O, Green Oregon: A Pictorial Adventure Through Chlorophyll Dreams

The wonderful makeshift bicycle setup I had for the trip. By simply tying every lose end and strap to the frame and carrier of the bike, my backpack sat snugly under some bungee cords.

Sometimes, even the most social of people feel the urge to head off into the woods and get better acquainted with oneself.

In Eugene, Oregon, I rather enjoyed the pleasant company of the folks I was staying with. As I was making my way back from Portland – which is an amazing, lively city by the way – my mother suggested I stop and stay with an old school friend of hers called Sarah. They were in some supposedly ghastly girls’ school called Cobham Hall in Kent in the 60’s, missing the frivolities of the times and instead being taught how to socialites or interior decorators and that sort of thing. Neither of them particularly enjoyed their time there, being of a more intellectual persuasion. Both my mother and Sarah ended up studying psychology, with Sarah a Professor of Psychology at the Oregon Research Institute and University of Surrey.

It was fascinating hearing tales of my mother’s time at school and coming from a psychologist, it was even more interesting to see the development of my mother and ultimately how it affected myself.

Sarah and her husband Larry had visited us in Ireland some time ago and apparently they were open to returning the favour. Larry was a tall fellow, too, reaching to an impressive 6’5″, apparently my own height, but he felt just that bit taller. They were very gracious hosts and treated me wonderfully.

My earlier plan was to cycle up north. This didn’t happen for a variety of reasons to do with cash, winds, routes and a couple of other prohibitive factors. Instead, Larry offered up his bike for a tour of Oregon. We examined routes and checked weather and the easiest and most pleasant route seemed to be the 72 mile trip from Eugene to Florence and back.

So this is what happened when I attempted to bicycle a 300km round trip after not having been on a bike in almost a year.

Total Distance: 186 Miles/ 300km

CLICK ON THE PICTURES FOR A LARGER VIEW

The road out of Eugene. Note the dark clouds in the distance. Dread filled my lower gut and, figuratively,my pants as I heard the sound of thunder over Eugene as I made my way west. My target was Fern Ridge Lake, where I was going to try out my camping gear.

Oregon is famed for its green beauty, bounteous trees and environmental protection policies. There is grandeur in this unspoilt countryside, something I find lacking in many parts of Britain and Ireland. Yes, we have forests, but we don't have millions of square miles of forests nor do we have a healthy wildlife population.

There is an incredible amount of water in Oregon. It rains all the time and the water is sucked up by all the billions of trees in the area and transforms the countryside into that luscious green I love so dearly. This is Fern Ridge Lake, where I had intended to camp, but since I was making such good progress, I decided to go further north instead.

I picked up a waterproof and windproof biking jacket for the trip. Insulated and breathable, a solid investment perfect for training in when I get back home. It was a bit too cold for spandex when I left, but then it warmed up and I could have used some leg cooling later in the journey.

Just ten or fifteen miles outside of Eugene, down in the Willamette Valley, tasteful houses dot the countryside. In my opinion, they're generally much nicer than those ugly bungalows the Irish seem to build in rural locations, but then again, I could be falling victim to the whole familiarity/contempt traps that I have unconsciously lain among my memories for that little island. I hope I can get a positive feeling beyond apathy for Ireland when I return, however brief and limited that time may be.

First Person Bicycling the empty backroads north of Fern Ridge Lake. My target was a sheltered, pleasant little field within which to pitch my tent and not get arrested or shot at by the highly territorial local savages.

With so much water, wildflowers flourish in the boggy lowlands.

Ah, the quaint American protestant church, sacred holders of the Holy Doctrines "Rejecting the Accumulated Knowledge Resulting From Thousands of Years of Scientific Inquiry" and "Early Mesopotamian Herders Had a Better Understanding of Reality Than Everyone Who Came Later" among other beliefs. But at least they're not abusing children physically!

Minor epiphany as I realised what was missing from my trip and, ultimately, my life at this point: a hearty supply of crumbly English cheese.

Dawn of Day Two, 06:30. This would mark the beginning of the longest stretch of the trip, the 65 miles or so to Florence from just outside some unremarkable little town called Junction City. I had pitched a tent in a field about a mile out of town, eager to get an early start on what was going to be a long, long day. Some of my stuff got damp over night and my copy of Guns, Germs and Steel still looks pretty weathered. Lesson learned: ziploc bags.

This is me thinking: "Oh, how lovely the weather is! And there, in the blue-hazed distance are the hills I must pass over. Oh how delightful this is going to be. And easy, too, I'm sure! What could go wrong!?!"

Ah, the pleasant woodland road leading up the hill. So far so good! I listened to the birds chirping like a million tasteful ringtones going off at once and a soft, light mist to keep me cool. Almost to the top!

What a view! Endless forest for miles in every direction, nothing but natural wilderness. Watching the clouds slowly roll over the undulating landscape, solitude and nature. What could be more human than to admire this wonderful state of nature?

What... the... that's not supposed to be there at all. This is where I realise I had taken the wrong route and was now going to attempt the uphill struggle on wet, loose gravel and increasing rainfall. What with the risk of falling into a gravelly pit and potentially plucking stones out of my shins, I was forced to concede defeat. I dismounted and walked for almost six miles, climbing up to about 1000ft. The highest point was, rather amusingly, the lowest point of the trip.

But the view was spectacular, so I found it difficult to get into a bad mood. Besides, this was voluntary, so I just embraced it for what it was. This is pretty much what I was looking for, too, so no worries.

Thankfully I made it out in good time as I joyfully gut laughed my way back onto a decent tarmac road out of the gravelly path of forested doom, thrilled to be able to ride again!

Success! It was pretty much all downhill from here, with only a few minor hills to climb, just to keep me physically challenged. I tell you I felt physically challenged afterwards and a wheelchair would have been most comfortable.

I've seen this sort of thing before in Sardinia, where the locals show their disapproval of the government by shooting at road signs as they drive by. Here, I think they're just bored and have guns.Rednecks is rednecks, be they in Italy or Oregon.

Triangle Lake, the source of the Siuslaw River. It has this delightful little lakeside community with hundreds of private docks. I stopped for a while, stretched and gazed out at the view, which was magnificent as you can see here.

Six hours in. Lunchtime by the river. I'd already broken my record for most distance cycled in one day and I was only 2/3 of the way there.

14 miles to go. If I'd taken the 126 as advertised, I would have gotten to this point much quicker, but I took the much calmer, more scenic route, even though it's quite some distance extra. I had covered almost sixty miles by this point and the last 14 were into the wind, despite my grumbling protestations to the Weather Gods.

The last fourteen miles to Florence are along the river, the most beautiful route I've cycled on. Pity about the traffic, but it was a flat road and full of glory.

I have a dream. One day, Ireland could be replanted and all that land that's just sitting there doing nothing, serving little purpose other than being a shiny emerald field, will be forested and full of trees again. It used to be one of the most forested countries in Europe. Remember deer, bears, wolves, eagles and all that sort of great woodland life in Ireland? No? BECAUSE THEY'RE DEAD. The climate is similar and though Ireland has its own charm, it's a denuded wasteland compared to the majesty I imagine it once had before the British Navy and other irresponsible treekillers cut it all down.

I love the texture of this bridge. And that little house is just a cherry on top!

Made it to Florence, Oregon! Eleven-ish hours. I'm told that's not a very good time, but in my defence, I took hundreds of photos and sniffed hundreds of flowers on the way. I couldn't really smell them on account of having next to no sense of smell, but I tried to sniff them anyway.

Pretty much sums up my feelings at this point.

Made it to the Pacific. Oh, how much I love that Ocean.

About ten minutes after I hit the Pacific Coast, the Sun, that beacon of purist delight, came out and set a precedent that would last for the remainder of my trip.

The bridge coming out of Florence heading South. The Oregon Dunes stand to the West, my campground at Jessie M. Honeyman National Park about two miles down the road.

Tent, minus the highly-practical rain shield due to an hilarious wind-related accident in Mexico, served me well. Waking to the melancholy dawn amid veritable tree-giants was a joy -waking with aching limbs and an ass that seemed to be undergoing post-bicycle rigor mortis, was not .

The Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. This place was the inspiration for Frank Herbert's seminal science fiction books Dune. I've only seent the David Lynch film, so I can't judge the books, but the Dunes here were nowhere near as incomplete, bizarre and full of body horror as a David Lynch film. Some of them reach a pretty impressive height, about the same size as the biggest hills in the Netherlands by my calculations, but walking up that very loose sand is extremely difficult and very tiring.

Endless fields of golden bushes lie just outside the Dunes in the boggier areas of the park. I spent hours just lying down and pondering upon the mysteries of life and the universe on the Dunes overlooking these fields, entranced by the wonderful collaboration of blue sky and yellow earth.

With my wind up radio and lantern thingy, I wandered up to the highest Dune with the clearest view to watch the Invincible Sun bid farewell each evening. Sheltered from the wind in the Dune grass, I would stare into the bright light as it projected its image onto my retinas. Then I would stumble back to the campsite, partially blinded, attempt to read for a bit and fall asleep under the canopy.

The Invincible One gives one last surge of enlightenment over the Pacific before reclining in comfort behind some distant cloud bank in the West.

I blagged my way into the Best Western's sauna and jacuzzi the day before I left. My legs were pretty stiff despite stretching pretty vigorously over the past 48 hours since the crossing. I used a bit of charm and that deep baritone to convince the staff to let me relax and recover in the warm healing waters below, which they did much to my surprise. I dropped them a tip afterwords, but they refused it and I cycled back to the campsite with renewed vigour in my aching thighs.

Panorama Part One

Panorama Part Two

Panorama Part Three

Panorama Part Four

09:00 the morning of my departure from the Pacific Coast. I had intended to head north, but the winds were fierce and I had already hit the coast north of Florence with Sarah and Larry the previous week.

Leaving Florence with a satisfied mind and that pleasant feeling that you know that no matter what one decides to do or how one chooses to approach it, this is going to be a gruelling day's work.

Mile ten, just outside Mapleton, the first stretch of my legs working it's magic and loosening up for the next 50.

This was the highest point along Highway 126 and they thoughtfully provide this button that alerts cars to your presence as you enter the tunnel and asks them to slow down. It was still absolutely terrifying in there. A passing collosus of a truck at 30mph is still extremely loud and ear-exploding as it passes you in the naturally sound-amplifying tunnel.

I'm told this is what dying looks like.

The halfway point and time for an energy drink. I had picked up a Gatorade, one of those 5 hour energy shot things and a caffeinated mocha can of some sort to give me that push. It worked! Here's me at the halfway point, two and a half hours in. It's all downhill and flat from here.

Note: the road here is deceptively empty. Most of the time there were some cars farting their fuel into my face as I struggled to not fall off into a ditch. Which happened once. Never try to wipe your nose while cycling on the hard shoulder in windy conditions.

The return journey was hot and sunny the whole way back, making the whole thing much more enjoyable than the trip across the s/foggy mountains, but twice as dehydrating.

Sweet steamed milk of success! Arrived back in Eugene six hours later, hungry for meat. I promptly went to the supermarket and picked up some liquified manliness so I could enjoy a glory beer!

Arrogant Bastard Ale. Totally deserved. One glass and I was feeling pretty intoxicated, but so relaxed as I bathed in the accomplishment! What a trip!

