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Monday, April 13th, 2009
8:14 am - AA? F Minus!
"You're so stupid," said Humann, "you're gonna buy me a steak dinner."

"You're so stupid," I replied, "I'm gonna buy you a raw fish dinner, and you're gonna eat it."

And so it came to pass. The two of us went to a sushi restaurant, and the dumb son of a bitch gorged himself on uncooked penguin chow on my dime... and how did he repay me? He took me to an AA meeting.

Bastard.

It was a late-night affair, held in a tiny Hollywood playhouse called the Next Stage Theater, on La Brea just north of Sunset Blvd. The turnout, I was told several times by several attendees, was unusually light due to it being the night before Easter Sunday (I guess Lindsay Lohan had eggs to dye). I helped myself to coffee from the urn outside the door, dropped a buck in the hat when they passed it, and settled in to listen and observe.

The guest speaker was a slender, older black man who climbed up on the stage and recited a tired-sounding litany of his sin and degradation in the clutches of demon tequila. An occasional half-hearted whoop of encouragement or agreement came from the audience, startlingly loud in contrast to the quiet, almost hypnotic monotone in which he spoke.

Some of what he said seemed a little preemptively defensive, all of it regarding God and/or the AA concept of a "higher power." Several details of the room's minimal decor had caught my eye, including the phrase "God loves you" on the meeting's main piece of signage. Two large posters hung crookedly on the upstage walls, one with the 12 Steps printed on it, and the other with the 12 Traditions. Of the 12 Steps, five mention God by name, a sixth mentions the "higher power," and a seventh refers to the AA experience as a "spiritual awakening." Of the Traditions, number two on the list designates "a loving God" as the group's "one ultimate authority."

These churchly features of AA must generate friction with stubbornly atheist or agnostic recruits with great regularity, as our speaker spent several minutes obliquely defending them without having been challenged on any of them. He stressed the idea that the "higher power" can be anything more powerful than you are, and gave the ocean and electricity as examples. This was nonsensical enough by itself, but he went on to compound the WTFitude of his statements by saying that you could have a doorknob as your higher power if you liked.

During the break, I spoke with him about all this and tried to get him to clarify a bit. How, I wondered, could a doorknob be more powerful than you? I can see how the ocean, or electricity, could be seen as more powerful than a person, but a doorknob?

What kind of power are we talking about, anyway? The ocean is undoubtedly more physically powerful than a human being, but can the ocean write a sonnet, lead a revolution, or travel to the Moon? 'Powerful' is too vague, relative and arbitrary a term... and how does sheer dumb unknowing physical power render the ocean loving? How can (and why should) people willingly abdicate responsibility for their lives and their addictions to an object, no matter how much brute kinetic force it possesses?

The specific mentions of God, I told him, were something I simply couldn't choke down. If AA is sincere about God being "as we understand Him" then we are still left with two immutable qualities that the AA God has: 'He' is male, and He exists. I don't buy that, I said, and frankly, if I were given some kind of hard evidence that a God exists who created this world and all that is in it, my immediate and heartfelt reaction would be a resounding cry of "FUCK YOU, GOD!"

Why is spirituality and religious belief considered a necessary component of recovery from addiction? Clearly, despite all the rhetorical dodges used by AA to qualify their statements about God and submission to Him codified in their Steps and Traditions, what we're dealing with here is a church. Why are our courts ordering people to attend church? Wouldn't there be some kind of concern and even outcry if judges were sentencing people like my friend Humann to attend Scientology meetings, or Catholic mass?

Taking another tack, I told him that my personal experience has been that not only can you stop being an addict (AA says that once you're an addict, you're an addict for life), but you can do it entirely without the 12 Steps. I did. I haven't had a needle full of heroin in my arm for almost twenty years now, and while it wasn't easy and the cravings lasted for most of a decade, I have in the intervening years moved beyond all that. My desire to shoot dope remains as an intellectual memory alone, the visceral memory having long since faded away to nothing.

I told him that I thought he and his AA friends were selling themselves short. You don't clean yourself up and stay that way without wanting to, and no program or set of steps is going to do that for you if you aren't ready and aren't willing. Boozers and dope fiends who quit because they think they should rather than because they want to nearly always relapse eventually. Overcoming addiction simply is not an externally-actuated process. If you've been clean for a week or six months or twenty years, I told him, then that's something YOU did, and it's OK for you to own that and be proud of it.

He listened to my objections, observations, and questions about AA dogma, nodding his head and furrowing his brow as though concentrating on what I was saying. When I finished and was obviously waiting for some sort of response, he continued nodding for another long moment, then seemed to be distracted by an invisible fly that drew his darting gaze away from me and towards the door... the door, his escape hatch back into the warm safety blanket confines of his idiotic, hypocritical faith. I felt as though I had suddenly turned invisible and inaudible as he fled back into the theater without a single word.

The second half of the meeting consisted of testimonials from the audience. Two or three broken, sad-faced derelicts rambled pointlessly about the awful things addiction had inflicted on them, then spoke without a trace of irony about how God had waved his magic dick and made it all better. One even mentioned Jesus by name, without a hint of shock or protest from the rest of the crowd.

The bottom line is that it's a church. It's a cult. The Steps and Traditions are carefully structured to destroy the ego, induce feelings of powerlessness, and keep people in the group, thinking the groupthink and spouting the group dogma, at any cost.

I could take the easy way out and simply end this little diatribe with a big hearty "fuck AA" and be done with it, but I know that the response from many who read this will be something along the lines of "well, if it helps people stay clean, it's a good thing, right?"

I have two responses to that: First, NO, it's not necessarily a good thing even if it does help people stay clean. The phrase "by any means necessary" is a noxious one to me and should be to any reasonable person. I would rather ruin my entire life carousing my ass off, even to the point of partying myself straight into prison or an early grave, than join any cult and have my courage and my confidence surgically removed, my ego crushed and recast in the group's mold. Substitute the word 'Scientology' for 'AA' and see if you still think it's such a good thing just by virtue of helping people overcome their drug and alcohol addictions.

Second, according to AA's own statistics, it DOESN'T help people stay clean. I have already mentioned what I intuitively and experientially know about addiction recovery not being an externally-actuated process; you have to truly want to stop. You have to be ready and willing, and you have to take charge of yourself and take responsibility for what you are doing every waking moment. Statistics show that only 3% to 5% of those who try to stop drinking and/or drugging outside of 12-Step programs succeed, and this reflects the fact that most people who try to quit are doing it because they think they should, not because they want to. If AA was truly an effective program, the recovery rate of their members would be significantly higher than that 5%. Instead, according to their own records, the long-term recovery rate of the 12-Step faithful is... 3% to 5%. Their pamphlets gloss this fact over by showing only statistics on the people who stay, so when they trumpet the fact that 48% of their members have been clean for five years or more, what they're saying is that 48% of 3% to 5% who try their program have been clean for more than five years. That's less than 1.5% to 2.5% who stay clean for five years or more... and at what cost?

AA doesn't work any better than any other approach that people take to getting and staying clean. What it does remarkably well is suck people into a set of faith-based beliefs, shove a big steaming God-turd down their throats, and forcibly remove their dignity along with any possible belief in themselves and their own strengths. AA sacrifices its members' self-confidence on the altar of Bill W. as a means of keeping them in the group by any means necessary.

At the end of the meeting last night, Humann got his 90-day chip, indicating that he hasn't indulged in three months now. Screw the chip; fuck AA and their precious Steps and Traditions; Bill W. and all his friends can go sleep on a bed made of dicks... but congratulations to Humann on his fortitude and resolve in making it 90 days without poisoning himself any further. AA didn't do that, and neither did God, or the ocean, or electricity, or a doorknob. Humann did that, and as far as I'm concerned nobody gets to take a single shred of credit for it but him. Good job, my old friend. If you ever need to talk yourself down off the ceiling of your urges, I'm here for you and you know how to reach me.

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Friday, March 6th, 2009
1:02 am - Starting Over and Over and Over
Today I was listening to NPR, and Talk of the Nation did a segment on people who are starting important aspects of their lives over -- job, living situation, etc. -- due to suddenly finding themselves in dire economic circumstances. They kept referring to this as "pressing the reset button".

It occurred to me that I am probably one of the planet's foremost experts on this subject.

Not all of my resets have been due to money problems; many of them have been either totally by my own choice, or because of problems having nothing to do with money. My changes have been both broader and deeper than those discussed on Talk of the Nation, too: I've frequently changed not just my residence or my way of earning a living, but my very name and identity.

I left home long before I was old enough to work, and being an incorrigible juvenile delinquent, I had legal problems before I was 18, too. The need for a job, a certain deep-seated seditious tendency, and the desire to avoid both prosecution and placement in either foster care or the California Youth Authority (an extremely violent and ugly junior prison system) galvanized me into action as a document forger and an identity thief who both invented people to be, and robbed the dead of their curricula vitae.

This activity continued for some time after I came of age. There was a long period in my life during which I changed my identity (including name, driver's license, Social Security number, credit record, and even passport) at least once a year. I made radical changes in my lifestyle as well, partly because I knew that avoiding prosecution meant avoiding the establishment of a pattern, and partly just because I was simultaneously bored with what I was doing and interested in exploring other avenues.

An incomplete list of jobs that I have held would include the following, in no particular order:

Telemarketeer
Used car salesman
Aircraft mechanic
Musician
Courier
Dishwasher
Stagehand
Trucker
English teacher
Computer builder/repair technician
Banking software troubleshooter/technician
Web hosting system administrator
Web designer
Entrepreneur (various types of self-owned businesses)
Small business manager (various businesses owned by other people)
Printer and sign maker's assistant
Modeling agency scout
Drug dealer
Writer/Editor/Publisher
Nightclub bouncer
Escort driver/bodyguard
Emergency Medical Technician 1-A
Home healthcare attendant
Video pirate
Tow truck driver
Con artist
Data entry technician
Math and science tutor

An incomplete list of places in which I have resided for at least six months (also in no particular order) would look like this:

Los Angeles, California (all over the county)
Fontana, California
Victorville, California
San Francisco, California
Oakland, California
San Jose, California
San Leandro, California
Delano, California
Portland, Oregon
Seattle, Washington
Anchorage, Alaska
Des Moines, Iowa
Salisbury, Maryland
Baltimore, Maryland
New York, New York
Edison, New Jersey
Moscow, Russia
Yinchuan, Ningxia Autonomous Region, People's Republic of China
Chengdu, Sichuan Province, People's Republic of China
Dujiangyan, Sichuan Province, People's Republic of China

If I lowered the threshold to three or four months instead of six, these are just some of the places I could add to that list:

Mexico City, Mexico
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Stuttgart, Arkansas
Morgantown, West Virginia
Romney, West Virginia
Kodiak Island, Alaska

As I got older and wiser and tired of running, I slowed down quite a bit. Eventually some things caught up with me, which (to make a long story short) led to my more criminal pursuits being forgiven (if not exactly forgotten) by the Powers That Be. I stopped changing my name and committing felonies many years ago now, but my changes in lifestyle and place of residence continued, albeit with decreasing frequency. I began to crave stability as the final adventure in a lifetime of bold experimentation. Since 2006, I've only lived in two different houses, and those were in the same area. I even finished out the agreed-upon lease on both of them, and got my deposits back for a change.

On NPR this afternoon, the participants unanimously expressed this "pressing the reset button" thing as a negative. They painted themselves and each other as victims in crisis, with no suggestion that there might be something more to it than that. I tried to call in and give them my point of view, but the show ran out of time while I waited on hold.

What would I have said had they taken my call? I'm not entirely sure, but I was prepared to wing it and just develop my theme according to whatever came out of my mouth first. I did have a vague desire to point out that these moments in life when your plans come crashing down and you are forced to formulate a plan B are more than just catastrophes, they are huge opportunities. Sure, it can make your life incredibly tough for a little while, but it also opens up options that were closed to you in the safe, swaddled life you thought you were living... and while the old rubric about non-fatal hardships making you stronger is dead wrong most of the time, this is a situation in which it happens to be pretty damned apt. You may lose your job, your home, your 401K, your life savings, even the shirt off your back... but you're probably going to live through all that, and the process of getting back on your feet will lend you a competency and a confidence that you may have lacked before.

As I waited in vain on hold, I was also itching to point out that most of these traumatic 'reset' events become necessary as a direct result of people doggedly specializing themselves, a practice which became entirely pervasive only in the last couple of centuries, as human knowledge outgrew and outpaced anyone's ability to cope with more than a smattering of an unsatisfyingly small segment of it. The whole process of getting an advanced degree at a university and using that education to succeed in the corporate rat race is nothing if not a process of specializing oneself into a hugely limiting skill set.

H. D. F. Kitto, commenting on Homer's The Odyssey, has this to say on the subject:

Thus the hero of the Odyssey is a great fighter, a wily schemer, a ready speaker, a man of stout heart and broad wisdom who knows that he must endure wthout too much complaining what the gods send; and he can both build and sail a boat, drive a furrow as straight as anyone, beat a young braggart at throwing the discus, challenge the Pheacian youth at boxing, wrestling or running: flay, skin, cut up and cook an ox, and be moved to tears by a song. He is in fact an excellent all-rounder; he has surpassing areté.

