The pavement was stained and broken but the spirit had never been more intact. 

Every year the halloween-themed bicycle event "Choppercapras Horrorcycles" takes place in the middle of the San Fernando Valley. This year it was to start 12 sharp, "not 12 hipster time," according to their facebook event page. I'd hate to imagine how late hipsters tend to be as this event didn't get going until 1:15 P.M. However, I forgave the tardiness after witnessing the games.

A host dressed like a Spartan stood at the back of a coliseum improvised from a parking lot with a circle of orange traffic cones. The steeds were tall bikes, welded together from the frames of two smaller bikes. The swords and maces were made from Styrofoam and duct tape; the audience roared and threw these weapons and nets at the participants.

During the chariot races the athletes rode dirty pick child's bicycles, their teammates on carts in tow. Between the intensity of the race and the shoddiness of the mount, several fell and wheels broke off mid-race, follies which only served to further enliven the audience.

The entropy, amiable bicyclists so mired in their own subculture, the silly costumes and rough-housing illustrated a notion that has been denied historically by Los Angeles residents--that the San Fernando Valley does have culture. The culture of the bicyclists embraces gritty, hap-hazard spontaneity was unlike any other I had witnessed, in LA or elsewhere.

No one took it seriously when the man who calls himself Starblade posted online that someone wanted to kill him. But on May 14, 2012, his friend and former lover is expected to go to trial on the accusation of having murdered Starblade.

Starblade's real name is Matthew Paul Finnigan and ever since he was a child, he had been put in programs where he didn’t belong. Matthew was autistic, and was put in special education programs with students with nonverbal learning disorders and juvenile delinquents. Matthew was often bullied by these other students, and learned their destructive habits. The issue tragically climaxed when Matthew died of a stab wound allegedly inflicted by a supposedly mentally disturbed student in one of his programs.

The Victim
Matthew’s mother, Patricia Finnigan, is not fond of the educational system that her son was put into. She told me about Matthew’s history.
As kids on the autism spectrum sometimes tend to be, Matthew had problems being social and seemed to lack sufficient awareness of those around him. But he was also remarkable. In kindergarden, his mother recounted, he got frustrated in math class because it was too easy for him.  While the class was still learning addition, Matthew had incredibly mastered multiplication.

On-line, Matthew was known as “Starblade,” along with a host of other aliases accumulated as each one built up a bad reputation. He frequented the websites of a subculture called “furries,” or fans of anthropomorphic animals. The community consists of partiers, social outcasts, animal artists, roleplayers, costumers and others, but it is centered on animal characters. “Starblade” is Matthew’s character, a coconut-flavored dragoness. Unlike most furries, he was also an otherkin, or someone who believes he has a non-human soul. Matthew believed that he was literally a dragon on the inside.

Matthew met with furries in real life as well, and had no more respected of a presence. A furry named Synn, whose character is a peacock-wolf, recounts a story illustrating his general mannerisms, taking place at a friend’s birthday party. Although Starblade was not invited, the event was temporarily posted in public on a bay area furry meetup group website. He came and, right in front of the birthday boy’s mother, drank some soda, spilled half on his beard and shirt, and then dropped the half-empty cup on the floor, stepped over it and walked away.

His journal and forum posts were considered dramatic and sometimes threatening. He is even accused of stalking people. He is most infamous for the meme “Fuck you, I’m a dragon!” based on some debate forum responses which have since been deleted. He was so consistently over-reactive that when he insisted that people were stalking him, or when he threatened to kill himself, few of the readers took it seriously. He posted multiple times a former boyfriend had threatened to kill him. On August 24, 2010 he posted this to an on-line journal site at starblade-enkai.livejournal.com: 

Furry 3 [Referring to himself] receives death threats.Nobody listens. They offer no means to escape this furry's impending doom and likely no pity when the furry is eventually killed.Tell me again why furry is considered full of good, caring people?

To his friends and family in real life, he also faced the many challenges. But friends and family write on memorial pages that he had a genuinely kind soul, felt remorse for those he wronged, and was just trying to do his best being dealt a challenging hand. “He just needed so much help in his life,” Patricia said.

