Mr. Right

It's the same thing every time.

Is this the one? The one I'm going to spend my life with? Okay, fine, so it's not that I'm not realistic. I'd settle for a couple solid years, a few good laughs, happy parties here and there -- but civilized parties, where we use coasters and drink wine while listening to Neko Case and someone leaves their Pyrex dish behind. We are, after all, adults now. If we do part, it will be with a handshake and a smile, knowing we both gained worth and meaning after all that time spent together.

It looks so good on paper. So is this Mr. Right?

I am talking, of course, about buying a house, a privilege and a rite of passage made even sweeter by the $8000 tax credit that Mr. Obama has dangled in front of young folks like me. Over the last two months, I've spent most of my evening hours pouring over the MLS listing like I'm looking for Matt Damon on, hoping against hope that something will be "right."

It's supposed to be fun, and I suppose it is, if you like walking into houses with gaping holes in the ceiling ("Water damage in roof could stand to be fixed"), finding random pieces of trim and tile cemented and stapled where they shouldn't be ("Upgrades show owner's pride in property!") and seeing a black and white cat squished to the size of my bank account in front of a potential property ("Happening street offers lots of urban action!").

Looking for a house--at least, your first house--is like going on several hundred really bad, oftentimes smelly, first dates.

My realtor--the co-conspirator, the friend you can call to shake off the nerves before you walk through the door of that bar or restaurant or email twenty five links to their pictures online when obsessing about the pool in the evenings--must be wanting to dump me by now. My demands are simple: I want a palace, but not a palace that looks like the palace everyone else has. I want a bungalow, but it has to have running water. I want a hip pad, but I don't want a modern wreckage.

Oh and, hey, can you make sure all that doesn't cost too much?

It's easy to start wavering on your parameters when you're working against the clock and looking for something to seal the deal. I recently was telling someone about my house hunt and actually found myself saying, "I'd at least like to be able to live in it, you know?" He stared at me for a moment and then said, without a hint of irony, "Yeah, I'd say that's a pretty basic requirement for when you're looking for a house."

So I continue my search, bound and determined not to settle for Mr. Right Now--the house that, like most men who go by the same name, looks good but comes with a disclaimer:
Walk or run to downtown - but don't forget your .22! No cookie cutters here - it just happens to look like every other house on the block! Great place to build a home - no, literally: bring your hammer!

What's surprising about the process, though, is how quickly hope springs eternal. One nice photograph with beaming late afternoon sunlight on a span of hardwood floors is like staring at a blank slate of possibility. Yeah, it's kind of further away than I initially intended. Maybe I could get that saggy roofline fixed, or simply learn to love it. The ordinary becomes new again: those four walls really are amazing; I can't believe they put a window in front! Those little shutters are endearing, aren't they? And there's a chair under that tree over there. I'm planting flowers -- geraniums, I think.

Looking for Mr. Right in the real estate market isn't always fun. But, like most things in life, if it was always easy, it would probably mean it has foundation problems.

Social Media and the Senator: How Turning Texas Blue Isn't Just a Game

Times have changed. Even in Texas, for as dumb as we may seem to the more civilized parts of America, you can't win elections anymore by merely promising to fill the potholes or time the traffic lights. For one Texas State Senator from Austin, perhaps best known nationally for a bright lights slip-up in 2008 on Hardball that turned into an internet meme, putting a social media spin on Democrats winning back the Texas House of Representatives has gone, well, viral.

In a conference call with Texas progressive bloggers this week, Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) spread out the cards of his Monopoly Buster social media campaign, aimed at fracturing the GOP stronghold over the Texas House in November. Incumbent Democratic candidates facing challengers were invited to participate in a competition to get the most votes, with each vote attached to a name and email address. The five candidates with the most votes after March 26th will move on to the second round where the finalist with the most votes will receive a $10,000 contribution from Watson's campaign and the runner-up will get $1,500. Another prize is also noteworthy: each candidate will receive their own database of their Monopoly Buster voters' information to stay connected with their group through Election Day.

