Stray summertime thoughts on getting Americans to do farm work from an American who’s picking your damn fruit again

Posting help wanted ads in English is always a good start. Making sure that the ads are scrutable is also good; that way applicants know where the fuck to report for work and roughly what they’ll be facing. So is NOT having an application process beyond showing up with I-9 documents, completing the federal paperwork, and being basically ablebodied and compos mentis. This standard excludes Mixups in my Mind and Psychotarp, both of whom I would gladly exclude from any farm job under my supervision. I don’t support discrimination against the mentally ill per se; I support discrimination against the utterly incompetent, Sweet Jesus this fucker is a useless nutcase mentally ill, because I’ve worked around them and don’t care to do more unpaid outpatient social work for permanent charity cases who can’t be induced to shut up within the next 45 minutes upon the unsealing of their mouths.

The owners of the berry farm where I’m now starting my fourth season don’t abide by all of the pointers above, but they come a hell of a lot closer than most growers. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to keep all the Craigslist farm help wanted ads in Linn and Benton Counties straight. Mother-in-Law has, as they say, issues, or as Timmy says, TIMMEH!, which probably explains most of the farm’s high employee turnover and, I’d also guess, my having been one of only three pickers on duty the other day: not good, but still a hell of a lot better than all the asshole growers who keep showing up on the radio (Hockenberry: the fuck?) and in the papers to bitch about how they can’t find enough help because Donny Boy over there in Washington is scaring off all the Mexicans. Mother-in-Law doesn’t want the Mexicans on her property in the first place, since she had some bad experiences with them years ago, so we Yankees are as golden as we possibly could be with someone who still gets wound up from time to time and lectures the younguns. I think she figures that I’ll ghost her again and force her to phone me days later to get me back if she bugs me again, so I’m in even better shape.

By the way, #TeshTips: MiL’s problem, as far as I can tell, is specifically with profoundly non-Anglophone Mexicans from Mexico, especially when they come by the crew, not with, I dunno, Cruz Bustamante. That is, she doesn’t discriminate on the basis of national origin, or even necessarily on the basis of nationality, but on the basis of not being able to speak English or interact adequately with Americans. That’s a huge improvement (yuge!) over the industry standard of discriminating on the bases of nationality, national origin, and race against Americans. The farm isn’t a Whitey Rez, and neither, sanctimony about historic racial covenants in the state constitution and enduring Wow Much Whitey notwithstanding, is Oregon. Oregon has become a safe community for integrable members of the Community. Going back to 1850 to look for the uptight white who weren’t comfortable with the local color reveals many such cases, including Abraham Lincoln. If the pro-covenant explicit white nationalists and the anti-covenant revealed white nationalists insist on fighting over the racial composition of Oregon, Orange County, or Northern Idaho, that’s their problem for being such losers.

The ethnic and caste composition of America’s farm crews, on the other hand, is worth some spilled pixels. The hoary chestnut about Mexicans being willing to do the shit jobs that Americans won’t is one of the most racist things that can be said in polite company. Precisely because it’s so polite, it’s much more pernicious than the open lunatic racism of the doofus on the berry crew two years ago who peddled racist jokes about the Obamas (thanks for making me feel sympathy for those crooks, asshole). It’s racist against Americans, by shutting us out of labor markets, and it’s racist against Mexicans, by treating them as an entire nationality of indentured subalterns who must work themselves to death in the hope of being belatedly given a civic stake in the country that they’ve been hired to run.

This bigotry is hardly any less unfair to Mexico as a nation, which it treats as an endlessly refilling pool of surplus peasant labor that can be siphoned off at will to fill cut-rate shit jobs in El Norte. Mexico’s rather white elites (Wow Much Reflective) are mostly cool with this dysfunctional arrangement, since they’re able to buy their families hereditary shelter from its ill effects, but for everyone else, this bigotry and the policies arising from it are powerfully negative. One of these ill effects is suspiciously infertile Yanquis claiming to admire the family-oriented culture of the Mexican people. To translate this into English, rich white motherfuckers want the beaners to keep being good breeders for their own continued socioeconomic benefit as classy crackers.