Children on the autism spectrum, depending on how high-functioning they are, can need special education. Some subjects they may excel at, but they might have problems understanding the subtleties of human emotions and interaction. There are programs designed to help these students learn in a group environment. Matthew was placed in several of these as a child.

He attended a school called Marchus in Concord, California, for students with special needs. He was bored with the teachings as they only taught to the lowest California high school graduation standards. Since other students had disabilities ranging from physical disabilities to mental retardation and criminal violence, the situation, as described by his mother, was far from a warm, nurturing one. Instead he was preyed upon by bullies, exacerbating his social problems.

Patricia knows this topic well. Her own mother was a special education teacher who taught autistic kids. When the school system started lumping the emotionally disturbed and children with nonverbal learning disorders with the autistic ones, the class was so disruptive that she couldn’t teach anymore.

When he graduated high school, Matthew and his family found what they thought would be a great arrangement for college. They visited Monterey, California, and Matthew fell in love. He enjoyed the beach, and there was a community college, a California State University campus, and a private university, the first of which he ultimately enrolled in. Matthew’s parents were concerned, though, that he wouldn’t be able to adjust on his own to college. They were initially relieved to find a program called College Living Experience, which is designed to help students with learning disabilities and other challenges transition to life on their own.

One semester, Matthew overloaded on classes,(Patricia couldn’t recall if it was 17 or 19 units) and the stress drove him to a bout with what was diagnosed as temporary schizophrenia. He was given treatment and meds supported by the state. However, Patricia recounted, once someone accepts clinical help from the state, they and their family lose certain rights to decide treatment. On February 25, 2010, he posted his feelings on Livejournal.

I need some place to go, where people aren't deciding what's best for me. What's best for me is strangely enough what's worst for me. Prison is more desirable than when they can throw me into the retard pit. I just want out.

It was difficult to tell which of his actions were a result of the bout of schizophrenia, which were his autism, and which were just a result of being a bullied and sensitive teenager. It seemed that Matthew’s life was prone to throwing him curveballs. Still, he eventually got off of the schizophrenia meds and was considered cured. He even started expressing remorse for the drama he took part in online and posted that he wanted to make amends.

College Living Experience
College Living Experience seemed like a program that could lead Matthew in the direction he wanted to go while at Monterey Peninsula College. According to the website, the program “provides intensive assistance to students of with varying abilities. Some students have autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger’s Syndrome. Others have conditions such as dyslexia and ADD/ADHD or social and emotional maturation issues.”

“CLE offered everything that they really needed for him to succeed, everything that kids on the autism spectrum don't really get naturally,” said Patricia. They do not list their costs on their website, but a fact-sheet of resources for students with learning disabilities lists the program costs as around $30,000 per 12-month period. The program is private and operates off-campus, and provides a variety of services, including a variety of academic and social mentors. This program is where Matthew met James Torrey Hill, who is said to be emotionally disturbed.

Matthew may have seen himself as a dragon, but his mother saw him as a lamb: gentle and somewhat vulnerable. Patricia felt that putting Hill in the program was “like putting a wolf in with sheep.”

The Accused
The mugshot that appeared in newspapers in 2010 looked little like the suspect being detained in Monterey County Jail. James Torrey Hill's photo was in a newsbrief, and the same picture was on an identification bracelet he wore. In the picture he was heavy and pale, with short hair and a large hole in one of his earlobes, made by a thick-guage earring. Now he sat behind thick glass with a phone to his non-modified ear, with glasses, long hair, and minus 60 or so pounds.

He’s called “Torrey” by most, “Magician” and “Big Bird” he claims by others, but when he first came into jail he wanted to be called “Phoenix.”

“I’m like a Phoenix rising from the ashes,” he explained, smiling and gesticulating. “I’m on a path to becoming a better person.”

Hill and Finnigan attended Monterey Peninsula College together, and although they had no classes together, they met at an CLE. According to news sources, the two had dated for a period of time, but were friends at the time of Finnigan’s death.

According the the Monterey County Herald, Hill had a preoccupation with killing someone and made it his life’s goal. The Herald reported that Hill said he was “sick of school,” “sick of life” and “might as well go to jail.”

