Stuff I Barely Knew but Miss: The Cold War

cold war

Now yours, truly does not want to trivialize the Cold War.  He believes he is serious when he says he has respect for warfare, as sincere a respect as one can have from a distance (and from a significant distance is the impression yrs., truly evinces).  But it is easier to imagine him as a detective—Marlowe or Spade or Gittes or Holmes or McClane—and anyway, tasteful critics agree that Cold War cloak-and-dagger films are preferable to ensemble storming-the-beach-type productions.

Beyond cinema, another tangential benefit of the Cold War is that it could be said to have inspired some larger notions of conformity that no longer seem to be necessary, and the recent lack of needing to find a way to believe decent things about each other, at least in comparison to people in the rest of the world—while perhaps a bit artificial—has sown a fertile soil for rancorous malcontents like the Tea Party.  The haters.  Now, before thoughts of McCarthy and race riots and hippies and plenty else rise to mind, think about it another way.  We Americans need an enemy, and it has to be grand.  The respective wars on drugs and terrorism are not the answer.

When external problems don’t exist, Americans find internal ones.  Itching for some roughhousing—it had been more than thirty years since we kicked the British out again in 1815, and Mexico rolled over too easily when we tangled over lands better governed from the East Coast—and for a breathless instance lacking any obvious enemies, we embroiled ourselves in the bloodiest, most destructive war in our nation’s history, one that still carries more weight  for some of us than the mundanity of the present day.

MississippiYours, truly has already commented on this year’s secession fad, but he can’t help but draw another comparison between 2013 and 1863.  In fact, he feels that, as an employee of the State of Virginia, it is his constitutional duty to observe that one hundred and fifty years ago, this country declared war on its own people, and today, comrades, we find ourselves under siege once more.  Our privacy has been stripped away.  Torture supersedes due process.  Groundless searches and wire-taps are the order of the day—it can be assumed that they are coming for yrs., truly’s non-existent guns.

Except that they’re not (coming for our guns, they are spying on us and torturing foreigners, or rather, citizens of the world), and it is the Tea Party’s general insistence on fabricating issues and resentments out of smoke and petty prejudice that is exactly the sort of nonsense a serious threat tends to discourage.

Could an obstructionist fringe possibly have been allowed to fruitlessly shut down the government with the threat of the Red Menace hanging over all our heads?  They would have been excommunicated.  Another reminder that without a sacred enemy, there can be no sacred cause.  As the Crusaders halted their petty feuding to retake Jerusalem (temporarily, and excepting the gutless Sheriff of Nottingham/referee/Home Guard/Chief Accountant of Outer Station types that not even a holy war can inspire) so the Iron Curtain united Iowa and New York in holy opposition (and manufacture and distribution).  And is really much of a stretch to think that we might benefit from our enemies in the same ways we benefit from goals?  What is an enemy but a target to exceed?

But, like other bubbles, this one has burst (thanks, Gorby).  A sensible but antithetically grand war on the wealthy is already underway—my pitchfork is sharp, my solar powered torch at the ready, to bring to order those smarmy scumbags, that loathsome 1% that has taken home more than 95% of income gains since 2008—but rather than pitch an entirely conceivable overthrow of the super-wealthy[i], and then a follow-up period of some awkward looking around where probably even guys like yours, truly have to swallow hard, what about something grander, something like an alien invasion—fabricated if we don’t have time to wait for the real deal.

How better to get everyone—Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Commis, Soccer Moms, Bankers, Cartels, Pimps, Hipsters, Warlords, the Red Cross, the Iroquois Nation, the Kiwis, the Slavs, the Pope, the Chinese—on board than with a unified opposition to an enormously threatening but not ultimately completely overwhelming alien invasion.  And we can do this.  Kepler, looking at just a sliver of the Cygnus constellation, itself a mere handful of Milky Way sand, found ten Earth-sized planet candidates located in the habitable zone around stars—even timid extrapolation leaves a wealth of worlds for science-fiction-writers-turned-DOD-contractors to imagine.

Alien-Pictures-Greys-3


[i] Let’s get serious about this: the nation’s largest bank by some measures, the Bank of America, paid no federal taxes in 2010, but in fact got a 1.9 billion dollar rebate from the IRS, in addition to whatever portion of the 1.34 trillion they were still receiving from the bailout.  The Greeks had ostracism, the Romans had the crucifix, we’ve got reality TV.  Bankers should have to work their jobs on reality television, so that we can watch how they screw us.

The Sanctity of the American Tourist

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” — Lao Tzu

American tourist mocks native traditions.

People talk about the Parisian flaneur, but the American traveler of the 1990s was the ultimate embodiment of the strolling voyeur.  One such fortunate could walk untouched into the globe’s darkest depths (or North Africa, at least), casually observe what was going on, and return to Philadelphia unmolested.  Though it seems an impossible dream to imagine anyone free to go anywhere, yours, truly can say that he considered it among his rights as an American.  And some claim that you still can, like the bold folks at Young Pioneer Tours USA, who strive to ‘take you safely and cheaply to any place on the planet your mother would rather you stay away from.’