Watson has long been the golden boy of Austin progressive politics, an Ann Richards appointee who was elected as Mayor of Austin in 1997 and again in 2000 with over 84% of the vote. In 2006, Watson was elected to the Texas Senate and over time has garnered a large war chest of campaign funds and an equal amount of hard-earned experience, including his stunning loss of words in 2008 on national television when being interviewed (some might say hammered) by Chris Matthews about Barack Obama's accomplishments. In a new effort for Texas Democrats, Watson put both into play to help incentivize incumbent House members and help salt their fundraising numbers.

But for Watson, the money is secondary to the real task at hand: motivating the Texas House candidates build their networks and organizing on a grassroots level. "I want to help create a bigger universe for some of these candidates," said Watson on his call with bloggers, emphasizing that the online voting process is not just about the email address. Watson spoke of how email has almost become an antiquated form of communication--"We talk about it now like, 'You have a fax machine?'"--and his Monopoly Buster campaign, which prompts voters to tweet who they voted for, seeks to build a network outside of just the email lists that candidates already have.

Like many online efforts, Watson's plan was met with some initial resistance. Watson mentioned that some candidates were concerned about the timing of the campaign--post-primary lethargy had started to set in and families were heading out for spring break. But Watson pressed on with his plan, in part because he saw a strategic advantage: candidates would be forced to activate their efforts earlier than usual and have the opportunity to get their message out at the Senate District conventions which took place over the weekend. And, like many businesses and politicians have already started to realize, the cost of not getting in the social media game is more than the cost of entry. Watson was ready to get Texas House members thinking outside the box in their online strategies and ultimately, Watson said, in a raspy, down-home drawl, his answer to "Why now?" is simple: "If not now, when?"

"The contribution is significant," said State Representative Solomon Ortiz, Jr. (D-Corpus Christi), one of the incumbent House members vying for the win. "But I joined because it gives my supporters something to get excited about online and gets my message out in a community that might not read traditional news sources."

A day of studying social media tells you that one of the first lessons you learn -- if you're good at it, that is -- is how to learn from your mistakes. Senator Watson has a healthy appreciation of the power that online exposure can have. More importantly, he's using his savvy to simultaneously push House members, grow a larger network and, if November goes his way, take back the Texas House of Representatives by retaining all currently held Democratic seats. Until then, Watson seems determined to leave no tweet un-tweeted. "I'm trying to figure out all of the different angles that help make this kind of thing work," said Watson as he wrapped up his call with bloggers Monday night.

"I'm into this pretty deep because I really believe in it."


President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and senior staff, react in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, as the House passes the health care reform bill, March 21, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

I’m on a bus to Albuquerque, New Mexico and I’m looking at shoes. Rows and rows of shoes, selected for a bus ride or maybe for the miles they will walk the following day.

When I signed up for the "Road Trip to Change," in late October of 2008, I signed up to witness a spectacle. Part of me thought it would be an interesting drive--it wasn’t. We drove there and back mostly in the dark, at night. Sleeping (with the aid of a wise busmate’s Benadryl) was the only way to forget you were sleeping on a bus.

The other part of me thought that the bus trip would consist of a group of Obama supporters who were, literally, just there for the ride, with no intention of putting in any real effort. As I studied each person’s shoes, I wondered how long someone could blockwalk in clogs, or whether the guy in front of me brought another pair of shoes with more arch support than Havaianas.

We arrived in Albuquerque at around seven thirty in the morning, after an all-night drive that I remember in bits and pieces: staring out the foggy window into a West Texas misty night, the sun peeking out of the mountains as we neared our destination and an early morning pit stop where the older folks bought coffee and newspapers, while the college students slept in heaps of blankets and gadgets.

We piled off the bus, stretching our creaky bones and taking up clipboards and walk sheets -- page after page of targeted voters whose doors we would be knocking on for the next two days straight. A hundred Texans, bussed from a strip mall in Austin to a strip mall in Albuquerque, walked out into the street to fight for change.

I never heard anyone complain about their shoes. Two days went by and every day, from sun up until sun down, we walked the streets of Albuquerque. Young and old, we walked because we believed in something that was greater than ourselves, and because we wanted to make our country a better place to live. We walked because we saw a chance to elect someone who would fight for equal rights. We walked to elect someone who would shape the future, not fear it.