I asked Hill if any of these claims were true. “One thing I have learned in here,” he said, “is that newspapers lie all the time. They’ll just make up whatever they want to sell newspapers.”

The Incident
People involved in the case have been advised not to discuss matters with the media, so it was challenging to get information for this article. According to the Monterey County Herald, Hill has pled not guilty by reason of insanity, but what happened on the night of Matthew Paul Finnigan’s death will not be legally decided until the jury trial, which is scheduled to take place by the time this is published, on May 14, 2012.[UPDATE 8/1/12: The case has not gone to jury trial. A doctor report is scheduled for 9/19/12.]

Virginia Hennessey of The Monterey County Herald, as well as other news sources, reported updates from a hearing:

Matthew went over to Hill’s apartment and played some video games. Hill testified that he had gone into the kitchen and got a knife, which Hill hid up his sleeve.

Officer Jeff Gibson responded to a 911 call in which the voices of both Hill and Matthew were heard, reporting a stabbing. Matthew had asked Hill to call the police, but Hill testified that he refused because he wanted to see Matthew suffer. Gibson testified that Hill came to the door with blood on his shorts, and that a bloody knife was found in a kitchen trash can. Matthew was found bleeding from a stab wound and was flown by helicopter to a hospital in San Jose. He bled for two hours before dying.

During a recess in the hearing, the mothers of both Hill and Matthew went into the bathroom and sobbed.

Synn remembers that she was at a weekly furry get-together when she first heard about Stablade’s death. She recounted this story on Facebook chat. 

here's something funny (maybe) but sad. Most of us were at chicken when we heard starblade was dead. We had seriously been telling funny awkward starblade stories the week before. Some fur, I can't remember who, comes up to a group I'm with and says "starblade is dead!" We all laugh and someone said "if only!" Then the first person assured us it was true and he had seen it on the news. We were silent for a few seconds then all burst into laughter. He became the butt of a ton of jokes, there was no "too soon" period for him. 

When Matthew's prediction of homicide came true, the responses were mixed. Many posts on his pages are private, have been deleted or the writers banned from the websites on which they wrote. On October 6, 2010, an anonymous user wrote on Starblade’s livejournal:

Even I, who hated you with the best of them, fucking cried.

You were always genuine and unfiltered. You always said what you felt. But for once, Starblade, you were disturbingly prescient.

Nobody should have to die this way. Nobody should ever have to be jealous of Furry #2, and nobody should feel fated to be number #3. Starblade was going to die, he knew he was utterly doomed, and here he was writing an obituary for himself.

Nobody gave a shit.

I'm really sorry.

After that, another anonymous comment:

I'm also sorry that the only place that you found solace and a sense of belonging, a place where people understood and shared your interests, in [sic] couldn't wait to be rid of you.

Some posted that they were genuinely glad about Matthew’s death. Others didn’t post anything publicly, but still hated him very much. Others were upset at the death of any member of the fandom, and still others said they won’t miss him, but he didn’t deserve this.

His family and friends held a funeral service in Danville, California, near his family’s home. In lieu of flowers, they asked for a donation to the Matthew Paul Finnigan Scholarship Fund. I tried to send a letter to the donation address, but it didn’t go through. I asked Patricia where that fund was going.
“Well, we were going to use the money to help another student get into CLE,” she said. “But now there’s no way in hell we’re going to do that!”

The End
Matthew’s family hopes for some small justice, in that more care will be taken to improve the standards for how people on the autism spectrum will be treated in education. The furries have gone on their way; they continue to attend conventions and draw characters. The dragon is dead, but there’s no hero to this story. And there’s no more time for Starblade to make amends or find peace or acceptance. 
I wonder what it's like to be a street Vendor? Venice Beach would be a great place to interview. For now, I have a representative of the Two Trees design company at Matador Mall at California State University, Northridge.
In her late thirties, Spencer Bane’s wife became sick with breast cancer. As her condition worsened, the couple was faced with the unthinkable, and they sat down to discuss what they would do differently with their lives. If they could do it again, knowing that life is so fleeting, what would they change?