How the fuck do you suppose ordinary Americans would feel about Canada if prominent, socially acceptable Canadians kept yammering on about how great it is that rural Mainers and Mississippians from the most dirt-poor families in our most dysfunctional counties are so fecund, and how great that is for Canada? It shouldn’t be too hard to imagine a strong Fuck Canada lobby in this case. Now assume that the Canadian government were also provoking drug cartel violence verging on a state of civil war in the streets of New York and Chicago. Try to tell me now that Mexicans aren’t more gracious towards us as a people and towards our government than any of us have cause to expect. We’re fucking monsters.

Sick Willie and Colonel Underpants are, too, but they aren’t structural problems, eh.

The ruling class of the US loves living in a country whose two main neighbors include a non-English-speaking one with large pockets of effectively third-world dysfunction. It’s an awfully convenient arrangement. A prosperous, well-governed Mexico would be a rather inconvenient development. It might even become prosperous enough to singlehandedly boost its outrageously troubled southeastern neighbors into a state of stability and prosperity, choking off our nanny supply. What fun would Guatemalan nannies be if they just up and left because they got tired of working for a family of assholes? Hell, what fun would it be for Chiquita if their relatives reliably went on strike and the local police totally flooded the zone any time there was a credible threat of corporate violence against union leaders? We don’t know these things because we don’t try.

We do know that the children of Latin American immigrants tend to integrate healthily into American communities, as do their parents when given a chance. The problem is that management doesn’t want them to integrate, especially in the first generation and especially those from the poorest, most destitute points south. Why waste an existing land bridge with through rail service to the US border? The way this multiculturalism is supposed to work is for the campesinos to maintain a parallel culture of poverty, ignorance of sexual hygiene conducive to large families, and no civil rights, allowing Yanqui to maintain its culture of indolence, thievery, family planning, and full civil rights. Latin American family planning, even just in the sense of let’s not have any more kids right now, has the potential to really crimp our style fifteen or twenty years down the road.

No American is about to venture into Michoacan and put saltpeter in the water supply; we’re much more likely to see scandals involving defective condoms distributed by shadowy groups with inferred ties to US intelligence and/or reactionary elements of the Roman Catholic Church. What we’re really likely to see, though, are continued efforts to keep rural Mexican government at service levels worthy of Niger. There are powerful elements in the United States that very much do not want Mexicans voluntarily choosing to have small families because their country and their communities have become stable, prosperous, and well-administered. For reactionary Catholic elements, family planning is a great excuse for a pissing match with evangelical upstarts over “their” spiritual territory in Mexico. For US intelligence and corporate interests, Latin North and Central America are great places to pay off local elite shitbirds to destabilize their own governments. All three very much enjoy the maintenance of in-country “cultures” centered around having unmanageably large families due to a combination of pervasive forcible rape and sexual ignorance.

The point of all that is that it’s harder to orchestrate the importation of a foreign peasantry from overseas. Management has to do more advance work and spend more money. WAFLA’s asshole “boots on the ground” buses rolling up and down Highway 97 may be empty billboards, for all I know. Washington State’s big growers don’t really need a dedicated bus service to transport legal Mexican field hands when they’ve got a semilegal Mexican peasant workforce voluntarily paying its own way north. I have no idea how much Donald Trump’s hostile language and beefed-up ICE deployments are actually scaring illegal immigrants away from the fields. There’s probably something to it, but the big growers and their lobbying associations have a compelling incentive to muddy the waters and a long, sordid history of fabricating labor shortages for political purposes. They’re just about the first association I’d expect to orchestrate false flag attacks against itself.