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Updates

Hello,

You may have noticed a slight tonal change in some of my recent posts. If you didn’t notice the tone, then maybe you noticed the topic choice. If you didn’t notice that, then you probably just looked at the pictures, didn’t you? There are some pretty ones up there, so I can’t blame you. I’ve got thousands more of them if you want some more and I have plenty of pictures of me going to places and standing in front of things like every other tourist ever!

Anyway, the reason for the change in direction is this: I’m not really blogging about my tourist experiences that much in the US. I’ll get to that later. Something more important is on my mind, desperate to make the final leap from my firing brain cells to your eyeballs. It’s more important than the weird and wonderful cast of characters that make up my world out here. But I suppose importance is subjective, so stick with me and we’ll find something we both enjoy.

What’s more concerned me is the US itself. This is my first experience of it as an adult and my first hands-on sampling of that which I read about so much. It’s also a journal of my difficult attempts to understand this indefinably complex modern world we live in. I’ll return to the British Isles & Ireland and I’ll be a normal blue-eyed Anglo-Saxon with a penchant for witty pub banter, good living and all the things that make us unremarkable. But I do hope to come back with a far more evolved understanding of that which is before me. I will have new comparisons and greater ability to appreciate objectively. I hope to be able to use this skill for good.

My thirst for knowledge is like my thirst for water – and I’ll keep on drinking until the day I die. Hopefully not of dehydration, for the record.

This blog is now becoming an expression point for my journey through the grand questions of life. I feel like I’ve gotten the larger questions of life answered at an earlier age than most. I feel comfortable that my understanding of spiritual and religious questions is sufficiently expansive and nuanced. I think I’ve got my political sense heading in the right direction. I’m not sure how developed my personal ethics are. I don’t know how my personality will go from here. So this blog has become more of a platform for my public-appropriate quest to figure out concepts of justice, morality, politics, society and religion. It’s less about me than it was when I was Central America because right now I feel like the US is a far more interesting topic and though my perspective may not be anything particularly fresh or new, it’s still mine.

This has now become my attempt to understand the order of things in a vast sea of complex chaos. And it is yours to read, too, if you have the patience!

So enjoy it for what it is and please don’t judge it on what it was or what it isn’t! Towards the end of the month, I’ll have the tourist stuff back to the fore, I promise!

Best,

Jb

PS: thanks for reading this thing! There are far more exciting things on the internets, so thanks for taking some time to explore my version of cyberspace. Also, thanks to Peter for editing this post for me in his spare time. Sharp eyes, man, sharp eyes.

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Transiental Experiences

“You got social security number? They own you! You got a car? They own it! You live in a house, man?! They own you!”

In his crusty dreadlocks and filthy full body sleeping bag/overalls, the young man from Kansas was adamant that no matter who you were, where you are or what you’re doing, they own you.

“Man, this cop, man, this cop screwed me over. Took my ID. Without my ID, man, I can’t go anywhere or do anything. I’m off the radar, man, a free being. You ever life free, man? No, because they own you, man, they own you.”

His friend from Fresno, California, responded. “It’s true man, the cops just up and take people’s cars. Guy was driving, they found some weed, cop steals his car and sells it on. And they took his weed. The cops are all junkies, too, man. They put you away for years for drugs, but they’re the ones selling and takin’ and all. They jack your car, take your weed, smoke that shit and you get fucked over, man! The cops in this country, they just make laws for other people, man. That’s why I got my Glock [handgun], if a cop tries to take my car, man, I’ll just take out my Glock and I’ll just be like: ‘what’re you gonna do now?'”

“Dude, then you’ve pulled a gun on a cop and you’re really fucked.” Kansas had a point.

“Yeah, but if anyone else tries to mess with me, I got my gun, man. That’s living free.”

We were sitting in the People’s Park in Berkeley, California. I joined these guys in the early afternoon after they beckoned me over. I was having a nice nap on the grass in the sun on a warm Sunday afternoon, wary of AIDs-filled needles. I thought why the hell not, whatever could happen couldn’t be worse than a cross-country Greyhound Bus Lines trip, could it?People of all variety fascinate me. Even boring people are fascinating because I just try to figure out: “why are you so dull? What happened to make you this dull?!” Same with weird people. Same with homeless. Everyone is a story to me.

The People's Park in Berkeley, California. One lucky homeless guy managed to keep a pretty healthy looking cat in his pram. Most of the bags and stuff here belong to homeless, but during the day, you do find some students and locals on the grass, sitting or playing frisbee and just enjoying the park for what it isn't.

These were all young guys, maybe 19 to 23. I asked the guy if he had any family. He couldn’t get an ID because he needed his birth certificate and he couldn’t get his birth certificate because it was in Kansas. If he got arrested, he’d be in limbo.

“Nah, I got a father, but nah, I ain’t got family. He ain’t gonna help me out. My birth cert is somewhere in Kansas, but I can’t go back there, I’ve got some warrants and shit. So no, I gotta stay on the road.”

This guy was desperate; he had dead eyes. He looked in bad shape. Really skinny with bad, off-coloured crooked teeth – the tell-tale signs of poor nutrition. He was in Berkeley because it never really got cold out here. He’d spent a while in Skid Row in Los Angeles, which has the highest concentration of homeless people in the US, and had come to the Bay Area to find… something. He didn’t say what. His daily routing was pretty simple. He usually just grabbed some cardboard at night and made a fresh bed after spending the day in the park or on the street asking for cash.

He got by on less than fifteen dollars a day most of the time.

There were some forty people in the People’s Park of varied age, race, sex,health and disposition. They’d left civisilised life behind them, rejected everything they were brought up, viewed the modern world with mud-tinted glasses and hated the police and other authorities with a passion. Some of them were only “visiting”, some had been for a while. There were a lot of drugs and some laughter. Some wheezed and coughed with obvious ailments. Some were there by choice, most by necessity. Cops cycled through, but usually didn’t do anything- no sense in making the locals mad.

The scrawny white kid from Fresno was only recently made homeless. He’d left home, fled and hit the road. He’d done some time in prison for drug offences. He had his gun and a small pack of clothes and sleeping gear.

He was not alone. He was one of several million.

America’s Homeless Disease

Homeless people and their trolleys. It's like a cupboard with wheels and stores rags, cans, sleeping stuff and a limitless supply of crazy looks to be distributed whenever possible. This guy is probably recently homeless with his headphones and cleanish clothing. Give him a year or schizophrenia and we'll see how well those headphones work. Many have prams, go-karts, bicycles with tow trolleys or shopping carts, it's all a matter of preference.

I watched all the 2008 Presidential debates from the early primaries to the network appearances and vice-presidential debates. Almost nobody mentioned the poor except John Edwards. It’s apparently a non-issue, irrelevant to the runnings of the Federal Government. At a state level and city-level, there are plenty of people doing their bit, but the majority of American politics is not done with any serious regard for the unfortunates, impoverished, homeless or transients.

In a country as rich as this it makes no sense to me that millions of people would starve or be forced to sleep on the streets.

Patrick Roche was an accountant from Chicago staying at the hostel in Portland. He was on a major roadtrip after retirement and divorce. He was a strange fellow, but very well clued in.

“This is a cold-blooded country. If you don’t have a job, you don’t have a work ethic, you aren’t an American.”

After the military, most of the federal government spends its money on social programmes. But its nowhere near enough to provide that net that stops those in Western Europe who lose their jobs and homes from falling into a pit with lubed walls. In America, thanks to millions of people losing their jobs, Tent Cities have cropped up outside major urban centres. Transients and homeless are in every city, just sort of wandering around, begging for some change, lost in a daze. They have the slow shuffle of George Romero zombies. Sometimes you really feel for them.

Every major city I’ve been in and I’ve seen twitchers and tweakers doing the brainless shuffle through the streets, oozing desperation from every unbathed pore in their body. It’s a grim sight.

According to Patrick Roche, you get used to it and stop caring. That which is familiar becomes boring and over-familiarity just leads to contempt.

Cold-blooded is right.

Comedy Is Tragedy That Happens To Other People

A cop makes sure a homeless guy stays where's he's a-sittin', if'n he knows what's good fer 'em, which'd be on the ground, see?

I’ve spoken of the horrifying pit of horribleness that is the Greyhound Bus Line. It’s a lumbering, nasty monopolistic masstransit system known for its large supply of crack addicts, methheads, weirdos, psychos, thieves and generally mentally and physically unfit people.

I find it fascinating. It’s like being trapped on a loudly vibrating metal rectangular cuboid with a random selection of the American Underclass. For example, I was on the way from San Francisco to Portland trying to fall asleep with earplugs in my ears and a bandana over my eyes. I receive a sharp slap to the back of the head. Rage filled my vision. I turned round, removed the sleep aids and asked “what the fuck?! Why did you just hit me in the head?!”

A big, unhealthy looking African-American looks at me steadily. “Yo, that wasn’t me.”

I gave him a skewed glance. He was the only one sitting there and was still looking right at me.

“I called your name. You got a phone I could borrow?”

“Why would I give you my phone after you just hit me in the head? And no, I don’t have a phone.”

“Oh. Cool.”

He went and asked someone else.

Then, there was Salt Lake City Greyhound Station. I arrived two hours before my bus was to leave. The queue was already pretty big, with a lot of bags in front of the door and people sitting around them. To the right of the queue, in a stained red top and flab that hung below her gargantuan knees, was a miserable looking woman of some years. She gave me a sideways glance and asked in harsh tones if I worked here. I said no, but is there something I can help you with. She brightened up. She seemed to not be all there in the mind and was restless. She’d been waiting there in that same spot for ten hours, after she’d missed her earlier bus to Sacramento. She handed me a piece of paper and explained all her medical conditions. It was a doctor’s note saying she was legally blind, schizophrenic, bipolar, morbidly obese, deaf in one ear and in horrible condition in general. I felt terrible. Nobody else was dealing with her and the Greyhound staff just sort of shrugged and said she’d be there for hours but wasn’t really bothering anyone.

She couldn’t walk properly. I knelt and prayed with her, even though I was very reluctant to do so at first for obvious reasons (one being I’m a pretty strong atheist agnostic and the other being that her hands were probably disgusting). She held my hands and prayed audibly. Most of the people in the station could hear her white, Mid-West drawl recanting a prayer she was making up as she went along. I just shut my eyes and listened to her rave. She called me Brother James and claimed that I was a reborn apostle sent here to help her. In her prayer, she wailed for my soul and hoped I would accept Jesus into my heart. I wondered why those that seem to be so obviously cursed or neglected by their supposed benevolent God are the ones who have the strongest faith. I spoke to the staff at the station on her behalf and they assured me that she was getting onto the bus first. She thanked me and kissed my hands.

Then, in deep thought after the weirdness of the experience I’d just had, I sat on my bags in the line for the bus, right next to a fellow who was sleeping with his sunglasses on the hard ground. All he had with him was an overcoat and a lot of unkempt hair. He was maybe twenty five. He told me his name was Brian (I found out shortly after that he gave a different name to a rather attractive girl I spoke to later). Brian looked pretty emaciated. He had no money on him and had been on the bus for some three days.