Spencer Bane (not his real name) has lived an incredible life thus far. He's graduated from Harvard and MIT, been a doctor, invented medical equipment, became a millionaire, started several businesses and a nonprofit, married, and now he teaches at Stanford, works in a nonprofit he helped found, and has wildcats in his Northern California home. He's also full of poignant wisdom, dispelled eloquently and garnered from his impressive travels. 

By my standards at least, and more importantly by his own measure, Spencer's fifty years have been exciting to say the least, and successful in more ways than one. This is why it's surprising to hear how he's been spending his time and money lately.

"I'm really pushing furriness this year," said Spencer. "I must be hitting eight conferences this year, and I'm really enjoying that."

"Furriness" means different things for different people. Spencer goes to "furry conventions," which, for the unfamiliar, are meet-ups for those who celebrate, draw, and sometimes dress up as an animal persona. Spencer has been to many conventions, and he wears full-body spandex, called Zentai, in the pattern of various wild cats. He also has a custom-made serval costume, complete with fur, tail, and claws. It looks somewhat menacing, but it was clear that many felt comfortable approaching him, talking about the costume, and hugging. Many were comfortable enough even to follow him to his room or other room party for casual encounters.

Sometimes Spencer will even wear these costumes in public, non-furry-related places. He wore a tiger-striped full-body suit with a tail and a jacket to a university class reunion, claiming that his outfit adhered to the "coat and tails" dress code. His classmates were surprised, but amused. 

Spencer says that going to furry conventions "didn't even rate on the scale" of weird things he's done when he told his family about (the more innocent parts of) furriness. More surprising, he said, was when he announced to his family that he was going to get wildcats in his house. His residence is now a registered rescue, and he allows people to come in and visit his cats. This includes a bengal (or Asian leopard cat), a Savannah cat (hybrid of domestic and wild cats) and a full serval. The serval, who stands about three feet high, was a runt of a litter and so a zoo reject.

One of the more surprising things he did was when he (temporarily) dropped out of medical school to start a company called Boston Medical Research.

After Venture Capital invested in his idea, Spencer got to work creating a chip. "What we were finding was that a large number of cases of medications not working, and hospitalizations, were due to the fact that people didn't remember to take their pills," explained Spencer. "So our company created a chip to put in pill bottles that would remind users when to take their pills."

The product proved effective in clinical trials. However, insurance companies didn't want to pay for the technology and care providers were concerned about jealousy should only some patients get this advantage. In the end the product failed.

"It was probably the saddest day of my life, up until that time. I would say it was the saddest thing that ever happened to me, other than the loss of people. I thought it was like losing a small child, except now that I have children, I know how different it is."

However disheartened Spencer might have been, he was not thrown off course. He continued inventing, made a few businesses, and became a millionaire. One of his inventions that did take off was the T-stat, a sort of X-ray that measures the growth of tumors non-invasively. Now he's working on a non-profit for reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

"Even if someone came and bought this company, you know, for $100 million, and this time as opposed to the Venture Capitalists getting most of it, we got most of it," Spencer said, "I would still spend some of my time on invention. Because it's intellectually interesting, it's exciting."

In her early forties, Spencer's wife succumbed to cancer. She was survived by her husband, children and mother, who all live together south of San Francisco, California. Spencer hasn't remarried since then, but he's able to find love in all sorts of places.

So what did they decide in their final days together, about how they should have lived their lives?

“It was really kind of amazing,” said Spencer, “because we thought we wouldn’t change anything. There was nothing that we wanted to be doing better then we were doing right then. And I want to keep on doing the same thing...finding new, exciting things, finding new places to go, maybe getting some more cats, maybe bigger ones. That would be fun."

That is kind of amazing.
  Controversy over free speech has apparently bred some sort of genre of film in which the material focuses on trying to be offensive. There have been a substantial number of shows and movies which are teeming with violence, drug use, sex, and stereotypes, exaggerated in a way that can only serve to push the boundaries of free expression. For some reason or another, a large portion of the more salient examples of purposely offensive material appear to be animation. Perhaps it's because it's easier and less unpleasant to animate certain terrible actions, or because it makes an even stronger point to make what is sometime's regarded as a children's medium offensive. Maybe it's because you can animate physical traits that are racially insensitive ("darky" iconography, buck-toothed asians, busty women), or maybe I just noticed it because I love animation.