In a passage that echoes Kitto on Homer, Robert A. Heinlein was perhaps more to the point:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

A great truth resides in these words, but the path they point out is hard and strewn with sharp stones. Don't blame Kitto or Homer or Heinlein for that; it's society itself that contains the deep flaws that make it inadvisable to be the all-purpose creature you were evolved to be. The Renaissance Men are all dead now, and live only in glowing historical accounts that depict a genius we can admire and draw inspiration from, but can only emulate partially and at our great peril. Making the attempt will transform you into an all-but-unemployable square peg, screaming for and forever being denied admittance to a round hole. I know this because I am that square peg.

Tomorrow I will be spending the day looking at houses, trying to find one that I want to buy and live in, perhaps for the rest of my natural life. I'm excited, and who wouldn't be? But at the same time, I know that soon I will be a man with far fewer options than he had before. Wish me luck in my new adventure!

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Sunday, February 15th, 2009
3:07 pm - Travelogue: Athens, Georgia
Two things occur in my working life that allow me to play tourist: one is delivering freight late on a Friday afternoon, which usually results in me sitting and waiting for my next load until Monday morning; the second is running out of my federally-mandated hours of service, which requires me to refrain from operating my vehicle for a minimum of 34 hours. I experienced a confluence of these two work-stoppers on Friday, which landed me in Athens, Georgia for the weekend.

Athens is a college town; the UGA is America's oldest university, with a wide range of programs and quite a bit of basic research going on. This makes for a lively and interesting local culture, but the extremely large Greek system also generates loose squadrons of young men wearing backwards baseball caps and vomiting in and around the vicinity of their shared mansions.

The downtown nightlife that peppers the area between Broad St. and Clayton seems to have a clear cultural Maginot line at Lumpkin. On the West side of Lumpkin at Clayton St. there's the Globe, (voted one of Esquire's top ten bars in the U.S. in 2007) with a good selection of gourmet and microbrew beer on tap and in the bottle. Perhaps because of the mention in Esquire, there seems to have been a struggle for dominance at the Globe between feral packs of brain-and-liver-damaged fraternamoks seeking unescorted sorostitutes to date-rape, and the more cerebral and seldom-vomiting elements of the university and the local community. The bars to the East of Lumpkin St. are the watering holes and feeding pits of Grecoidodon Priapulida Douchebaggus, but walk West and you'll find places like Trappeze, the Farm, and Flicker where there's less Rohypnol and the booze is better.

I stopped in at Flicker first. It's a cozy bar on one side, and a very small cinema on the other. It was a little too early to be there, but it looked promising. The schedule said they were showing The Phantom of the Paradise this week.

Trappeze was busier at that hour. It's a much bigger place, but nearly every table was full of people enjoying the food and the impressive variety of beer, wine, whiskey, and other fine imbibables. I had a Unibroue Éphémère, very tart, from the brewery that makes Maudite and Fin du Monde. I gave Unibroue's Trois Pistoles a taste as well. They're both nice, but I think I still like Maudite best of Unibroue's offerings. I sat at a table with a trio of musicians from Baltimore, MD called The Art Department, and they gave me one of their CDs.

I wanted dinner, so I headed over to the Globe and looked at the menu while I drank a glass of Maudite from the tap. The blackened steak sandwich had been recommended to me by several locals I spoke with, but as it turns out the kitchen was closed. They told me there was a good pizza place still open where I could get a slice. Instead I stopped at Thai Spoon, just south of the Globe on Lumpkin. Their Tom Yum Goong (hot and sour soup) was a really nice balance and I ate it as they prepared it, but if I go there again I'll ask them to make it spicier. The Pad Thai was great. Service was outstanding, too, even though they were busy.

I went to the Farm (aka Farm 955) next, where I had some kind of milk stout that tasted like chocolate. Their walls are adorned with noveau pastorale art shots of cows and pigs, and apparently they serve food using mostly locally-grown produce. I got there just in time to see The Art Department play some stuff that was reminiscent of Fred Frith's work on his '83 album Cheap at Half the Price.

The Farm is a big room, too big in a way. The high ceilings, shape, and composition of the room make live music sound echoey and badly mixed in a way that no sound man could fix. I discovered, however, that the sound quality is really much better in the toilets. There's a courtyard on one side of the Farm with tables and an outdoor bandstand, and I had some good conversation there with locals and students and other university people. A group of them took me back to the little cinema bar Flicker once the live music at the Farm wound down.

Just to check, I asked the bartender at Flicker for a Big Lebowski, and damn if she didn't mix me a very nice white russian without missing a beat or blinking an eye.

Flicker seems to be better suited than the other places I'd visited for solid discourse with interesting, well-educated people. The bar side is quiet enough for five or six people standing around the bar to get convivial and show off their smartitude. A redheaded student asked the Frenchman next to her how to say "Happy Meal" in French, and I zinged in the answer "Soixante-neuf."

I was invited to a party after Flicker closed, but I was ready for bed at that point.

This morning I parked at the big parking lot at Varsity, a chilidog/hamburger joint where the cashiers boom out "WHAT'LL YA HAVE?" as you're approaching the counter. I got what'll-ya-haved by two of them just trying to get to the bathroom to wash the sleep out of my eyes. After looking at the menu I realized that what I needed was coffee and breakfast.

Some joggers clued me up to a place called Big City Bread Company, and I started walking there through residential streets full of charming Southern architecture. Several people waved and shouted "Good morning!" to me from across the street or even up their driveways as I passed, making Athens feel like an altogether different planet or dimension from Los Angeles. A church I walked past rang out with some high-energy hand-clappin' old-fashioned gospel singin', a mounting joyous noise about praying by dancing.

As I got within sight of Big City Bread my cell phone rang. It was a couple I'd met the night before at Trappeze, calling to invite me out to eat. I never made it to Big City Bread for my coffee and breakfast, but we went to a place called Uncle Otto's Kebap and had some pita sandwiches before taking a drive in their car around the university for some sightseeing.

If it wasn't so hot and humid in the summer, I'd toy with the idea of moving here. The town charms me, it's a great place to visit.

Now I'm Alabama bound, catch you on the flip, Chip.

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Wednesday, February 4th, 2009
11:07 am - Corporate Smackdown!
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Wednesday imposed $500,000 caps on senior executive pay for the most distressed financial institutions receiving federal bailout money, saying Americans are upset with "executives being rewarded for failure."


This is news that gives me great cheer, as it indicates that our new Preznit (who is largely an unknown quantity) may not be quite as much of a corporate tool as one would expect a product of the two-Party system to be.

Now if we could just get rid of the Patriot Act and get our troops out of Iraq and prosecute Bush and Cheney and Rove and and and... but of course that's all just a big squishy bleeding-heart fantasy, not grounded in reality at all. At least, not grounded in the reality manufactured by the two-Party system.

Hooray?

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Sunday, February 1st, 2009
2:47 pm - How to Hate in the Post-Post-Post-Post-Post-Modern World
There's been a lot of happy talk lately about the election of our new Preznit representing a sort of completion of the civil rights movement. I travel all over the country and hear an awful lot of discourse among common working folk on a daily basis, and I must say I have noticed a sort of sea-change in America since the election. Aside from a small segment of disgruntled and demonstrably loathsome Obama-hatin' redneck ignoroids ("his middle name is HOO-SANE!"), the whole racial tension thing seems to have subsided dramatically. Minority haters, it seems, have at last themselves become a marginalized minority.

Last week our shiny new Preznit put his pen to the task of amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act with a provision for women who have been the victims of wage inequality to sue their employers much longer after the offense than was previously possible. This, coming on the heels as it does of an election in which one woman had a serious shot at the Democratic candidacy, and another was chosen as the Republican candidate's running mate, is a sign that women are not far behind black people in gaining some truer, more concrete signal of their impending equality.

We're lagging behind on equal rights for homosexuals. The exit polls on California's Proposition 8 show that black Californians voted overwhelmingly (over 70%) against marriage between people of the same gender, a scandalous and repellent irony that, in the final analysis, should make every reasonable and good-hearted person want to burn down a church in the name of fair play. Still, I think it's just a matter of time before we can put all that behind us, although that matter of time is probably at least a generation or two.

It's still socially acceptable to hate fat people, but anti-haters in the body acceptance camp have even begun to make noise about that being out of line. It's also rather unwise, since you yourself may become a fat person at some point. Also, there are a whole lot of us in America, and if you don't shut the hell up we will sit on you and/or eat you.

Certainly, we still have a long way to go... but it's possible now to foresee a time when there's nobody left that we can hate without ourselves becoming a despised and marginalized minority, just like those brain-damaged rednecks I hear every day on the CB radio yelling idiocies about "Barack Hussein McNigger" and his cadre of Liberal "terrists" who will shortly be dismantling our entire American way of life and handing the pieces over to "the towelheads who hate us for our freedom" so they can melt them down and make suicide bombs.

The problem is, we're all too human, and therefore we need someone to hate. It's vitally important that we have someone to hate. This conflicts with our ideological need to be high-minded and fair, unfortunately. In order to be able to look the other way -- indefinitely -- at our own shortcomings, we need to find someone to hate who will not put up a fight about it, and who will not inspire others to raise a fuss on their behalf. We must recognize that our hate has a transformative quality that is capable of turning almost any villain into a victim, a noble martyr, and therefore we must avoid choosing targets that will benefit from our hate in that fashion. You may think it an obvious solution to just go ahead and hate the aforementioned redneck dumbasses whose toxic personalities and opinions invade my airspace every time I turn on the CB radio, but that won't work; eventually someone will stand up and point out that we are, in fact, hating people merely for being too stupid to think straight. They'll call us elitists, and we will once again bury our faces in shame, sorely chastised by our own idealism.

My solution is to hate fictional people. I refuse to hire, date, socialize with, live next door to, or show respect for anyone who only exists in literature or the movies. Don't let the sun set on you in my neighborhood if you're a dirty damn ficter, or I will open up my text editor and write you into a scenario you won't soon forget, you imaginary goddamn scumbag.

It was a bright sunny afternoon, the kind that makes you strip down to shorts and a t-shirt, but he stood there shivering before me in spite of the heat of the day and his heavy black body armor.

"What do you think you're doing around here, ficter?" I snarled at him, shaking the rope in my hand for emphasis. Thanks to me writing this sentence, he was totally unable to use his Sith Lord powers against me. "Answer me!"

"I just--" he began, and I interrupted him. "Shut up, boy," I hissed, leaning in just inches from the black plastic mask he called a face. I had been deliberately oversalivating, and flecks of my spittle dotted his shiny countenance as I spoke. "You got a lot to learn, ficter, and I'm just the guy to learn you."

He bit off a strangled cry of helpless protest as I hogtied him. I tied the other end of the rope to the trailer hitch on my pickup truck, and laughed nastily as I hopped into the driver's seat and threw her into gear. "Help," he exhorted in an odd echoey baritone shriek. "Please don't do this to me!"

"Can it, Vader," I shouted over my shoulder as I gunned it. The coil of rope on the ground played out behind the truck with a horrible inevitability, then jerked taut as it reached its limit. I felt a tug and mashed down the accelerator pedal, dragging Anakin-in-a-Can behind me along the rock-strewn dirt road.

He finally stopped booming out his pleas for mercy around sunset. I pulled over, cut the rope loose, and kicked his battered plasticized carcass into a ditch at the side of the road. My throat was parched from all the dust, so I headed into town for a beer as the last rays of daylight sank below the horizon.

And wouldn't you know it? My favorite table was occupied by a gaggle of dirty damned ficters, Uriah Heep and Jesus Christ with some orc chick and Madame Bovary. I made my way over, stumbling as if drunk, and 'accidentally' stepped on Heep's foot as I dropped my lit cigar into the orc girl's drink.

"Whoops," I grinned. "Sorry about that. Here, let me get that butt out of your glass for you." I picked up her drink and slowly emptied it over her head. "Hello there, Jesus, I see you've recovered from what that bastard Mel Gibson did to you."

Pointedly ignoring me, Jesus gave an infinitely patient sigh and waved his hand at a nearby glass of water, turning it into Zima. He handed it to the orc girl with the air of a nurse administering morphine to a burn patient. Madame Bovary gave me an imperious look and began to say something, probably some pithy remark, but I stopped her cold. "Where's your husband, Madame? Tending the sick while you're out cuckolding him again? Tsk, tsk, tsk!"

"Come on," said Jesus to his ficter cronies. "Let's just go drink somewhere else." Uriah Heep twitched and mumbled something in agreement, and the four of them slunk off into the night. I made a mental note to go over to Jesus' house later and burn a cross on his lawn.


Naturally, some of you will protest that Jesus Christ is not a fictional person. All I have to say to you is that if you'll kindly provide proof that Mr. Christ is indeed non-fictional, I will personally apologize and give Him forty acres and a mule as reparations for my bigotry. Until then, get stuffed, ficter-lovers!