When Brian woke up, he engaged me in conversation. His words made no sense; it was madness. Verbal nonsense. I asked bad questions to keep him going because his nonsense was bizarre and fantastic. It was a Swiss-cheese argument from a Swiss-cheese brain: full of holes and circles without any real substance other than a bit of animal fat.  For some reason, he kept on reverting to tantric sex and womanhood whenever he could. He spoke quickly and was probably articulate in his earlier life, but now he just spoke incoherent babbles. I think he was on meth – his pupils were dilated like a child-imminent cervix.

The obese lady warned me about his “weasel words” and called me over with a bit of stressed panic in her voice. She needed to go to the bathroom. So I went to the staff and they lent me a chair with wheels on it. No, not a wheelchair, an actual rotating office chair. She struggled and heaved into with the grace of a beached whale, groaning and moaning in pain and discomfort. I wheeled her down the hall and told Brian to watch my bags. She tumbled like a boulder in Indian Jones into the bathroom and emerged ten minutes later smelling like a baby’s nappy. she was so fat that even if she had the stretch and reach to give a proper wipe, she’d still trap a pretty large amount of crap down there. I wheeled her back and promptly disinfected my hands with the hand wash I always carry around with me (I should note that I did this about 15 times during my experience with her). We prayed again and she let out a little tear for sweet Brother James and his kindness.

It would have been harder for me to step back and let these people suffer. I don’t normally have an opportunity to help people like that. I don’t normally accept responsibility for the well-being of strangers, but if someone is in need, I will help in anyway I can. It’s not often I get the chance to do so and I took the opportunity to help the needy purely out of my own selfish desire to feel noble and loving. If put in the same situation again, by all means I would do the exact same as I did.

I returned to Brian and tried to read. The rest of those waiting had been watching me during all my interactions. One guy later said he didn’t know why I did it. I didn’t respond because I wasn’t too sure myself.

About an hour through, Brian got up. He came back five minutes later. Something had gone wrong. He was shaking really badly. He lay down on his coat. I offered my pillow and he took it with a very shaky hand. I asked what’s up. He removed his sunglasses to reveal a massive black eye leaking fluid. Fuck. I went to work, reaching to the top of my bag and taking out my trusty first aid kit and some painkillers. I gave him my bottle of water and told him to take a seat. He was reluctant to accept help, but I convinced him I knew what I was doing and told him exactly what I was doing while I was doing and making sure he was okay with it.

He was pretty concussed. The eye was swelling up. I cleaned it with a bit of cotton and wiped it down. We used the cool end of the water bottle as ice. Then I placed some sterile gauze over the top of his eye and a wrapped a bandage over that. Then I gave him a bandana to wrap around his head to keep it all in place. It was the best I could offer. He lay down some more before getting up and walking like a zombie up and down the main corridor. I asked him if the guy who did it was still here and he said yes. I walked with him.

I returned to the beached whale of a lady. She was getting aggressive with the other passengers and loudly demanding to be let on first. She repeated herself often. I calmed her down by telling her the time and reassuring her that she was going to get back on there. Meanwhile, Brian continued to shuffle. The old lady beckoned me over and asked me to call a number for her. She said it was to some special service in Sacramento that was waiting for her. I said I couldn’t call the number, that it was too late and her story didn’t make any sense. She started to cry a bit and then tried to guilt trip me into it. I said I couldn’t and that she was being manipulative. She didn’t like that. So she asked me to pray with her again, which I did.

When the bus arrived, I had to get into my pushiest mode to make sure the staff honoured their promise to let her on first. I wheeled her out on the chair with wheels and she made her way onto the bus in considerable pain and thanked me, grateful that someone had helped her.

Brian was in a bad way. He was struggling to get up and out. He asked me to sit next to him on the bus because he was still scared. I said of course. He had my pillow around his neck and my bandana around his bandaged, nasty black eye. We got our bags in order and tried to get on the bus. The Greyhound people wouldn’t let him on. I demanded to know why, I pointed out this this guy was concussed, had no money and keeping him here would be a very bad thing indeed. I lied and said I had medical experience and that the best thing would be to get him on the bus right away and let him sleep. They threatened to kick me off, too, if I kept it up. It looked like they were going to call the police on him, apparently he’d had some complaints put to him (my opinion is that whoever punched him had also complained) and that he was not getting on that bus.

I left him there in Salt Lake City with my pillow and bandana. I wished him luck and told him he could keep them. He needed it more than I did (my neck disagreed after the 17 hour trip – pillows are very useful things for someone tall). Brian was escorted back inside, unable to properly argue his case. It probably wouldn’t have helped either – he was never going to get on that bus. I hope he made it out of there alive.

The fat woman got off in Sacramento. I have no idea what her plan was from there. She looked lost in the station. I re-boarded for San Francisco and wished her luck. She didn’t respond.

Neither of them know who I am. Neither of them will ever see me again. I treated them with dignity, but I didn’t get my back scratched in return (in fact, my back was sore as hell without my pillow on that damned bus from hell), but my karmic stock with the universe has been paying out ever since.

That Nasty Feeling of Nihilistic Social Policies

Brother James, Friend of the Homeless in San Francisco

I asked myself why this would be so bad in a country that is, by many accounts, one of the most developed and progressive nations on the planet. Why would they have such a large population of starving degenerates? Why they allow something like this to go on, if not for the sake of the homeless themselves, then for the sake of those who have to deal with them or put up with them on the streets?

Some quick thoughts on the homeless problems:

1) Lack of affordable housing. I have a solution for this one. Ireland, in its waxy building phase, built too many homes – about 20% of houses are unoccupied. We have way, way too many houses and not enough people. Back before the famine, the island had 8.5 million or so. Now, there are just over 5.5 million. I say bring some homeless people over and put them up in the houses – economics be damned. The island can support more people. What we really need to do is replace the entire corrupt political class (which is most of them), borrow the Dutch government, give them five years to train and teach a whole new generation of sensible politicians, then we really shouldn’t have a problem with supporting an extra two million people – especially if they’re English speaking Americans, right?

2) Mental illness. This one angers me. If someone is mentally ill or needs care, the best solution is rarely to shove them out on the streets, punish them, starve them, give them a cynical persecution complex and prevent them from ever returning to civilised society. That’s just plain full-on dickishness. Put them in a home. Tell churches to stop building extensions and start doing some real care. Sacrifice a pool and give someone a respectable existence. The mentally ill are victims of the natural random disorder of things. Help them out. It feels good. Nations have karma, too, you know. The universe will reward!

3) Substance abuse. Tricky one, I agree, as its based on free choice to a certain extent. But look at it this way: most of the harm done by drugs is caused by the fact that they’re illegal. Hard drugs cause harm, that’s true, but then you do little other than increase the harm to the individual and to the society by treating those who want a quick rush as criminals rather than victims. Many homeless are on the streets not because they lost everything to drugs (though this is often the case, too), but rather that they were caught by the authorities and lost everything due to the illegality of the drugs. Reforming substance laws is vital to the progress of a society. End the war on drugs, end the war on personal freedom, start the amnesty with the victims of both.

4) Prisoners and military veterans. This one is harsh. Really harsh. When the government spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on you as a soldier, it teaches you how to kill but not how to live. Autonomy is not really respected by the military. Combine this with post-traumatic stress and flashbacks and the sort of soul-ripping that many soldiers go through, it’s only natural that many of them don’t have a clue how to live in the real world and just sort of wander off into the misty streets of despair. About 20% of the 30,000 suicides annually in the US are committed by veterans. With all that patriotic flag-waving and pride in the good ol’ boys protecting the narrow patch of real estate they also happened to be born in, I find it ridiculous that the militaristic pricks pushing war don’t bother with the follow up and support the troops after they get home.

According to one metric, about 1% (~3.5 million) people in the US experience homelessness in a given year. Most of it is temporary.

All of it is shameful.

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Today Would Be My 22nd Birthday

Dearest People of the World,

I hope you are well.

April 20th, 2010 is the day I turn 22 years old. April 20th is a special day for me no matter where I am. It is a special day in the US, too – they call it 4/20 (after their backwards-ass calendar system which goes middle, small, large unlike the rest of the world with their small to large number system) and it is the day the devote to smoking a certain special substance which I will not be partaking in.

In Germany and Austria, it’s not a special day. It’s a day when someone we’d all like to forget, but wisely can’t, was born. That’s right, I share a birthday with Hitler. Not too proud of that one, for reasons that I’m sure you may be aware.

And Muhammed (please don’t fatwa me, again), too is also an April 20th sort of guy. Not too proud of that one either (for reasons you may not be aware of).

I guess two of the most charismatic, paradigm-shifting leaders to have ever existed is something to be proud of. I just wish it was FDR, Cicero or Clement Atlee or someone else in power who caused a lot less death and destruction.

Glancing at Wikipedia this morning, I noticed it is also the date when my ancestor Oliver Cromwell dissolved the Rump Parliament in a glaring move of undemocratic ballsiness. For someone who purported to be a democratic parliamentarian, he did some questionable things. I suppose England just wasn’t ready for complete abandonment of undemocratic authoritarian rule and though ahead of his time in some ideas, he was still a product of that environment and was thus inherently constrained by it.

It is also the date of the Columbine Massacre. Ugh. Bad times, America, bad times. Let’s blame heavy metal for that one. Ignore the guns, militarism, violence, greed and decay evident in the system. It was all heavy metal.

Funny that most of the major events that get remembered are the ones of extreme death and violence. If only we could remember April 2oth as the day when someone spotted some really pleasant flowers, got a new dog, connected emotionally with a pretty girl or had all their dreams come true (except for the ones they didn’t really want to come true). I’m sure many tasteful weddings happened, much joy was had and someone discovered something that changed their lives and the rest of humanity for the better on this day. But that’s not what we’re being reminded of, even though I think we should.

Astrologically, April 20th is interesting because it is on the cusp of Aries and Taurus, depending on who you talk to or which sky you’re looking at. It’s interesting because it’s not. It’s just the same amount of nonsense and bollocks as the rest of astrology.

A Special Day

Me at The Great Salt Lake, Utah.

Anyway, it’s a special day. For me, 21 was one of my best years ever. Almost as good as 17, when things were going so very very good for a while and then got bad towards the end. At 17, we won the provincial rugby championship with the school, I was part of the duo that won the provincial debating championship, I had an awesome girlfriend (until something went horribly wrong) and I was doing well in school. 21 was much better than 18, 19 and 20, when my health just sort of collapsed as a result of some heavy metal toxicities and everything pretty much went down from there. So my hopes for 22 are high – I’m healthy, happy and doing well. Success awaits.

First, some changes. I’ve been growing a beard and living with a pretty scruffy level of facial hair for three months and three years, respectively. That is now done with. I will not attempt anything other than clean shaven for the year. The beard that I’ve been growing on the road is now gone. Good grooming practices are now something of importance to me, when they were not previously.

Second, I’m not going to swear as much. I don’t swear a huge amount anyway, but I do throw around some pretty fucken hard words every now and then. This will change, but let’s not start holding our dicks just yet, for this may take a bit of time before I removing vulgarity completely from my vocabulary.

