Bazaar of the Bizarre

Saturday I stopped at the Albertsons to pick up a few groceries. As I was standing in the aisle, puzzled, trying to make the correct choice from the various brands of organic quinoa on offer (who am I kidding, I was in the candy aisle trying to find the best price-per-pound available on dark chocolate), I became aware of a conversation happening just a couple strides to my left. An Albertsons employee — a young woman, maybe late-20’s/early-30s — had a table set up where she was giving samples out. She was engaged in excited discussion with a man who looked old as dirt, but in reality was probably my age, if not a little younger.

They were discussing our 44th and current President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama II.

I don’t like to talk too much politics or religion around here, but I can’t not talk about these two. I couldn’t hear the woman so well, as she had her back to me, but the man was reasonably audible as he was facing me. I couldn’t pick up every word, but the gist of his points were this:

  • Obama is a proven, and self-admitted, Muslim
  • “What are people going to do when he ‘dies’,” the man said, making air quotes with his fingers, “and rises again as the anti-Christ?”
  • A minute or so of explanation about all the events detailed in the Quran that line up with things Obama has done that prove he is, indeed, the anti-Christ, and will, indeed, rise from the dead
  • A moving statement about how much he feels sorry for people who can’t see this truth, particularly because they aren’t acting with their own minds and are essentially zombies
  • “They’re brainwashed!” I clearly heard the woman offer with particular enthusiasm, like the child who suddenly finds that, against all odds, she has the answer to the question the teacher throws out to the room

There was more, but I didn’t stick around to listen; I’d found the chocolate I was looking for. I considered politely interrupting and asking, “Excuse me, but you people don’t actually believe this horseshit, do you?” But I didn’t, I just went on about my business of driving home, followed by cruising the park with my hot undead wife looking for brains of the living to dine upon.

Look, you ask me, and I’m going to cop to believing in some crazy stuff. Aliens? Who doesn’t? Bigfoot? Are you kidding me, of course! But I’ll say so with a twinkle in my eye, parrying a “But science has never proven they exist!” with “AHA! But it hasn’t proven they DON’T either, so FACE!” There are things I believe in because I want to. It makes life more interesting. More fun!

You can say the same thing about religion. If faith brings you comfort, if you can be peaceful about it and not try and force your ideas on me, I’m totally cool with whatever gets you through your day. Truly. There are plenty of solid teachings there that, if more people followed them, the world would probably be a better place, and I think some people find a much needed community in faith. Peace and love; do unto others; and it harm none, do what you will shall be the whole of the law.

To me, believing in the existence of some large, hairy, unseen denizen of the Pacific Northwest isn’t so different from believing in, I mean literally believing in, the majority of the characters in the Bible, right up to Jesus himself. There’s more valid scholarship questioning his actual existence in fact than there is proving Sasquatch doesn’t exist, for that matter. But hey, whatever floats your ark. Like I said, it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other, as long as you don’t try pushing others around with your beliefs. It would help if you stay away from all the stoning and murder and all that other creepy shit those old bastards snuck into the holy text too.

Still, when faced with zealotry and ignorance like I overheard in Albertsons the other day, it blows my mind and is a little frightening. To think there are people that actually believe that stuff, in the USA, in 2014, is amazing. I don’t know how they manage it. Look at the statistics for the USA these days for how many people believe in some of these wackier ideas, or don’t believe in others — particularly as it relates to little things like evolution and/or climate change, “theories” that are as close to scientific fact as little theories like, I don’t know, GRAVITY — and then you will know why I feel like we are pretty much doomed.

As for Obama, well. I see my share of stupid bumperstickers, email jokes, whatever. The racist ones in particular make me shake my head. When you play that stuff you’re poking fun at a guy while displaying your own vastly underdeveloped intellect. I’m no fan, didn’t vote for him (I haven’t voted either R or D in the presidential election since 1996, but this being Montana, with all of two electoral votes, my vote in that particular race means do-dah anyway), but I wouldn’t say for all of his disappointments it’s not like he’s failed in everything. He’s about what I expected, which is why I never got on his bandwagon.

The political discourse toward the man has been enlightening as to how screwed the USA is these days. I don’t see it changing. I just hope we don’t run out of brains to feed on before Obama comes back from the other side with hellfire in one hand and shark mouths for fingers on the other. Politics in general, for crissakes. Is there a larger group of mostly old, mostly white men who are more out of touch with the rest of us than those we elect? We pretty much have the country and government we deserve. Kudos to those people who still have the energy to try and change some things here and there.