To start, there was the movie Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom. When it was first made, it was considered the most offensive movie of all time. It was the product of a book so full of depraved sex, even /b/tards might have a hard time reading it, and it was coupled terrible messages. Marquis DeSade, the author (from whom the word Sadism comes), was jailed for his perverseness.

Ralph Bakshi created the first X-rated animated film, Fritz the Cat. Since then, his animated films have generally not been targeted towards children. Probably the most overt example of this would be his movie Coonskin, aka Street Fight. The movie is a parody of the controversial Song of the South but is 100 times worse, full of black caricatures who occupy the roles of mob boss, preacher, exploiters of religion, exploited athlete, crazy homeless man, and pimp to name a few. There is surprisingly little controversy surrounding this film, perhaps because Bakshi made it clear from the sheer extremeness of the film that it was trying to be shocking and mock darky iconography. Here are a few clips set to the opening theme:

It's hard to say, but Bakshi may have contributed to what I can only describe as a sub-sub-genre, of black animated characters which are far from PC, made by black artists. A popular example is Aaron McGrudger's The Boondocks.

Read a Book is a parody of the schools trying to appeal to kids to get messages across.

T-Pain and other rap artists recently made this movie, called Freaknik the Musical:

  Borat and Bruno are probably good, but still very contentious, examples of making stereotypes look ridiculous.

South Park has tread on this topic multiple times, and has been controversial as of late. There were a few episodes that focused on offensiveness (mostly swearing) and then the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, focused on that theme. The most recent episodes (200 and 201) did not try portray the most offensive cumulation of vile images possible, but one of the most contested images of all time, that of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The image of Muhammad, the word "Muhammad," and a speech on why media shouldn't give into intimidation by extremists (not about Muhammad), was censored by comedy central.

Recently, the Direct-to-DVD movie called The Drawn Together Movie: The Movie came out, based on the discontinued Drawn Together TV series. In the movie, the characters run around doing many disturbing things, for apparently no reason. With the help of a character that is a parody of South Park, they search for a "meaning" to accompany their perverseness, which will supposedly help them not get canceled. In the end they decide that there need not be a reason or a message behind offensive television, which is ironically a message in itself.

Some would say that these pieces are a detriment to free speech, in that they are a flagrant abuse of the right and a reason to make restrictions. In my opinion, purposely offensive films are extremely important to free speech in that they keep the boundaries pushed, and they affirm that even when this offensive material is produced, it is still harmless. Even if the films themselves don't make a point, they keep the path clear for anyone who does want to make a point using offensive methods.

    Even if the economy wasn't particularly dismal as of late, it's always a good idea to save money. However, the frugal movement has gone largely unnoticed and unapplied, and it seems that many are even ashamed to buy cheaper, second-hand materials, to wear shoes without diamonds on their soles. However, it’s hip to be green, so try these tips, if not for your wallet, then for the planet.

      These tips are based on the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. By doing these three things, we have to buy less, and less goes to landfills as well. Save green, go green.

      The Scavenger’s Manifesto by Anneli Rufus and Kristan Lawson different types of scavengers and what they can do. Here are some ways listed in the book that students can utilize:

  1. Bring a re-usable water-bottle. I imagine that the first person to literally sell water for a dollar fifty a bottle must have been trying to prove that they could sell anything to sucker consumers. Try getting water from your sink or a water-fountain.
  2. Get your books at the library. That’s why it’s there.
  3. Pick your own fruit and vegetables. Yes, you can pick the fruit on public fruit trees. If it doesn't have a sign stating otherwise, you probably can pick the fruit, so go ahead and find out. I don't know why, but so many people think that fruit that doesn't come from the store is literally poison. You can also use neighborhoodfruit.com to find public trees, and post your own trees.
  4. Get it second hand. It’s usually cheaper and always better for the environment to get things second-hand, and save it from a landfill. That includes going to garage sales, thrift stores, estate sales, craigslist, and flea-markets.
  5. Freecycle. That’s right, there is a movement for getting free clothes, books, music, technology, and whatever someone else doesn’t want any more. You can use freecycle.org, the “free” section on craigslist, or just check your parent’s closet for some vintage chic.
  6. Upcycle. If you don’t like something you have, you can freecycle it or upcycle it. Upcycling is the process of making something you don’t like into something you do. For example, I discovered this T-shirt upcycling community blog, which includes instructions on how to convert your frumpy tees into cute, customized style. Instructables.com also has lots of ideas for upcycling, including the instructions to make a juice carton into a wallet, a comfy chair out of paracords, jewelry out of Monopoly pieces, or a rubik’s cube from an old keyboard. Tell me that’s not cool.
  7. Dumpster dive. This may seem extreme to many people, but it’s a load of fun to do in a group. The idea is to scavenge through dumpsters to find food, clothing, and technology. Satisfy your inner anarchist and reject capitalism, man. Check out freegan.org.uk for safety, legal, and ethical tips before diving.
  8. Rideshare. Use craigslist rideshare, zimride, or just carpool with your friends.

     There are several ways to save money and live a sustainable life. They key thing to remember is that we don’t need to buy new things all the time. Be innovative and creative, and you’ll save money, help the planet, and have fun doing it.
 There's no diving board involved in dumpster diving, and it's not so theatrical and dangerous as to literally go swimming in garbage. Instead, the Los Angeles Dumpster Diving Meetup Group quickly and carefully sifts through discarded material in commercial dumpsters to "save" landfill-bound goodies.
     Last Saturday night in Garfield Park, Pasadena, about a dozen people gathered to take part in this seldom-known art. The group's members are from Meetup.com, a website that connects people with similar interests to other locals. The group went to the dumpsters of Bristol Farms and Trader Joe's to recover apples, bananas, artichokes, iced tea, bagels, banana bread, potatoes...and enough food to fill the back of a flat-bed truck. At the end of the night, the divers took what they wanted from the truck, and the rest was donated to a soup kitchen.
     Julianne Lee, a 25-year-old graphic designer, was going dumpster diving for the first time that night. "I want to see if it's true that companies throw away as much as people say they do, to see how wasteful we can be as an American society," said Lee while the group waited for the employees at Trader Joe's to leave. 
    Although divers scavenge for many things, including technology, clothes, and whatever else they can find in these back-alley treasure chests, this particular diving venture uncovered food. According to a 2004 study at the University of Arizona, Tuscon, the United States throws away nearly half of its food supply. 
     The group organizers were 45-year-old computer programmer Eric Einem and 21-year-old full-time volunteer Grace. 
     "For some it's about reducing their consumption...and recovering wasted resources. For others, it's about free food. For others, it's just fun," said Einem of dumpster diving. 
     This practice is, in addition to being a hobby or necessity, based on community. When Grace moved to LA, she "discovered that LA has, really, no freegan [those who salvage and scavenge goods] community, so I thought, 'well, let's build one!'"
     The community has many attractive aspects to it. Those who are anti-establishment and anti-consumerism participate in freeganism because, as no money changes hands, it does not contribute to capitalism. Environmentalists take part because it saves food and goods from going to a landfill as well as minimizes the need for producing more food, which takes energy, water, and land. Humanitarians dumpster-dive to donate food to organizations like Food Not Bombs, which gets much of their food from dumpsters to help the hungry. The food is free, so it is good for frugal people (although oddly, there doesn't appear to be a huge increase with the recession.) Also, the thrill of treasure-hunting at night should enthuse any adventurer. The best adventurers ever, Flapjack and K'nuckles, are into it.
     According to Freegan.org.uk, there are many reasons a store would choose to throw away food products. Sometimes it's because the food has gone bad. If this is the case, it's as apparent to the diver as it is to the clerk, and the freegan will toss it away again. 
     However, the majority of the time food is thrown away because the packaging is damaged, it's near or past its sell-by date (but not its use-by date), one item in a pack is damaged, there is seasonal wrapping, or the store wants to make room for new merchandise. 
     If you're in the Los Angeles area, you can go to meetup.com/freegan to accompany this group on a diving trip. If you live elsewhere, check the 21 other meetup.com groups created in this growing movement.