What’s problematic about the children and grandchildren of immigrant farmhands, of course, is that they soon start thinking of themselves as Americans. Maybe they go back to the old country to visit relatives from time to time, or maybe they go as tourists, but with their American identity they demand American pay and working conditions, and that’s a huge pain in the ass for the planter gentry. Maybe I should exclude American pay: the berry farm is understaffed more because it hardly advertises for help and because Mother-in-Law keeps alienating pickers than because the piece rate is shit. The work is really meaningful and pretty enjoyable on the whole, but of course we’re well within our rights to expect zero drama and to quit when that expectation is violated.

But that’s the thing. Many of us earn effective hourly rates that are objectively awful but still more or less stick around. Daughter-in-Law is able to keep at least a few of us satisfied with our working conditions by treating us well, and Mother-in-Law mostly stays out of the way. The 2015 season featured a special kind of crazy, and that’s probably part of why so few pickers returned in 2016, but the spotty help-wanted advertising and the below-industry-standard piece rate can’t helped.

They’re able to get Americans to show up anyway, so yeah, we’re truly a nation of feckless wastrels.

One of the absurd things about the supposed shortage of American farm labor is how many all-American crews can be found bucking hay. Hay bucks are a special kind of misery, far worse than any kind of fruit I’ve commercially picked or tended. I’ve spent one afternoon in my life bucking hay, three years ago, and that’s more than enough for now. I’ve never picked strawberries, which I’ve heard are their own special hell, but picking pretty much any other kind of fruit is better than heaving fifty to sixty pounds of hay onto a trailer again and again all day long. I’m not even sure that stooping over in a strawberry field is worse. To clarify, I’m assuming that none of these jobs are chain gang shit or Mexican day slavery; I’m thinking instead of how awful each job inherently is when it is not under the supervision of anyone who belongs in federal prison for slavedriving.

We’ve got one of the worst jobs in agriculture being done by some of the most all-American crews. If any farm job should be left to Mexicans because it’s so horrible, bucking hay should be it. The prevalence of free Americans in the hay fields indicates that hay, unlike many crops, isn’t grown by cartels of landed gentry assholes, but by upstanding yeomen.

By comparison, picking blueberries or grapes is the easiest thing in the world. It’s the difference between finishing the workday a bit tired and maybe sunburned and wondering what in God’s name one just did to one’s shoulders, back, and hands. These aren’t the only easy crops to work, either. I enjoyed picking olives much more than the olive-growing class in this country enjoys having people like me around picking ONLY 160 pounds on a slow day because it’s hot as fuck and I was deliberately put on an underpruned tree with dead wood jutting every which way. I’ve never picked apples or pears commercially, but they don’t look too hard. The problem, again, is managerial: payment by the full crate (900 pounds or so, if I recall correctly) is nuts.

There are some weird local cultural problems, too. Linn County has one of the highest  birthrates in Oregon and, probably not unrelated, a lot of parents who want their kids to get a damn job. Thirteen is the minimum hiring age for farm jobs, assuming that one doesn’t have community connections enabling the under-the-table hiring of twelve- or ten-year-olds. I ain’t gonna hate on any of that; the perfect is the enemy of the good here, and there’s a whole lot of bad in the industry. There’s a hell of a lot more accountability in this child labor arrangement than there is in the American day labor, farm labor contracting, or illegals-at-the-ranch-gates industries. If Mother-in-Law gets seriously out of control with the little ones or if the property becomes squalid, the minor pickers’ parents will hold her to account. For a smallholder point of comparison, think back on Joe Dirtbag and Pot-o-Shit Friend.

Getting paid aboveboard by owners who generally treat their help quite well and run a physically clean operation is some good shit. Or, as Pot-o-Shit Friend would say, I’ll show you some! If you liked it then you shouldn’a put a lid on it. Seriously, the alternatives in this industry can be horrific. Hell, two or three dollars an hour at a lowball piece rate is better than any of the legion WWOOF shysters who never pay their help a dime. In my case, I don’t feel like jumping ship and having to establish business relationships with a new set of growers growing the same crop in the same valley just to get closer to minimum wage, and if there are berries to pick on payroll, I sure as hell don’t feel like wandering into the midst of some let’s-you-and-him-fight set-up across the driveway from a simpering little putz who’s shitting in a trash can.