Third: routine. I’ve learned endless amounts about myself and the importance of discipline and routine on this trip. When I get back, I am going to attempt to become far more organised, regimented and disciplined.  No more slack, no more procrastinating. No more sleep-ins, a lot less Reddit. Much more exercise, regular exercise, regular meals, regular sleeping patterns. All in preparation for a marathon in 2011, that’s my goal. I’ll probably have to work next year to get my finances to somewhere acceptable before uni, so I’m going to have work like a demon on keeping myself in the best damn condition possible to avoid relapsing into the illness that plagued me so badly this time last year (note: I didn’t actually have the plague, that’s just a clichéd turn of phrase).

This is the site of my last birthday. I turned 21 in Stockholm, Sweden during a session of the European Youth Parliament, so technically I can say my 21st birthday was in the Blue Hall where they give out the Nobel Prize and then the reception in the Gyllen Salon (Golden Salon) afterwards where we ate canapés, drank champagne and made merry If anyone has some good pictures from this, please please send me some! The ones on Facebook don't do it justice!

Fourth, to continue on this journey through the wonderment of existence, to embrace the beauty of life, seek out new experiences, to feel the glory in every human, place and thing and to find some meaning in it all. I will never give up my search for advanced ideas and knowledge. I will never abandon my ideals, unattainable or elusive though they may be, for I truly believe that even to step in the right direction, to strive for them, though you may never reach them, is the most worthy of goals. I will proudly fight injustice and unfairness in the world using my knowledge and skills to help with all my ability for the good of as many as possible. I will always attempt to give more back to this world than I have taken from it. I aim for the highest virtue and honour so that I may seek my own contentment in the happiness of others. I will attempt to be the greatest human I know how to be and I will always try to know how to know better.

I am ambitious. Of that, have no doubt. You may doubt the rest of it and I’m going to try to prove myself worthy, but I fell a long way while ill. I’ve picked myself up, but I haven’t started to run yet.

My current location and scene for my 22nd Birthday in Berkeley, California. In the background, you can see Oakland and off to the west is San Francisco. A fitting place indeed.

The Grand Plan Finale

Okay, take a look. What does that look like to you? To me, it looks like badassery at its finest. It looks like hardcore finale. That’s because it is. Tomorrow, I start on an epic 1000km trip from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon by bicyle. I’m aiming for about three weeks on the road, camping on beaches and under the trees, living free and clean all bad spirit from my system. I’m going to seize this opportunity to reflect and ponder on the deeper meaning of this trip and exorcise all existential angst that may be remaining before I return to Europe. This will be my first time travelling truly solo on the trip so far. Though I have travelled solo, I have never travelled alone. This is the meditative retreat I’ve been looking for. This will be my 22 days in the wilderness.

See the picture on the right of the header at the top with the road, mist and trees? Well, that’s the phase I’m on now. It’s going to be wet, wild and wonderful. Good times ahead!

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Oh, Those Wacky Mormons

Adventures With Mormonism

I have to say that the Mormons have actually built themselves quite a pleasant city in the Salt Lake Valley. It's clean and safe but it felt lifeless all the time I was there.

NOTE: This is being updated a little late from California.

Travelling the world, living the dream of Americana, feeling the brilliance and beauty in the people of this planet and generally living enviably leads me to some strange places. One of those places was Utah. It is a massive state of great diversity, wonderful natural beauty. Deserts, forests, canyons and mountains all await the Utah tourist.

But something lives below the steep shadows of the mountains. Dust swirls in the basins. Salt fills the lakes.

And strange peoples inhabit the cities.

Utah is the home – nay, the Mecca, the New Jerusalem if you will – of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. But please, call them Mormons, after their Holy Book, the Book of Mormon. Mormonism is the faith founded by American Joseph Smith and now has about fourteen million adherents across the planet. It is a faith with celestial philosophy, interesting interpretations of marriage and wacky rituals involving those too dead to hear the true word of the Prophets.

I spent a week in Utah with one goal in mind: to learn about Mormons, figure out their ways and feel the madness all by myself. I have come to several conclusions about Mormonism that I would like to share with you. I’ll try to be original about this and not repeat the stuff previously written about Mormons in other places and give you my own personal thoughts and twists on the matter for your delight and amusement. This is probably going to be a long essay like the last post, but I’ll break it down into digestible factoids for those raised on modern technology like myself. Sorry for those raised on television. This may be hard.

NOTE: If you’re somewhat unsure as to what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints actually believe, then look here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormonism

Or from the horse’s mouth: http://mormon.org/mormonorg/eng/

And the Book of Mormon itself: http://mormon.org/mormonorg/eng/basic-beliefs/the-restoration-of-truth/the-book-of-mormon

A Brief Framing Before We Begin: It’s not that I’m totally against the idea of God (though it is somewhat philosophically disagreeable and highly unlikely), it’s just that I think it’s completely unnecessary to my understanding of the universe and I can function rather well without it and all the silliness that comes with it. Go ahead and believe if you think it adds to your existence and understanding of life on this planet, I don’t mean to take that away from you, but I would like to share my belief and you are free to accept or reject it as you see fit. It’s just like balls, really: don’t shove it down my throat and I won’t shove it down yours.

It's a rather beautiful temple, I think. A bit masonic, but pretty nonetheless. It's the Salt Lake Temple, the spiritual heart of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Conclusion One: Mormonism is not that different from the rest of the major religions and is painted with the same streaks of crazy to be found elsewhere in the world

Mormonism is  the same brand of nut flavoured Christian yoghurt with a sprinkling of American pioneer ideology on top of its European colonial culture. It is Modern Christianity tailored and personalised for 1800’s America. Joseph Smith – a charismatic leader, liar and conman – just modified Christianity to the New World, replacing the exodus of the Jews to Israel with an exodus to the Americas, placing the great characters and actions in America and thus giving their new land a divine, Christian God-approved home. Smith’s followers felt safe that their lives here were now sanctioned by the grace of God, that America was a heavenly gift to them, the Chosen Pioneers of the New World. For an ignorant peasant in the early colonies and then in the settlements on the outskirts of a harsh and unknown continent, this would be an enticing proposition. One thing I approve of is that Smith added in some science fiction of sorts (pre-dating Jules Verne and HG Wells by quite some time), claiming that heaven was a tangible location out in the distant galaxy called Kolob – which is funny because it sounds like ‘bollock’ backward and is even funnier because bollocks is precisely what astronomers think of Kolob.

To put it succinctly, Smith just took the original concepts of Christianity and the Bible and then correlated, connected and knitted them all together into a bespoke suite of Christiana Americana. It’s like bad Christian fan fiction where people on the internets write exciting new stories of your favourite characters – but instead of writing of Boba Fett/Gandalf/Pikachu/Sailor Moon/Gordon Freeman and their wacky adventures, it’s about Jesus/Hezekiah/Moroni. It’s like Hercules in New York with Arnold Schwarzenegger except this time it’s Jesus in Ancient New York. It’s like when Hollywood remakes an awesome foreign film (The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, Infernal Affairs and The Departed, Death at a Funeral and Death at a Funeral or Le Dîner de Cons and Dinner for Schmucks along with a load of other great films ruined) and then modifies the great original for American audiences. Critics almost unanimously regard the remake as inferior, sterilised, unnecessary, crap or totally pointless (except for The Departed, which is awesome). Well, that’s what Joseph Smith did: he succeeded in a pointless Hollywood remake of the Bible.

Conclusion Two: Mormonism is just part of a trend and no more deserving of mockery than other form of faith-based belief

Joseph Smith, Buddha, Jesus Christ and Muhammed (please don't fatwa me) just chilling out as the Super Best Friends.

One of Christianity’s greatest abilities is its flexibility. Most of the modern rituals of Christianity are concessions to indigenous beliefs of the Romans, the Greeks, the Celts, the Germans, the Angles, the Dacians, the Scandinavians and a multitude of other tribes across the world. In Mexico, Christianity is blended with the old Aztec beliefs and you thus have an amalgamation of Jesus and Tezcatlipoca in the form of Black Jesus. Eastern Orthodox is Chirstianity tailored for Eastern Europeans and Greeks and some of the rituals and date of festivals differ because of that slight cultural, pre-Christian difference. Easter is based on old pagan European fertility rites. Christmas represents the rebirth of agriculture and, thus, life in the middle of winter by celebrating the birth of Jesus and the New Year.  Christianity just tends to come along to the party and say: “Oi, hold on! We’re not actually celebrating the Feast of the Goddess of the Dawn Eostre, but actually the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! You’ve got it all wrong. Oh, by all means keep on celebrating and making merry, but don’t forget who you’re really worshipping: us!”

And eventually people did forget that they were celebrating Eostre and started celebrating Easter but dedicating it to the Christian God and the stories of Jesus.

Christianity is the most successful philosophy of indoctrination the world has ever seen.

I am of the opinion that Christianity is predominantly an umbrella religion, covering the same ground as the old religions attempted to. It solves the same basic human woes about mortality, our innate fear of the unknown and our desire to impress some form of order on what is an otherwise chaotic, indefinable mess of a reality. Mormonism is a natural evolution of this. It is the Christian umbrella of the American pioneer lifestyle, forming a newer, shinier, more culturally-specific religion like Martin Luther did to 16th century Germany with what became known as Lutheranism, like Jean Calvin did to Geneva with Calvinism, like Henry VIII did to Britain with Anglicanism – there’s little difference in them. They purport to cure the same things, alleviate the same fears with a slightly different answer that is more appealing to the mind and heart of the target audience. It’s pretty much just a rebranding of religion, so in my opinion this makes Mormon beliefs mostly a marketing decision.

Conclusion Three: Promising the unknown and unknowable is dangerous and immoral

Artist's impression of what heaven and hell look like. I've always imagined paradise as the sun, the sky and the earth and eternal torment as Russia. I have my reasons.

I make fun of all wacky belief. This conclusion really applies to all religion. The guy telling me that I must turn to Jesus or his invisible friend in the clouds will threaten me with eternal damnation deserves to be ignored just as much as the guy telling me that aliens are responsible for all natural disasters and only when we capitulate with them will the earthquakes and flight-depriving volcanic eruptions stop. Neither should be listened to with anything other than complete scepticism, but threatening me with infinite pain after death is a particularly odious technique of compliance, just as promising eternal life is. It’s dangerous to play with people’s natural fear of death like that. Since we have life, and it is temporary in all cases, we have always wondered what happens after death. To play with this is dangerous.

The Mormon missionaries frequently promised me eternal life. Immortality. They straight up said that if I join the Mormon Church I would live forever… after I died. I thought this disagreeable. To toy with my human gripes of mortality like that, to promise me eternal life if I give up my free, rational thought in the present is a prospect that fills me with disgust. Promises of immortality I take with with a pinch of salt, a slice of lemon and a shot of tequila. Then I worry about the people who are open to the idea and thus the influence of such a promise falling for it and getting tied up with all the baggage that goes with it. Morality is something you should find out for yourself. Personally, I prefer ethics and the modern theories of justice and righteous actions based in logic to moral principles. The ideas of religion, the teachings of the books and elders, I take, how we shall we say, under consideration.

I’ve got many hours worth of ideas and concepts that provide my alternative viewpoint, but here is not the place to explain them. Just know that I live in a reality dominated by factual observations rather than fanciful dreams and stories. It’s kind of fun, but it certainly doesn’t suti everyone.