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Sunday, January 25th, 2009
5:48 am - That Ol' Black Magic
Apparently, Rush Limbaugh played a parody song entitled 'Barack the Magic Negro' on his radio show last week, and the subsequent reaction/counterreaction has really got me boggled. There are so many layers to what happened, and I think it might be worthwhile to sort of strip some of them away and see what epiphanies can be gleaned from the process.

On the surface, the song's very title seems to be a very blatantly racist jab at our new Preznit, and many on the Left reacted rather vehemently to it on that basis alone. It's 2009, and among adults the word 'negro' is no longer the acceptable, respectful terminology that it was in the '50s and '60s. Aside from the folks at the anachronistically-named United Negro College Fund, it isn't a word that much of anyone uses anymore without some sort of inherent playfulness (hateful or otherwise). For instance, some people in America (usually younger people) may greet or refer to each other as 'negro' as a humorous or less offensive alternative to the more common nomenclature 'nigga'/'nigger'. However, this sort of good-natured usage is only socially acceptable within the framework of that sector of the culture that we consider black or black-friendly (though increasingly, this can be mapped to the dominant youth culture as a whole). Using the term 'negro' in a parody song that is otherwise firmly embedded in a cultural matrix that is whiter than an albino polar bear eating Wonder Bread in a blizzard (the song was sung to the tune of Peter, Paul & Mary's 'Puff the Magic Dragon') would seem to be a very deliberately racist slap in the face aimed at blacks in general and the Preznit in particular.

Given only the name of the song and the fact that it was played on Limbaugh's show, it would be perfectly reasonable to assume that the song must be blatantly racist in nature, and that's what a lot of Limbaugh-haters did. It's interesting to note, however, that the Limbaugh-haters seem to have been alone in this: the only ruckus raised about it was from the kind of people who find Rush Limbaugh consistently and thoroughly repellent because they are, in theory anyway, diametrically opposed to the neocon Republican mindset. They go by many names, and the groups indicated by those names largely overlap but are not entirely synonymous: Democrats, Liberals, Left-Wingers, etc.

Here's a sample of that ruckus, from a blogger at the Daily Kos:

"This is a head-shaker. Imus gets canned for calling some college women basketball players 'nappy-headed hos' and yet Rush Limbaugh plays 'Barack The Magic Negro' on his show and he is still on the air?"

It's actually not a head-shaker in the slightest. Why didn't neocon Republicans make a fuss too? For many of them, I would surmise that it's because they are 'dittoheads' (as Limbaugh fans call themselves) and actually listen to Rush Limbaugh, who explained the origins and intended meaning of the song in depth on his show. I don't listen to Rush even for laughs (I don't find propaganda very funny even when it would be amusing to me in a non-political context, because propaganda to me is a deadly serious subject), but I did read a transcript of the show on which 'Barack the Magic Negro' was aired. I'll get back to this in a moment, because first I want to air my opinions on why no major foofaraw was forthcoming from non-dittohead neocon Republicans either.

Neocons are people whose great political strength has been their ability to efficiently fall into lockstep with each other. They are also people whose primary political motivations are fundamentally self-serving, a quality which allows them to manufacture justification for almost anything (and even dress it up as selflessness) so long as it serves what they perceive as their personal interests. Illegal and unwarranted wars, torture, domestic wiretapping, the rescinding of habeas corpus and other rights and freedoms guaranteed to us by the Constitution, Nixon's shocking, gasp-inducing doctrine of "if the Preznit does it, it's not illegal" taken totally seriously and turned into an actual, semi-official blueprint for running the country... these and so many other neocon abuses have been successfully foisted off on us for the last eight years largely because the neocon Republican elite is perpetually ready, willing, and able to both manufacture and accept absolutely any justification at all for helping themselves to more cake and ice cream (often muscling the hungry out of the way to do so). Neocons are not people who value fair play. They are extremely goal-oriented, and they assume that the ends justify the means. Whatever they say their justifications are, the truth is that they possess an innate conviction that might is right.

Having constructed bogus justifications sufficient to hold their own collective conscience at bay, they then proceed to sell their snake oil to the nation at large by appealing to the kneejerk reactionary qualities of a broad swathe of blue collar Americans -- many of them Christian religious zealots -- who are too stupid, delusional, distracted, and/or successfully propagandized to prioritize the issues, or penetrate them any more deeply than the thin layer of false rhetoric that sugar coats them. The failure to prioritize is what makes gay marriage a more pressing issue than an illegal war, or impending economic doom, to the typical blue collar Republican voter... and the inability to penetrate oversimplified, propagandistic rhetoric is what makes it possible for an imperialistic war of aggression waged for purposes of resource control and expansion of corporate hegemony, fought against a nation that had nothing to do with 9/11 and had no capability whatsoever to attack us, to be transmogrified into 'defending our freedom'. Thus the three little words of the phrase "support our troops" can sweep a panoply of failures and abusive, exploitative behaviors under the carpet that are the exact opposite of actually giving support to our troops: negligence in providing adequate body armor and other equipment; the blithe extension of tours of duty in absolute disdain of the military's contractual obligations to the individual; the shocking delapidation of facilities like Walter Reed Hospital; deep cuts to veteran's benefits; the insertion of highly overpaid corporate contractors into jobs better suited to military personnel (who would be better served by doing it themselves, at far less cost to the taxpayer); and -- more to the point -- an unflinching willingness to use American fighting men and women as cannon fodder in conflicts whose main aims involve nepotistic wealth-gathering for the administration's corporate sponsors.

If you listen to Rush Limbaugh's 'Magic Negro' show, or read the transcript, you'll find that Rush did in fact give a very detailed justification for his use of the song. To a certain point, his explanation even makes a reasonable amount of sense, unlike a lot of the nonsense and idiocy he has been known to spew and spout in the past. His justification doesn't fail in any really obvious way, although one could certainly find controversy in it and clear arguments against it.

I am convinced that the whole thing is actually a diabolically clever gambit in furtherance of Rush's usual propagandizing. Frankly, I am impressed by the thought that went into it, although I must say that the subtle, twisted, convoluted, contorted thinking it exhibits could only be the product of a severely corkscrew-shaped mind. I doubt Rush himself thought it up; I assume it was one or more of his staffers, the idea originating, I'm sure, with some hate-drenched ass-clenched bugfucker who comes as close to being truly evil as anyone possibly could in a world composed, as ours is, of infinite shades of grey.

As Rush explained in great detail on his show, the term 'magic negro' is not simply an offensively humorous gobbet of racism. It's a literary term dating back to the 1950s, and Rush picked it up from an article in the Los Angeles Times that also used it in reference to Obama. Read on:

"The Magic Negro is a figure of postmodern folk culture, coined by snarky 20th century sociologists, to explain a cultural figure who emerged in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education. He has no past, he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist. He's there to assuage white 'guilt' (i.e., the minimal discomfort they feel) over the role of slavery and racial segregation in American history, while replacing stereotypes of a dangerous, highly sexualized black man with a benign figure for whom interracial sexual congress holds no interest. As might be expected, this figure is chiefly cinematic -- embodied by such noted performers as Sidney Poitier, Morgan Freeman, Scatman Crothers, Michael Clarke Duncan, Will Smith and, most recently, Don Cheadle."

So, what we have here is Rush Limbaugh using a literary term which, when removed from the context of literary criticism, sounds horrifically racist... particularly so when it is incorporated into a highly frivolous, extremely flippant song parody. He justifies this by explaining the meaning of the term to his radio audience of dittoheads, in great detail and in no uncertain terms. Rush knew, however, that 99.99% of the Leftist/Liberal/Democrat world would not be listening to his show, and would therefore not be privy to the explanation. He also knew, perhaps because he and his staff intended to promote it this way, that the song itself (or its title, at least) and the fact that it was played on the Rush Limbaugh show, would circulate (without the crucial explanation) via the usual channels: YouTube, for instance, and word of mouth.

The net effect is that Rush and his dittoheads get to enjoy their cryptoracist frisson at hearing the word 'negro' bandied about openly in a silly, hateful song; Rush (having explained that the song isn't really silly and hateful, since the offensive term has a literary meaning) has an unimpeachable excuse for having indulged his posse this way; Rush's Leftist/Liberal/Democrat foils encounter only the truncated information that a song by that name was played on the Limbaugh show; they subsequently make double fools of themselves over it, primarily by accusations of racism, comparing it to Don Imus' indiscretion, etc., and secondarily by not getting the literary reference alluded to in the first place. Liberals, after all, are supposed to be the ones who know about things like art and literature, so it's as though they took offense as a result of misinterpreting a word like 'deconstructionism'. If you listen closely, you can almost hear a nation of Red State dittohead dupes, braying over how stupid Liberals are.

I think Rush and his people knew this was all going to go down this way. I think they planned it. I also think that the song is racist and offensive, in spite of the literary nature of the term 'magic negro' being used as a thin dodge to justify the song and elevate it to some level higher than the third-grade playground catcall it was. The term, after all, is obscure enough that a well-educated person could be excused for not being familiar with it... and it's definitely out of place in the ethical sub-basement that is Rush Limbaugh's commentary, so out of place that it constitutes a smoking gun. It seems akin to calling someone a 'faggot' before explaining privately to your friends that you aren't a homophobe, it just means that your target resembles a bundle of kindling sticks... then loudly proclaiming that person a moron for not fathoming your meaning "even though you spend all day reading the dictionary instead of chug-a-lugging beer and committing date rape like a real man, you four-eyed British cigarette".

Some might say that in spite of all this being true, Rush still has a point regarding Obama's status as a 'magic negro' elected to assuage America's white guilt. I call bullshit. Rush cribbed that idea from the Los Angeles Times, so it isn't his point even if there's something to it (which, hey, there could be... did America elect a known quantity, or did they vote for Obama's friendly, accessible, messianic brand of blackness? Or were most folks just voting against a continuation of Bush's ruinous policies?). It would take a lot of convincing to get me to believe that this was anything other than Rush Limbaugh capitalizing on something his staffers gleaned from the Los Angeles Times simply because it presented them an opportunity to crank out more propaganda, indulge in a little consequence-free racism, and paint the word 'JACKASS' on the flanks of the Democrat donkey. The man is an American Goebbels, only not as good-looking.

To me personally, the 'magic negro' thing doesn't matter much. I don't think Mr. Obama would have been allowed to get within fifty miles of sniffing distance of his Party's candidacy if he wasn't, to some extent at least, just another corporate tool like every swinging dick and dangling dug in D.C. In the context of being locked into the binary hell of choosing between the Democraps and the Repugnicants, I'm very, very glad that he won. If I had voted in a swing State, I would have even voted for him. Instead, I voted my conscience, and submitted a ballot favoring a write-in candidate.

[Very minor edit for clarity's sake]

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Tuesday, January 20th, 2009
12:51 pm - Happy Inauguration Day!
I was listening to Obama's swearing-in ceremony on the radio this morning from just off the Beltway, and I noticed the Chief Justice flubbed the oath slightly. I predict: neocon pundits and propagandists are going to spend the next four to eight years harping on it, pretending it's meaningful, and even going so far as saying that Obama isn't really Preznit because of it.

You all know I'm no fan of the Democrats and not convinced that Obama is anything but another politician... but here's a toast to the completion of the civil rights movement (for black folks, anyway), and an even bigger toast to us finally getting rid of the WORST. PREZNIT. EVER. after eight loooong years.

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Saturday, January 17th, 2009
2:14 am - Nanodavid vs. Teragoliath
I have this portable Coleman refrigerator that I use in the truck while roaming around the nation for weeks on end... it plugs into an automotive cigarette lighter and keeps things relatively cold (literally 'relatively': the inside is always 40 degrees colder than the ambient temperature in the truck). Without it, I would be doomed to living on fast food and the selection of snack items available at truck stops.

I bought my fridge just after Halloween of '08. Yesterday afternoon, just two and a half months later, my fridge bought the farm. The fan was still blowing, though not pushing nearly as much air as before, but the damn thing just wasn't getting cold inside anymore. My jar of mayonnaise was hatching a plot to kill me when I pulled into the place where I was to deliver my load... and lo and behold, right next door was a Wal-Mart.

Let me just say right now before I go any farther that I hate Wal-Mart. They prey on small town economies and gulp down mom and pop businesses with a voraciousness whose utter lack of mercy would make a Borg cube blush. You have every right to wonder why the hell I would even consider shopping there, and no, I don't consider their low, low prices to be any real excuse. The thing is, there are very few stores that have parking lots in which a big rig can be parked at all, and of those, most don't allow big rigs in the parking lot anyway. Of the few that fit the bill, only a vanishingly small number offer the kind of one-stop shopping that can be had at Wal-Mart... and when you've got a 53-foot trailer hanging off your ass, the last thing you want to do is make multiple stops to pick up everything you'll need for the next couple of weeks. Multiple stops means navigating multiple parking lots full of cute little four-wheeled vehicles, concrete islands, shopping carts and their return stations, light posts, pedestrians, and other pesky obstacles.