The constituency for shitshacking hippie communes is too bourgeois for me. I’m in it for the money; I welcome the money and the cash. It isn’t always much, but I still welcome it. What I find incomprehensible are all the bougie parents who would rather have their children work unpaid for totally derelict shysters who maintain their properties in squalor because they make a show of being organic than get paid to work for a grower who’s less groovy but basically upstanding. FICA deductions, no yo-and-him-fight, and no endlessly festering piles of shit are upstanding enough for me. I’m not saying that fourteen years of age is too late to teach the kids a work ethic, but it’s probably because my bosses are so lax about hiring teens that I’ve been able to get work with them year after year in my thirties.

I’m lucky to have found a reliable, near-zero-bullshit employer in a field that I love. I imagine that my employers are avowedly reactionary in their formal politics, but they’re obviously liberal enough towards their employees. (Mostly; the ones they recruit through their parents get to deal with some bullshit that the owners know better than to inflict on me or on their older teen pickers.) It’s the groovy hippie boomer retirees in places like Hood River County who would rather have their own sparse descendants either work for free in a pile of shit in the incoherent interest of career advancement or stay the hell out of fields that were never fit for anything better than a Mexican peasant in the first place.

If you want a real downer, think about what the common cause of moneyed pseudoliberal dipshits with the planter class means for the future of the Democratic Party. Or for the future of American politics in general. Child labor one can outgrow in a matter of a few years. Good luck outgrowing what the overclass and the bourgeoisie aping it have made of America.

Manufacturing surplus citizens

This essay at Counterpunch (h/t Naked Capitalism daily links) makes a fairly strong and chilling case that the US, UK, and Saudi governments and powerful non-state actors directing them deliberately orchestrate both terrorism and high-volume drug trafficking against civilian populations, including their own constituents. It concisely surveys a number of blatant Anglo-American and Saudi atrocities in Vietnam, the Los Angeles ghetto, death-squad Latin America, and Yemen, all places where the governments in question have been caught behaving heinously. A similar case that jumps out at me, and which I’ve discussed a number of times before, is the FBI’s bizarre failure to stop the Tsarnaev brothers from bombing the Boston Marathon, an exceptionally suspicious dereliction of duty.

A lot of really ugly shit concerning Western military and intelligence services and their allies (overwhelmingly sic) has been swept under the rug, and I’m willing to follow parts of the rabbit hole even deeper than Aidan O’Brien leads us. What initially caught my attention about the US opioid crisis wasn’t the emergence of the crisis itself but the appearance that powerful, meddlesome outsiders with axes to grind were stirring up a moral panic about yet another marginalized community. I strongly suspected early on that the actual prevalence of opioid abuse and overdoses was being exaggerated to such extremes that the crisis verged on being a hoax. Some of the media where I was hearing about this supposed epidemic were ones that obviously had no compunction about serially smearing the vulnerable, even entire communities, in the interest of telling a good story and then cashing out in full. The spectacle had tinges of the hysteria over sex offenders, and the United States already had a long, seedy, even tragic history of moral panics over drugs.

At the risk of sounding all Jill Stein autism vaccine healing crystals cuckoo and maybe accusations that I’m from Tiburon, I should mention that I believe in a strong element of magic appertaining to certain lines of evidence and argument based on the position and motives of those making the case. Come to think of it, that’s pretty fucking nuanced and this-worldly for Marin, but whatever; my actual native city has gotten all kinds of fucked up since I moved away. What I mean by magic isn’t what anyone who’s interested in selling you magical shiznit has in mind. What I mean, for example, is that the motives of a private citizen ruing the drug devastation of her hometown are so dramatically different from the motives of a sensationalist news outlet from out of town and the breathless mercenary reporters it dispatches to cover the story that keeping the facts straight isn’t enough to avoid the grotesque distortion of the resulting message once it passes into the hands of outsiders with ulterior motives. Put more bluntly, no one at the eleven o’clock news actually gives a shit about druggies in McDowell County. It’s fundamentally different when someone who genuinely cares about an affected community voices anguish and concern, but that’s not what we’ve got with a lot of the coverage. Instead, we hear city slickers who look down on and distrust and despise Appalachians intoning about the seriousness of a drug abuse crisis in Appalachia. There’s no way in hell that most of the out-of-town journalists and commentators on this beat actually want what’s best for these communities. To them, Appalachians are just disposable pawns in whatever culture war is being orchestrated above their pay grade, but surely Jim Webb will agree that Appalachians have always been ones to take on the belligerent dirty work for the lowlanders.