Conclusion Three: The Book of Mormon is obviously moronic

I'm not saying the Book of Mormon is for morons, I'm just saying you'd have to be a moron to believe that it's divinely inspired and not the obvious work of man.

Seriously, it’s nonsense. Utter nonsense. The Book of Mormon is such a bad imitation of the King James Bible, that there can be no doubt that it’s the main source, disproving the claim that it was written 1600 years ago. There are translational errors in the Book of Mormon that are also in the King James Bible. There are sections shamelessly ripped from its pages. “And it came to pass” appears 999 times (the Old Testament has the phrase some 334 times).

The whole story of how Joseph Smith read the tablets from the hat is so full of obvious deceit and lies that to suggest otherwise is ridiculous. It’s utter fabrication straight from the conniving, dishonest mind of Joebbels Smith. The claim is that Joey Smith found some golden tablets on a hill placed by the angel Moroni, son of Mormon, describing the tales of the Israelites and Jesus in the New World. Then he translated the tablets with some Seer Stones and gets so many things wrong it’s funny. It’s full of anachronisms, errors in geography, errors in biology, horticulture and agriculture and the DNA evidence about the Native Americans’ origin. The consensus outside the Mormon community is that the archaeological, physical and sensible evidence does not correlate to reality. It’s all so demonstrably false, it’s embarrassing. There is no evidence for it. None whatsoever.

This is the problem most people have with the Book of Mormon. Unlike the Torah, the Bible and the Quran, it has the misfortune of being written in a time where writing and contemporary reporting was pretty solid. If the Book of Mormon had been written a thousand years ago, the Mormons would all be dead, burned as heretics. If it had been written two thousand years ago, then who knows how popular it would be? It’s biggest failure is that is was brought into this world after the great scientific enlightenment, in a time when people rationally considered the evidence before them and occasionally demanded proof for fancy tales of epic wars and divine actions. It also means the contemporary account pertaining to the history of the early LDS is pretty reliable. Which is bad for people like Joeainttellingthetruth Smith and Brigham “Bring ‘Em” Young who thrive on their ability to bullshit charismatically, because the voices of those opposed to them do not get ignored and choked out like those against Christianity in its early days have been.

Mormons are unlucky that we can categorically disprove most of their claims of what happened in the US. Since the other big books of faith were written so long ago, the physical evidence equally isn’t there most of the time but it doesn’t matter because it happened in a distant past that we just ignore that part. We have little or no historical evidence for Jesus other than the Bible, the first reference to Christ doesn’t come for some 80 years after he was supposed to live. But that doesn’t matter to most people – what matters is that the Bible says the Bible is true and the lack of physical evidence is unsurprising considering the ancient nature of the event. We don’t know if Job, Moses, Abraham or any of the other antediluvians existed because they were supposed to live some five thousand years ago.  Their tales were then passed down orally, written, translated, edited, retranslated, re-edited, rewritten ad infinitum into the form we know today. This makes it hard to judge them on anything other than their literary merits rather than their factual basis because we don’t have any other sources to compare them to. The Book of Mormon cannot take such an easy alley to duck down and suffers more than other books of faith as a result.

If you have an unfounded belief in unicorns, don’t mock those who have an unfounded belief in leprechauns.

This is why it seems odd to me that Catholics, Protestants, Seventh-Day Adventists, Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, Calvinists, Puritans, Pentecostalists, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Reformed Baptist Church of God (reformation of 1915), Reformed Baptist Church of God (reformation of 1879) or any of the other slight deviations of the original Roman Catholics would consider their faith superior, more sensible and more valid than the Church of Jesus Chirst of Latter-Day Saints. It’s like a cashew mocking a pistachio for being a nut.

Personally, I think they’re all nuts.

Conclusion Five: The stories are compelling and how to write your own world-changing book in three easy steps!


One advantage science will never have over religion is the stories. One offers facts, evidence and reasoning. The other offers stories, characters, decisions and their interplay. That’s pretty much the distinction as I can see it. This has always caused difficulty. The Book of Mormon offers a compelling story for American audiences. It may be complete bollocks and complete fiction, but so are the works of Shakespeare, Voltaire, Tolstoy, Dickens, Thoreau, Faulkner and McCarthy – these are all works that have enhanced our lives, greatly adding to humanity’s progress on this wondrous and immense planet. These are works of fiction and at least they have the courage to admit it. What makes me want to lose my lunch is when people – cough Joseph Smith, Muhammed, all those hundreds of bearded dudes behind the Bible cough – who have clearly written works of fiction combined with a self-help book and some narrative history claim that it is divinely inspired and that people should follow it and everything in it on pain of eternal torment. They’ve got some great stories in there that’s for sure. But they’ve also got some pretty crap ones in there too (The entire Book of Genesis, for one). And some stories that shouldn’t be followed at all (most of the Book of Leviticus). And their advice is questionable, their wisdom outdated, their legal wishes impractical (again, Leviticus, Psalms, Proverbs). I see no reason why we should set our lives around an anthology of ancient texts that have little relation to our lives in this modern, 21st century world.

The Experiment

I’d love to one day do an experiment. This experiment would be to take a bunch of short stories, guides, basic history books, self-help books and the mad ravings of an apocalyptic prophet and put them all together and claim that, let’s say, some intergalactic omniscient intelligence called Dog wrote it.

A quick search through Amazon.com will give you everything you need to start a Book. Health, wisdom, advice, psychology, cooking practices, history, fiction and claims of immortality and God are always there! Click for a larger view!

Step 1: So we form our Book of the following: Deepak Chopra’s various books on wisdom, Donald Trump’s Think Big and Kick Ass, some short stories by Chuck Palahniuk, a bit of Hunter S. Thompson, a couple of morality tales from popular authors like Khalid Hosseini detailing hard lives, some history from Niall Ferguson and Tom Holland, throw in Stephen J. Gould and Daniel Dennett’s philosophical musings. Since most of these people disagree and conflict with each other, you’ll have millions of possible interpretations to chose from. this means that none of the interpretations are wrong and none of them are right because the text doesn’t assign a value judgement to any of them, nor does it have a built-in companion to walk you through the difficult parts. This is important because people will just take the parts they like and ignore the rest based on their personal confirmation biases (this is important because if there’s a schism, the split will still have people believing in about 40% or more of your religion rather than making up a new one so you can still claim the credit). For bonus points and longevity, in between the loud advice and wisdom, put in some ambiguous phrases of questionable judgement to slow down the scholars and ensure they spend hours on moot points rather than rationally critiquing the whole thing.

Step 2: Now just add in some circular logic: everything in this Book is true because this book says that it’s true (can’t argue with that can you?! What was that Bertrand Russell the famous logician? I kant hear you over my own infallible logic!). Also, don’t forget to warn people that if they do not heed the peaceful, loving, compassionate, emancipating joy of this Book then they’ll suffer for a very very long time, in fact for all time, in a purple pool of oblivion, suffering the constant pain of  Dire Straits Greatest Hits and the unbearable odour of goat faeces cooked with a Thai curry. This will make sure they stay loyal because eternity is a really long time – especially the boring middle part of it and the slow part towards the end. Constantly threaten people with a fate worse than death (maybe use a sword to prove it) and they will fall to their knees, hold their hands up high and beg for mercy – which is convenient because now you just have to say: “pray and worship me!” and they’re already in the right pose. Edit in a story of someone who didn’t believe in the Book (this may not work for the first edition) and make it explicit what a terrible fate was visited upon them for not heeding the advice contained in its hallowed pages. This threat won’t work on everyone, but thankfully most people have enough obnoxious friends who’ll constantly try to save their souls and remind them how great the Book is.

Step 3: Then you tie it all together with a very compelling, inspiring tale of some righteous, humanity-dedicated, charitable, peace-loving hippy-haired linen-aficionado called Allen Ginsberg, or Holy Ginsberg, or the Anointed Ginsberg Prophet of Peace and Defeater of War (note: it doesn’t matter if any of the stuff you put in there didn’t actually happen to Holy Ginsberg or doesn’t resemble the real Ginsberg in the slightest, just amalgamate some of the life stories and deep anecdotes of his contemporaries and claim it was Holy Ginsberg all along). Make sure the story is specific enough that people have a pretty good idea of how to live their lives but vague enough that they think that the lessons learned apply to them (which they don’t). Also, it is imperative to make the goals completely unattainable so that people will always strive for them and never achieve them, thus reserving the impossible for Holy Ginsberg only and every subsequent Ginsberg-esque person will be measured against the original but will never surpass Him because it’s impossible.

Why Allen Ginsberg? Why not? Wise words? Yes. Beard? Check. Pleasant disposition? Probably. Influential? Sort of. Wears white linen? Evidently. Messiah material? If we want him to be!

There, you’ve written a new Book! Give it a thousand years and a few thousand priests and BOOM! A new religion has been formed. Let’s call it Ginsbergality. If the stories are compelling enough, like they are in the Book of Mormon, they’ll capture billions of gullible saps desperate for a new vision of order in their world of frustrating confusion. Make sure that nobody dares to update the stories to fit with the discoveries of the time. This is important because stories, unlike facts, never change. A good story is the same on Thursday as it at the Weekend – regardless of what happened on Friday night.

The scientific methods are the opposite of this. The story on Saturday is entirely reliant on what happened on Friday. This is a superior method because it is flexible and based on real, rational processes.

Maybe one day the two will be reconciled. Stories are great, but I’m as likely to base my life on The Lord of the Rings as I am to base it on the Book of Mormon. Both are works of epic fiction, but only one has an awesome film trilogy and the other claims to be the divine word of a non-existent deity.

The Wise Old Man With A Beard And The Beginning Of The Lie

I’m guessing it went something like this a few thousand years ago:

A fellow had just seen someone die. He wondered where this soul, this life that was there moments ago had gone. He can’t quite fathom the thought that someone who was breathing and had the bright eyes of life was now an empty body, devoid of concious movement. He went to the only person he knew who could answer that question, the Wise Old Man With A Beard. The Wise Old Man With A Beard had held death and emptiness at the gates longer than anyone else he knew and he must know some things about it. Indeed, the Wise Old Man With A Beard knew no more than the young fellow did, because he was, tragically, still alive and thus knew nothing of death. But the  Wise Old Man With A Beard couldn’t bear to see this young fellow in such a state of troubled confusion. So the Wise Old Man With A Beard came up with an answer. He didn’t know anything true or verifiable, but that didn’t matter. He has some ideas but no way to test them. He had some hunches, but they were not based in fact, but in his dreams, that mid-point of life and death we all visit nightly.

Nobody really knew what the Old Man With A Beard actually did. Mostly he just sort of sat there not being dead, which was good enough.

So the Wise Old Man With A Beard told a lie. It was a powerful lie, a lie that not only filled the absence of knowledge in the young fellow’s mind. The young fellow felt calmer. He smiled and brightened. But, and this was something the Wise Old Man With A Beard didn’t quite expect, it also altered his behaviour by virtue of giving the young fellow something to think about for the rest of his life until he could experience death for himself. The young fellow’s disposition had changed. He still feared death, but had the feeling that he now knew what it was that he feared better than before. He looked upon the Wise Old Man With A Beard with awe and wonder in his eyes. The young fellow told everyone he knew. Then they went to the Wise Old Man With A Beard and the Wise Old Man With A Beard told them the same thing he told the young fellow and they looked at him with the same awe and wonder.

