some suburban schools to be armed.

Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, said SB 1325 would improve student safety. He said while better mental-health screening and more police officers at schools are important, it is also necessary to provide schools with a “self-defense component.

What. The. Fuck.

Or, if you prefer a less salty exclamation of despairing disbelief in the failing cognitive faculties of the Arizona state legislature:

What Arbitrary Silliness.

This would boggle my mind even if it were just limited to rural schools. But some suburban schools? Really? I’m running through the names and faces of every teacher I’ve ever had, and you know what’s funny? Some of them were amazing teachers, most were mediocre, a few were terrible. And they all had one thing in common: I cannot, for the life of me, imagine a situation where giving those people guns is an improvement.

The fact that cafeteria workers are allowed to carry guns is only funny insofar as you find the idea of dead kids hilarious; recalling my childhood experience reminds me that at my schools, the only people the lunch ladies hated more than themselves were the little brats that they were forced to serve each day.

It’s funny; I play a lot of violent video games, so you’d think I’d be all in favor of giving people guns, right? Hilariously, if there’s one thing that video games have taught me about violence, it’s this: leave it to the FUCKING PROFESSIONALS. There’s a reason why the people that are allowed to have guns around civilians  are trained in their proper usage.

And if you think that this bill allowing Vice Principal Skinner to cowboy up and bring his wheelgun to campus will come with any kind of training more than a Power Point and a multiple-choice quiz, you seem to have forgotten we’re talking about a state whose primary school district just closed 11 schools. There’s no money to train teachers to be Junior Deputy Police Officers. There’s no money for teachers, period.

It’s not that I’m surprised that this is happening in Arizona. When I bought a gun for myself, I was actually surprised and more than a little disconcerted by how easy it was. I remember thinking that it can’t possibly be this easy when the clerk came back to the desk with my new .40 caliber pistol. It evidently only took five minutes to determine that I was worthy of the heavy burden of an instrument whose sole function is violence. Shit, it took more effort to open a checking account.

“Do you want any bullets with that?” the clerk helpfully asked.

“Um,” I said, still concerned by the implications. “No, I’m good. I, um… don’t need to use it yet?”

“No point in having a gun if you don’t have bullets,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s for when I’m hiking alone in the desert. You know. Not for, um, my car.”

And scene.

When I was a kid and learning about the Civil Rights Movement, I would often wonder about the people who lived in the South during the time of Dr. King and Rosa Parks. Surely not every white person in those states was a racist, I thought. I wondered what the non-racist people felt as their states became the icons of insanity, bigotry and backward thinking. Did they feel shame? Guilt by association? Did they worry endlessly about being perceived as supporting all of their home state’s intolerance, simply because they were there? After all, if they didn’t like it, they’d just move somewhere else, right? Anybody who stays must support the opinion of the majority, right?

I think I know now how those people felt.

There is no consolation prize to this news. The only other thing I can take away from this latest bit of madness is that I know now with cold certainty that Arizona is not a place I would want to raise a family. The fact that I may never raise a family of my own does not lessen the numbing potency of this realization. Take that as you will.