Chicken Sandwiches. And Other First World Problems.

September 24th, 2012 at 4:36 pm

I spend most of my time wearing a blazer with elbow patches, sitting in a book-lined room beside a roaring fire with a pipe and tumbler of dark liquor. So I have never found myself standing in the middle of an enormous field on a hot summer day with a homemade sign.  This is unfamiliar territory for me. It is with great trepidation and care that I am treading into these turbulent waters of modern American culture war.

But I fear that it will not be long before I am found sipping on Polynesian Sauce in a dark corner, feverishly nibbling at an illegal chicken sandwich. We are only a few months away until The Chik has to go underground. I will be forced to procure the orange oil on the black market, furtively sneaking into dark alleys to execute my transactions.

Chick Fil A

I will be forced into this life of crime. I will be yet another of life’s victims, swept away by the changing tides of the populace’s fickle sentiment. I was unaware, oblivious, ultimately, innocent.

It wasn’t my fault. I was busy.

I was busy avoiding Wal-Mart and Monsanto, saving the trees, saving the whales, buying a hybrid car, participating in car share, riding my bike, being a vegetarian, taking a composting class, taking a yoga class, going primal, going paleo, fighting factory farming, fighting global warming. I was recycling. I was being sustainable, empowering minorities, respecting women, worrying about homelessness and poverty and autism and breast cancer and AIDS and bank fraud and Alzheimer’s and corruption and public schools and sex predators and natural disasters and unemployment and veterans hospitals and divorce and terrorism and famine and war. I was running a marathon.

I don’t mean to brag, but I do a pretty good job of being a savvy consumer: my wife’s diamond is blood-free from Canada, all my Poodle skin watchbands were sourced from local neighborhood dogs, and I only eat horses that I’ve ridden.

So this Chik-Fil-A thing. I really think we’re losing by railing against a fast food chain known for its pious Sunday closings and sending their employees to college. Can’t we just be upset that our government and political system can be dominated by bigoted rich people?

And aren’t we upset by brand identification? Our only value is as consumers.

I appreciate and am ultimately glad that we are having a discourse about the lack of freedom and equality for all in America, but why must it be boiled down to consumption? The only conversation our Country can have is about, “What’s For Dinner?”

Like cattle, we are owned. And we have been branded.

I’m sick of being a brand. Our only power is not as consumers.

What if we could come together as a community to demand Equal Rights for all, regardless of what chicken sandwich we eat? It’s embarrassing for the conversation to have sunken to the culinary. We are quibbling over sandwiches instead of pontificating on the moral superiority of fairness. And the common good. And shared sacrifice. This is a moral argument. Not a backyard cookout.

The real issue, the actual problem is that there are rich, bigoted blowhards running for president, running our companies, and running our country. Your very own boss and/or brother are probably bigoted blowhards. I am probably an asshole too.

Don’t debase deserved and appropriate vitriol and outrage by directing it at a chicken sandwich.

The problem is that there are wealthy business owners using their wealth to monopolize a corrupt system. The problem is that money equates to power and influence.

This is not about chicken sandwiches. This is about corruption and unfairness. This is about how our only value is as consumers. And how we let it happen. We can’t just demand equality and fairness, we have to protest with how we eat.

Interesting tidbit: even former slaves and descendents of former slaves and people of color do not want gays to marry. Even people who, more than anyone, know our country’s capacity for hate and unfairness and persecution, even they (!) do not want to grant equality to homosexuals.

So maybe it’s not the rich bigoted blowhards…

Why, as a community, are we so fond of constantly drawing lines in the sand? Do I really have to be defined by how I feel about gay marriage and what kind of chicken I eat? (For the record, and to say nothing of the Poultry Principle, my friends are allowed to disagree with me. It’s practically encouraged, if not official policy.)

I have an idea: stop talking about “gay marriage.” Demand Equal Rights for All. Make blacks, women, and immigrants stand with you. We are a country of foreigners, strangers, outcasts, reckless friends, fiends, struggling families, hard workers, students, coaches. Challenge, struggle; it’s kind of What We Do. We struggle. We all fight and scrap and try our damnedest. We are oppressed and downtrodden by the Powers that Be. We are all helpless. We must stop fighting each other. All we have is each other.

This is about Fairness and Equality. Not chicken sandwiches.

Vote with your mouth sure, vote all the time, in every manner you can: what you buy, what you eat, who you fuck, where you work, who your friends are.

But don’t let them convince you that all you have to do is know what chicken sandwich to eat.



Dullness Leads to Power

September 9th, 2012 at 10:09 am

It is the time of year when we find ourselves reaching for Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.