The State Department disagrees, however, listing travel warnings for 34 countries, including most of the Middle East, much of North and Central Africa, the Philippines, and Mexico and Honduras over here in our own hemisphere.  Mexico, even beyond the now-expected cartel violence along the border, has a swine flu epidemic which is currently described as a Stage 5 Pandemic.

And, at least in this case, popular thinking supports the government’s position, or it did in 2006, anyway, when 76% of Americans believed the world was more dangerous than at any point in their lifetime (and it is difficult to imagine that messy conclusions in Iraq and Afghanistan, violence along the Pakistani-Indian border, cartel atrocities along the border with Mexico, the Arab Spring, and prolonged violence in Syria would have created any new optimists).

More recent, already forgotten presidential candidates have campaigned on such a message of fear:  It is “wishful thinking that the world is becoming a safer place. The opposite is true. Consider simply the jihadists, a near-nuclear Iran, a turbulent Middle East, an unstable Pakistan, a delusional North Korea, an assertive Russia, and an emerging global power called China. No, the world is not becoming safer.”

American Tourists  The Awesome American Tourist I AmAgree or disagree, Romney’s list of hypothetically dangerous places amazingly does not include anywhere in South or Central America, which boasts the 15 most dangerous cities in the world by percentage of annual homicides (though the study admits, viable data was not available from the Middle East).  Heartening to know that we continue to display an independent streak here in the New World.  Our preference of death to incarceration might be part of what separates us from the Russians and Chinese—we deem it inhumane to send convicts to places like Siberia or to work on the Grand Canal, and hope instead that the criminals gun each other down and without too many of the rest of us being hit in the crossfire.

The fear-mongers have their critics, though: Michael Lind in Salon argued emphatically that the world is a safer place than it used to be, and claims that “in the seven years following 2001 the average number of deaths from international terrorism was 582.”  It is a compelling argument, and fits more in with yours, truly’s basic idea that the world spins along approximately as violently as always (matters have become unusually terminal for the lesser animals, however).

Despite an allegiance to cyclical reasoning, however, it is pertinent to point out that in our nation’s recent history there have been some observable trends regarding violent crime (defined as murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault), with such offenses lowest from the 1940s to the 1960s, and comparably high in the 20s and 30s, and from the mid 60s through the 90s, from which time, violent crime has been on the wane.  And there is reason to disagree with Lind, particularly with his categorization of the US as ‘a country of descendants of voluntary immigrants, with the exception of descendants of native Americans, African slaves and some Mexican families in the Southwest,’ a definition that excludes indentured servitude totally from its reasoning, and includes religious persecution, famine, and debt under the same voluntary category of immigrants as the First Families of Virginia.

Quibbles with Lind’s definition aside, others have argued the same general grounds.  Which leads yours, truly to the conclusion that the world may not be the issue, and shares as evidence two tragic anecdotes from his respective alma maters that might seem to contradict such a position…

A student from Kenyon College was killed in Egypt recently.  And several years ago, a student slated to attend St. Paul’s School for Boys was eaten by hyenas.

Violence has ever been among us, visited upon those compelled to seek it out (think Bowles’ Professor), the unsuspecting, like the soon-to-be SP student on safari with his mother, and those who knowingly placed themselves in a somewhat compromised situation, albeit for arguably sound and even inspired reasons, like the Kenyon student studying Arabic, but it is clear that travel remains one of our safest hobbies, when one considers the violence we wreak here in the US (home to 5 of those aforementioned 50 deadliest cities: New Orleans, Detroit, St. Louis, Baltimore, and Oakland).

And then one considers other morbid tallies: nearly 120,000 annual accidental deaths, more than 38,000 suicides, more than 32,000 gun deaths (with most likely in one of the above categories), and… 925 civilian Americans dead last year of non-natural causes, with 206 of those deaths occurring in Mexico, and one might reasonably make the case that leaving represents the best chance any of us has got.

06_TouristMoney02

The Proper Place of Sports in Society

ESPN is worth forty billion dollars, making it by far the most valuable media property in existence.  And it seems clear why the business model is working: an overwhelming majority of sports are watched live, cutting against an increasing trend among the viewing public to watch shows on delay, or online.  And so ESPN has ballooned as other stations shrink, to the mind-boggling extent that now ESPN earns one out of every four dollars earned by cable stations in AmericaScreen Shot 2013-06-28 at 11.58.05 AM.png

But it isn’t just the sports media that’s raking it in: John Henry, former steel-driver, and owner of the World Series-bound Red Sox, just bought the Boston Globe, the paper responsible for covering his team (presumably on the strength of sales of those pink ladies Red Sox hats popping up all over the country).  And he bought the Globe for 70 million, a pittance compared to the 1.1 billion the NY Times paid in 1993.

All of which is to say that sports, in yours, truly’s opinion, have become way too big a deal.  ESPN deserves some blame, but sports themselves can’t be the problem, right?  It has to be us, with our desperate yearning for voyeuristic escape, whether through watching LeBron or WOWing.  But why would people want to watch a game they themselves do not and did not play themselves?  By way of example: why do so many more people, women especially, but also scrawny hipsters, seem to watch football than they used to?