It’s not just Appalachians, of course. They’re just some of the most conveniently reviled communities currently under popular examination for substance abuse. Of course the trailer trash are all on hillbilly heroin. In the eighties, of course the hood rats were all on crack. In many American communities, especially to points west, of course the white trash is just a bunch of tweakers. Or was, in any event. Used in a vaguely prudent fashion, meth is a drug conducive to getting one’s ass to work, but that assumes that there’s work. Perhaps the streets know something that the official employment statistics do not.

What we haven’t heard recently, at least not from mainstream sources, is bitching about immigrants being up to their eyeballs in the damned drugs. The Gilded Age featured a moral panic about sexually predatory Chinamen and opium. Reefer madness attributed the suspiciously Latin marijuana to Mexicans, also presumed sexual deviants. These gentlemen, we were told, put a white bitch at risk. A hundred-odd years later, the Chinese are a premier model minority and the Mexicans make such dutiful gardeners. We have to turn to the streets to hear anything about Mexicans drinking and driving, insurance optional. Stories to this effect from coherent sources are all over the internet, but they’re never in the news. Why? The Cathedral is masterful at communal smear campaigns, so why are Mexican drunks who come off work dog-tired and crash their uninsured vehicles into locals and their rigs justified in news reports, when there are any, as kind of just having forgotten their driver’s licenses at home? It doesn’t take a license to refrain from driving drunk and fatigued.

The point here isn’t to justify preferentially smearing a certain foreign outgroup. It’s to reiterate that poor white boys and girls are already being smeared wholesale as unemployable junkies (who were until recently unemployable tweakers), and to ask what the hell gives for the campesinos. The whole thing gives off a powerful aura of Friendship Ended With Mr. Cracker Now Mr. Beaner Is My Best Friend. It’s coming from the Cathedral and from management, so we’d all be tragic fools to assume that anyone promoting these memes of hardworking, dutiful immigrants and drugged-to-hell wastrel Americans will ever restore friendship with the forsaken.

My sense of magic in rhetoric was inchoate for a long time, and it may still be, but one thing I can say is that the almost liturgical repetition of stories about workshy, softened, drug-abusing American proles is a fnord and an effort to fulfill an ugly managerial-class prophecy. The workshy part has been constant for decades, whether or not there’s been an acute moral panic over some low-class drug. The Mexicans, we’re told, are here to do the jobs that we won’t. In point of fact, many of these jobs involve a dirty old school bus full of a peasant underclass towing a porta potty out to the job site for ten hours of stoop labor, so it isn’t just that it sucks to cut lettuce. Most of these jobs, portajohn on a trailer or not, are not advertised. As a seasonal commercial blueberry picker, I’m struck by how many packages of blueberries I’ve seen labeled for cities where I’m all but certain, because I’ve searched the regional job boards during the growing season, that there are no help wanted ads for blueberry pickers. One package that I saw recently was labeled for a ranch in King City. I’d seen ads (translated into English, no less) for blueberry pickers in Santa Barbara County, but I’d had no idea that there were any commercial blueberry growers operating in Salinas County. I did know that King City was where the police chief had been leading a criminal ring that stole cars from gray-market field hands. Extrapolating working conditions in the local fields is reasonable. *Downmarket Wesley Willis voice* GET ON THE BUS!