The Wise Old Man With A Beard saw this and began to think. Since people were ignorant of death, by limitation of their being alive, he could tell them whatever he wanted about death and they wouldn’t know the true answer because the only time they could experience the truth for themselves would be when they’re dead and then they can’t tell anyone about it. The Wise Old Man With A Beard knew that to stare into the infinite void would only bring insanity down on those who dare. The people needed an answer to stop them from doing that, lest they suffer and wither away their life worrying about endless oblivion. So he told more lies that could never be proved until people were dead.

Realising that he now had power over the people he had told his tales to, the Wise Old Man With A Beard threw some other things in there; he told them they must do certain things, live a certain way and listen to his words of wisdom and beardliness otherwise they would not have the pleasant experience of death that he promised them. People capitulated, not wanting to risk their deaths being uncomfortable when it comes. The people listened to everything the Wise Old Man With A Beard said and called those who didn’t listen to the Wise Old Man With A Beard crazy.

And so it came to pass that the Wise Old Man With A Beard started religion by making up a load of mortality-easing stories in place of saying that he flat out didn’t know and people believed him because their better instincts are overridden by their desire to at least know something, anything rather than live in ignorance of the second most important event in their lives after their birth: their death.

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Filed under Brain Food, Dearest Diary of Mine, Politics, Soul Food

Tea Parties And Ladies Eighties

I last left off on my way to Flagstaff, Arizona. Flagstaff is situated in the shadow of several wonderfully snow-covered peaks on a plateau about 7000ft up or 2133m so it’s pretty chilly at times.I was couch crashing with some students from North Arizona University and having a whale of a time. On my first day there, we ended up watching Battlestar Galactica and playing Mario Bros. Wii because why the hell wouldn’t we? It was practically the first videogame and bit of actual television I’d watched in weeks. Carrie was a huge BSG fan and she was working her way through the always-exciting fourth season and loving every minute of it.

The train running through Flagstaff, as seen from the Lowell Observatory, one of the most historically important observatories in America.

Back In The Groove That I Never Really Had

It felt good to back in familiar, Western territory again. Everyone was speaking English, I could read the newspapers and visit bookstores and talk to random strangers with more success than in the ol’ Spanish speaking lands further south. It was a great relief somehow, though I wasn’t even aware that I was in want of it.

Deer Justice

There are some really pleasant hikes in the nearby area, so I went out for a jog one afternoon after picking up that book I mentioned earlier called Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? I made my way to the north of the town, up a hill, through the snow (which I haven’t scrunched around in since January 2009 in Finland) and the gorgeous pine trees until I found a fallen log to sit upon and disappear into the book. There I was, sitting pleasantly, with a great overlook of Flagstaff below me, when I heard a little sound and the crackling of snow. Six deer were about two metres away from me, ignoring me in my motionless repose. I looked up. Then they spotted me and took flight, gambolling off into the woods with their usual grace and elegance. I returned to my book with a great smile.

Justice is a wonderful book. Harvard professor Michael Sandel puts forth a great introduction to the concept of justice and the evolution of thought on the matter. This is why I put no stock in the teachings of all the major religions: we’ve simply advanced far beyond that and the concepts are antiquated and no longer applicable. Would you argue that Abrahamic justice is more righteous than utilitarianism? No. And utilitariansim is less righteous than Rawls. And where we are now with justice is beyond that still. With books and people like this, we may have that bright shiny future of justice and beauty for all.

It’s a future that one day I’d love to help deliver… if I can’t actually give birth to it.

Ladies 80’s: the AntiFashion Party

Unfortunately, I don't have any pics of my absolutely ridiculous outfit from the '80's night. This one of the downtown area of Flagstaff will have to do!

Every Wednesday in Flagstaff, they have what is known as Ladies 80’s. This is a classic party theme everywhere in the Western World. It’s where we try not to forget how bad society can really get by dressing up like lycra-wearing fools smiling awkwardly in a video for a workout that can be done by lazy people in the comfort of their own couches. I was alive for about two years of the eighties, thankfully before my brain started to consider seriously remembering things. That was a crappy, crappy decade. Apart from the Reagan-Thatcher screw-everbody policies, the constant threat of nuclear war, the coekd-up professional classes, terrible hair, excessive leather, horribly aged film special effects and generally horrible existence for five billion people, the ’80’s does have some redeeming features.  Pink and white shirt, short shorts, blue bandana, terrible pop music and novelty dancemoves. Oh yes. That was the most ludicrously brilliant night out I’d had in weeks. Great crowd, great company, shitty shit music and a perfect opportunity to flail like a numb gorilla juiced up on taurine.

Getting Slammed

I went to a poetry slam.

But to continue. Ahem. The folks I was crashing with were into the poetry scene in Flagstaff. Their roommate Brian was a Navajo who performed some of the best damn poetry I’d seen and he was scheduled to perform in  a slam. I had never been to a slam before and had wondered if I’d be able to participate. I probably could have, but to perform without ever having seen one would have been a little odd to say the least. My background is in debates and speech, not performance poetry and flourished metaphors. It’s inspired me, though and I’m going to write some poetry sometime soon (probably after I update this blog so it could some time).

Poets got up on stage and let their emotions bleed out like the heart valves from David Lynch’s Dune. Poets got up and talked about the storm and static in their chests as they bemoan the loss of their father to the addiction of alcohol. One of them had come out of the closet at a slam last year and declared his love for a guy in the room while the guy’s girlfriend was there and read out the letter he’d sent to his unwelcoming target via MySpace. Another had this marvellous poem about Spanish colonialism that included the line: “we are the survivors of your genocide!” Then there was this very strange fellow, much older than the rest, who talked of divorce, his mental illnesses, his loneliness with a routine that involved really dark humour and screaming.

It may sound like a parade of extremeness and personal instability. But it was so much more than that. It was odd, it was funny, it was full-on-wtf, it had moments of clarity and political allegory spiced up with mixed metaphors and deeper meanings. It was much better and much more involved than I expected it to be. Some of that poetry is powerful stuff and it really had an impact on me.

Chasing the Greyhound

The grim interior of a Greyhound Bus. Now imagine fat, mentally unstable probable alcoholics with shirts that read: "I'll have what the guy on the guy on the floor is having" and "Warning: I have an attitude and I know how to use it".

I took a Greyhound from Flagstaff to Las Vegas on Saturday night. I was warned that Greyhounds were full of crazy people and crack addicts. I didn’t see any, but I still have to say this: f**k you, Greyhound Buses. Not only are you a mockery of a monopoly in a bloody capitalistic free-enterprise economy who charges too much for your tickets because you have no competition, but your buses are crap, the seats are uncomfortable and your staff are overworked and underpaid.

I stopped in Las Vegas for about forty seven minutes where I was hit on by a gay Puerto Rican called Pasquale. He said it was odd seeing someone well-dressed and good looking in a Greyhound bus terminal to which I replied that it’s also odd to be hit on by a gay guy at 6:30 in the morning.

I have no intention of visiting Las Vegas. I believe Dante Alighieri wrote about it some six hundred years ago back when it was called the 4th Circle of Hell. It was made up of the same people then as it is now, except instead of eternity they also let people in for the weekend, too.

The Fourth Circle of Hellvegas

Warning: A Lot of American Politics Ahead!

Tea Parties Are For Little Girls With No Friends and Over-active Imaginations

The Tea Party Movement. It's so easy to accuse many of them of racism and dismiss. I would recommend against this, because though the charge may be accurate, it certainly isn't to anyone's advantage for reasons I'll come to later.

One of the main reasons I made my North was so I could explore the political along with the natural landscapes. I spend quite a bit of my spare time sorting my news and information through the wonder that is Reddit.com, along with the BBC, Reuters and the New York Times as straight sources. I use these to keep me informed and up to date with the world. I find it fascinating. The workings of nations, the diplomatic efforts, the wars, the economics, the social movements, the political forces, the cultural clashes. As an impartial observer watching through my laptop screen, I have watched all the major events of the past few years and would consider myself pretty up to date on many affairs of the states.

I do not care if I am rich in this life. I do not care if I am of high social status. My main concern is to be an individual of advanced ideas and wide, deep knowledge.

This is America and If You Don’t Like It, Then You Can Get Out

The American political scene is often far too entertaining. For starters, it’s a highly polarised nation of 200 million people represented by two political parties that often hate each other. This means that most politics is an uproariously vicious sparring match between them as they trade blows, pull punches and shadow box in a semi-transparent public arena. I know more about American politics than I do about European, British or Irish politics. That’s mainly because none of those are as fun or as engaging as American politics.

But I have often wondered what it’s like to live American politics. So much of it makes very little sense out of context. I feel that urge to investigate for myself and really get stuck into the middle of it. With my diet of info mainly consisting of second hand sources and analysis from professional writers and journalists analysing events and putting their own spin on it, it’s hard to read the news from America without a strong sense of being conned. Since it’s hard to know what’s real and whose job it is to protect the Corporate Plutocracy (or so I’ve been told by journalists who assure me they’re not), I was itching to get in and talk to the actual people involved.

Would You Like Some Bitter Irony With Your Tea?

I had that opportunity in a little town called St. George in Southern Utah. With a mostly white, middle to upper-middle class Mormon population, the town is as conservative as you’d expect. In the ’50’s, the town was smacked pretty badly with the fallout from a nuclear test in the Nevada desert. The US Government really had the townfolks’ back on that one.

It’s got naturally red rocks and a beautiful surrounding environment. My main reason for being there was so I could try to hitch a lift out to nearby Zion National Park for a night or two. Zion is meant to be one of the most beautiful areas in the Western United States and I was really looking forward to going there.

But then I heard of the Tea Party Express coming. Oh, how excited I got. So I abandoned my dream of heading out to Zion and camping in the valleys and under the desert moon. The Tea Parties one of the most fascinating political movements of recent times, sprung up out of the loss of the executive branch to Obama and the Democratic Party. They claim to be anti-tax, anti-progressive constitutionalists or something like that.

It’s funny how anti-socialism they all are considering the Mormon Church’s deep seated tradition of social welfare, hand outs, missionary work, charity giving and in-church wealth redistribution. The Mormons I talked to consistently talked about kind and helpful they are to the less fortunate. I asked what the difference between that and socialism, if not communism, was and that made them slightly angry. The truth is there is very little difference. Most religions defend their existence by pointing out all the charitable work, free education, public projects and donations they give. If that’s not socialism…

I think the Tea Partiers (Teabaggers) are thoroughly misinformed. I’ll explain why later.

The Rally in Bluff Park

Time to Get Teabagged!

I went for a quick hike in the morning over the red rocks and nearby canyons to clear my mind and soul from the burrito I ate the previous night. St. George is in a truly wonderful location. It doesn’t get too hot or cold, despite the desert conditions. It is also possible to see the mountains quite clearly from anywhere in the town. I came back to the downtown area around lunch to call home and then went and picked up a large poster and a permanent marker from a supermarket. I strolled confidently towards Bluff Park with the empty poster in my hand around 15:30 and the rally was already kicking off with some local conservatives getting the entirely white, mostly aged crowd going. Stalls were set up all over the place, some giving out free badges, others showing what t-shirts they had to sell but they were unable to sell them because they didn’t have a license. Damn government regulations interfering with their right to make a quick buck.