“The assholes who run politics in this country have become so mesmerized by the Madison Avenue school of campaigning that they actually believe, now, that all it takes to become a Congressman or a Senator – or even a President – is a nice set of teeth, a big wad of money, and a half-dozen Media Specialists.” -HST

But before you contemplate the prescience of 1972 political literature, consider this. We now know what Mitt Romney was studying when he was dodging the draft and camping out in Paris. He was getting back to his roots.

Back in 2000 there was a bestselling book by David Brooks called “Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There.”

Early on, Brooks gets to talking about France in the 1830s. The Bohemians (the artists, intellectuals) did not appreciate the Bourgeois (the merchant middle class).

These Bohemians, like Gustave Flaubert, were infuriated by an abundance of obvious shortcomings exhibited by the corporate middle class. These bourgeois were materialistic. They valued money and productivity instead of creativity and imagination. They were unheroic conformists.

Despite the fact that the French corporate middle class in the 1830s was a bunch of dull, joyless, prosaic, punctual philistines, it was these very drawbacks that led to the group’s success.

I will quote extensively. It’s worth recounting:

“It was the merchants’ petty-minded efficiency that allowed them to build successful companies and amass riches. It was their icy calculation that enabled them to devote themselves to the bottom line. It was their mechanical tinkering that enabled them to build the machines and factories and so displace the craftsmen and artisans. It was their concern for money that allowed them access to power and position. Nowadays we are used to the fact that sometimes the people who devote their lives to, say, marketing soap or shoes get to amass fortunes, live in big houses, and attract dinner party flattery, but in the 1830s all this was relatively new and shocking. It was the bourgeoisie’s dullness that led to its power.”

Dullness leads to power.

It’s the world we live in.

“A man on the scent of the White House is rarely rational. He is more like a beast in heat: a bull elk in the rut, crashing blindly through the timber in a fever for something to fuck. Anything! A cow, a calf, a mare – any flesh and blood beast with a hole in it.” -HST



The Mystery of Capital by Hernando De Soto

April 4th, 2012 at 3:00 pm

The Mystery of Capital was originally published in 2000 and I can only imagine that it is now horrendously out of date. All problems are solved about every decade, right?

The Mystery of Capital by Hernando De Soto

This book is not a Mystery or Thriller. It is not suspenseful. Rather, it is a economist’s straightforward assessment on yet another reason why our world is so fucked up. Yes, another stirring contribution to the ever-popular genre of Teen Lit, WOWISFU. WOWISFU is the next Hunger Games. (pronounced Wowzafoo.)

Regardless, I found The Mystery of Capital to be a worthwhile read. In a most obtuse, simplistic assessment, De Soto argues for government regulation and oversight to foster proper development in regards to property, real estate, and capital in general. (De Soto focuses entirely on Third World, Developing, and post-Communist countries.)

He supports a system of government aggregating, organizing, and facilitating the proper networks of legal framework, methodically opening up their bureaucracies to large swaths of populations currently operating on the periphery by adopting, co-opting, and implementing the frameworks already in place on such black markets. Using the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century as a model, De Soto speaks of a global industrial revolution in our common era in which life is now organized on a very large scale. In such, institutions are slow to adapt and therefore entrepreneurship triumphs, even if it means triumph in the black market, or “extra legal” sector.

Contrary to very popular and dominant arguments, De Soto insists that the world’s problems are not overpopulation, urban growth, and a poor minority, but rather, outmoded systems of legal property. Unfortunately, Legal Property is not near as sexy or easy to master as say, racism (ex: “The problem with the world today is that there are too many (name of color) people.”)

De Soto speaks of Metcalfe’s Law: “The value of a network – defined as its utility to a population – is roughly proportional to the number of users squared. An example is the telephone network. One telephone is useless: whom do you call? Two telephones are better, but not much. It is only when most of the population has a telephone that the power of the network reaches its full potential to change society.”

De Soto’s primary argument resides on an insistence in formalizing the property rights of so many “extralegal” citizens living and doing business outside of their population’s established networks of commerce, thus preventing their community from realizing the full potential of capitalism.

In simple math, legalization of property = creation of capital.

And while I do not have the intellectual capacity nor desire to fully engage in the nuances and complexities of this issue, this book was most rewarding to me in a conceptual manner. It was illuminating to immerse myself in the true nature of our Abstract World. De Soto has a comfortable grasp on how our systems of governance rely on symbols and abstraction to generate money, wealth, and affluence, what De Soto refers to as capital. It’s a twisted, mind-bending read. But it made me feel smarter and more informed. Which is what books are for in the first place, right? To make us feel better, smarter?

Reading is sexy.