And speaking of football, 64% of Americans watch.  That means that more than 200 million different Americans watched a football game last year.  To cherry-pick a statistic from 2011: 23 of the top 25 televised programs of the fall season were football games.

And that’s just the games.

Sports are, by design, accessible to watch.  There is little reason for talking-heads to break down, in mind-numbingly repetitive detail, the goings-on of a sports match after the fact.  That’s why they keep score—and narrate, along the way.  One of the many beautiful aspects of sports is that excepting Russian- or Chinese-judged Olympic events, they tend to be measurable, like Facebook Friends.  Or as Mark Edmundson puts it:  “One of the joys of sports lies in knowing who you are and where you are and what you have to do to ascend.”  That’s a positive concept that suits any merit-based American, and its this demonstrable and inarguable aspect of sport that has proven historically to be an equalizer.

None of which excuses the watching of people talking about sports, which has got to be one of the lamest uses of time available.  Why do we need a 24/7 sports news network at all?  (And now of course they’ve multiplied like weevils).

And these complaints are lodged by a person who likes and watches sports, a person whose longest-held ambition was professional baseball player, an ambition he has only recently and reluctantly abandoned, and which disappointment he hoped to partially alleviate with the tangential fallback of sports journalism, but which fallback cannot honorably be pursued upon consideration of the ambulance-chasing ethic of the industry.  So there’s some real bitterness here–not that yrs., truly doesn’t get to be a professional athlete, but that he doesn’t even get to follow the games anymore without some hack reporters trying to stir up a story unworthy of the name.  Isn’t sports supposed to be glorious?  Instead of following the games, we breathlessly hop from substance-abuse to molestation to an athlete’s petulant demand to be traded to The Dog Catcher to The Decision to child abuse.  Maybe this is what Homer intended when he sang of the Rage of Achilles.  Or maybe it can all be traced back to the Juice.  Regardless, yours, truly gets enough of all this crap from politics.

The End of Childhood

Mark Twain Google Doodle Celebrates Tom Sawyer’s Fence

“Why can’t I find a one-piece bathing suit or a pair of shorts without words on the ass for my nine-year-old daughter?” is a common refrain among the cadre of unfortunates parenting whatever the generation after the millennials is.  It seems fair to think, anyway, that our children are being forced to grow up faster than they used to (a statement that can be made more emphatically if we were to limit our speculating to the East Coast of the US).

Plenty of thinkers have visited the concept of Childhood’s End, from Arthur Clarke to Neil Postman.  As the latter’s essay The Disappearance of Childhood[1] influentially fleshes out the concept: childhood in the current sense of the word evolved only following the dissemination of the printed word (spoken fluency being all that was required to function as an adult)—reading required longer training, which required increased schooling, necessitating the state of suspension we came to recognize as childhood.  And even this took time—“As late as 1890, high schools in the US enrolled only 7 percent of the fourteen- through seventeen-year-old population.”  Here we modeled ourselves after England, of course, which already had 450 schools by 1660.  However, television “erases the dividing line between adulthood and childhood in two ways: it requires no instruction to grasp its form, and it does not segregate its audience (all NP).”

And the amount of screen time has increased since Postman’s time, to 6 hours of television a day in DFW’s 1990 essay E Unibus Pluram, to a terrifying current rate of 7.5 hours just for entertainment, excluding the amount of computer time one might have to log for work or school.  “Over a year, that adds up to 114 full days watching a screen for fun.” Which means that, if you spend an average of 7 hours asleep each day, and 8 hours at work, and 1 hour commuting, you’re left with 8 days in the entire year for eating, going to the bathroom, talking to people, playing outside, hobbies, daydreaming, and other ordinary human activity.  Which means that in spite of the seemingly logical impossibility of performing two actions simultaneously, we have become, by necessity, a bunch of distracted multi-taskers.

And the numbers are especially scary for the very young, who average more than two hours of non-scholastic daily screen time compared to 27 minutes of being read to (reading is not even mentioned, though presumably a few children under 8 are still somewhat literate).  Even children under 2 log on average nearly an hour of television and DVDs daily, and almost a third of toddlers have a television in their bedroom, despite the fact that even casual internet research of the sort yours, truly is limited to suggests that 0% is the appropriate amount of screen time for the tenderest among us.[2]

The Simpsons

More recently, and less dramatically, Howard Chudacoff frames the history of play as “a struggle between children and the adults who wish to use and colonize their playtime—sometimes for the protection and edification of children, but more and more for corporate profits.”  This trend despairingly strips childhood of two of its chief virtues: ungoverned time and the joy of discovery.

But terrible as the loss of childhood sounds to a person fortunate enough to have enjoyed a prolonged version himself, worse than the end of childhood as we knew it might be the end of adulthood as we knew it (or hoped it would be).  A society geared toward adults (circa 1750) produced a society geared toward children (circa 1950) produces a society geared toward old children (~2000)?