Back to my narrative: I talked to the people at the customer service desk about my fridge, let them know my situation (far from home, on the road for weeks and weeks at a stretch, fridge still less than 90 days old, but receipt is in storage) and they had me trek across the store to the sporting goods department to see if they had one in stock. They did, and I lugged it back to the customer service counter, where they held it for me while I walked back to my truck, emptied out my non-working fridge, and lugged that back to the customer service counter for an exchange. The customer service supervisor had agreed to the exchange before I went to all this trouble, but when I got there with my non-working fridge, the store manager had arrived and he took charge of the situation.

"I'm sorry," he said, "but without the receipt there's no way for me to verify that this is less than 90 days old."

Well, OK, it was kind of dirty and a little beat-up, but that's because I use it every day and it rides in my big bouncy truck all the time. I told him so, and pointed out that before his customer service people had agreed to the exchange, I had offered them my credit card so they could look up the transaction in their Wal-Martputer and hopefully find the receipt that way. That turned out not to be possible because I bought the fridge at a different Wal-Mart, but I figured it should tell the store manager that I wasn't trying to pull a fast one on him.

It didn't. He got all smirky and self-satisfied, the way people do who enjoy wielding tiny amounts of power as though it is the only thing that renders them significant. "People try to take advantage of us all the time," he told me. "They'll buy a lawnmower in the summer, then come in and exchange it for a snowblower when winter hits. It just never ends."

"But I don't want a snowblower," I told him. "I just want the exact same fridge, only not defective."

He suggested that I contact the manufacturer and invoke the one-year warranty rather than try to get the store to honor their 90-day guarantee, and I appealed to him to be a human about it and help me out. "I'm a trucker," I said. "If I have to exchange this with the manufacturer instead of the store, it'll take weeks or months, and that means I'll have to go without a fridge for that entire time. This one takes up too much space for me to have two of them in the truck at the same time, and I won't be able to get rid of this one until I've negotiated the deal with Coleman. Even then, I won't be able to buy a new one, because the replacement will be on the way. I'll be without a refrigerator for the entire time."

"Sorry," he told me, in a sunny tone of voice that sounded not sorry at all. "Call Coleman."

"Do you have their number?" I asked.

"Nope." And with that he turned his back on me and walked off.

What to do, what to do? I briefly considered picking the broken fridge up and throwing it at him as he strutted away, but that seemed like a rather unproductive strategy. Instead, I asked the customer service supervisor (who told me she'd do the exchange before I did all that walking and lugging) if there was any way she could help me.

"No, I'm sorry, I can't override the store manager," was all she could say, but with further polite pestering from me for some other option, she picked up the phone and dialed the Wal-Mart corporate number, then gave the phone to me.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that it was a voicemail system with very limited choices, none of which fit my situation and none of which involved talking to a living human. I hung up the phone and weighed my options. I didn't want to give up. I figured that if I politely made enough of a nuisance of myself, I could argue the store manager into a state of exhausted exasperation, at which point he might just give in... but that wasn't going to happen unless and until I got him back to the customer service department, and the supervisor was no longer being helpful. She told me that the store manager had already made his decision, and she couldn't call him back to talk to me again.

OK, fine... I argued HER into a state of exhausted exasperation. She countered with a strategic retreat into the back somewhere while a fresh-faced 20-something took her place like the junior member of a pro wrestling tag team. By the time I wore this one down, it was seemingly too late. "There's no use even asking at this point," huffed my new adversary. "The store manager went home five minutes ago."

"So who's in charge now?" I asked.

"The night manager." A reluctant reply. She knew she'd zigged when she should have zagged.

"Let me speak with the night manager, please."

I started from the beginning with the night manager, and in less than sixty seconds, she agreed to the exchange. "Eh, no problem, I'll just return yours as defective," she shrugged. I gave her my old fridge, and she gave me a new one, but kept the packaging, the manual, the warranty card... everything that I wasn't giving her an old one of, basically.

No problem! What a musical little phrase. I thanked her warmly and sincerely, and toted my nice new fridge out to the truck with a happy smile on my face.

On the Interstate about an hour later, as I was cleaving the cold night air with the mighty prow of my big rig, I suddenly remembered: I didn't buy that fridge at Wal-Mart, I bought it at a truck stop in Indianapolis.

Oops.

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Friday, January 16th, 2009
12:07 am
So, did you hear the Preznit's speech tonight?

I used to think he was just stupid, now I think he's on drugs and hallucinating. He seems to sincerely believe that the last eight years have gone REALLY WELL, and he cited the war in Iraq as one of the many big successes of his administration. Apparently there is now a thriving democracy in the heart of the Arab world that is our friend, thanks to the good ol' U.S. of A. getting rid of Saddam and conquering evil in Iraq and stuff. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED (this time for real)!

I also liked how he took credit for bringing AIDS patients back from the dead, which adds a whole new dimension of horror to the inevitable zombie apocalypse.
Plus, did you know that Thomas Jefferson once lived in the very same White House that Bush is now moving out of? IT'S TRUE, THE PREZNIT SAID SO AND THAT MEANS IT'S THE LAW.

It's almost too bad that we can't keep him hanging around a while longer for the amusement factor... he'd make a pretty good cartoon or something. Maybe if we defanged and declawed and neutered him? We could dub him "Emperor Norton XXIII", let him wander around loose making proclamations, and pass a bill that says McDonald's has to give him free food.

On a related note, I was wondering earlier today just exactly what's going to happen when Dick Cheney dies... will he have to physically fight Dick Nixon to see who gets to be Satan, or will they settle it the civilized way, by having debates and then seeing who can rig the election more effectively?

I heard something else on the radio today that pleased me mightily, and that was Eric Holder, attorney general nominee, declaring in no uncertain terms that he considers waterboarding a form of torture and therefore a violation of the Geneva Convention. That was good to hear indeed, although Mr. Holder displeased me just as mightily by speaking very unambiguously about the War on Terror in the same terms that the Bush Misadministration has been using for the last eight years... by which I mean he talked about it as though it's an actual war, which it is not and cannot be. There's no country called Terroristan, terrorism isn't ever going to end until humans are extinct, and pretending that this is a war just hands a blank check and a free pass to the very last people who should be given such things: those who, like Mr. Obama, are now entering the big leagues in their great struggle against power's tendency to corrupt.

If I recall correctly, all this "War on..." insanity began with Reagan and the War on Drugs (and we know how well that went: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, NO DRUGS IN AMERICA ANYMORE, NOPE, NO SIR!). Before that, Preznits understood that their imaginary little wars on conceptual enemies were not actual, real shooting wars that necessitate Preznidential war powers. Ford didn't turn the Pentagon dogs loose on supermarket cashiers when he launched his War on Inflation, for instance. And yeah, OK, sure, terrorists are rather combative, violent people who I don't necessarily mind seeing take a bullet, but you can call anyone who opposes your agenda a terrorist. If we lived in the COMMAND & CONQUER universe and the Soviet Union was occupying the United States, I'd be killin' me some Russki invaders, and Yuri would be angrily denouncing me from the Kremlin and calling me a terrorist... so I cringe a bit when I hear people talk about, say, Hamas and call them terrorists and evildoers and so on. Palestinians on the Gaza Strip have not been dealt with fairly, justly, humanely, or in a way that promotes peacefulness or open-mindedness or even civil discourse (also, only some of them are Hamas or Hamas supporters). I can readily agree with anyone who thinks that Hamas is a fat sack of assholes, but terrorists? I don't buy it... and I definitely can't agree with anyone who thinks that every Palestinian in sight deserves to be treated as a Hamas combatant.

The bottom line is that we shouldn't even be talking about a War on Terror in any kind of literal way. It's a struggle that can't possibly be appropriately handled by ham-fisted, thud-headed, jingoism-drunk military adventuring; this is a struggle that can and should be handled the way it was always done in the pre-9/11 world: by diplomats in the State Department, and spies in the CIA and NSA.

Eh, but I'm tired and rambling. Let's sleep on it, shall we? Maybe tomorrow we'll all wake up to a world that is just a tiny bit better than this one.

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Thursday, January 8th, 2009
10:30 pm - Torso America, Good Right Arm China
El Bosque and his Middle Kingdom mama have been on the ground in Aulde Cathay with grandma and grandpa for a few weeks now, and of all the problems I anticipated with that, not a single one has manifested itself. Our tiny tyrant behaved himself amazingly well on the very long flight, and took to his grandparents totally and immediately. He even prefers sleeping with his grandma to sleeping with his mother (he will sleep alone without much protest if required to, but he's definitely the social type). According to Mrs. Motis, he's also the darling of the neighborhood, which doesn't surprise me much. Like so many Asian-Caucasian kids, he's cuter than a Sanrio store with a severe unicorn infestation.

As RonE assured me, I guess I was worrying needlessly about his linguistic development. Three nights ago, my little family got together on Skype, and Woody read the alphabet to me from a book, all the way through. He still has a little trouble pronouncing 'x' and 'w', but the rest of it was clear enough for anyone to understand. Then he counted to ten for me, by himself and without the use of visual aids (but with a little prompting of the "what comes after three?" variety). He won't be two years old until the end of March... am I just being a proud papa, or is all this kind of amazing for a kid his age? Mrs. Motis tells me that it isn't just rote recitation; she can point to any letter, be it in one of his books, on a sign, on a sweater, wherever... and he promptly tells her just what letter it is.

There's a phrase -- 'hybrid vigor' -- that animal breeders use to describe the unusual size, health, and intelligence often observed in the offspring of two animals from widely separated areas of their species' gene pool, and I can't think of a better explanation for the Wood Man's all-around robustness. He outstrips both his parents in every way that we can see so far. And for all his iron-fisted willful tyranny, he really is a very, very sweet little boy with as sunny a disposition as anyone could ask for.

Ah, I miss them both. So much.

There's a rather shocking little oddity of American thinking that I have noticed recently when telling people that my wife and son have gone to China: they automatically assume that we're getting a divorce or something. Perish forbid! Americans are litigation-happy in general, and being divorce-happy is a major part of that.

Aside from the obvious bad feelings that accompany separation from the beloved, I feel quite good about how clearly and how deeply Mrs. Wife misses me back. Whenever we talk she bemoans the impossibility of them coming back early, or of me coming to join them in China. I'd love to jump on a plane and pick up the thread of my adventures in the Far East, but someone's got to fill up our bank account, and that someone happens to be me. I could make a pretty decent living for us in China, but we'd just be treading water. I want to buy a big Yankee Doodle house before the market recovers, and that means I need to keep my big Yankee Doodle job.

So, meanwhile back on planet America, I am technically homeless. Guzzling petroleum, I ply the highways, piloting my 80,000-pound juggernaut down the corridors of Interstatial space through rain, sleet, snow, dark of night, and occasional sunny azure-skied days. My nights are campouts, holed up in the snug (and surprisingly comfortable) little lair in the back of my big rig. In the mornings when I first awake, I play a little game of trying to remember just exactly where in the country I am, and I don't always get it right before peeking through the curtain and the windshield beyond to find out. Everything is in storage except the minima that I need on a daily basis; I feel so free... but so alone. Monthly bills are down to almost nothing: rent on a storage space, car payment, cell phone, mobile Internet, food. The single biggest expense that I have is the money I send to China.

I'm saving up so that we can make the big move out of California for good. I was born in SoCal, and frankly I've always hated the weather. You can take your endless summer and stick it right up your beautiful downtown Burbank. I prefer a little snow in the winter, fall colors, the renewal of springtime, and more than three or four days of rain in a year. Southern Michigan (but not Detroit) is sounding pretty good to me, since I don't have to worry about what the local job market looks like. Despite all their fiscal woes, Michiganders enjoy perhaps the best schools in the nation, along with abundant lakes, forests, rivers, and wildlife. Detroit, Chicago, and Canada are all within striking distance for a weekend jaunt. I'm looking for something semi-rural, and not too far from Ann Arbor.

Contented I am not, but happy? Yeah, I think so... maybe more than I have ever been. Y'all go get you some too, yeah?

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Wednesday, November 26th, 2008
7:18 am - Ramblin' 'Bout My Babies
I don't have any particular point to make this morning, it's just 0719 and I'm bored and awake and thinking about my family.

We moved out of our place this week, which was no small feat. I was the one who did all the heavy lifting, and we do own quite a large refrigerator and an American washer and dryer (I don't know how you Eurons get by with those little miniature combo dealies you have over there, ours are heavy-duty enormous... it's like comparing Moloch with a Kenner Easy-Bake oven). Here's cheers to whoever invented the appliance dolly, without which I would have been forced to just set the house on fire and run.

The wife and sprog are slated to bop off to China shortly, and they'll be gone for five or six months... I am going to miss them both terribly, but while reflecting on the situation this morning I realized just how solid our marriage is. It occurred to me that I'm not at all worried about the relationship being strained by the upcoming long separation, and that's a significant thing. Daci, aka Mrs. Onion, aka Communist Spice 3.0, aka Bu Pan Zi, is in fact my best friend. I really can't imagine life without her, and I'm certain that she feels the same way about me. Which is not to say that we don't bicker and argue and tell each other to shut the hell up with great regularity; we do, but we've learned to do all that in a sustainable fashion. There's a constant element of striving for dominance in our relationship, but we do it in a way that doesn't wear thin. When one of us says "I love you," the other invariably replies "you better!"