Accusing white Americans of pandemic levels of hard drug abuse dovetails beautifully with what farm country management wants, which is NOT old-stock Americans, of any race, really, working as field hands. In the Northern shorthand, this is generally expressed as white farm workers. In parts of the South, black farm workers from American lineages as old as any of mine bear the brunt of the discrimination. In parts of the South where the poors can’t help but #RaceTogether, management panda-bears the shit out of the local help. The problem with both of our kinds is that we got uppity, whereas the Messicans know their place. The last part applies to just about every state in the Union. The Mexicans are just better workers, though it’s funny that they keep showing up here flat out of civil rights. It makes sense that peasants who have spent their entire lives busting ass in the fields (and often don’t mind being sloppy as hell) work faster than people from middle-class backgrounds who started doing farm work as teens or adults, but that doesn’t explain why so many farm jobs are made needlessly awful and not advertised.

A related stance I’ve repeatedly encountered from growers, which makes me think that a Mugabe/Castro/Chavez expropriation isn’t necessarily such a bad idea, is condescension for daring to show up looking for farm work as a mainstream honky without an ag degree. They don’t say it, but I can read it. It doesn’t matter what these planters think about nonwhites; their attitudes towards fellow white people who are noncompliant with their specific conception of country life are proof positive of Klan-level bigotry. It’s worth jack shit if they’ve got a Portuguese guy and a Japanese guy and a Sikh and a Mexican mixing it up with the Dutchmen in the Farm Bureau local; they still act like I’m an interloper in their cartel for trying to see if they’ve got work that doesn’t totally suck. Instead of a 100% Anglo-Saxon planter class that rigs labor, land, and commodity markets and prejudicially throws its deficient fellow citizens onto the Darwinian trash heap, we’ve got a multiracial planter class that rigs labor, land, and commodity markets and prejudicially throws its deficient fellow citizens onto the Darwinian trash heap. O beautiful for spacious!

Thank God, this isn’t the entire farm ownership class, but it’s a frighteningly large chunk. The political reaction of this class is totally fucking insane. This reminds me, so I might as well pass it on (TM), like other Values (TM): a quick look around Fresno demonstrates that the Kardashians are some of the least problematic Armenians. #TheMoreYouKnow. One of the things that’s so crazymaking about this whole mess is that the owner class, high on its own work ethic, disavows the existence of a class problem in flyover country while simultaneously making it tacitly but unmistakably clear that I’m subverting their class by being a non-wigger white boy in search of menial farm work.

This shit is worse than street people with free fare cards heading uptown to intercept incoming Cubs fans by yelling, “Any of you white motherfuckers want a free ride?” It’s a hell of a lot more racist, for sure (“black motherfuckers” would be equally consistent with the prevailing community standards), and I get really annoyed with shady fuckers who want to sell me discount fare media, so I’m not here to put in a good word for the turnstile hustlers anymore than I’m here to praise the Dunkin’ Doorman.

On second thought, maybe I should be out to praise the low-functioning. We’ve got plenty of the high-functioning running our farms and our other big businesses, and look how that keeps turning out. Oh no, we aren’t racist; we just hate other white people for being lazy, soft, and feckless. H-1B coders with diplomas from fly-by-night for-profit coding schools are totally more competent than Cal Tech-trained American computer scientists. We’ve never had anyone chop his arm off with a meat cleaver because we sped up the slaughterhouse line to the point that Somali refugees are the only way we don’t end up with 400% annual turnover by hiring the most desperate slumdogs who just snuck up here from Oaxaca.

All of this is where we’ve already ended up. The people who run this joint have deliberately given immigrants more hope than they’ve given the natives, and hence less motivation to abuse drugs, but even some of the immigrants are seeing that it’s a damned raw deal. The black working class has gone from a pariah part of the drugs community in the eighties to the downmarket native constituency that one dare not criticize, probably because the Hillbots still expect black voters to do something for them and never notice that they’re being used. The Fuck Whitey chapter of the platform sure isn’t getting them anywhere, but that isn’t the only truckload of bullshit that they’ve brought down on their own heads. Go figure that it’s coming from the same first lady who enjoyed the services of penal house slaves of a certain non-Caucasian persuasion.