Fake demotivational poster of a man watching TV with his kids.  Very funny and would make a good demotivational wallpaper

So then, who plays the most video games?  Pew found in 2008 that men between the ages of 18 to 29 who have completed some college or are college grads are most likely to spend their time gaming.  Almost more surprisingly, ~60 percent of adults ages 30 to 49 are gamers.

The worst part about television/the internet/video games/low taste/commercialism/technology/political euphemisms/whatever we’re going to attribute it to, is that having lost childhood and having lost adulthood, we’re all stuck in an awful sort of teen purgatory where we all seem to continue to expect rapid, massive transition to remain a part of all of our lives, forever.  An Orwellian concept, sans all the nationalistic fervor.

And what might the other consequences be of a Teen Purgatory (besides short attention spans)?  Probably a lot of angry shouting and empty bickering in place of reasoned debate.  Maybe the notion that every issue is distillable and consumable in thirty-second sound bites, and that we don’t need to read the actual words of a law or decree or service agreement has become not a wholly unreasonable stance considering the awful extent to which all of the above might be filled with skull-splitting, soul-crushing, meaning-obscuring jargon of the sort that would quail any reasonable mind.

Does a teenaged purgatory not in some ways explain American culture’s general worship of artificial beauty—whether dietary or synthetically or digitally enhanced?  And the misapplication of words like reality (in television) or democracy (as in the erroneous categorization of our system of government, and worse, the spreading of).  And our corruption of intimacy?  Maybe The Who’s term is more fitting.  But while a band can barnstorm its way from one destroyed hotel room to another, we’re stuck in the same digs (planetarily speaking) no matter the 24/7 tantrum rave of short-sighted exploitation we feel like throwing.


[1] The essay, not the book, blogs not being a suitable format for discussions or critiques of book-length works.

[2] There’s plenty to revisit, concerning television/screen time and society, but we’re casting a broader, looser net at the moment.

The Sixth Extinction

Though four years after the fact, it still came as breaking news to yours, truly to learn that the Pyreanean ibex has already gone extinct twice.  The first, last Pyrenean ibex, a female nicknamed Celia, was found dead in northern Spain on Jan. 6, 2000, the species apparently undone by a falling tree, which is a little hard to picture.  In a fortunate coincidence, scientists were on hand to harvest skin cells from the ear and preserve them in liquid nitrogen.  In 2009 an ibex was cloned, making it the first species to become “unextinct.”  The clone lasted only seven minutes before expiring with lung defects, similar to the issues cloners have run into with sheep.  But a newly spiky complication vis-à-vis cloning, at least for yrs., truly.  Hard in such a moment of mental recoiling to wonder if there might be any preferable remedies to such a brutal (high-minded) science.  Like, perhaps, protecting at least a few more of these species and subspecies from the apocalyptic horror that passes for wilderness in the 21st Century?

Extinct ibex is resurrected by cloning

(It is pertinent here to note Lance Morrow’s wisdom that: ‘a rattlesnake loose in the living room tends to end all discussion of human rights,’ but few of the critters currently cowering beneath the quickly descending Sword of Damocles appear to be posing any direct threats to humankind.)

Even an ardent optimist would be forced to conclude that some doomed creatures among the Critically Endangered are beyond our powers, like the pygmy three-toed sloth, which ranks as not just the smallest, but also the slowest among the notoriously unfleet sloth family, and, as could come as little surprise, has been Critically Endangered for some time.  For them, it might be said that it was a good run.

The saola, more familiarly and ominously referred to as the Asian unicorn, provides a different cautionary (maybe hopeful) tale, with only four confirmed sightings since its remarkably recent discovery in 1992.  One might feel cheered to learn that there’s still some undiscovered terrestrial wilderness out there, or one might feel like it must have been a little lonely for those few saola the ancient hunters missed.

saola

These might factor among the sixth extinction’s expected entries.  But there are more forthcoming…

Cherry-picked from the Americas: The vaquita, the hirola, Tarzan’s Chameleon, the Angel Shark, the Dusky Gopher frog, Franklin’s Bumble Bee, Nelson’s Small-eared Shrew, the Cuban Greater Funnel-Eared Bat, the Jamaican Iguana, the Galapagos Damsel Fish, the Northern Bald Ibis, the Geometric Tortoise, and the Table Mountain Ghost Frog!

The common four-toed terrapin, the peacock parachute spider, and the poorly named Great Indian Bustard from the subcontinent.  Another common whose adjective no longer suits used to be found in the waters north of Australia, the common sawfish (or carpenter shark).

Elsewhere: the Sumatran and Javan Rhinos! The Sakhalin Taiman, the Amsterdam Island Albatross, the Singapore Freshwater Crab, the white-bellied heron, the spoonbill sandpiper, they’re even exterminating their pests in Japan—the Okinawa Spiny Rat.

So what’s of interest here besides some morbid cataloging, and a somewhat mitigating indulgence in a few spectacular images of creatures no longer to be glimpsed?  Yours, truly might mention Przewalski’s horse (the Mongolian wild horse) and propose a link between the loss of the horse and the waning of the largest nomadic culture left on the globe, and that whether cause or effect, their giving way to unregulated mining saps a little richness out of the world.  Or observe that the wild yam is rapidly nearing extinction, and recognize that it could not possibly be taken as a good sign that we’re terminating our tubers, and that there is a very human stake in all this.