We walked for nights like tonight.


Rick Perry's Secret Plans for Texas Border Security: "Ridiculous"

Pop quiz:

Who has better hair than Sarah Palin, also seems to believe their proximity to another country makes them qualified to run a country and who, judging by the amount of untrue and contradictory statements they’ve said on the issue, might have a “secret plan” written on the palm of their hand?

If you guessed Texas Governor Rick “Most Likely to Secede” Perry, then you’d get an A+, which is a better grade than most Texas students are getting these days after Governor Perry’s rejection of government funds destined for Texas classrooms.

Folks, it’s serious down here. If you thought George W. Bush was bad, please consider the following: Governor Perry is the Joker to Bush’s Lex Luthor.

In Perry’s latest campaign stunt, Texans get to bear witness to a campaign move with tragic, costly repercussions. Perry is serving up Republican surf and turf -- anti-immigration and homeland security -- in a new “secret plan” to increase border security due to rising border crime rates. The only problem? As the McAllen Monitor reported Thursday, local police officials are saying that Perry's claims of spillover violence are "ridiculous." Even Republican Senator John Cornyn told reporters at one point during a conference call that "As far as the Texas border is concerned, we have not had spillover violence, per se.”

The McAllen Monitor pointed out additional inconsistencies in Perry’s quixotic efforts:
“How many Americans will have to die before our federal government takes serious action along the Texas-Mexico border?” Perry said in a statement issued Monday. “For years, they have failed in their vital duty to secure the border, resulting in escalating violence.”
Meanwhile, during campaign stops as recent as last week, he continues to tout a 60 percent drop in border crime overseen by his administration.
If all this contradictory gunslinging sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve seen this episode before. Remember The One When Iraq Had WMD's, even though everyone knew they didn't exist? There’s no doubt that the situation in Mexico is dire and frightening. But playing off of Texans’ fears, particularly when you’re not actually doing anything else for them other than the occasional false conviction and execution, is getting old even to those living near the supposed "spillover" violence. From the Monitor:
Describing the border region as plagued by drug violence has needlessly scared residents of the area while contributing to misperceptions in the rest of the country about the realities in the region, Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño said.

“How can you claim that the crime rate in this whole area has dropped, while at the same time saying that crime is out of control?” he said. “Explain that to me.”
Governor Perry needs to lose in November and, judging by these kinds of political moves, knows he might. He faces perhaps his first true challenge in Democratic nominee Bill White, a former Mayor of Houston who organized over 100,000 volunteers in response to Hurricane Katrina. While in office, White has seen the messes that our Texas GOP villains tend to make and, as his Katrina efforts have shown, has experience in cleaning them up. He took the time Thursday to phone up Secretary Napolitano to ask for more resources at the Texas border. "Secretary Napolitano told me this request would receive serious consideration," White said, as reported by the Burnt Orange Report. "She also told me she would give a similar response to the Texas Governor if he talked to her about it, which he has not."
For Governor Perry, it seems, Texas's homeland security is worth a whole lot of rhetoric but not even a phone call.

Spread the word: Governor Perry has got to go. Otherwise, we’ll have another four years of the Joker -- and that's nothing to laugh at.

Danah Boyd SXSW Keynote: Privacy is History

"Privacy is not dead."

Microsoft's social media researcher, Danah Boyd, spoke at South By Southwest Interactive today in the opening keynote titled "Privacy and Publicity." As a social media user who was weaned on AOL, I was interested to hear what kind of perspective a social media researcher (whose job didn't even exist until the last, what, ten years?) would have to say about the state of privacy and where we go from here.

Most of her discussion was dominated by a deconstruction of the GoogleBuzz PR nightmare (or what Boyd might have you believe was a nightmare). The sweeping theme was that Google mismanaged users' expectations of their privacy by assuming that those who would want to opt-out would do so. While Boyd delved into other privacy "fails" -- Facebook's content coup and Miley's Twitter meltdown -- the Google hating was a touch uncomfortable, particularly coming from someone employed by Microsoft's research department.