 

A Conversation About Freedom

This conversation from a book I was fortunate enough to receive an advanced reading copy of, Cry Father, by my friend Benjamin Whitmer (due in September, so pre-order now!), was on my mind this past Friday. The 4th, of course, being one of those holidays with an overwhelming “You’re either with us or against us!” tone as it relates to the qualities of our beloved United States of America. Lest I be accused of being less than grateful for the cosmic good fortune of being born within these borders, I will say I love a hot dog, a cold beer, and a pretty, well-endowed girl in a stars-and-stripes bikini top as much as the next guy. But, you know, I’m not on board with a lot of that other stuff people seem to feel obligated to say about how “free” we are in this country.

Rather than rant I’ll leave it to fiction. This excerpt is a conversation in a bar between a crooked border patrol agent (Carmichael) and the book’s primary character (Patterson), in a bar. Technically I’m not even supposed to excerpt this book because it isn’t the “finished” copy, but fuck it. This is good stuff.

9781476734354_b0410“You really Border Patrol?” Patterson asks. He knows he probably shouldn’t be asking questions, but he can’t help it.

“Remember the Alamo!” Carmichael yells. Every head in the bar snaps around. He flashes his badge and they all return to what it is they were doing. “I’m fucking with them. I wouldn’t bust them on a bet.” He sighs happily.

“Isn’t that your job?” Patterson asks.

“On the clock.” Carmichael shrugs. “These’re the only things keeping us free, these places.”

“How do you figure?” Patterson asks.

“Think about it,” Carmichael says. “You’re out on the street, you’re on somebody’s radar all the time. And you’re always breaking the law. You know why?”

“Why?”

“Because there’s too many of ’em to count. There’s laws about everything. Smoking. Eating. Mattresses. Even crossing the street. You know how many laws apply to you in Mexico when you need to cross the street?”

“No idea,” Patterson says. “I’ve never been to Mexico.”

“None, that’s how many. In Mexico, if you need to cross the street, you cross the street. They figure if you’re a fully functioning adult you can probably make it across a street without state intervention. That’s freedom, son. And it ain’t here. Here they’ve got things like jaywalking ordinances. If you can think of anything more insulting to your freedom I’d like to hear it.”

“I’ve thought about it.”

“Think you could name all the laws you’re subject to? Right now at this very moment?”

“No,” Patterson says. “No idea.”

“Fuck no, you can’t. Nobody can. You couldn’t follow all the laws if you tried. You can take it from me. I can’t even name all of them. If somebody wants to put you away, they don’t have to invent a reason. They can just scan through the law books, find one or two you’re breaking, and there you are, you sorry son of a bitch, you’re in jail. Because they’re always watching you. You can take that from me.”

“They hate us for our freedom. That’s what I heard.”

“Horseshit,” Carmichael says. “That’s one thing about Mexicans, we hate them for their freedom. That’s what all those peckerwoods down on the border with their rifles and their lawn chairs are protesting. That somebody has the right to just act like they’re free. To go wherever they want, freely. Drives them bugshit. I know, I have to deal with them.”

“So why is here free?” Patterson asks. “Why this bar? It’s in this country, subject to the same laws as everybody else.”

“No it ain’t.” Carmichael shakes his head. “Nobody’s watching here. You’re invisible. None of these fuckers even exist. They can come and go and nobody even notices. Nobody wants to notice. This country hums along on the simple fact of them not being noticed.”

“They’re free because they don’t exist?”

“Exactly. There’s nobody watching them, and when you’re in one of their shitholes, there’s nobody watching you. With them it’s almost like you’re living in America.”

“You really do love your job.” Patterson’s a little impressed.

“Fuck yes. I love every one of these little son of a bitches. Those who think they’re protecting America by keeping these people out, they’re full of shit. There ain’t no America left in the places they’re protecting. Their fucking malls and their fucking crosswalks and their fucking subdivisions. Freedom’s something that’s been designed out of those places.”

 

Kick Me

I’m curious to know how many people who read this have either started a Kickstarter (or something similar) campaign in order to fund something, or contributed to one? And no, I’m not thinking about doing one myself. In fact I’m pretty confident I never will.

