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by James M. Branum

My LTE to the Oklahoma Gazette regarding bicycle safety

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OKGazette.com: Motorists traversing Oklahoma’s roads will be sharing them with growing legions of bike enthusiasts – by Charles Martin

Here is the LTE I sent today to The Gazette…

Dear editor,

I am writing regarding the article “Street pedalers” in the May 26th issue of The Oklahoma Gazette.

The article quoted a local bicyclist who said that cyclists should ride in groups because it is dangerous to ride in groups, and also says that urban cyclists are hindered “by the fact that Oklahoma city prohibits bike riding on sidewalks, yet doesn’t provide bike lanes to protect them from cars. Murray that riders have to either ride on a shoulder – if there is one – or hug the curb and hope passing cars on the lookout.”

This is not the way to safely ride a bicycle in Oklahoma City. Contrary to what your article says, in most situations bicyclists are best off “taking the lane.” By riding assertively in the lane (rather than hugging the curb), motorists are more likely to see cyclists and are more likely to pass with enough clearance. Riding like this is not only safer, but it is also legal. Oklahoma law says that cyclists shall ride as far to the right as is safe, but does not mean that bicycles must hug the curb. Instead it requires cyclists to use common sense.

There are lot of good resources out there on how to safely ride a bicycle in an urban environment. OKbike.org has an excellent education section on its website. I also would recommend the book “Effective Cycling” by John Forester.

Written by James M. Branum

May 29, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Birthday Fundraiser for the Oklahoma GI Rights Hotline!

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WARNING: This post is a shameless post to make you feel guilty and hopefully cough up some bucks for a good cause.

My birthday is coming up on June 5th. I know it is customary to give gifts, but I got plenty of stuff. So I’m asking my friends to instead consider making a donation to a project that is dear to my heart, the Oklahoma GI Rights Hotline project of OCC (Oklahoma Center for Conscience).

Why is the OK GI Rights hotline and OCC worth supporting?

1. The Oklahoma National Guard is facing a record deployment of over 3,400 troops to Afghanistan next year (the largest deployment of the 45th since the Korean war). Many of those soldiers will not want to deploy, and they will depend on the GI Rights Hotline for help.

2. OCC has a proven track record of doing good work on very little money. Our current budget is less than $10,000 per year, yet we are able to do some incredible work.

3. OCC is one of the only a few local groups who educate young people about the importance of conscience and the role of conscientious objectors in society. We also carry this mission into our GI Rights work, where we help soldiers who are struggling with issues of conscience, to find out for themselves what they truly believed about war.

4. Helping soldiers to be free of the military is a concrete way to work for peace.

5. OCC helps me to do my work. Without the housing stipend that OCC pays me, I would not be able to take many of the resister cases I currently am able to take.

I’m setting a goal of raising $250 between now and the end of June. Please consider making a generous donation now. All donations are tax-deductible (OCC’s fiscal sponsor is Joy Mennonite Church).

You can donate now at: http://centerforconscience.org/donations/. You can also donate by sending a check or money order to:

Oklahoma Center for Conscience
c/o Joy Mennonite Church
504 NE 16th St.
Oklahoma City, OK 73104

Thanks!
James

P.S. Shoot me an email and let me know your made your donation so I can track it against the fundraising goal.

P.S.2 – I am having a BBQ for friends and family for my birthday. If you would like to come, shoot me an email and send you the details.

Written by James M. Branum

May 25, 2010 at 5:31 pm

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A folk duo I discovered in the Oklahoma City Public Library

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During law school, I needed music like plants need rain. Music kept me sane and reminded me of what was important.

The problem I was awfully broke during law school and way too paranoid to do much illegal music downloading. So, instead I sometimes went to the downtown Oklahoma City Public library to listen to CD’s and check out the ones that spoke to me.

It was there that I discovered the sweet folk-American music of Dave Carter & Tracey Grammer.

The duo had a sweet, sweet sound but better yet had songs about Oklahoma. Songs like “Tillman County,” “The Power and Glory” and “Ordinary Town” just rung true to me, with the feeling of both understanding and love for this place. (these songs were all on their album Drum, Hat, Buddha (it was that quirky name that made me pick up the album in the first place)

So I looked them up online. I found out that Dave grew up in Oklahoma and Texas and was an alum of OU, and Tracey from California originally. But then I read a little more and discovered that Dave actually passed away from a sudden attack in 2002, but that Tracey Grammer had continued to sing his songs and to sing new songs.

I’ve since listened to their music many times over the succeeding years. It’s been some of my favorite music to turn to in times of both sorrow and joy.

I haven’t yet had a chance to check Tracey’s solo work, but I will soon. But in the meantime, let me share this video of the duo of the band singing one of my favorite of their songs, “Gentle Arms of Eden”:

Written by James M. Branum

May 21, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Music: Learning a new instrument – The Stylophone!

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I love learning new instruments. Some I do better at: trumpet (played in high school and college bands) and harmonica (self-taught, mostly do bluegrass and country stuff, not so great at the blues though).

Other instruments I just dabble in: Native American flute (I have wooden Cheyenne6-hole flute and a Choctaw 5-hole reed flute, I can play simple songs on both), the lap harp, guitar, and drum.

Well I can now add a new instrument in the dabbling column – the Stylophone!