7 Things Not to Envy About North Korea

December 21st, 2011 at 12:09 pm

For some time now, long before Kim Jong-il finally kicked it, I have been wrestling with a morbid curiosity of  North Korean.

Can you relate?

The reasons for my fixation are probably somewhere between Orwellian Obsession and Despot Envy.

Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

With her book Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick provides an impressive journalistic contribution to history by giving voice to the people of North Korea by telling the awful, modern story of their national cult by interviewing normal, everyday citizens who defected from the misery of the failed state.

Immediately addressing my North Korean compulsion, Demick asserts that, “While the persistence of North Korea is a curiosity for the rest of the world, it is a tragedy for North Koreans.”

Guilty as charged.

Even alongside the modern era’s menagerie of beasts, North Korea still contains plenty to be intrigued and horrified:

1. The recurring global theme of co-opting and perverting religion and exploiting people’s capacity to Believe

“What distinguished him [Kim Il-sung] in the rogues’ gallery of twentieth-century dictators was his ability to harness the power of faith. Kim Il-sung understood the power of religion. His maternal uncle was a Protestant minister back in the pre-Communist days when Pyongyang had such a vibrant Christian community that it was called the “Jerusalem of the East.” Once in power, Kim Il-sung closed the churches, banned the Bible, deported believers to the hinterlands, and appropriated Christian imagery and dogma for the purpose of self-promotion.”

Pyongyang was the Jerusalem of the East??? It is never a good sign when you live in a country with hinterlands.

Demick shares with us matter of factually that during the famine of the ’90s, it was the, “Simple and kindhearted people who did what they were told – they were the first to die.”

2. North Korea is literally covered in shit

“North Korea was chronically short of chemical fertilizer and needed to use human excrement since there were few farm animals…The countryside reeked of the night soil that is still used instead of chemical fertilizer.”

3. There is a name for that creepy material preferred by Bond villains and Dictators alike

“Vinalon, a stiff, shiny synthetic material unique to North Korea.”

4. North Korean Irony

“In 1991, while South Korea was becoming the world’s largest exporter of mobile telephones, few North Koreans had ever used a telephone. You had to go to a post office to make a phone call.”

, and

“An aside here about sex in North Korea…[what] many North Korean defectors…found most surprising about South Korea was that couples kiss in public.”

1991. Few North Koreans had ever used a telephone, much less a mobile phone. Think about that.

And these poor people are so prude, so repressed, so stifled by the mere grim struggle to subsist on a daily basis that they are most surprised by public displays of affection. Affection. Think about that.

5. Grotesque Canopies of Frozen Menstrual Rags

Life in dormitories of North Korean schools was a bit different than the typical cushy American upbringing:

“[Students] were roused by a military-style roll call at 6:00 AM, but instead of marching off like proud soldiers, they shivered into the bathroom and splashed icy water on their faces, under a grotesque canopy of frozen menstrual rags.”

6. Government Healthcare

A “Let’s Eat Two Meals a Day” campaign was cheerily implemented by the North Korean government during the famine of the ’90s.

How’s that for a new diet fad?

“They [North Korean citizens] jumped from the tops of buildings, a favorite method of suicide in North Korea since nobody had sleeping pills and only soldiers had guns with bullets.”

How’s that for actual death panels?

7. Big Brother

One young man featured in Demick’s book used his new life in South Korea to read all the books unobtainable in his homeland.

“His favorite was a translation of 1984. He marveled that George Orwell could have so understood the North Korean brand of totalitarianism.”



The Revolution by Ron Paul

December 20th, 2011 at 5:00 am

“I would choose freedom even if it meant less prosperity.” – Ron Paul

The Revolution by Ron Paul

I approve of most books that come with an additional reading list. Hooray, Reading!

I especially approve of books with “A Reading List for a Free and Prosperous America.” Good for you, Ron Paul!!

The Revolution is refreshing because Ron Paul dutifully and thankfully goes after the Bush Administration and goons like Alberto Gonzales responsible for the Patriot Act and its focus on citizens rather than foreign terrorists. In The Revolution, Ron Paul accuses politicians of treating Americans like sheep and even criticizes a Senator’s quote with a summation of “creepy propaganda.”

And Ron jumps into the real issues, like weed, for which Mr. Paul diplomatically tells us, “People’s opinions on this issue are so deeply and fervently held that it can be very difficult to persuade them to revisit the evidence dispassionately.” But he quickly assures us that, “We seriously mistake the function of government if we think its job is to regulate bad habits…When you actually study the beginnings of the federal war on drugs, you uncover a history of lies, bigotry, and ignorance so extensive it will leave you speechless.”

And all this from a medical doctor no less. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a leader familiar with healthcare?