When I first heard about these crowdsourcing/crowdfunding processes, I was intrigued. For those who don’t know, what something like this amounts to is someone — say a writer, or a filmmaker, or someone who wants to do some kind of expedition — uses an online application like Kickstarter to try and raise money for their project. They set a goal amount of money they want to raise, then people pledge against it. The creator — a writer, for example — then sets contribution amounts with incentives; pledge $10, you get an electronic copy of the book. $20 gets the eBook and the print copy. $50 gets the book signed. $100 gets a character in the book named after you, whatever. It’s a great way for someone to maybe get something done that they may not be able to otherwise, and, importantly, get paid for it. If the money is raised by a certain date, then it is successful and the contributions are accepted and the creator gets the dough. If the goal isn’t met, the creator gets no money. For example, let’s say I pledge $50 to a film project trying to raise $10,000.00 by December 1st. When December 1st rolls around, if that $10G is met or exceeded, then my $50 is charged against whatever my money source was (PayPal, credit card, whatever). Essentially, I just bought in and my $50 is gone until delivery of the project and whatever I signed up to receive at my contribution level. If the $10G is not raised, then I never get charged the $50.

So I’ve contributed to several campaigns, with mixed results. I contributed to a short film and I received a copy of it on DVD. I’ve contributed to a couple graphic novels and gotten copies of those too. Another movie I contributed to I just received a status update on today. A photography book I contributed to I get fairly regular status updates, with photographs of the process. When a Kickstarter project is started, the creator is required to provide an estimated completion date. In the case of a film, for example, that could be a year (or more) down the road. I’m cool with that. Creativity takes time.

I also contributed to a project a guy was doing to ride his bike to the Arctic Circle and make a documentary about it. That dude turned out to be a flake, was written about in Outside, and seems to have disappeared (though he claims to be revamping his approach for another try). But he still has the money. No big deal, I was into it for something like $20, and it was worth the risk. But others aren’t so happy about it. And this is only one example of Kickstarters gone awry. There are probably ways to claim fraud, but I haven’t been so deeply invested in one to really care that much. I take a risk and hope for the best.

What sucks, though, is when creators don’t seem to take it seriously enough, or fail to respect their contributors. In this case I am talking about two writers in particular I have read in the past and enjoyed. Both did Kickstarter campaigns for books they hoped to write, and I contributed. The first one actually raised a couple grand more than the project was asking to raise, and was supposed to be delivered back in June. The last update to this campaign was in May, saying it would be done at the end of the summer. Still no book, and no further update, though this writer has put out a couple other things since then. I’m only out $10, but still . . . $10 is $10. And the writer has a few grand in pocket for work presumably undone.

The other example is worse. It was supposed to be delivered a year ago December. That was the last time there was even an update to the project’s status. I’m out $50 on that one, and, frankly, that pisses me off. It’s rude and disrespectful to people who are, presumably, the author’s more dedicated fans. At the time of the last update the writer expressed a level of time crunch due to other deadlines, but when you are sitting on a few grand of other people’s money that would seem to me to be a pretty important deadline too. It’s not so much that I’m irritated that there hasn’t been delivery, it’s that the writer doesn’t seem to care enough about their supporters to even offer an update. And if I’m irritated, I’m thinking other folks must be livid. I have a pretty damn long fuse for this kind of thing — I know plenty of people who take their money, even $10, waaaaay more seriously than I do. Which is probably why I’m always broke.

So I think this whole Kickstarter thing is a big risk for creators if they aren’t extremely careful. In both these cases I’ve lost respect for these two writers, and enthusiasm for their work. Frankly, I don’t even care anymore if the books are delivered or not, nor have I purchased any of the books they’ve produced since then. Is this childish of me? Perhaps. Maybe I should follow up with emails to see what the story is. But is that my responsibility? I hate asking for money, even when I’m dealing with publications who owe me for work I’ve done for them. If these writers were people I know, I’d give them shit about it. But I don’t know them, so I feel the responsibility in generating an update lies with them. Maybe I should be more understanding. Maybe this is me revealing once and for all that I am, at the core, a shitty person. Who knows. I never claimed I wasn’t petty and prone to ridiculous, long-term grudges.

So I’m curious to know of other people’s experiences in the wild, wild world of crowd funding. Success stories? Horror stories? Am I a dick for being irritated at these two writers? Talk to me, people. . . .

 

About the Locker Room

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard something about this unfolding story in the NFL involving the Miami Dolphins and the alleged harassment of offensive lineman Jonathan Martin by fellow veteran lineman Richie Incognito, and, possibly, others. More sordid details come out every day, or every couple hours, and who knows what the truth of the matter is and who is really at fault. So far it all seems like a lot of speculation with few facts, so I’m withholding judgment beyond the prejudices I carry with me all the time as it relates to professional athletes, mainly that they are far from being people we should exalt anywhere near what we do for anything beyond what they are able to do on the field. And even that regard is way overblown. But that isn’t my point.

What I find fascinating is the discussion going on in the media and public at large as it relates to conflict resolution. Stories like this bring out the most meat-headed of people, those folks who puff all up and blather on about how Martin is a “wuss” who didn’t stand up for himself, etc. That somehow any other response than fighting it out is unacceptable, or that even questioning this type of alleged conduct is a symptom of weakness.