I’ve gotten into some anguished spots over my own difficulty finding work, but God knows how many millions of Americans have had it worse and are also being told in even starker and more explicit terms that they are obsolete and to be replaced. No wonder we’ve got an abundance of white folk who are hella into bad dope sets. What the fuck else would anyone expect? The enterprise and the optimism of methamphetamine? I can’t say that I wouldn’t be shooting black tar myself if my prospects crashed down through several circles of hell.

None of this just happened. None of it. It’s more like they scaled up the Tuskegee Experiment by a factor of several thousand, with the drug availability as a surprisingly minor component. They know damn well why we’re sick and dying. They know because they orchestrated the whole diabolical thing.

Stick a fork in the Nork Dork

If anyone alive today has forfeited his right to life, it’s Kim Jong-Un. There are others who are no less intrinsically heinous but precious few who are as threatening both to their own countries and to international stability.

Chide me if you like for advocating the assassination of a foreign head of state, but realize that I do not determine Piggy Gangnam Style’s longevity. (Nor am I the first to call him by this utterly appropriate epithet; I learned it from High Arka.) I am as effective at dereifying Piggy Gangnam Style as I am at reifying Mariska Hargitay into my bed to give me a Slow Cosby. If competent international men and women of mystery decide that it’s time for the fat bastard to go, it’s most probably that time of the autocratic cycle again. Do I mean to imply that there will be blood? Of course, but that ain’t necessarily so: Juche Porky had his own non-Spanish-speaking Dominican brother taken out in a cleaner fashion, although not his sleepy uncle. Alternately, and perhaps more feasibly, someone in his own government might decide that it’s time to Stauffenberg Kim, or that he’s murderous enough that his executions might as well not all be undertaken in vain. Some underling or underlings of his might determine that they’re hardly any less likely to be executed for taking him out than for leaving him unharmed, and that they have a good chance of finally triggering national reform three quarters of a century late by excising him from the body politic.

What I am not advocating is anything remotely as brutal as what Kim had his criminal justice system do to Otto Warmbier. As a matter of principle I’m in favor of some incidental vengeance, but mainly I’m interested in seeing a third-generation psychopathic serial murderer, tyrant, and international nuclear menace neutralized for good. The local circumstances seem idiosyncratic enough, and crucially very different from those under any of the dictators in Arab Spring country, that the assassination of Kim would stand a good chance of catalyzing a German-style reunification rather than some kind of factional bloodbath. Korea is a rare case of extreme political tension arising in the practically total absence of religious and ethnic tensions, a cohesive, ethnically unified nation that got split arbitrarily by a truce line into one half that evolved over the next several decades into an exceptionally reputable member of the international community and another half that entrenched itself as a sclerotic, hypermilitarized international pariah state, overtly threatening nuclear war with its neighbors on a regular basis.

Capturing Kim Jong-Un and hauling him before an international tribunal would be a restrained act of retaliation against a man whose family kidnapped Japanese civilians for lifelong enslavement as cooks and tutors, but doing so would risk provoking the remainder of his government into doing something much crazier than usual in a gambit to win his release. Assassinating him might cause enough chaos in his government to enable an international military invasion followed by a latter-day Marshall Plan, all of it under the direction of the other, much more competent Korean government, the one whose parliament recently impeached the scandal-plagued president and whose courts subsequently had her peaceably arrested and placed into pre-trial detention.

When dealing with a regime like North Korea, there’s definitely something to be said for communicating to its henchmen in language that they understand, i.e., cross us and die. That, after all, is exactly the stance that Pyongyang takes towards Seoul, Tokyo, Washington, Beijing, its own citizens, disfavored foreign visitors including Otto Warmbier, and even immediate members of the ruling family. There’s no shame in telling a thug like Piggy Gangnam Style that since he lives by the sword, he should be prepared to die by the sword. The practical impediment is that he’s always getting up in everyone else’s face and rattling the biggest, sharpest sword. The rest of us are scared of him, and with good reason. He’s the third successive member of a lineage that starves, enslaves, or butchers everyone who gets in its way domestically and threatens to annihilate every foreign enemy within range of its missiles, a troubling stance for a government that construes as its enemies any party asking it to stop firing nuclear-capable missiles into foreign airspace or start abiding by minimal human rights standards at home.