Ron Paul hits his stride and wraps things up with a topic he is clearly comfortable and passionate: money (End the Fed is his 2nd book), sharing with us a letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson:

“All the perplexities, confusions, and distress in America, arise, not from defects in their Constitution or Confederation, not from a want of honor or virtue, so much as from downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit, and circulation.”

And I agree. We are all foolish in many ways, especially money. Consumption Is The Problem.

Ultimately, it will be difficult for Ron Paul to garner the needed blind support of the masses because he is a walking embodiment of a theme familiar to readers of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Freedom is messy and ugly and difficult because it demands freedom for everyone, even those you don’t like.



Campaigning for Questions

October 3rd, 2011 at 7:45 pm

In his book The Revolution, Ron Paul relates George McGovern’s post-government struggles as an innkeeper. It just so happens that the Senator, former presidential candidate, and HST muse was forced to close his hotel because of exorbitant expenses mandated by (dum dum dum) “The Fed” to install things like automatic sprinkler systems and new exit doors.

<fist shaking in air> Those pesky exit doors! (In Homer Simpson grumbling voice)…I hate them so much…

George McGovern tells us:

“If I were back in the U.S. Senate or in the White House, I would ask a lot of questions before I voted for any more burdens on the thousands of struggling businesses across the nation.”

To this, Ron Paul concludes: “That is an important lesson: government intervention into the economy cannot be assumed to be good and welcome and just.”

To that, I conclude that we must ask more of our leaders. (I think, George, we were all hoping that you were asking a lot of questions in the first place.)

I have been consuming Dr. Paul’s book only because he has charmed me as a Presidential Candidate.

But to this, I’m calling bullshit.

Complete and total and utter bullshit.

There is too much focus on where our leaders stand on “issues.” It is time to stop asking our potential leaders what exactly they will do, and instead ask that they just do it well.

“Ask a lot of questions before I voted…”

Before??? <smacking forehead with open palm> Why didn’t I think of that?



Shoot the Yankee Bastards

September 29th, 2011 at 6:34 pm

There are many reasons to be fascinated with North Korea, as I am.

The Bond-esque villain-dictators, the high-step marching, the tragic wincing flinching impossibility of it all…

Nothing to Envy

If you were to actually read a book about the people who have lived there, as opposed to passive consumption of current events as I have, you’d be interested to know that there are also a few reasons to be humored by North Korea:

1. Korean Math Questions:

“Three soldiers from the Korean People’s Army killed thirty American soldiers. How many American soldiers were killed by each of them if they all killed an equal number of enemy soldiers?”

2. Korean music:

A song from music class, Shoot the Yankee Bastards, contains the lyrics, “Our enemies are the American bastards/Who are trying to take over our beautiful fatherland./With guns that I make with my own hands/I will shoot them. BANG, BANG, BANG.”

It’s too bad North Korea doesn’t have technology because I would LOVE to hear a recording of first-graders singing that.



Ron Paul Doubts Artist’s Abilities To Fill Out Government Forms

September 25th, 2011 at 10:35 am

Republican Presidential Candidate and graduate of the Ross Perot School of Elocution, Ron Paul has two books on the shelves. In his first one, The Revolution: A Manifesto, he doubts artist’s abilities to fill out government forms:

“NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] funds go not necessarily to the best artists, but to people who happen to be good at filling out government grant applications. I have my doubts that the same people populate both categories.”

Ron Paul would like to use this as an argument against federal spending and in support of the free market. “The NEA represents a tiny fraction of all arts funding,” Paul tells us, quick to note that private donations to the arts totaled $2.5 billion in 2006. With the NEA providing a comparatively miniscule $121 million.

“Freedom Wins,” Ron Paul is fond of saying. A campaign slogan, do I detect? And I totally agree: one year for Christmas an Uncle only gave me 50 bucks and my Grandparents gave me $200. I never spoke to that Uncle again. Right Ron Paul?

The Revolution by Ron Paul

Paul would love the relatively dismal and inevitably imperfect system of federal spending on art to support his case against government spending and in support of the free market. But Mr. Paul’s argument is instead an incomplete analogy that when taken to its inevitable conclusion, actually indicts the true nature of our government’s corruption. Can’t the same accusation be made of corporations, that the ones who succeed aren’t actually the best at doing business and making money by providing a service the people need, but rather merely the ones savvy in lobbying, filling out forms and affluent enough to contribute to major campaigns to ensure favorable market conditions? Paul would love to extol the virtues of capitalism and free enterprise, at the expense of that perpetually nefarious monolith of dangerous dissidents known as “Artists” of course, but in actuality it’s the Corporate State who is guilty of an addiction to an unsustainable and dangerous system of collusion and cyclical waste.