And then there's Woody, aka Elwood, aka the Sprog, aka Lord Poopington-Smythe, aka the Amazing Food Tube, aka Stop That Damn It. While I'm not conflicted at all about my wife being so far away for so many months, I do worry about the boy. His mother has promised me that she will speak English to him every day while they're over there, but I'm still afraid that he might get linguistically confused by being so suddenly transplanted into a different culture, however temporarily. He's just starting to really get a grip on real talking (as opposed to babbling), and will repeat any word you care to teach him. And while I certainly will not miss the (deliberate?) way he spills his beverages on me, or the way he steals my pen and uses it to write on the sofa, or the way he steals my girl from me at every opportunity, he is still quite a joy to have around and I am going to be feeling the lack while he's gone.

It'll take them eighteen hours to get from LAX to the airport in Chengdu. His Lordship is a very sweet little boy in many ways, but also stubborn and willful and squirmy and not at all shy. He's going to be all over that 747, nonchalantly climbing into the startled lap of every attractive young woman he sees (he does that; at 20 months old he's already a girl-seeking missile), demanding sips of other peoples' drinks with his insistent cry of "CUP!" and taking away the toys of any other children that happen to be there. And of course, there will be long periods of time in which he will be required to stay in his seat (yes, I got him his own seat... he's under two years old and could have flown for free on his mother's lap, but no way in a million Hells would I inflict that on her).

So what can we do? Drug him up with cough syrup? Wrap him in a protective cocoon of duct tape? Handcuff him to his mother?

Once they get there, of course, they'll be in China. If either of them gets sick or injured, I'll have to pay to have them airlifted to Shanghai or Beijing just so they can go to a decent hospital. There are child-stealers in China. Dujiangyan still has many piles of rubble with corpses underneath, and who knows what kind of health hazards that might pose. I should be a bundle of worry, but I'm taking the calculated risk here and remaining stubbornly confident that it will all turn out alright.

Meanwhile, I'll be technically homeless, and saving up money for a down payment on a house. As long as I'm working and have a PO box for mail I don't need a place to go home to; I've got everything I need right there. I'll be sending money to China every month, but that will be a lot less than paying rent, electricity, gas, water, etc. so the only real expenditure I'll have here in the States each month will be my car payment.

The next time one of us takes a trip, though, it's going to be me. I miss my daughter in Russia and I want to see her and talk to her and hold her in my arms again. I'm going to have to go there to do all that, and I don't think it would be wise or appropriate to take wife and sprog along on that trip. I'm hoping that my little girl will be allowed to come and live with us in America for a year or two (or three...) once we've settled again and achieved some stability.

Happy holidays, y'all.

current mood: awake

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Friday, November 7th, 2008
8:10 am - Amelica Has a Huge Erection
I'm having some seriously mixed feelings regarding the outcome of the election the other night, above and beyond the fact that I regard both Obama and McCain as corporate whores from political parties that have become nigh indistinguishable from each other. An awful lot of Kool-Aid was guzzled this election year by an awful lot of otherwise intelligent people who should have been able to see easily and clearly that we were once again being given a choice between cancer and polio.

Whatever; I don't intend to fork over that particular compost heap at the moment. Suffice it to say that I'm glad Obama won, because he's the slightly lesser of two evils. What's on my mind now is the odd disparity between how easily he won the preznitcy, and how thoroughly we dissed every homosexual on the planet by denying them the right to marry each other. Are we really somehow enlightened enough to elect a black man as our next Preznit, yet too troglodytic to give homosexuals a little equality? We didn't just deny them the right to get married; we didn't just pass a few laws against homosexual marriage. We actually rewrote several State constitutions on the matter. In California, we went so far as to take away homosexuals' right to marry after it had already been granted by the California Supreme Court, which is highly significant. It's typically very difficult to take away rights once they are given.

There's more than meets the eye at work here, but it's probably too tangled and complex to sort out in a few paragraphs. My take on it is that what we are seeing here is a rare glimpse of just how false our liberalism really is. The mask is peeled back to expose an ersatz generosity of spirit that is nothing more than guilt and shame dressed up as good-heartedness. We feel bad about slavery, so we fall all over ourselves to appease black folks and trumpet our acceptance of them as fellow humans with equal rights... but at the same time, we don't feel quite guilty enough about oppressing homosexuals to let our guilt overwhelm our queasy feelings at their particular brand of otherness. After all, we only forced homosexuals to keep their icky sexuality hidden away in the closet, and tried to help them become good clean heterosexuals by chucking them into prisons and insane asylums, giving them hormone injections and aversion therapy. It's not like we used them as farm animals. We beat them to bloody pulps in our streets, called them unnatural and perverse, and refused to serve them at Barney's Beanery, but we never chained them up and forced them to pick cotton so that we could line our pockets while sitting around drinking mint juleps.

I heard or overheard at least half a dozen people this year say that they were voting for Obama because they thought it was about time a black person had a chance to run the country for a change. I say that if his blackness is at all important to you in determining his suitability to be Preznit, then you're a racist fool. Barack Obama is, from my point of view, clearly better qualified than John McCain to be Preznit, because teaching constitutional law on the university level seems like a better way to prepare for the job than flying a plane and being tortured... but flying a plane and being tortured still seems like a better qualification than simply being born with a lot of melanin in your skin. If you're truly non-racist, the idea that melanin matters and that race alone is some kind of qualification is just as racist as the idea that race alone is some kind of disqualification.

Pat yourselves on the backs all you like about how race is no longer an issue in America. Until you truly go color-blind and simply don't care about what color a candidate's skin is, you're only fooling yourselves. Your lack of tolerance for people who happen to be born homosexual reveals the utter falseness of your too-eager acceptance of people who happen to be born with a lot of melanin in their skin.

Here's a horrible little irony to ponder, if you happen to be one of those people who voted for Obama because you think his blackness makes him more qualified: According to this article in the Washington Post, black voters as a group were more vehemently against homosexual marriage than anybody else. "Seven in 10 African Americans who went to the polls voted yes on Proposition 8," says the article. "No ethnic group anywhere rejected the sanctioning of same-sex unions as emphatically as the state's black voters, according to exit polls. Fifty-three percent of Latinos also backed Proposition 8, overcoming the bare majority of white Californians who voted to let the court ruling stand." I guess you don't have to be white to be an intolerant asshole. More importantly, being black doesn't somehow automatically make you a progressive thinker... or qualified to run the country.

Anyone who thinks that homosexuals should be ashamed of themselves should be ashamed of themselves. Anyone who thinks that black people or women are anything less than human should be regarded as less than human. But by the same token, anyone who thinks I should feel guilty or ashamed of being white, heterosexual, or male can go fuck (but not marry) themselves.

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Sunday, May 18th, 2008
9:52 am - It Starts When the Shaking Stops
Fighting has broken out in Dujiangyan over packets of dry noodles. Daci's family keeps telling us that they're fine, that they are staying in a place they consider safe, and that the government has promised to feed everyone... so they don't want to leave. Daci thinks food shortages are just going to get worse.

Meanwhile, in Le Shan (where the rest of Daci's family lives), there are reports of earthquake deaths that have not been mentioned in official State news.

We really want to get them out of there, and preferably get them here for a visit. Meanwhile, I'll have Daci tell her mother to get out of town, collect our Western Union, go somewhere far enough away that there won't be a housing crisis, and rent an apartment.

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Saturday, May 17th, 2008
5:54 pm - Aftermath?
Daci just spoke with her mother again, and the latest news from the government is that their building is condemned and will be rebuilt, but it will take at least two to five years or more during which time it is suggested that they live in a tent.

We have to get them out of there, at least temporarily. We lived happily with them for over a year in Dujiangyan; we know we can live with them here until their home gets rebuilt.

current mood: determined

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Wednesday, May 14th, 2008
9:39 pm - "Dujiangyan is dead..."
"Dujiangyan is dead..."

That's what my wife's cousin told us on a Skype-to-cellphone call just a moment ago.

We've been trying relentlessly to get through to my mother-in-law's cellphone about every fifteen minutes since we first heard about the quake, and this is only the second time the call went through. The first time, our connection was dropped after about a minute.

People are dead. A lot of people are dead, acquaintances we've smiled and waved at in the neighborhood, people we know, people my in-laws have known for decades, people my wife grew up with. At least one smiling baby that I have gurgled and cooed at is now lifeless beneath the broken concrete. My wife and I have pored over endless pictures of the devastation and both shed jags of anguished tears since this thing began.

By good fortune alone, our entire family has come through alive and unhurt, though deprived of pretty much everything they owned. Mama, Baba, and Maya the dog are staying in a teahouse with our aunt and uncle and cousin. Mama says the Chinese government is doing a good job of distributing supplies, and we don't have to worry about them not having enough food or water. "We don't need money right now, everything is free," she told us.

As for the future both immediate and long-term... there is no future in Dujiangyan tonight, there is only the gut-wrenching present, and the poignant past. Our family is alive, sheltered, and fed, but with no resources and no plan.

I tried contacting the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu to see about getting expedited visas, but they directed me to the standard visa process, which takes quite a while and involves interviews and large fees. I tried sending e-mail to a vice-consul I know there, but I don't think he works in Chengdu anymore. Tomorrow I will call a special number I have at the U.N. where they deal with refugee status visas, and see if I can get any help from them.

For now, we sit on our hands and wait.

current mood: shocked

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4:05 pm
After that single phone call that got cut off after only a couple of minutes, we have been unable to reach mama in Dujiangyan. There is a big dam upriver and not far away that has cracks in it, and we're kind of hoping the family has left town and headed for Le Shan or Chengdu. The local engineers say the dam is stable, but if they're wrong and it collapses Dujiangyan will be flooded.

I've been trying to reach the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu to ask about getting visas expedited for my wife's parents. I don't have any money, but I've got a credit card, so if we can get them visas I can fly them here and they can stay with us. We'd actually love to have them at our place regardless of the circumstances.

current mood: anxious

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Tuesday, May 13th, 2008
11:02 pm - Chinaquake '08
After Skypeing every ten or fifteen minutes to both the home and cell phones all afternoon and evening, we got my mother-in-law on the cell very briefly just now before the connection died. Her apartment is TRASHED, she tells us, but the whole family and even the dog are all OK! Everyone is sleeping outside for fear of aftershocks. We weren't connected long enough to find out if her building is heavily damaged or not, or if they have food and umbrellas and blankets and all that... but mama and baba are both smart and resourceful and have lots of friends... we'll settle for knowing everyone's alive.

A lot of people aren't so lucky tonight, if you can call having your house trashed and sleeping on the streets 'lucky'. Dujiangyan is going to be synonymous with tragedy for some time to come, and that will be a cultural tragedy on top of all the loss of human life and property. There's an important millenium-old irrigation project there, and the world's first Taoist monastery is on a nearby mountain. The water is relatively clean in Dujiangyan, thanks to the six charmingly-bridged rivers that plunge through town, fresh from the mountains. DJY is my home when I'm in China. It's a huge relief to find out that the family is OK, but I'm still devastated by what has happened to the other people there, and to the town itself.

After the Chinaquake in 1976, a lot of our family moved to Le Shan, where a giant 1000-year-old Buddha who looks like Gigantor watches over a confluence of rivers. Predictions after '76 that another big earthquake would come prompted a lot of people to move away, but when no quake had happened a few years later, people sort of shrugged it off.

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Monday, May 12th, 2008
10:41 am - Earthquake in China
A 7.8 earthquake hit China last night, and the epicenter was just a few miles from where my in-laws live. The school and the hospital in their neighborhood have both collapsed, with ~900 students trapped in the rubble of the school. Mama's home phone is ringing, but there's no answer... and her cellphone is unreachable, which is not surprising since something like 300 cell towers in the area were knocked down by the quake. The death toll is 9000 and climbing, and we're trying to get more information.

UPDATE: Still no word from any of our family in Dujiangyan. Sometimes SMS works even when voice calls don't, so we sent several through the Internet and had a friend in Chongqing send one from his phone. I also e-mailed the American Consulate in Chengdu, but I imagine they're pretty busy already. I'm using Skype to further clog up the hopelessly clogged-up and badly damaged phone system in the area, with unpredictable results but no answers so far.

I can tell how upset my wife is, but she's remaining cool, calm and collected through all this, and it just amazes me.

current mood: anxious

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Tuesday, March 18th, 2008
12:47 am - Towards a Rational Activism
Something that has been really annoying me lately is the way that activism in America has degenerated since the 1960s. Possibly this is because political involvement in general has seriously lapsed since I was a tot; perhaps it has something to do with the fact that no unifying youth movement like the hippie culture of the '60s exists today to pit one generation against another. There is also the factor of the Baby Boomers being so very numerous (and therefore politically powerful). A great many of them exist on the greedy corporate side of the fence today, comfortably esconced in a smug fortress of demographic dominance and money that today's youth in their relatively puny numbers can't even hope to successfully lay siege to... and really, in any given crowd of activists, how many are there because of their dedication to [fill in the cause], and how many are there because they see it as the hip, fashionable thing to do and are hoping to get laid out of the deal?