I found a free table next to the free badge guy in a “Certified Right-Wing Extremist” t-shirt. I picked one up that read “Impeach Everybody!” – something I actually agreed with. I began to write my sign. I started talking to the old guys next to me. I asked whether I should write “Respect the Constitution” or “Honor the Constitution”. I chose the former and wrote underneath: End Lobbyists & Honor the Law; Liberty For All & Justice For All; End Lies, Hypocrisy and Greed in DC; Fire Congress & Arrest the Pope.*As soon as I had finished, some guy requested my pen. I gave it to him. Two minutes later he gave it back and walked off with a large, poorly scrawled sign that read: “I’m not a racist, I hate his white half, too!”

Many people had signs. Many did not know how to spell constitution. Many didn’t make any sense. Many were just downright offensive. I received many compliments on my sign. I had affected a fake accent for the day, so as to not appear European. I put on a fake southern accent and said I was from Louisiana. Then I decided that that was too difficult an accent so I went for a New England accent and said I was from Connecticut. I lied about that part, but not about my politics. I was there to find out information, not to argue and debate with people. I didn’t lie to them, but I was pretty damn far from honestly saying what I believed in. I had to bite my lip frequently to stop myself from correcting a flat-out falsehood from the Teabaggers. But I didn’t want to blow my cover.

Don't worry America, you're government is in control.

I truly believed that people should respect the constitution. I was interviewed by Tea Party Express.tv after the rally and I said (paraphrasing, I can’t find the video online): The US constitution is one of the greatest political documents ever written by men, by Americans, by the greatest Americans who ever lived. It is the practical application of the finest Enlightenment beliefs made concrete. It should be respected and honoured at all times.” I said more, but I can’t remember properly. I received polite applause, anyway and several people came up and talked with me afterwards. I believe what I said. The US constitution was written by some truly great, enlightened individuals who made sure not to include too much reference to God and to not repeat the mistakes of the British Empire. Except for the part about guns, it’s held up impressively since then, but I hope that the massive wound it received from the past few administrations does not deepen.

The Tea Party in St. George was quite strange. When the actual Tea Party Express arrived, they put on quite a show. There were no questions. There was no personal interaction with the crowd. It became an event for spectators. The first forty minutes were primarily stories of the military, taking pride in the US militarism, patriotism and praying. Preach to the choir, praise the military, massage the veterans, they have their techniques of influence nailed. There were songs and dances to get people into that oxygen-deprived sense of elation that evangelicals know how to manipulate oh so well. Then they give speeches and talk shameless populism for a while, telling the crowd precisely what they want to hear without promising much and without really talking pragmatically about anything. They praise the American Way of Life and curse anyone who would even question it. They attack what they perceive to be socialism.

They attack Obama. Repeatedly. They attack Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, the two top Democrats. They praise little other than the nation, the military, the constitution that they know little about and a few key figures in the movement. The Tea Party Express is an opposition that is not providing an alternative.

At least many of them have the honesty to admit it.

A woman in her sixties asked what I was doing. I said I was asking people to respect the constitution. She responded: “It is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Handed down to us by God – you believe that God gave it to us, right?”

“I believe people gave it to us. I believe in people and not in God because people have something that God will never have: accountability. “

She was impressed. I talked libertarian politics with her, the rights of the individual, the moral underpinnings of Western Society. She praised my parents for bringing me up right after I said that “I know that I am free because I know that I alone am totally responsible for my actions”, paraphrasing a popular atheistic/libertarian. She agreed with the statement, even though it clashed heavily with her world view because she truly believes her Christian God intervenes in this world regularly. I believe humans are free to make their own legacy and the interference of Gods diminish our contribution as a human.

America, this man is not a communist. Teabaggers, Communist and Fascist are not the same thing. Fascism is, according to Mussolini, corporate oligarchical rule. Oh. Hold on a minute...

Another woman was talking about Barack Obama not being American. “He was born in Ethiopia! He’s not even an American!” I asked about the Hawaiian birth cert that they always show. She didn’t believe in it. I also asked why she thought he was from… Ethiopia… when his father is from… Kenya. She got very defensive and wanted to know why I was so in favour of Obama. I said I was just asking questions.

An old man planted his hand upon my shoulder and said with confidence and a grandfatherly smile:” We always get the best people here!” He was an elderly veteran of WWII and a school teacher. Mormon. Part of the Tea Party Express has a rap song sung by an African-American conservative. The old man said: “I’m glad to see the blacks on our side for a change. They’re usually all for them red policies.” He wasn’t a racist, but he certainly viewed the country as white. He said Obama had usurped the natural white male power structure of America and that he should be stopped before he brings socialist ruin to us all. His view was that it was okay to have a black guy around. That’s fine. But he’ll be damned if he ever accept a black guy as his boss.

The chant most often shouted at the rally was a big give away: “WE WANT OUR COUNTRY BACK!” There it was. It was so obvious to me; they didn’t care about taxes, the constitution, the law, socialism. These were sideshows distractions, reactions to a society that was moving forward without them. What’s really going on here is that they can’t accept that  a black guy is in charge of the country, even if that guy is probably the most skilled, intelligent and coherent politician in years – it doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t fit with their idea of America being a White Nation. That was what I learned from the Tea Party.

My Understanding of the Misunderstood

OH GOOD THANKS I THOUGHT FOR A MOMENT I WASN'T FREE THANKS FOR REMINDING ME

These are people who have worked hard their entire lives. They’ve mostly lived the lives they were taught to live. They think they’ve lived correctly. And yet, something isn’t right. Something’s missing. They’re not doing as well as their parents. They have debts, they aren’t as financially stable. The country isn’t what it used to be and they’re not repositioning themselves fast enough to cope. Ronald Reagan, that corporate spokesman/conservative icon promised them so much and delivered so little, yet they still hope so desperately for his words and to become fact. Pity he was lying to them most of the time. And when he wasn’t lying, he was just telling them exactly what they wanted to hear while giving and receiving orders to the contrary.

Let’s look at the word conservative. Conservative comes from the Latin conservare which means “to keep, to hold, to preserve”. The very meaning of conservatism is the opposite of progressivism. It means that the world as it is should stop, but since that is impossible, they mostly just wish to slow it down. Conservatism is thus a retarding force on the forward march of humanity, it is the lead in our boots and nagging doubts in our subconsciousness telling us not to go for fear of the unknown future. That makes conservatives synonymous with retards. The Tea Party Express is mostly definitely retarded. It has been retarded by corporate forces so that any meaningful change will not alter the corporate oligarchy here in the US. It has been retarded by misinformation, scapegoats, half-truths and full-balls-out lies. It has been retarded by its members unrealistic desires, impossible goals, contradictory concepts and self-defeating, self-punishing ideas. It has been retarded by the fact that they’re fighting against many things in their own self-interest but they’re blinded to that fact.

The standard white, blue jean wearing, slightly overweight, poorly informed, patriotic, flag-waving, myopic Teabagger sitting down because he can't stand up for himself for too long.

When The Wave Strikes

Before a wave hits the shore, a few metres out, it has such power, such potential. There is a swell behind it, it crests, it is about to reach full power and energy. But then the previous wave hits it on its way back. The one thing stopping that first wave from hitting the shore with greater force is the preceding wave returning to the ocean. The same happens with each generation. Such force, such potential, slowed and dimmed by the previous generation on the way out. The Tea Party is the out-generation. This the clash between the waves, the competition between two forces moving in opposite directions.

... and thoroughly misinformed by Fox News.

Perhaps it is good that we have such people holding on to the tiller and stopping the boat from going too fast and decreasing the chance of a capsize. Perhaps we need people to say: hold on a minute, let’s think this through before we act upon it. Perhaps we ought to listen to their wise words as they are demonstrably more experienced than we are.

Perhaps. But few would listen and agree with the angry, racist Grandfather who has turned cynical and bitter in his old age, complains about how tea prices were so much lower when he was a lad, states publicly and audibly that all modern women look like whores while perversely leering at them through his crusty, cataract-filled eyes before forgetting what he has just said and then making something up to cover for it.

The Tea Parties are the whimpers of the suffering American people and they do not deserve simply mocking. They need to be realigned and redirected because right now they are conflicting with all the wrong ideals, clashing with the wrong people and directing their anger at the wrong sources. They have their goals all messed up.

Just like that crusty old Grandfather, the Tea Party movement  need to take their medication, put in their contacts, relax a bit, try not to be so bitter and find a hobby to make their time in a world they no longer understand tolerable. They need to stop being such a burden on the next generation and their passage into death will be a lot easier for everyone. Let the next generation take over and pay the bills, run the house and raise their kids in the way they see best. They need to realise the world has moved on, the power base has changed, the demographics have changed and there has been a major mentality shift.

Also, they need to stop being so incorrect on a vast number of issues.

Sorry, Ma’am, If I Could Just Mercilessly Demolish Your Argument For A Moment

Wake up and smell the wrong.

I would now like to take some time to argue against the Tea Party platforms.

Teabagger Claim: Obama is a socialist. Just plain, straight up no he isn’t. Many liberals or progressives who voted for Obama are disappointed that he’s not being liberal enough. Well, just like at his treatment of the American economy: he supported a trillion dollar hand out to the big financial corporations who were “too big to fail”. That’s not capitalism, because you let them fail in capitalism because the market has deemed them unworthy of survival. When you hand out billions and increase the number of millionaires in the country by millions of people, furthering the huge inequality by squeezing the poor at the same time, you’re not a socialist. He’s a corporate Democrat.

Teabagger Claim: He’s going to raise my taxes/ No tax at all. Not true for most people there. They’re getting a tax cut. As for not paying any taxes, I would say clap, clap – you’re on a public park, paid for by taxes and accessed by public roads. Idiotic claims of not paying taxes don’t happen in Europe because we see our taxes go to good things like real health care, education, law and order, environment, social welfare and the generally high quality of roads and public spaces. Without taxes, the country goes back to muddy paths, disease, famine, death and chaos. Good luck with that wish, Anti-Taxers.

Teabagger Claim: Healthcare is Unaffordable/UnAmerican/Armaggedon. Might I suggest cutting your bloated military budget and taking away some of the power that the Pentagon has over the American Government? No? That’s unreasonable? Multi-trillion wars are okay but giving poor people a quality of life slightly better than third world is dangerous and bad? First, grow some morals. Second, stop being so afraid of everything. Third, stopping being so violent and militaristic for it will be your doom.

Teabagger Claim: Socialism is Destroying America. Okay, so President Bush comes into office with a massive surplus and has the largest deficit and debt ever when he leaves. Two wars destroyed the economy and killed over a million people. The Bush and Cheney War Crimes & Associates Organisation reduced your civil liberties more than anyone else in the last 100 years. They launched a war which made everyone else hate your government and, by proxy, you, making you less free and more vulnerable to attack in the process. The wealth did not trickle down. The financial system is in ruin because they deregulated the whole thing and made all sorts of ridiculous gambles that lost but they still make money on them through totally insane, convoluted derivative trading. The rich got really rich and poor got even poorer. Millions lost jobs because the social net wasn’t there to ease their employment transitions. Two thirds of bankruptcies were caused by health care expenses because people couldn’t afford insurance. The peasants are being dominated by the aristocrats and are voting against their own interests because they’ve been convinced that one day they can be rich by that poisonous American Dream.