The Stylophone

image from Thinkgeek.com

It is a wicked cool, stylus-controlled, hand-held synthizer. It was first created in 1967 and has been used on a few albums over the years by artists like David Bowie, Kraftwerk and Erasure, but wasn’t made for about 30 or so years.

Anyway they started making them again beginning in 2007.

So, how did I get one. Well my brother Daniel gave me a gift certificate last year for my birthday to this really cool online store, Thinkgeek.com. I unfortunately never used the gift certificate until recently, but when I did saw a styleophone and knew I had to get one.

So how does it sound?

Pretty flipping amazing. It has 3 different sounds (plus a vibrato function) and a range of about 1-1/2 octaves. I think it is in a minor key. Oh… and if you plug it into a guitar amp, it has a nice sound.

So anyway stay tuned as soon I’ll have some tunes uploaded for your listening displeasure.

Here’s some more links about the instrument…

Stylophonica.com – official site

The Stylophone website – fan site, dedicated to collectors of the original British-made version of the instrument

Written by James M. Branum

May 19, 2010 at 10:53 pm

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Even more discussion re: the War Paint Clothing Co. T-shirt controversy

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This post continues a discussion from earlier

I don’t think this controversy is going to die any time soon.

Written by James M. Branum

May 19, 2010 at 2:17 pm

Food: Arriba! Fire Roasted Mexican Chipotle Salsa

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When I was at the Homeland grocery store on Classen (which I’m pleased to say is unionized with the UFCW), I re-discovered an old favorite, a faithful friend, a salsa of incomparable quality – and yes, it is that good.

Arriba! Fire Roasted Mexican Chipotle Salsa

picture - Arriba! Medium Fire Roasted Mexican Chipotle Salsa

image from ribafoods.com

Highly recommend this salsa. My reasons to love it…

1. Price- Normally a buck less than the premium salsas (and sometimes on sale for as low as $2.99/16 oz. jar)

2. Flavor – has the rich adobo aroma, smokiness of the fire roasting, vibrancy of the tomatoes and just the perfect amount of heat. (the hot version is good to, but the medium is better as you can eat more of it, at once)

3. Honest ingredients – no Frankenstein ingredients. Just tomato, jalapeño, chipotle pepper, salt, sesame oil, paprika, vinegar, cilantro, onion, garlic, carrots, salt and spices

4. Texture – not too pureed, not too chunky

5. Location – Made one state away in Houston, TX

Written by James M. Branum

May 18, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

More discussion re: the War Paint Clothing Co. shirt controversy

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High Fashion Girl: In Defense of Warpaint

This is one of the more cogent defenses of War Paint Clothing CO. (hereafter WPC) that I’ve read. (a good example for some of the other WPC defenders who seem to lack the ability to engage in dialogue)

That said, she makes some assumptions about me that I are not fair and are not accurate, namely that I had a pre-judged opinion of the place and came in there planning to cause a disturbance.

It is true that I had pre-existing concerns about this store. Living in the USA, I’ve seen native culture misappropriated on many occasions. But I also have seen people play with cultural stereotypes and re-appropriate them (i.e. the efforts by some to claim and reappropriate offensive words like the words “nigger,” “bitch,” and “dyke”). I myself am not a fan of that strategy (because most people just don’t get it, and then use the satirical use of the words as some as an excuse to continue to use the offensive words in the old ways), but I respect it. So if WPC was doing something like this, more power to them.

So I went into the store with concern but also hope that WPC was using irony and satire to make a point.

But they weren’t. Travis (one of the owners) and the others I spoke to made it very clear that they meant this as a vaguely honorific thing, not a satirical thing. (sorta like a tobacco store Indian, or a Indian head nickel) They actually thought that they were honoring native heritage!

Well it is not an honor. Putting a stereotyped plains Indian headdress on a skull is not not honoring Indian heritage or Oklahoma heritage.

This kind of “honor” feels like an insult. It feels something like this image…

image from .bluecorncomics.com(I found this image on bluecorncomics.com)

Let me take it a little further. High Fashion Girl says:

If you know anything about Native American culture, you’d know that Native Americans do not fear death. They see it as a natural part of the life cycle. In many ways, they celebrated death – not in some morbid mall goth kind of way – but in a way that honored their deep spiritual connection to life and its natural end.

Hmmm…. yeah all Native Americans think alike. We all have the same views on life and death. No, absolutely not. Tribes many different ideas about life and death. You can’t generalize like this. If you want to talk about how a certain tribes sees death, fine, but to talk about all tribes? It would be about as nonsensical as saying “all Europeans fear death” or “all Oklahomans are Bible-thumping bigots.”

If you see it that way, great, but this stereotyped image is supposed to represent all native peoples according to WPC.

OK with that issue addressed, let me move on to another issue. I agree with this blog author, that my approach was not the right approach to take. I should not have used the language that I used, and I should have come back another day (ideally with some other friends who shared my concern) to talk it over with the owners.

But I’m not going to apologize for finding the shirts to be offensive. And I won’t back down. I will keep speaking against them and I will keep encouraging others to do the same.

Finally, the blog author says that I should just take Travis at his word about the meaning of the shirts.

I disagree. The shirts are very hurtful to many people. The shirts communicate disrespect to native peoples. I appreciate WPC’s non-malicious intent, but it doesn’t change the message that the shirts communicate.

Written by James M. Branum

May 18, 2010 at 9:15 pm