Probably it's a combination of all these things and more. In the depths of my own cynicism, I have come to believe that there's something even deeper and more sinister at work that is an even greater factor than all the others combined, something less obvious and much overlooked, especially by the activists themselves: namely, that activism has become an industry, and like all industries, the business of activism is primarily interested in making money, not making the world a better place. This activism industry is heavily enabled by the fact that most people are woefully, pitifully fucking stupid, and don't know how to think critically. Ah, but at least the activists care about something, or pretend to.

The bumper sticker motto "Question Authority" is well-known to any American who has ever played Slug-a-Bug on a long road trip. Unfortunately, the rank and file of Volkswagen enthusiasts who sport this motto on their disarmingly friendly-looking Nazi-invented Hitler-endorsed "people's cars" only apply this very worthy motto in a manner so unconsciously and uncritically selective that the very intent of it is negated and turned back on itself. Groovy dirtheads all over America automatically distrust anything their government tells them; they question the authority of scientists and dismiss them with haughty non-sequiturs like "scientists don't know everything"; they howl and hoot derisively at the dire pronunciamentos of Christians from the most lowbrow born-again Bible-believing Creationist dipshit all the way up to the Pope. But they eat it up and toe the line like a goddamn clone army when some activist industy stooge tells them what to think.

Questioning authority is a fundamentally good and healthy thing, but when it takes the form of an automatic rejection of information that has not been weighed and evaluated, it is often a grave error. Certainly, some sources of information (see: Bible-believing Creationist dipshit) have amply proven themselves again and again to be sources which can and should be rejected out of hand with little need for further evaluation. But while sources of information can be dismissed once they have been evaluated as being regularly wrong, misleading, or unreliable, automatically taking the opposite stance to them is also foolish, as even the most dishonest government tells the truth sometimes, and even the blindest of religious pigs finds an acorn once in a while. A truly dismissable source should be ignored, not reacted to.

Among activists, the dismissal of information sources seems often to be a matter of some kind of superstitious Dark Ages dread. Science is not well-respected in the activist community, although pseudo-science and fabricated statistics and factoids abound and are enthusiastically embraced in order to 'prove' the validity of the activist agenda. Likewise, any information that comes from a government perceived as 'evil' is automatically dismissed out of hand unless it happens to bolster whatever agenda is held dear by the activists. Meanwhile, governments perceived as 'good' enjoy the luxury of having their statements swallowed whole. The determination of 'good' and 'evil' is typically made based solely on who is getting the shit kicked out of them, and who is doing the kicking, as though being a military or political underdog in a conflict is somehow conducive to honesty. The 1960s tendency of young American hair farmers to embrace the Viet Cong, for instance... I mean, OK, condemn the unjustified violence and imperialism of your own government, sure, but don't get in a lather and start grabbing your own ankles so the other side can plunge their throbbing propaganda cock into your all-too-willing ass. A propaganda bitch is a propaganda bitch no matter which horribly slanted version of reality she's bending over for.

Sources of information that can be automatically trusted are few and far between, although you do have to be reasonable and sane about it (your math textbook is unlikely to lie to you). As a general principle, the totally automatic acceptance or rejection of information based only on the source it springs from is a dangerous and brutally stupid way to make up your mind about something important. One of activism's biggest failings is that the "Question Authority" philosophy seems to disappear entirely from activists' minds when the authority in question is one that validates their pre-formed knee-jerk gut reaction opinions. This phenomenon can be typified by modifying a popular Christian slogan: "Greenpeace said it, I believe it, that settles it."

It is ridiculously easy to demonstrate the total gullibility of activists when the source of the information they are being given is a source that validates, or seems to validate, their totally unsupported belief system. The prank of getting activists to start spreading the word among themselves and sign petitions about some absolute non-issue like "the dangerous industrial solvent, dihydrogen monoxide" has been performed many, many times and documented on video more than once (for an amusing example, see the episode of Penn & Teller's show 'Bullshit' entitled 'Environmental Hysteria'). Since dihydrogen monoxide is a chemical, and the vague cloud of uninformed yet entrenched opinions floating around in the average activist's skull are clear on the concept that CHEMICAL == BAD, you can fill a petition with names in no time at any peace march or Rainbow Gathering, with nothing for reputation or credentials beyond an amusing hair-do. All you have to do is look the part and talk the talk. Never mind that your body is made of chemicals, and so is the 100% organic zero-pesticide free-range tofu in that Peaceburger(TM) you had for lunch. Never mind that dihydrogen monoxide (which really is a powerful and dangerous industrial solvent) is also known as H20, or pure water. It's a chemical, it kills people, let's ban it!

Whole industries have arisen to take advantage of the fear of chemicals that has filtered into the general population via stoned activist groovetards who can't seem to understand the most basic facts about the nature of chemistry. Many ordinary people, not just activists, will now pay significantly more for the empty comfort of having a sticker that reads 'ORGANIC' glued to their food... and this extends beyond food, to things like vitamins and nutritional supplements. Listen up, Dreadlock Boy: there is absolutely no test you can perform on a pile of ascorbic acid crystals that will tell you if they came from an orange, or if they were synthesized by mixing up some of those chemicals you're so afraid of. They're the same thing, period, and paying extra for organic vitamin C just costs you more, makes a huge chump out of you, and pushes the advent of the next Dark Ages closer to us all.

Along with food industry opportunists, organizations like Greenpeace exist to exploit the phenomenon of superstitious fear and one-sided gullibility that activists fall prey to so easily. Greenpeace is a corporation, and it is in the business of gathering up donation dollars, which it uses to pay "administrative costs" (like executive salaries), and to recruit and organize more activists to exploit. Even some of the founders of Greenpeace who have long since left the organization in disgust will tell you this, and the absolute proof can be found by questioning Greenpeace's authority and doing your own research to determine what value their assertions about things like the timber industry, depleted uranium, and genetically modified foods actually have.

If you're sincerely open-minded and all these things I'm saying come as a shocking eye-opener, then you don't need to take my word for it... but you do need to know where to look for reliable information, and where not to look. Let's begin by questioning the authority of scientists, since science is considered the primary source of hard data on the physical world. Can we trust scientists to tell us the truth?

The answer is both yes and no. We need to distinguish between two main sources of information in which scientists release their findings to the public: The popular media, and peer-reviewed scientific journals.

The popular media consists of books, magazines, TV shows, newspapers, movies, etc. Scientists who make statements in the popular media are, like anyone else, subject to being misquoted and to having their words taken out of context or sensationalized. They may be clearly identified by name, credentials, and employer, or simply referred to as 'scientists'. Even if they are clearly identified and their statements are not distorted by writers (such as when a scientist writes a book intended for the general public), scientists can say whatever they like without much fear of having their professional reputations damaged. Why? First, because the arena in which the various disciplines collectively known as 'science' are practiced is not the popular media. Scientists do science in peer-reviewed scientific journals, not in People magazine, not on the Discovery Channel, not in the Los Angeles Times, and not in documentaries on YouTube. Second, because in the popular media, actual hard data is typically glossed over, or heavily simplified to the point that the acquisition of the data being presented cannot reliably be reproduced by other scientists.

Peer-reviewed scientific journals are, just as it says in the name, peer-reviewed. A scientist who submits data to this type of publication must submit extremely detailed information, and must be prepared to withstand the scrutiny of his or her peers in any related field. Whenever possible, the data presented and the methods used will be independently reproduced and verified, and sometimes an alternative data acquisition method will be used to show that the original method or data source was flawed. These reviews of the original publication are also subject to peer review, and the process continues until there is no further controversy, or until no further data is available that might eliminate the controversy, and the experts are forced to agree to disagree while they wait for further revelations or develop better technology.

In peer-reviewed scientific journals, publishing outright bullshit may get a scientist some attention for a little while, but once his or her peers attempt a rigorous experimental verification of the data presented, exquisitely tuned bullshit detectors will begin sounding their righteous klaxons to expose the perpetrators. This is what happened to Pons & Fleischmann, the gentlemen at the University of Utah who claimed in 1989 that they had achieved a tabletop fusion reaction in a jar of 'heavy' water at room temperature. Had their data been correct, we would now have a cheap, inexhaustible, non-polluting, self-contained energy source that could put every house off the grid, power cars and airplanes for their entire lifetimes without ever refueling, and allow spacecraft to travel vast distances at the highest possible speeds by accelerating constantly for half the trip, and constantly decelerating the other half. Our dependence on petroleum would be over, and power would be available for vast engineering projects that are simply not feasible now due to their energy requirements. The world would be transformed, and utopia would be much closer.

I see you sneering, Dreadlock Boy. What's that you say? Obviously the government and the oil companies covered it up?

There's no cover-up involved, and I say that with confidence because the very idea that a cover-up that vast and complete could be achieved is fucking stupid, plain and simple. The world holds a staggeringly large number of scientists qualified to evaluate the data that Pons & Fleischmann submitted. The apparatus that Pons & Fleischmann described in the peer-reviewed scientific journals was extremely simple, and easily reproduced by other scientists all over the world. With prospects as glorious as those cold fusion promised to give humanity, a great many qualified people eagerly recreated the experiment conducted at the University of Utah... and all of those efforts failed to yield the results that Pons & Fleischmann claimed to have observed. In time, Pons & Fleischmann were discredited, and their data attributed to self-delusion, experimental error, and/or deliberate fraud. The sheer number of scientists who independently verified the fact that the data they presented was bogus is simply too large a number of people to silence, no matter what means you might use against them. The oil companies don't have enough money, and every government on Earth would have had to drop all their disputes and conspire with each other very quickly and in deepest secrecy in order to threaten or cajole all those people to keep quiet... and even if THAT was possible, SOMEONE would have broken ranks and told the truth anyway. There is an old adage that illustrates a basic principle of human nature: "Two people can keep a secret, if one of them is dead." Explaining the cold fusion fiasco with a cover-up requires that you believe that something on the order of a million people conspired to sweep it under the rug, and continue to do so almost twenty years later.

As an activist, a good basic rule you should use to evaluate information is this: If the truth of what you're being told depends upon the existence of a conspiracy or cover-up involving a large number of people, then what you're being told is probably a steaming pile of hog shit. Yes, small-scale conspiracies do exist, and yes, scientists are sometimes paid to tell you lies... but those lies are told in the popular media, where they won't significantly damage the scientist's professional standing, where the scientist's credentials and reputation in the scientific community can be easily hidden or distorted, and where the lies can't easily be refuted with any real certainty or finality. Therefore, you should regard scientific information in the popular media as inconclusive, possibly controversial, and unreliable... even if it validates what you already believe. Question the authority of the popular media, even when it tells you that the uneducated opinions of your groovy activist friends are correct.

No, scientists don't know everything, nor do they pretend they know everything... but goddamnit, they know what they do know, they have a pretty good handle on what they don't know, and if one of them lies about it or is too sloppy in his techniques or his conclusions, his peers jump all over him and tear his ass apart just as soon as they have some proof. Depending on the nature of the data and its reproducibility, this can take some time, but it's more or less inevitable. The scientific method is the best tool humanity has ever devised for conclusively separating truth from fiction, and if it wasn't, you wouldn't have anything so incredibly complex and massively, magically useful as the computer you're using right now. Alchemists would still be trying to turn lead into gold, and your family doctor would be treating your hemorrhoids by bleeding you with leeches in an attempt to "balance the bodily humours". In short, you can get all snotty and say what you like about how "scientists don't know everything," but science is still about a billion times more reliable an authority than the knee-jerk feelings and uninformed suspicions of an intellectual peasant like yourself could ever be.

Should we question the authority of science? There's no need, if we rely on peer-reviewed sources for our information. Within the confines of peer review, science is unique in that it is an authority that questions itself, and it does so constantly, rigorously, and extremely well, with no room for sentimentality or dogma. To paraphrase Randall Munroe, the author of the popular webcomic xkcd: Science works, bitches! What we should be questioning is the popular media, even when it tells us that our gut feelings about an issue are correct.

What other authorities should we be questioning? How about the people who organize activists, who tell you why you should care about their causes, and who ask you to donate your time, your effort, your money? Seems pretty obvious to me, but most activists seem to worship the very poop of anyone who can get up in front of a crowd and act angry about something. These people need to be questioned just as much as the President of the United States does. No, more... they need to be questioned just as much as the VICE-President of the United States does.

Let's look at a specific example of activist leaders being on crack and either utterly insane or completely full of rancid batshit lies, with their heads stuffed up their pasty snotty eternally strident ultra-pious lily-white asses.

I keep hearing activists spouting off about the use of depleted uranium on battlefields around the world. This is an issue that really pisses me off, because the popular media has been totally overrun with wildly inaccurate information and fat-necked, barefaced falsehoods. Do a Google search, and you'll find thousands of links to pages containing statements about DU that will scare the bejeezus out of you. The popular media (especially the Internet) is saturated with it.

Someone sent me a particular article about depleted uranium recently, and this article quoted the following people and described them thusly:

"Nuclear authority Leuren Moret, an independent U.S. scientist formerly employed for five years at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory."