Boyd cautioned that technology companies shouldn't rely on gaining users or content through the assumptive close of users clicking through, while ignoring the fact that clicking through is exactly what we all are doing because we just don't care about our privacy as much as we used to. It's not a bad thing, it's just what our online habits have conditioned us to do.

She also talked about how most people are still relatively obscure online, but didn't explain how this obscurity grows with every Twitter account or YouTube video uploaded. The new reality of online privacy is that everyone has been lost in the proverbial haystack. Vivid images including the obligatory cute cat photo were pulled from Flickr's database to accompany Boyd's presentation. The man yelling at the camera whose mouth was featured on a giant screen will likely never know he was part of the presentation and my guess is, if he ever did find out, he wouldn't care.

When I was thirteen, poking around Netscape Navigator at all hours of the night, I remember my parents' words of caution: "Be careful who you meet online." Well, guess what Mom and Dad! Half the people I've met at this event are people I met online. We buy houses, look for soulmates and upload sonograms as TwitPics. Unborn babies have Twitter accounts; we feed our narcissism by "checking in" our exact locations on applications like Foursquare and Gowalla. And while GoogleBuzz might have had some messy PR for a few weeks by making the big switch, it sure hasn't stopped my non-Twittering sister from regularly interacting on it with her friends. Sorry, Microsoft, but I'd say that was a Google #win.

Privacy, in most people's cases, is only a problem when it becomes one. As our parameters of what defines a problem expand with our culture, so will the importance of privacy. So if you think privacy isn't dead, then you're in denial of or ignoring the more important issue: It's dying. What next?

Pobrecito: The Victor Carrillo Allegory

On March 2nd, 61 percent of voters in the Republican primary voted like they normally do. The only problem with that is that most of them believe Latinos don't belong in Texas. The only problem with that is that the Republican party lost their incumbent for Railroad Commissioner, Victor Carrillo. Carrillo lost by over 20 points to someone with zero experience and who spent very little money getting his message out. How could this happen? Easy. We are talking about the Sarah Palin party here, folks.

David Porter, a CPA from Midland, will now be the Republican nominee for Railroad Commissioner against the Democrats' very promising, well-qualified Jeff Weems, a Paul Bunyan of a candidate who’s been actively campaigning and reaching out to voters online since the January filing deadline.

In response to the trouncing, ousted Carrillo issued a scathing letter to supporters and media last week stating that his loss was largely due to his Hispanic surname.
“Given the choice between ‘Porter’ and ‘Carrillo’,” he wrote “...unfortunately, the Hispanic-surname was a serious setback from which I could never recover although I did all in my power to overcome this built-in bias.”
Carrillo goes on to state that he’s “concerned” that the GOP party “still has these tendencies.”

Which leaves me saying, “¿Cómo?

Excuse me but am I supposed to be feeling sorry for Carrillo? It’s like that bumper sticker says: If you’re not totally appalled, you haven’t been paying attention. If Carrillo is feeling like this was some sort of shocker, he should probably take a look at what goes on in the Texas Legislature every session. An inordinate amount of time is spent by Republicans working to disenfranchise Latino voters. Period. How could a Latino elected official feel secure in the Republican Party when his Party doesn’t believe that people with “-illo” in their last names have a right to vote, much less be elected to public office?

Beyond voting rights, though, it goes back to equality and it's something that the Republican leadership in this state values less and less. We have a state run by five year old boys who throw temper tantrums anytime something doesn’t go their way. Their vision for equality goes as far as their reflection in the mirror. Immigration? Throw up a wall. Terrorism? Put them somewhere we don’t have to see them. Gay marriage? Not under the collective roof of the State of Texas, son. An African American President? We’re seceding.

Until the leadership changes, GOP primary voters will continue to vote based on bigoted, ignorant presuppositions. If your name is David Porter, you'll win. If your name is Victor Carrillo, you will not. These rules apply not just to political candidates but people who are in a campaign for their own right to a prosperous life right here in this state.

And if you’re going to reflect on your loss and conclude it was a personal attack on your heritage, at some point you're going to have to take a look at which side of the partisan border wall you were standing on to begin with.