Of course, the sixth extinction explicitly implies the existence of five previous mass extinctions in Earth’s history.  What’s noteworthy about the current one is that it has a ‘biotic, rather than physical effect.‘  Which means that we’re doing it, and because we’re organisms, it falls into a different category.  Big whoopee, one might be tempted to think, that this apocalypse fits into a different category, before remembering that biotic effects could potentially be considered less deterministic than the world-blows-up extinction stories from the dim past.  The question remains, can we change the course we’ve been marching down since we started migrating around the globe more than 100,000 years ago (Humans, the first invasive species)?  Or is this an unresolvable Us vs. Them?  Or, even more terrifying, as some have posited, is this an unresolvable Us. vs. Us?

In the meantime, maybe there’s a way to monetize the whole sad story: extinct bird mobiles of ibis, shrew, Bustard and albatross (let your child see in their imagination what they never will in the world); stuffed markhor and rhino and Asian unicorns.

Westernmost Maryland

Likely no one would disagree that some states are better than others, but we’re fortunate enough in our priorities and general differences of opinion that all fifty (except Wyoming) are still habitated to some extent.  Youngsters nowadays mock the flyover zone, but plenty of our greatest minds and talents—Twain, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stegner, Elvis, Disney, DFW, William Jennings Bryan, riverboat gamblers, cowboys, mountain climbers, John Wayne, Orville and Wilbur, the Ringlings, and James Dean and Jimmy Hoffa and Michael Jackson, and John Brown, Stevie Wonder, Langston Hughes, Bob Dylan, Lincoln—emerged from the hinter, and some of us do just want a bit more peace and quiet, and lebensraum, and a place to fire guns off into the blackness[1].

So, perhaps it comes as little surprise that the five westernmost counties of Maryland (including yours, truly’s home county of Carroll[2], so he absolutely has a dog in this fight) are properly celebrating the Civil War’s sesquicentennial by attempting to secede from the remainder of the state.  Besides Gettysburg and its Address, Pickett’s Charge (or, as it’s known north of the 39 43’, Hancock’s Stand), Vicksburg—the Union seizure of the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi—1863 is the year that West Virginia officially seceded from VA, becoming the nation’s 35th State (also known as the noble secession, or the one that stuck).

The recent and highly recommended Hatfields and McCoys miniseries, starring Costner (as Devil Anse Hatfield) and Bill Paxton (as the less-wealthy, less assured, less relatable, reliant on outside help, entirely doomed McCoy patriarch, Randall), does its own bit of speculating on what else pushed some West Virginians to vote for their scruples—cheap land, especially timbered, which might have been recently owned by some no-account neighbor that fought on the wrong (either) side, or some rich concern out of Richmond, never knew nothing about Appalachia anyway.

And it is similarly difficult not to read more than a patriotic fervor for individual rights into the 21st Century secession craze (already sweeping NoNoCal, Eastern Washington, NE Colorado, southern Illinois, and of course, Texas).  Experience (30+ years) in Maryland has led yours, truly to conclude that Carroll County is neither the most tolerant part of the state, nor the least—his Obama magnet was cowardly hoisted in Allegany County, for example, and it is wise not to think in moral terms about much that goes on in and around Ocean City—but he has been fortunate to spend most of his county time amidst several of the most tolerant, most caring, people he has ever known.  This small-sample-size—of a peaceful few resisting in the face of the antagonistic many—has led him to admire pockets of resistance more generally, a philosophy which might, from some angle anyway, encourage some measure of understanding with the new crop of secessionists.  Except that, again, yrs., truly has some history here, and a couple events from the somewhat recent past spring helplessly to mind.

His hometown of Hampstead, recently and appropriately named the best place in MD to raise children, was subjected to KKK barnstormers as recently as the 1990s.  Yours, truly remembers an earlier march, ’87 or ’88, at a time when yrs., truly’s experience of marching had thus far been confined to the annual Little League parade, in which he was a proud participant.  His childish notion that parades were fun things to be a part of was rudely shattered by his mother, who lowered her window to scream “Assholes,” repeatedly, while driving slowly against the traffic of robed marchers (we were probably on our way to a baseball game, early on a Saturday afternoon), upthrusting her middle finger.  Those from among the marchers who are still breathing and making decisions for themselves are not likely to be happy to hear that the US is marching quickly toward a non-white majority, a certain future in which we’ll be chowing insects in an increasingly diverse nation—hardly the utopia the Jetsons promised.

More recently than all of that, Carroll County tried to abolish MLK Day (a move that could hardly be described as motivated by traditional politics–I’m going to strip away your holidays couldn’t possibly sound like a wise platform, regardless of one’s motivations/deep rooted feelings, and it has got to be a bad sign when we can’t even trust our politicians to act in their own selfish interests), and raffled off automatic weapons a couple times (and yrs., truly remembers, but cannot find Internet proof of, a handgun as the big-ticket item at a North Carroll Middle School raffle).  These sorts of ugly moments appear more sordid upon further examination of the secessionsists’ points of emphasis—that we’d all be better off if we all agreed on how our taxes should be distributed (or if we should be taxed), that we should be allowed to possess, carry, and fire, any caliber of weapon we choose, that we shouldn’t allow gays to marry.