Wow, Lawrence Livermore, really? Heavy credentials at a place where one might indeed gain some expertise on radiation, maybe we should listen to her! But I checked her out... Leuren Moret has a Bachelor's degree in Geology, and a Master's in Near Eastern Studies. Even as a geologist, someone with a mere Bachelor's degree can only honestly be called "an independent rockhound," not "an independent scientist". She has no credentials that would make her any kind of "nuclear authority" by any stretch of the imagination. Furthermore, although the article says she was "employed for five years" at Lawrence Livermore, and Ms. Moret has more than once claimed that her employment there was as "a staff scientist", California Public Records Act inquiries show that she worked in Lawrence's Center for Applied Scientific Computing in a capacity that was NOT a staff scientist position, and that had nothing to do with radioactivity, uranium, or any other remotely related subject. What's more, she didn't work there for five years, she worked there for less than a year, during 1989-1990.

Leuren Moret is a fucking liar who routinely misrepresents herself, and she is making a career out of duping activists. What her true agenda is, I have no idea. Maybe she's crazy, maybe she is making a living on the angry unwashed lecture circuit, maybe she just gets her kicks manipulating young people and basking in the glow of their groovy adulation. All I know for sure is that she lies like a rug made out of Virginia ham.

"Arthur Bernklau, of Veterans For Constitutional Law"

I don't know what Bernklau's credentials are, but I know that a place like Veterans For Constitutional Law would be employing attorneys, paralegals, and secretaries, not experts in radioactivity. Who cares what he thinks? He's a lawyer with a vested interest in convincing people that his clients -- veterans -- have suffered some terrible wrong at the hands of the government and/or the military. Anything that might suggest that his clients were exposed to dangerous levels of radioactivity must be courtroom gold to such a man. DISMISSED!

"Dr. Helen Caldicott, the prominent anti-nuclear crusader"

It's true, Helen Caldicott is a doctor. She's a pediatrician. It's also true that she's an anti-nuclear crusader, which is a credential that speaks of her expertise in crusading, not any expertise in nuclear physics. Dr. Caldicott is such a famous anti-nukular crusader because she wrote a book many years ago about how the Three Mile Island accident released strontium-90 into the atmosphere, which settled onto the ground, got into the ground water, contaminated the grass, was eaten by cows, was expressed in the cows' milk, and finally ended up in Hershey's chocolate bars. Shades of Dr. Strangelove! I can almost hear Sterling Hayden saying to Peter Sellers "Ice cream, Mandrake... children's ice cream!"

The major flaw in Dr. Caldicott's book, which she presented as verifiable scientific fact, was that the Three Mile Island incident didn't release any strontium-90. There were other nucleotides released at TMI, and I certainly would not want to downplay the true seriousness of a nuclear reactor accidentally releasing a cloud of radioactive steam, but Dr. Caldicott is full of shit. She's baloney without the mayo, and she's been making insanely wrong and false statements about everything nuclear for her entire career as an activist leader.

"Dr. Doug Rokke, formerly the top U.S. Army DU clean-up officer"

Dr. Rokke is often described as a physicist or a health physicist. He isn't either, but in speeches and writings, Rokke seems to strongly encourage the perception that he is a physicist without actually coming out and saying it in plain language. He uses phrases like "I was working in my physics lab" to lead people into the assumption that he is a physicist, and therefore someone who would know something about radioactivity.

Dr. Mister Uncle Daddy Health Physicist Rokke's degree is in Education Methodology. His day job is as a substitute middle school teacher.

Rokke's former commander in the Army says "[Rokke's] role in the Gulf War and at the Chemical School, as well as the specifics of his educational background, do not qualify him as a depleted uranium expert. These areas fall well outside of his area of expertise and responsibility."

At activist rallies, on activist websites, and in articles in the popular media, Rokke is pretty consistently billed as "the Pentagon's top DU clean-up man", and he claims that he led a team of 100 specialists in DU clean-up and disposal. His actual role with the Army was assisting (not leading) a team of 10 (not 100) technical experts in the recovery and decontamination of radioactive material and equipment. The team was led by a civilian from the Army Munitions and Chemical Command (not Rokke). Rokke's job was to facilitate the recovery operations by ensuring the team had the proper support, and he was not directly involved in actually recovering and disposing of radioactive materials himself. Essentially, he was the guy stayed in the rear with the gear, the dude who made sure the technicians doing the actual work had adequate supplies of hot coffee, clean boxer shorts, and other necessary items.

Rokke has claimed that approximately 30 of "his" fictional 100-man team have since died of complications from radiation poisoning, and that virtually all the survivors are desperately ill from their exposure to depleted uranium. He has identified 29 of those 100 people by name, and 22 of them have been interviewed regarding his claims; 15 of those did actually work in radioactive decontamination. None of them are ill, and the only two who have died worked in roles that did not bring them into contact with radoactive materials (not even DU). None of the 22 people interviewed could substantiate any of Rokke's claims regarding his role, the alleged illnesses, the alleged deaths, or his supposed expertise.

This is a man who likes to puff himself up and garner attention. If the Pentagon were so annoyed by Rokke that they would go to all the trouble of altering his military service record, covering up the illnesses and deaths of a hundred people, and fabricating the testimony of 22 of them just to discredit one man, why wouldn't they just see to it that he met with a little 'accident' some dark night? Why would they let him live, when killing him would be so much easier and safer than doing all that other crap they'd have to do in order for us to believe he's not a goddamn liar? Conclusion: He's a goddamn liar.

"Francis Boyle, a leading American authority on international law"

Another lawyer. 'Nuff said.

When I read what these supposed "nuclear authorities" say about depleted uranium, my mind boggles with how wrong and dishonest it all is. They make claims that are extremely misleading, and they tell stark raving lies, and it's not at all difficult to expose those lies if you go looking for some actual reliable information on the subject. I'll leave most of that as an exercise for the reader, but here are some nice quotes from our brave "nuclear authorities":

Leuren Moret:
"The genetic future of the Iraqi people for the most part, is destroyed. More than ten times the amount of radiation released during atmospheric testing (of nuclear bombs) has been released from depleted uranium weaponry since 1991. The (Iraq) environment now is completely radioactive."

Arthur Bernklau:
"The long-term effect of DU is a virtual death sentence. Iraq is a toxic wasteland. Anyone who is there stands a good chance of coming down with cancer and leukemia. In Iraq, the birth rate of mutations is totally out of control."

Dr. Helen Caldicott:
"[The two Gulf wars] have been nuclear wars because they have scattered nuclear material across the land, and people -- particularly children -- are condemned to die of malignancy and congenital disease essentially for eternity. The food, the air, and the water in the cradle of civilization have been forever contaminated. Severe birth defects have been reported in babies born to contaminated civilians in Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan and the incidence and severity of defects is increasing over time. Like symptoms have been reported among infants born to U.S. service personnel that fought in the Gulf Wars. One survey of 251 returned Gulf War veterans from Mississippi made by the Veterans Administration found 67% of children born to them suffered from severe illnesses and deformities. Some were born without brains or vital organs or with no arms, hands, or arms, or with hands attached to their shoulders."

A critical evaluation of these statements shows that they range from howlingly false and wrong to totally unverifiable, except where they are utterly misleading. For instance, it's true that anyone who is in Iraq stands a good chance of coming down with cancer, because anyone who is on Earth stands a good chance (about 1 in 5) of coming down with cancer. It's also true that DU can be toxic when inhaled... but that's true of lead as well. It's true of any heavy metal, and has nothing to do with radioactivity. As for ingesting DU or having DU shrapnel embedded in your flesh, the World Health Organization says that the human body is so unusually efficient at processing DU through the kidneys that it would be virtually impossible to swallow enough of the stuff to do any permanent harm... but if you did, kidney failure would be the result, not cancer or leukemia, and certainly not birth defects in your kids. Many Gulf War veterans have been living with lumps of DU shrapnel in them for over 20 years now, and as a group they show the same rate of cancer, leukemia, birth defects, etc. as the general population.

The reports of birth defects, cancer, and leukemia in war zones where DU has been used have been investigated by the World Health Organization, which formed a special task force to investigate claims related to the use of DU. Not a single claim of this kind has ever been found to be anything more than pure fantasy. The WHO's report on DU in Kosovo is available online as a .pdf file and can be found with a simple Google search.

So what is depleted uranium? Let me tell you!

Ordinary uranium is mildly radioactive. It occurs naturally and can be found virtually everywhere on Earth, including in the human body and in the bodies of all animal and plant life on the planet. Uranium can be painstakingly refined into a nuclear fuel for use in reactors. It takes a huge amount of uranium to make a very small amount of this fuel.

Depleted uranium is what is left when uranium has had all the useful radioactive isotopes removed... that's why they call it 'depleted'. DU is far less radioactive than ordinary uranium, and in fact, DU is less radioactive than the granite in the ground under your feet right now. DU is used to make radiation shielding inside x-ray machines, which seems like an odd use for a supposedly dangerous radioactive material. It's very dense stuff, denser than lead, and that gives artillery rounds made of DU a powerful punch... but calling it a nuclear weapon (as Moret, Caldicott, et al persist in doing) is idiotic.

Studies of battlefields where DU was used extensively (both from artillery shells and from A-10 aircraft firing massive numbers of DU rounds that impacted approximately one per square inch) showed that the rise in detectable radiation for the entire site was less than 5% of what would ordinarily be detectable due to naturally-occurring uranium in the ground underfoot. This is far below any level of radioactivity that might cause concern to any living thing. Most of the larger pieces of DU left on the battlefields were buried by their own impact, but even those left exposed could be safely walked on with bare feet, sat upon for extended periods of time, and could otherwise remain in contact with the human body for as long as you could want without inducing any ill effects.

As for the toxicity of DU, the stuff is heavy, much heavier than air, and it sinks to the ground rather quickly when vaporized. Claims that our entire atmosphere has been contaminated with radiation from DU are wrong both because DU isn't radioactive enough to be detectable in the atmosphere, and because DU is too heavy to stay in the atmosphere in the first place. I guess in the minds of our "nuclear authorities" only strontium-90 home-grown in Pennsylvania sinks to the ground, because it loves children's chocolate bars and wants to be inside them. Anything radioactive released on a battlefield thousands of miles away floats so it can get to Hershey, Pennsylvania where it wants to be.

Question activist leaders. Do your own research. Read peer-reviewed articles on things like DU before you go off half-cocked and make a chinless gibbering drool-soaked tool of yourself protesting the stuff. Your time, money, and energy would be much better spent protesting the illegal war in Iraq.

Purely political issues in which science has nothing to contribute can be more difficult to assess accurately. Activist leaders can tell lies about purely political issues that cannot be detected, except by people who have some special knowledge of the region and/or the situation.

The current protests in Tibet are a prime example. I've lived in China, and the province I lived in for a number of years is right next door to Tibet, and in fact has been invaded by the Tibetan army in the past (does it surprise you that Tibet had an army, and that they invaded their neighbor?). I also lived for a time in the Ningxia Autonomous Region of China, and got to see exactly how much autonomy the Chinese government gives people ethnic minorities in these regions (Tibet is also considered an Autonomous Region of China).

We've all been hearing the propaganda of the Tibetan government-in-exile for almost fifty years now. It has seeped into our own culture so thoroughly that you don't even have to be an activist to automatically go into solidarity mode when you see a FREE TIBET! bumper sticker. Tibet should be free, right? The Chinese are bad, naughty little yellow villains for conquering Tibet and taking away their freedom, right? Right?

I've met a lot of Tibetans in Sichuan, and of course I've met a WHOLE HELL OF A LOT of Chinese people. When I contrast the attitudes of these people regarding the situation between China and Tibet, and I compare that with what American activists are now saying, I know that absolutely everyone is totally full of shit about what is really going on. We all assume that the Chinese are full of shit, but nobody stops to wonder if maybe the Tibetans and the Dalai Lama are full of shit too. Then there are the American activists, who are not only full of (the Tibetans' version of) shit, but who don't even know what the conflict is about.

Here in America, Tibet prior to Chinese rule is typically thought of as the mythical Shangri-La, a utopian place where everyone lived happily like a dirty grinning hippie, and peace and love and harmony prevailed with no need for silly things like laws and cops and armies and monogamy and hate and soap. The Buddhist monks smiled and nodded at everyone, ruffled the hair of passing children, and spun their prayer wheels in hopes of bringing enlightenment to all humanity.

This is a powerful image of old Tibet, and it appeals most strongly to exactly the kind of person who really gets passionate about political activism. The problem is, it's pure bullshit.

Tibet after Chinese rule is typically seen as a slaughtering ground where evil cackling Chinese soldiers wantonly beat or gun down any Tibetan who dares to show his face, a sad and tragic place where gloriously beautiful ancient monasteries are burned to the ground by the evil Chinese in their ruthless quest to erase the Tibetan people and their culture from the face of the planet.

That's also bullshit.

In America, the Dalai Lama is looked upon as a shining beacon of peace and love, an earthly avatar of all that humankind should aspire to. He wants Tibet to be free, and he's the kind of gentle, right-on, peace-loving non-violent fellow who uses a Macintosh computer in his choice of tasteful colors.

Oh, BULLSHIT!