Leave the artists alone, Ron. Call me when a Banksy exhibit goes horribly wrong and hundreds of millions of gallons of spray paint spill into the Gulf. Everyone would think it was a Christo spectacle anyway.

Let’s focus on the problem. Is the problem Federal Spending? Or is the problem government investment in an unfair and dangerous economy of corporate welfare?

There are many things to like about Ron Paul. He wants to end the drug war. We wants to end war. He is a vocal advocate for the Constitution and personal liberties. He’s fun to listen to.

But like a lot of Republicans he seems to harbor a lot of resentment and disdain for various segments of the population. For a lot of Republicans, this disdain often manifests in peculiar social policies.

Whaddya got against the Artists, Mr. Paul?



War by Sebastian Junger

April 12th, 2011 at 9:58 am

I too was disappointed and, quite frankly, utterly shocked upon realizing that this was not a book about the perennial funk rockers infamous for such groovy hits as “Low Rider.”

War by Sebastian Junger

“Society can give its young men almost any job and they’ll figure how to do it. They’ll suffer for it and die for it and watch their friends die for it, but in the end, it will get done. That only means that society should be careful about what it asks for.”

This book, from the author of The Perfect Storm, is about combat. Not war.

Sebastian Junger puts himself on the tip of the fucking that is the American military machine currently thrusting into the deep oily swaths of Arabian pussy. And god bless him. He embeds with the very best jism of our society’s ejaculate.

“Wars are fought with very heavy machinery that works best on top of the biggest hill in the area and used against men who are lower down. That, in a nutshell, is military tactics, and it means that an enormous amount of war-fighting simply consists of carrying heavy loads uphill.”

“War” is pure and true, touching on both the logistical realities of modern warfare, as well as its philosophical underpinnings. It is a griping, fierce read. But it sometimes misses the point with too much journalistic focus:

Junger relates that, “The market town of Nagalar was a mile to the east and boasted a “men’s club,” whatever that meant; at night something akin to Christmas lights flashed weirdly over the rooftops.”

What??? That’s it? Let’s go! To the titty bar in Nagalar!!!! You shitty, shitty journalist.

There is bonding and camaraderie and love and devotion. Friendship and family. Triumph and terror. Despair and delight.

Junger gets to know the men and describes their plight with stunning simplicity and passion. Hemingway, your seed has sprung. But it is Junger’s analysis and observation that comes with cool cutting, slicing through the heat, blood, and death.

“The idea that there are rules in warfare and that combatants kill each other according to basic concepts of fairness probably ended for good with the machine gun.”

And I know what you’re thinking: “WHAT ABOUT THE 2ND AMENDMENT!!!”

And I agree, this book is a stirring rebuke of the second amendment’s validity.

But let’s let him continue, as he does, later:

“As a result, much of modern military tactics is geared toward maneuvering the enemy into a position where they can essentially be massacred from safety. It sounds dishonorable only if you imagine that modern war is about honor; it’s not. It’s about winning, which means killing the enemy on the most unequal terms possible.”

Damn fine writer.

Ah, poetry. Blunt brutal reality, stirringly told:

“War is a lot of things and it’s useless to pretend that exciting isn’t one of them. It’s insanely exciting.”

So let the drumbeat roll, the machine gun rattle.

“The machinery of war and the sound it makes and the urgency of its use and the consequences of almost everything about it are the most exciting things anyone engaged in war will ever know. Soldiers discuss that fact with each other and eventually with their chaplains and their shrinks and maybe even their spouses, but the public will never hear about it. It’s just not something that many people want acknowledged. War is supposed to feel bad because undeniably bad things happen in it, but for a nineteen-year-old at the working end of a .50 cal during a firefight that everyone comes out of okay, war is a life multiplied by some number that no one has ever heard of.”

And then somber inevitability:

“Suddenly it seems weak and sad, a collective moral failure that has tricked me – tricked us all – into falling for the sheer drama of it. Young men in their terrible new roles with their terrible new machinery arrayed against equally strong young men on the other side of the valley, all dedicated to a kind of canceling out of each other until replacements arrive. Then it starts all over again. There’s so much human energy involved – so much courage, so much honor, so much blood – you could easily go a year here without questioning whether any of this needs to be happening in the first place.”



Javelin

February 20th, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Javelin

“Each Javelin round cost $80,000, and the idea that it’s fired by a guy who doesn’t make that in a year at a guy who doesn’t make that in a lifetime is somehow so outrageous it almost makes the war seem winnable.” – Sebastian Junger, “War”

War by Sebastian Junger