But enough of this, one has to think.  What of personal experience informs these default notions?  Yours, truly’s thirteen years at St. Paul’s exposed him only to some of the most photographed minority students in the United States.  At his undergraduate alma mater, black men were either gay (to double up on minority boxes that might be checked), or actually African, as opposed to African-American (yawn), for the same multiple-checked-boxes reason, as well as that those guys happened to play for the soccer team.  In any case (and in the crudest terms), even the timidest of whites had little to fear when it came to the brothers stealing our women (soccer also rendering a man effeminate in Central Ohio, despite international evidence to the contrary).  He has no rhetorical authority, one might easily claim.

Rather than argue the point, one might consider some of the starker facts on the ground, represented on one extreme by Rob Corley, a Garrett County sheriff that declared himself above the law (and basically ensured his reelection) by publicly stating that he will not enforce Maryland’s recent gun control laws.  Under the rosiest of gazes, this sets a poor precedent.  But there’s evidence that some of these lines of thinking aren’t evaporating as easily as some of us might hope, and sure, he’s an asshole, but don’t some of these people have some sort of point?  Aren’t they marginalized in the politics of their state?  Aren’t they afraid?  And shouldn’t we work with said folks to make sure that they’re not so frightened?  Because isn’t a credulous population more likely to be a frightened one?  And don’t these people have both guns and firm convictions in the afterlife?  And if everyone had better educational experiences wouldn’t just about all of this go away?

So to all those high-minded Libertarians and pseudo-intellectuals (including the used-to-be hippies in Vermont) who argue that secession is an important topic, worthy of study so that it might be effectively implemented in boroughs and pockets across the globe, wouldn’t it be more soul-enriching, more pocketbook-lining, more fun and pleasant and functional, if we spend that mental energy figuring out how to all just get along?


[1] This is not intended to descend into an explanation of the 2nd Amendment, but it might be appropriate to note that yours, truly has never fired a gun, though he has been threatened by them on three occasions, all three fellow Caucasians, and, just as certainly, all Republicans.

[2] Not to be confused with presumably even-more backward Carroll County, VA; Carroll County, GA (famous for being one of only a handful of US counties to border eight other counties); Carroll County, OH (hard to discern the particular claim to fame of this Carroll—90 minutes south of Cleveland?  Population is up all the way to 28,000 county-wide from 18,000 back in 1840?); or Carroll County, TN, the only Carroll County named for William Carroll, as opposed to the other twelve, which are named for the entirely finer and more notable Charles Carroll of Carrollton—last living signer of the Declaration of Independence, amid and myriad other deeds too numerous to be hyperlinked.  Regardless, these people  don’t get Carroll, MD.

Yours, truly

Yours, Truly

The usually kindly, older gentleman inspiring [grading] this work suggested [insisted] on yours, truly injecting a bit more self into the rambling epistles forthcoming from this web address.  Ask and ye shall receive, yrs., truly sometimes says.

Not that yours, truly gives a shit about his grades, or at least so he claims, anytime he gets a chance.  (Besides, yrs., truly is confident/arrogant/pig-headed/reasonable enough to know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he will receive an A in this course.  This has always been the result of any reasonable application of effort by yrs., truly[1].)  The question persists, then, of what inspires yrs., truly to expend any energy whatsoever doing something for which he has very little respect.  In fact, several of the upcoming, aforementioned epistles are likely to dig into yours, truly’s general lack of appreciation for the digital age.  Yours, truly disdains the Book, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, the Harry Potter books and movies, the Twilight Saga[2], and whatever the next goddamn thing is that society will attempt to shove down yrs., truly’s resistant throat in an unrelenting effort to discuss increasingly vapid topics in increasingly brief ways with an increasingly diffuse and numerous set of acquaintances, which set, yrs., truly is quite c/a/p-h/r in saying, we would all be better off not cultivating in favor of the pursuit of anything else (including masturbation or staring blankly at a wall, waiting for the minutes to stretch into unobserved lifetimes).

So, why contribute another drop to the ever-expanding bucket of sewage that is the Internet?  One reason, certainly, is the presence of new, young life in the household of yours, truly, and yrs., truly’s subsequent realization that in order to adequately interface with said new life in the years and decades to come, yrs., truly must find a way to open his heart a bit to the recent tech revolution.  Though yrs., truly prides himself on greater than average loathing for the petty and unnecessary bureaucratic trivialities wont to interfere with calm and consistent breath, he also recognizes that his new son is likely to spend a stupendous amount of time on a computer, and is committed to being not only interested in, but informed of and involved with, his son’s doings, a state any reasonable person would quickly recognize as an impossibility without yrs., truly acquiring a greater familiarity and mastery over the aforementioned bucket of sewage[3].