Much of what we hear about the relationship between Tibet and China is strongly influenced by the propaganda of the Tibetan government-in-exile and their activist wing, the Students for a Free Tibet. When we hear the Chinese propaganda, we often react violently, vehemently, and sternly in immediately denouncing it as ugly lies, because we've already been thoroughly marinated in the other side's version of everything, and we've formed opinions based on Orientalist fantasies that we as a people have crafted for ourselves over the course of generations. It's hard to break out of that kind of conditioning.

Let me tell you what I know for sure about the situation in Tibet:

First of all, Tibet prior to Chinese rule was a slave state. Between the non-Buddhist landlords and the Buddhist monks who ran the monasteries, the land and wealth was concentrated into a small number of hands. The landlords and monks owned everything, including the people, but unlike slavery in other parts of the world in other eras, the monks had no obligation to take care of their slaves' needs. They could treat them as property for all intents and purposes, but were not required to feed them, house them, or clothe them. Taxes were demanded of Tibetan commoners for virtually everything, and money lent to them at usurious rates to keep them in debt and force even more of them into slavery for debt. As Michael Parenti writes:

"The serfs were taxed upon getting married, taxed for the birth of each child and for every death in the family. They were taxed for planting a tree in their yard and for keeping animals. They were taxed for religious festivals and for public dancing and drumming, for being sent to prison and upon being released. Those who could not find work were taxed for being unemployed, and if they traveled to another village in search of work, they paid a passage tax. When people could not pay, the monasteries lent them money at 20 to 50 percent interest. Some debts were handed down from father to son to grandson. Debtors who could not meet their obligations risked being cast into slavery."

Dissent in old Tibet was met with horribly medieval punishments. Tongue or eyes torn out, hands or feet chopped off, that sort of thing. By contrast, the Chinese initially met the current protests (which were staged by monks, by the way) with nothing more brutal than mace. How the whole thing turned violent is anyone's guess, but at the stage when the police were politely restraining themselves to non-lethal mace, they outnumbered the protestors by a significant margin and could have easily just rushed in and kicked all kinds of ass... but they didn't.

The idea of Buddhist monks protesting the Chinese presence in Tibet is much like a group of Confederate Colonels protesting the Yankee presence in Alabama and waving signs reading "We demand our niggers and plantations back".

I can't say that China is not monstrously oppressive in certain ways, but they probably aren't nearly as bad as you think. Even in the few years that I lived there, I saw genuine progress being made toward more openness and more freedom for common people. More importantly, I saw a great deal of tolerance for the ethnic minorities who share China with the dominant Han people. The Shin Jiang folk, for instance, who resemble Middle Easterners and are Muslim, are allowed to practice their own culture and conduct their own affairs within Shin Jiang... and they are also allowed to live elsewhere in China and practice their culture in those places. It's certainly true that the Han people have been moving into Tibet in large numbers, but it's also true that a lot of Tibetans live in Sichuan Province now, and nobody bothers them about being Buddhist, or about wearing big sharp fucking swords tucked into the sashes they like to wear, even on the train, even when they've been drinking. Yes, I personally have gotten good and drunk with a gang of Tibetans on the train who loudly made rude, insulting, and even threatening comments directed at the stony-faced Han Chinese all around them, and they did this with total impunity and no concern that they might be arrested or brutalized or otherwise punished. The notion that Tibetan culture is being diluted by the presence of massive numbers of Han Chinese is certainly true, but the wild talk I've heard about the Chinese practicing genocide on the Tibetans is pure, unadulterated crap.

Sure, colonialism and the excuses given for it are loathsome. Saying the Tibetans are better off under Chinese rule is a denial of the American ideal of self-determination. But as long as we recognize that, let's also be aware that Tibetans are materially better off under Chinese rule even though they may not be spiritually or politically happy about it. The average lifespan for a Tibetan before the Chinese came in was around 37 years; it is now over 65. Some of the first things the PRC did when they reasserted their control was to build hospitals, roads, and schools.

The idea that Tibet was an independent nation before the Chinese took over in the 1950s is also a load of parrot dung. During the time that we think of Tibet as an independent nation, it was and had been ruled by China for quite a long time. The Chinese had and exercised all rights of international diplomacy on behalf of Tibet, the Tibetans used Chinese stamps on their mail, etc. It's just that China wasn't particularly interested in Tibet at the time and allowed them a great deal of autonomy domestically. Why that ended, I'm not entirely sure... probably some combination of the discovery of resources in Tibet, along with the desire for more land for Han Chinese to live on. Tibet, after all, is a vast and mostly empty place.

The history of Chinese rule in Tibet goes at least as far back as the Qing Dynasty, though there have been interruptions. I'm no scholar, but I know that much. When the Chinese say that Tibet has always been part of China, they aren't just making it up. On the other hand, the Italians could go around saying they own Germany and France because the Romans conquered those areas 2,000 years ago or more. Still, on paper anyway, Tibet was legally a Chinese province before the Chinese 'invasion' in the 1950s.

And what about the beloved Dalai Lama? He talks a good game in English, but I suspect he learned most of his rap from John Lennon and was simply canny enough to stick to it, knowing he'd get lots of mileage with that sort of talk in America. It might surprise you to know that the enlightened, peaceful, tolerant, loving Dalai Lama condemns homosexuality very sternly, and has proclaimed a whole host of other behaviors to be unforgivable Buddhist sins.

Even if the Dalai Lama wasn't a gay-basher who in his younger days ruled over a slave state, you have to recognize that his predecessors were often violent, brutish tyrants in dealing with the common people of Tibet, and their ugly behavior went on for centuries. Since the Dalai Lama claims to be the reincarnation of all those Dalai Lamas who came before him, shouldn't we hold him responsible for all the shitty things they did? He himself says he's the one who did them!

The Students for a Free Tibet like to scream about the "fact" that the Chinese brutally murdered over a million Tibetans when they reasserted control over the region in the '50s, but even without my direct experience of the Chinese government's mild treatment of their ethnic minorities, that's a little hard to swallow. The entire Tibetan population only numbered 1.2 to 1.4 million, and there are still lots of Tibetans around today. In fact, the PRC allows Tibetans in Tibet to have more children than they allow Han people to have. The only penalty for a Tibetan who has too many kids is that the additional children will not be given free services like government schooling... and the Tibetans didn't have any access to those services before the Chinese came anyway.

Tibetan propagandists also claim that the Buddhist monks have been severely suppressed, and the monasteries destroyed. Um, no? When the monks aren't protesting, the PRC leaves the Buddhists the hell alone, as long as they don't publicly display pictures of the Dalai Lama (which is a crime). The monasteries are still there, too. There was a period of time when Buddhist monasteries were often casually destroyed throughout China, but the PRC has recognized not just the value of tolerance toward ethnic minorities since then, they have also recognized the value of a good tourist attraction. I myself have spent some wonderful afternoons drinking tea and playing cards with the monks at the world's oldest Taoist monastery, and nobody there was worried about the government coming in and oppressing them.

Once you have seen that there are two sides to the unrest in Tibet, and begun to wonder what the fuck is REALLY going over there and why, I think the next big step is to augment your questioning of the authority of the PRC with some questioning of the authority of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile. Remember those bumper stickers? What does FREE TIBET really mean? Should Tibet be handed back to the Dalai Lama and his monk buddies so they can go back to living it up and treating commoners like chattel and human toilets? FREE TIBET for whom? Is mighty America supposed to rush in and save the day, and force the PRC to allow the Tibetans to hold free elections and choose their own leaders? I don't think it's within our power. Anyway, free elections have never happened in Tibet before, so why should they happen now? Are the Tibetans supposed to magically turn into Americans overnight in gratitude? They've had a hard enough time turning into Chinese over the last two generations.

I don't mean to be such an apologist for the PRC, but the fact is that we have all heard the Tibetan side of things over and over and over until we've come to accept their bullshit automatically, without questioning. The Chinese can be assholes and of course they sling bullshit of their own, but they don't deserve all the rap they are currently getting. Propaganda is propaganda, and it doesn't matter what cause it serves, it's bullshit and therefore wrong. Being the underdog doesn't give you some special right to lie and manipulate people into supporting your cause.

Just gimme some truth.

current mood: aggravated

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Tuesday, March 11th, 2008
1:10 am - BLOW IT UP BEFORE STEVE PERRY MAKES A SPEECH
DISCLAIMER: This rant is highly dependent on a particular cultural context. If you're not American or Canadian, there are a lot of things here that you probably won't understand even if you think you do. Remain calm.

I had to get up at 4:00 AM today and drive across the Mojave desert to Needles, California. Since I lacked the foresight to burn a few good road CDs the night before, I found myself desperately flipping through the meager selection of radio stations available on I-40. THREE TIMES on THREE DIFFERENT CLASSIC ROCK STATIONS I heard the news item about Justin Timberlake inducting Madonna into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and each time the announcer heaped scorn and derision on the event. Fair enough, but each time, the announcer also crowed and gloated about John "Don't Call Me Cougar" Mellencamp finally getting in, as if that was some kind of long-overdue correction of a terrible oversight.

Worse yet, on one station they blathered and blithered about the whole thing for over ten minutes, expressing pissy disdain over Madonna getting in (which I can understand), but also (to my puzzlement) lambasting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the decision to bestow the same honor on the Ventures and the Dave Clark Five, both of whom they compared unfavorably with Mellencamp. The egg-fart miasma of their high dudgeon at the thought of the Mighty Coug being forced to share the limelight with the Ventures seemed to almost seep out of my radio. I couldn't figure it out... even if you were the kind of brain-damaged fuck-eyed swamp ape who might own a reverently cherished complete collection of Mellencamp recordings stored in protective plastic sleeves in a humidity-controlled vault, you'd have to realize that the Ventures were great, right? I mean, even if you were too stunted and blind to see that the Ventures were cooler than Mr. Jesus Christ Mellencamp by several orders of magnitude, you'd still have to recognize that they were cool enough for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! Right? Right?!?

Just then I had a bit of an epiphany.

The first thing that struck me was the fact that, as time goes on, the so-called Classic Rock stations are playing less and less listenable music, and more and more mullet rock, sausage rock, and phony-little-bantam-weight-tough-guy-in-parachute-pants-with-a-high-raspy-voice rock. If I was 12 years old and habitually listened to the 2008 version of Classic Rock on the radio, I'd be convinced that the fucking Eagles (fuck the fucking Eagles!) were about a million times bigger than the Beatles back in the day, and that Eddie Money, Thin Lizzy, and Golden Earring were serious rock heavyweights instead of what they really were: the '70s equivalent of the Insane Clown Posse.

I realized that the main reason for this long slow drift into a horror dimension of alternative history in which lametastic bogan-rock ruled the '70s was due to the fact that pretty much everyone who was able to tell the difference between suck-rock and the good stuff back in 1975 had been endowed with enough taste and discernment to eventually move on into new territory as rock mutated into New Wave, Punk, and post-Punk modalities. This has left virtually no one to carry the Classic Rock torch (which has fizzled out and been turned upside down to be worn as a dunce cap), aside from witless former Camaro enthusiasts who proudly sported moustaches in the '80s, and guys who spent what should have been the best years of their lives sullenly, doggedly wearing the grooves off albums like Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and Rush's '2112' while darkly muttering about the purple-haired mohawked freaks who had infected them with herpes via secret and anonymous back-alley trysts with their girlfriends. The people running the great sputtering engine that is Classic Rock today are the grown-up versions of those guys who threw a cup of hot coffee at me as they drove by in a pickup truck when I was a punk rock teenager nearly three decades ago. As I recall, they cleverly shouted something inane and irrelevant about the B-52s as they sped off, inducing a "what the fuck?" cognitive dissonance that imprinted the memory on me forever.

When I got home this evening, I looked online to see who else had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, and was mildly surprised to see Leonard Cohen's name on the list as well, since they hadn't said anything about him on the radio. Disagree if you like, but I personally regard Cohen's work as a poet and musician to be a huge mockery of all that is real, right, and good. As an artist, the man is a clunky little dumptruck, a fakety-fake-o cardboard cut-out. He's a sheltered, coddled trust-fund baby who pulled the wool over countless eyes with his pointless insincere wankings by virtue of being obtuse and obscure enough to generate some interest in the minds of those who are automatically impressed by anyone working in the relatively rarified idiom of vaguely glum pseudo-intellectual minimalism. I guess it's pretty easy to make romantic longing seem deep when your only real problem in life is how to keep a woman around for more than a week. Aside from being featured on the soundtrack to Robert Altman's "McCabe and Mrs. Miller", Cohen's only real contribution to any culture worth preserving has been as the inspiration for the Austin Lounge Lizards' excellent song "Leonard Cohen's Day Job". Still, he's practically Keith Richards and God rolled into one in comparison with John Chewturd Mellencamp. Presumably because the species of organ grinder's assistant who regularly masturbated to the musical stylings of Journey and Foreigner when they were young never even heard of Leonard Cohen, the boss jocks on the radio this morning didn't bother to mention him.

As I was reading about all this online, I noticed the spelling used by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The clowns who run the place actually spell it "Rock and Roll", not "Rock 'n' Roll". Suddenly, somehow, it all made sense.

Please kill me.

current mood: cynical

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