Socialism didn’t destroy America. Irresponsible American capitalism destroyed America. The Teabaggers have misplaced their anger and fear (or more accurately, had their fear misplaced for them). The problem is not the government interfering in business. The single biggest problem is business interfering in government. Lobbying is essentially just bribing. The corporate system took over. The power of the American people is hugely diminished. Teabaggers, your anger is justified but please redirect it because you’re barking at the wrong cat in the wrong tree – please look behind and you’ll see a fatter cat, the real source of your white angst, goading you on.

I’m looking forward to living in Europe.


*I had to put that last one in because frankly the Pope should be arrested and most of the crowd were LDS so they didn’t care. The thing is, when you cover up, shelter and aid paedophiles, rapists and torturers, you deserve to be arrested. You deserve to be tried. You lose the right to make public, moral judgements and you should lose your liberty and be punished. The Pope and the Catholic Church should be abolished, abandon and deposited in the rubbish bin of history to smoulder with the ashes of all other poor ideas and failed institutions. This scandal is not a new thing. It’s not a surprise. We’ve been joking about paedophile priests for years now because sometimes laughter is the only response to something so truly horrifying as the thought of global, systematic rape of the most vulnerable and innocent members of our society. Right now, I would be ashamed to be Catholic, just as I am ashamed to be British after Iraq and all our other atrocities.

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Filed under Bovine Excrement, Brain Food, Dearest Diary of Mine, Humour Snack, Politics, Soul Food

Hoist The Flagstaff!

Generally speaking, when travelling in the British Isles, the only variation in climate is +/-5 degrees celsius and =/-10cm of rain. That pretty much just translates as: “here it is wet sometimes”, “here it is wet most of the time” and “here you will be wet all the time so feck off wit’yer whining!”. Ireland’s climate doesn’t get cold, doesn’t get warm, it just stays somewhere between a pleasant dampness in the air and bracing but irritatingly wet. As a result of my home’s invariable temperate climate, I sometimes find it hard to adjust to new weather conditions and rapid changes in heat.

It took a while to get used to the constant humidity of the jungle or the dry heat of the cities of Mexico, but generally speaking it was always warm and most days one could get away with the temperature control of shorts (if not the look of them). I now feel rather comfortable in warm climates and don’t sweat like a catholic priest in  an orphanage in the hotter weather  – and unlike said priests, I wasn’t sheltered by the Pope when things get unbearable. I hope this translates to less excessive sweating in the poorly climate-controlled, debased clubs of Europe when I get back, but I can only hope…

Anyway, the climate extremes have been playing with my head and dampening my swack for a while now. I’m adjusting better, but my closet may need an overhaul when I get back.

The Most Magnificent Mountains

One of the views from the train through the Copper Canyon!

From Creel, I took the train through the Copper Canyon on the most beautiful railway in the world. Words can’t describe how magnificent it all was and pictures cannot capture the sense of scale and awe felt while gazing out the muddied windows of the train. The train moves slowly and deliberately, as if it really wants you to sponge up the glory of the mountains and valleys and bathe in the scale of the glory. My mouth was gaping open the whole time, desperately fighting back the urge to “Oooohhh!!” and “Aaaawww!” when a new marvel of nature came around the corner.

James Cameron's Avatar has nothing on the beautiful and naturally 3D views from the train. Vistas such as this make me think of how wonderful and unspoiled the landscapes of the world would look without the pernicious cancer of us Homo Urbanus.

El Principito

On a slight aside, something strange has been happening to me. It is one of those situations where a sequence of events come to pass and the only logical answer is coincidence, but the far more tempting and unnerving answer is divine intervention. In Mexico, I was wandering through the old book market and came across a book that caught my attention. It depicted a blonde little boy in a blue jacket standing on a small planetoid. It was called “El Principito”. A Canadian came over and let out a little sound of joy as she saw it. “Ohmigod! The Little Prince! I love that book, I read it once a year!” is roughly what she said. An Israeli said words to the same effect. I had never heard of this. They were shocked, shocked that a book so influential in their lives was unknown to someone such as I. Later that evening, exhausted, I sat at my laptop, pulled it up and started reading. Then the Israeli joined and I began to read it aloud. Shortly after, the Canadian joined. I put on all the different accents I knew to try to convey the characters and the situations as best I could, putting on a little radio play as the words and story enraptured me. I loved it. It was a brilliant little book that really touched my normally stony Anglo-Saxon heart.

I would recommend this book most heartily. It tells the tale of the Little Prince and his exodus from his planet to a downed aviator in the Sahara desert and all his adventures, and most importantly, his encounters along the way.

Anyway, shortly after this, two people moved into the dormitory I was staying at in Creel. They were from Arizona and were enjoying their spring break down in Arizona. Unfortunately something had gone horribly wrong and Andrew was feeling horribly sick. So his girlfriend, Carrie, in her infinite wisdom and good grace, decided to read, aloud, of all things, The Little Prince to ease his weariness. I thought this wonderful. Next time I get sick, someone read that book to me, I’d very much enjoy it.

But then something even stranger happened. I sat on the train from Creel to El Fuerte, choosing a seat with good viewing potential. A Spanish nurse was sitting next to me, wearing a heavy coat from Creel. As soon as the train got underway, she removed her coat to reveal, of all things, a Little Prince shirt with the eponymous young aristocrat perched upon his planetoid as above. Carrie and Andrew, the Arizonans, had begun reading it aloud it again as Andrew fell back into his sickly slumber. Then she saw the t-shirt and pointed to the book and everyone smiled and distributed knowing glances, like we were in a secret club and had just found fellow members in the wilds of public life. I just had my mind blown – something that has never figured in my 21 years of life happens to rear its head four times within three weeks, twice within a single day. How wonderful.

Frak This Shart, I’m Going For A Wark

I met someone who brought out the nerdiest tendencies in me. He was a Canuck on a motorbike, cycling his way through Mexico while sporting a goatee and leather jacket. For two days, it was just myself, him, a Frenchman and an Italian aerospace engineer (see previous post) at the hostel. We chatted and went for beers, as real men do when women aren’t around. I asked him what he did. He replied, coyly, that he was in the film industry. Where, I asked. Vancouver. What sort of work? Special effects. I rubbed my bristle and wondered: If you’re in SFX in Vancouver… does that mean you worked on Battlestar Galactica?

Battlestar Galactica: the only show I have watched fully from start to finish and my father's favourite (read:only) tv show ever. Second only to Planet Earth in the last decade of television

Oh, yes. Oh… YES. He was the technical special effects man. Every time a bullet exploded on BSG: him. The raptors and vipers shaking in the close-ups? Him. The mechanical work was his speciality. He described his work with the actors and writers and how he made the blood more goopy by adding in egg white which would just suck the whole blood bag right out and make for far more impressive splatter shots. He was travelling because he had just finished work on Suckerpunch, Zach Snyder’s new film. That’s the director responsible for 300, Watchmen and Dawn of the Dead. He says its going to be an absolutely nutty, brilliant, twisted masterpiece of design and visuals with a crazy-ass storyline that takes place in three different realms of reality and dreams. Sounds good to me.

We then spent the next evening not talking about BSG, mainly because this time women were actually present. So for whatever reason, we all ended up making dick jokes all night while a Belgian nurse talked about how cutting a man’s balls off, his manhood, his “defining masculinity” was the most difficult operation one ever has to do as a nurse. Proper beer banter, that.

I just met the guy who made this. Now wearing a Mantel of Nerd Cred +4.

Back To The Travellin’

I managed to get a lift from El Fuerte, Mexico, all the way to Tucson, Arizona with the delightful and very intelligent students from Northern Arizona. Unfortunately, Andrew, who was feeling sick and had to have the Little Prince read to him, was vomiting all night and pretty much crashed the whole car trip. So I had Carrie to talk to and we had a wonderful conversation, considering we had about eleven hours. We made it to the US border around 21:10. The Border Cop asked for passports, so I showed him mine. My visa was out of date. Shite. So I had to go fetch a new stamp for $6. Six dollars. To get into richest single country on the entire planet. That’s just petty.

But… I MADE IT TO THE UNITED CORPORATIONS OF AMERICA!!! SWEET VICTORY!!! My excitement was raised to solar levels as I crossed the border, desperate to be able to speak English to the locals and to be able to read the papers again… and the servers at the first store I visited all spoke Spanish to me. Oh well.

We made the short drive to Tucson to stay with Carrie’s mother for the night, where we chatted and talked about travelling and Europe while I was secretly horrified to take off my shoes for the fear of a violent eruption of nasty odour. There I got a couch that was somehow far far more comfortable than the majority of beds in Central America. I slept like a princess that night.

The next morning, we made our way to Flagstaff, Arizona. On the way, it went from ochre desert to lush green desert to sandy golden desert to pine forest to snow. Within about an hour of each other. This brings this posting full circle. Back home, the terrain and climate is consistent, like our pubs – not that exciting, but you’re going to have a good, if saturated, time if you want to. Out here, everything is different. It’s like going from Tunisia to Belgium to Libya and then to Norway within a few hours of each other. This may seem normal to some people, but I’m from Europe. We like our countries consistent, contiguous and not trying to fit everything in at once.

America... you know what comes next!

WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE AHEAD!


But Sing Along With Me Anyway:

America Fuck Yeah – Trey Parker

America…
America…
America, FUCK YEAH!
Coming again, to save the mother fucking day yeah,
America, FUCK YEAH!
Freedom is the only way yeah,
Terrorist your game is through cause now you have to answer too,
America, FUCK YEAH!
So lick my butt, and suck on my balls,
America, FUCK YEAH!
What you going to do when we come for you now,
it’s the dream that we all share; it’s the hope for tomorrow

FUCK YEAH!

McDonalds, FUCK YEAH!
Wal-Mart, FUCK YEAH!
The Gap, FUCK YEAH!
Baseball, FUCK YEAH!
NFL, FUCK YEAH!
Rock and roll, FUCK YEAH!
The Internet, FUCK YEAH!
Slavery, FUCK YEAH!

FUCK YEAH!

Starbucks, FUCK YEAH!
Disney world, FUCK YEAH!
Porno, FUCK YEAH!
Valium, FUCK YEAH!
Reeboks, FUCK YEAH!
Fake Tits, FUCK YEAH!
Sushi, FUCK YEAH!
Taco Bell, FUCK YEAH!
Rodeos, FUCK YEAH!
Bed bath and beyond (Fuck yeah, Fuck yeah)

Liberty, FUCK YEAH!
White Slips, FUCK YEAH!
The Alamo, FUCK YEAH!
Band-aids, FUCK YEAH!
Las Vegas, FUCK YEAH!
Christmas, FUCK YEAH!
Immigrants, FUCK YEAH!
Popeye, FUCK YEAH!
Democrats, FUCK YEAH!
Republicans (republicans)
(Fuck Yeah, Fuck Yeah)
Sportsmanship
Books


PS: I know I now need a new bannerhead now that I’m in Fatlandia. Give me a few days to come up with something sufficiently witty and I promise it’ll be worth it.

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