Yours, truly considers keeping a blog on WordPress as his initial foray into this unfamiliar and unwanted virtual terrain (outside of a neglected website created under duress by yrs., truly in response to insistent pressure from his publishers [link disabled]).

But that initial mention[4] of inspiration from on old is also significant.  Yours, truly’s shepherd into the world of pixels falls somewhere between the age of yrs., truly’s parents and grandparents (only one of the latter of which has not already succumbed to what sports columnists refer to as The Great Equalizer).  In other words, it is safe to declare yrs., truly’s shepherd as quickly approaching late-career.  There have been, and in all likelihood will continue to be, moments of low comedy watching yrs., truly’s shepherd [attempt to] work a computer at the front of the classroom.  Yrs., truly hopes it is not a breach of confidence to report that he recently heard loud curses echoing down the hallway as he listened to his shepherd hammer away on a frozen desktop with the vigor (and efficacy) of a Catholic nun disciplining a wayward student.

That moment in particular got yours, truly to thinking.  If yrs., truly’s own motivation was so difficult to come by (anyway yrs., truly was told that it was difficult, but thankfully did not have to birth the boy himself, and has heard there are all sorts of endorphins in the system of a laboring soon-to-be mother, the likes of which yrs., truly wishes could be packaged and sold) what possible motivation could exist for yrs., truly’s shepherd?  Said shepherd has already had a proud, mostly Internet-free, career, and could easily squeeze another few years out of the old ways before pasturing off with the other Indians and dinosaurs and things that we still wish we had.  Why bother with all this crap if you don’t have to?  Yrs., truly is unable to come up with anything salient besides the notion that his shepherd thinks it wise for yrs., truly and his “peers” to have more exposure to online writing than is currently proposed or mandated in our current MFA curriculum (which, despite his own taste to the contrary, yrs., truly considers unassailable logic), and is willing to suffer beyond the pale to provide said exposure.  And so yrs., truly’s shepherd has determined to lurch outside his own area of comfort for the betterment of others.  WWJD, indeed.  And this gesture (gesture is not quite strong enough a word, sacrifice is certainly how yrs., truly would feel about it, were the shoe on the other foot), like most sincere acts of charity, is [unfortunately] unlikely to ever resound in greater glory for yrs., truly’s shepherd (sort of like the nice guy at the bar who got roped into walking his blind neighbor home when no one else volunteered).

But, then again, maybe it is possible for something mutually beneficial to emerge from this desperate exercise.  A moment ago, yrs., truly placed quotation marks around a word that is not dialogue for the first, and hopefully last, time.  (There is no expectation that anyone might factcheck yrs., truly, but he welcomes any and all such attempts.  Quotation marks around words are usually one of the first signs of a weak mind, and besides, they disagree with yrs., truly’s aesthetic.  They are, perhaps, the only regretful moments in Charles Portis’ otherwise wildly underrated fiction.)  Imagine, if you’re able, an MFA community where the students are so lazy and disinterested that they haven’t read the work of their professors[5].  This is yrs., truly’s daily, or thrice-weekly, reality.  Hypothetically, MFAers are people who like to read, which does not give yrs., truly great confidence in the reception of his own work (though he at least now knows not to pitch it to MFAers, but as those self-same degenerates are, by necessity, the first audience for this piece, yrs., truly thinks it might be an appropriate time to recommend The Fires, or Stillness, as good starting points).

But, yrs., truly’s first recommendation would certainly be Breaking Her Fall, a novel related through the first-person perspective of Tucker Jones, one of the most fully imagined and honestly depicted characters available to us in recent fiction.  One amazing thing is that even as the plot cascades from one uncomfortable, emotionally charged moment to the next—it gives away nothing beyond the first page to mention that the action picks up right after Tucker’s daughter (only 14) has ‘performed oral sex on a parade of boys’—the novel is still somehow a strange pleasure to read, a joy really, or as another under-read, under-taught, but still way more famous novelist than yrs., truly’s shepherd described it, ‘A frank, plain-spoken, passionate novel that got its grips on me.  It is, in one sense, a page turner, and in another a true and good story of human frailty and imperfection survived.’  Yrs., truly is c/a/p-h/r in saying that anyone who gives it a chance won’t be disappointed.


[1] Not that yrs., truly has always gotten A’s, reasonable applications of effort once upon a time being pretty scarce in these parts.

[2] Look them up yourselves, or like yrs., truly, play the ostrich and pretend they don’t exist.

[3] Importantly, Online Writing also satisfies yrs., truly’s out-of-genre requirement.

[4] It has been convincingly argued that the first line of a piece should promise something to the reader, and that the remainder of the piece should be a fulfillment of that promise.

[5] Yrs., truly could not be described as representative as he is one of probably only a dozen living humans to have read The Blood of Paradise, a novel so dry that yrs., truly’s own clunky debut seems like a short stroll on a spring day in comparison.

Eating Bugs and Born Agains

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Look at those eyes… we should all be so brave

Though it still comes as a surprise to most American children, it is hardly groundbreaking to say that in twenty years we will all be regular eaters of bugs.  But why wait twenty years?  Two billion people already regularly supplement their diets with insects of one kind or another.