The primary argument used to support that position, of course, is that somehow the NFL locker room is some kind of “special” place where rules of polite society don’t apply. Or that these men are some breed of ultimate warrior whose ability to overcome hardships unimaginable to the rest of us “normal” folks just to get on the field every week somehow entitles them to special treatment, special rules. I call bullshit on the whole thing.

A couple points. First of all, professional football players endure hardships unimaginable to me just to be who they are. But they also choose to play a sport that will likely leave them somewhat physically immobile by the time they reach the age I am now, if not worse. I can’t imagine making that choice either. Nor can I imagine the hardships that so very many people face who are living in poverty, raising families, working multiple jobs, going to those jobs sick or injured or in excruciating pain from any any number of maladies that they can’t afford to have treated. Meanwhile, an elite athlete has the best technology in the world to get him up and functioning again, and state of the art drugs to block that pain while he’s at it. Is one any tougher than the other? Personally, I don’t think so.

The second point is that this locker room environment is no different than any other collection of people in any trade that concentrates less cultured or educated personalities. A construction crew. A warehouse crew. A production line. I’ve been around all those institutions, and the same macho bullshit and pecking orders exist there too. So how do we go about deciding which of these places it’s okay to act like neanderthals and which ones are not? The thing is, if we allow it anywhere, those people who operate in that “special” environment are destined to carry it with them when they leave. It’s inevitable. We can’t have it both ways. It can’t be okay someplace and not another. We either accept it everywhere, or we don’t accept it at all.

I say not at all. It is the very attitude of placating certain pockets of our culture that creates situations where reported assaults get swept under the rug. Where high school athletes get away with gang rapes. Where packs of college thugs get away with beating and harassing gays, or anyone else that is a little different. I think clear lines can be drawn connecting all the behaviors we are seeing at play in this Miami Dolphins story to a multitude of similar stories in the news every day that are equally, or even more, horrifying. Because what happens is the fear of reprisal means these groups close ranks, and potentially lie or look the other way to protect the “sanctity” of their locker room or institution. It conditions people to blame the victim, to lash out at the whistle blower rather than at whatever they were blowing the whistle on.

The debate about it all is good, though. It brings things out in the open, discussions are conducted, arguments aired. Eventually things move forward in a progressive manner . . . hopefully. Words are important; all too often they lead to actions. It really boils down to a practice of politics as the personal. We shouldn’t care so much about what horrible things comes out of someone’s mouth, we should care about whatever it is that makes them feel like saying such a thing is safe in our presence. Speaking out against this type of behavior when we encounter it, even in small, quiet ways, may be the best way to eliminate it altogether.

After all, it seems to me the whole world is just one big locker room we’re all trying to navigate without getting infected with some kind of gross, itchy fungus.

 

Shut ‘er Down, We’re Outta Here

You know, every day since this whole stupid government shutdown thing, one or two new items pop up that aren’t functioning because of it, the latest being the non-payment of death benefits to the survivors of fallen military members. It’s illegal, apparently. Yet shutting the government down isn’t. Hmm. Seems like their should be a few heads on pikes out front of Congress, if you ask me.

Plus we can’t go to any of our National Parks, which means all the businesses that rely on that tourist traffic are suffering for it. The bullshit list is extensive, and it pisses me off. What is particularly ridiculous to me is the shock that so many folks display when they hear about something no longer functioning because of the shutdown, which leads to this amazing revelation:

The Government Actually Does Stuff

I would expect that the majority of the assholes who drove this bus into the ditch don’t even fully understand what the shutdown means, because their lives, so divorced from the reality that the rest of us live in, remain pretty much unaffected. It makes me angry, but I’m always angry when it comes to politicians — both Democrat and Republican (though in this particular example I hold the Republicans 100% to blame). It’s led to another pretty amazing revelation, at least among people with brains:

It’s a Bad Idea to Shut the Government Down

Though I would add this addendum to the previous:

Unless it’s with Pitchforks, Torches, and Guns

Finally, spend a little time online in social media, or reading comment threads on any of these issues (or on anything, really), and people with brains will also (hopefully, but not often enough, unfortunately) be reminded that:

Arguing on the Internet Makes Everyone Look Like An Idiot, Especially YOU

Yes, it does. Always. Without fail. There is nothing to be gained from it. But some people really seem to get off on it, because they do it. A lot. I can only shake my head. This whole episode has not only made me think less of the people in government, but also for a lot of other plebes like me. It’s depressing if you think about it enough.

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