What’s in a fish stick?  A hot dog?  Scrapple?  Would we even have to pink slime  our insect burgers, or could we lubricate our patties with natural slime from slugs or grubs?  It’s not like our other food is held to a particularly pristine standard.  As in, we’re already eating bugs pretty regularly, and not the three spiders that crawl into your mouth every night while you’re asleep.  (Which apparently, doesn’t actually happen.)

slam2

But that’s looking at all this far too negatively.  Plenty of current delicacies once suffered from a poorly marketed carapace.[1]  And what’s better than struggling to change something that’s difficult (for example, insisting on sterner regulations to prevent larvae and fecal matter from sneaking into our canned goods)?  Embracing what we already have and calling that change.  More good news—pioneers among the big-city entomophags even now chart our course…

-Teaching and tasting mingle at the Bug Appétit, at the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans.

- The wonderfully named Don Bugito’s Pre-Hispanic Snackeria in San Francisco

- Toloache fries grasshoppers in New York

-At La Oaxequena you can get tarantula meat, but only in season (that tarantulas were only seasonally available surprised me, but it’s yours, truly’s lack of knowledge that would have surprised Dan Stefanisko, a ranger at Mount Diablo, who believes that “Everyone knows when tarantula season is.”  He in fact considers the information so common that he actually doesn’t share it, but another tarantula article suggested it was autumn, which is a word that shouldn’t be associated with the west coast, unless to say something along the lines of, ‘We don’t have autumn here.’)

And the marketing copy writes itself: a bunch of guys at a bar, one of them reaches into the appetizer basket, munches down, and after waiting a dramatic second, says: ‘Well, it’s better than soy.’  Screw the vegetarians, appeal to our machismo, but that’s only one angle, and there are more elevated options: ‘I’m too poor to buy meat regularly, and I worry that my children are getting enough protein with every meal.

So then, if all this bug-eating is so common, and so preordained, why bother with all this obnoxious blogging?  Because bugs aren’t our best answer.  (Though eating bugs might help stop this epidemic.)

One animal that appears in even less danger of extinction than the black ant or dung beetle is the Turritopsis nutricula – the immortal reproducing jellyfish.  Now, what’s that about immortality[2], one would certainly want to know, if they were not already following scientists like Shin Kubota, magnificent man[3], who for years have dug into the small jellies in hopes of unlocking the secret to eternal life[4].

Others, like Maria Miglietta[5], see the potential of a Sharknado-esque problem in these jellyfish—a worldwide silent invasion, she famously dubbed the encroaching hydrozoans[6].  Others think Kubota’s off-the-mark, considering the hydra[7] a better study, as its immortality is achieved less spectacularly, and thus (they argue) more accessibly, than the Benjamin Button jellyfish.

But what we have is not another apocalyptic scenario, nor a sponge of youth, but in the Turritopsis nutricula, at long last, a truly sustainable food source (and that second word’s resemblance to nutrition makes you think of food, right?).  Think about it: swallow one small jellyfish, and you could be eating all of your food for the entire day (or week, or month, as your gastric acids could ‘kill’ the jellyfish again and again, allowing for a cycle of constant digestion that would put Julio Franco’s seven daily meals to shame).

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[1] ‘Up until sometime in the 1800s, though, lobster was literally low-class food, eaten only by the poor and institutionalized.  Even in the harsh penal environment of early America, some colonies had laws against feeding lobsters to inmates more than once a week because it was thought to be cruel and unusual, like making people eat rats.’ – Consider the Lobster (237-8)

[2] If a mature Turritopsis is threatened — injured or starving, for example — it attaches itself to a surface in warm ocean waters and converts into a blob. From that state, its cells undergo transdifferentiation, in which the cells essentially transform into different types of cells. Muscle cells can become sperm or eggs, or nerve cells can change into muscle cells… revealing a transformation potential unparalleled in the animal kingdom. (from the NYT)

[3] Same article, really, well worth it…

[4] Though longevity articles are invariably titled as searches for such, one hopes there are also some other, smaller goals.

[5] Variously of Notre Dame, Pennsylvania State, and the Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute, depending on the source, but always a doctor.

[6] If something is going to rise up and overthrow us, don’t you feel like you’d have a better chance with jellyfish than with robots?  I know that I do.

[7] That’s the small, freshwater, but still regenerative variety, not the Lernaean Hydra, created by Hera and placed at an entrance to the Underworld to kill Hercules (far more intimidating than its ancient partner in violent fate, the giant crab, that Hercules easily crushed underfoot).  You’ve got to be pretty deep in your mythology to think that an oversized crab (but not so big that it wasn’t dispatched in the traditional manner) could menace a hero on the same order as a fire-breathing dragon whose many heads regenerated.  (Although maybe, the crab was chosen as the dragon’s partner because its arms also regenerate, after it sloughs off its shell?  Anyway, the hydra and the crab dance together in the heavens, plenty of partnerships fall short of that.)

Why dont we eat insects