Otto Warmbier made a foolish, tragic mistake in a moment of passion and paid for it with his life. As a practical matter, cautioning foreign tourists in North Korea not to disrespect the regime is like cautioning Canadian anglers and their relatives not to try to share the same section of stream with actively fishing grizzly bears. It’s only prudent. The disanalogy, of course, is that a grizzly doesn’t bear (heh) moral culpability for swiping a fool’s face off in a fit of territoriality. For that matter, grizzlies don’t usually go looking for trouble with humans. The ruling Kims, who are human, do. There are reasonable arguments, mainly ecological, to be made for coexisting with grizzly bears. There are no such arguments to be made for coexisting with Kim Jong-Un and his henchmen, except that they’re liable to kill us if we try to kill them. Kim Jong-Nam, the Tokyo Disneyland enthusiast with the deficient Spanish proficiency, wasn’t even assassinated for getting in his little brother’s way or threatening his hold on power, but for being an occasional family scandal who spent the bulk of his time traveling internationally on a deliberately low and apolitical profile. If a wildlife officer would blow a bear’s brains out because the animal is imminently or repeatedly threatening human life, why the hell shouldn’t a capable party euthanize an absolute dictator who won’t stop threatening everyone around him? The North Korean regime offers show trials, torture, artificial famine, nuclear proliferation, a standing threat to physically obliterate Seoul, and most recently the unexplained fatal medical neglect of an American prisoner it had held incommunicado for over a year on a fifteen-year hard labor sentence for what would have been a minor infraction in any country with the rule of law. We may owe ourselves or South Korea the restraint not to provoke another world war, but we sure as hell don’t owe Juche Porky and his goon squads a damned thing.

The unfortunate thing about Stauffenberg’s bomb was that fucking table leg. Sturdy German construction again.

This doesn’t have to be about punishment. Whether Kim is to be punished for his atrocities can be left to whatever awaits him on the other side of the veil to decide. This is exactly how I feel about Chapo, by the way. In retrospect, I wish one of the Marines who recaptured him had shot him like Khrushchev’s boys shot Beria. Chapo wouldn’t have whimpered as much in extremis, and the responsible Marine would have been an instant national hero in Mexico. Many of the guys who have been brought before war crimes tribunals have been pitiful has-beens (Eichmann in his Argentine shack, Saddam in his rat hole). Someone like Chapo, who’s still active and in touch with an army of hit men, is so conclusively guilty and dangerous that a trial would be little more than an opportunity for adversarial showboating and his continued survival itself is a threat to the lives and safety of countless thousands of people who have crossed his cartel.

The one difference in Kim’s case is that since he’s a state actor it might be possible to neutralize him by forcing him into an Idi Amin-style exile. That’s not a risk that I’m particularly inclined to take, and it’s certainly not a courtesy that I’d like to see extended to him. There’s a great deal of honor, although admittedly also some real risk, in putting a foot down and telling Pyongyang that the Warmbier incident is the last straw. Even if it’s a bit hypocritical for US officials to take such a hard line on a foreign government when their own government has an understanding of federalism licentious enough to allow states to deny consular access to condemned foreign convicts, they’d be entirely in the right morally to take that hard line and then either stand back or help out when domestic activists try to level consular access standards up for foreigners incarcerated in the United States.

This idea that, oh, we forgot to mention that the citizen of yours whom we disappeared into our gulag after terrorizing him in a show trial has been in a coma for over a year is really unconscionable. I suspect that the officials who released Warmbier for medical evacuation back home had an oh-shit moment during their negotiations over the prospect of repatriating his corpse. They probably had prison doctors telling them that Warmbier was dying, and as nihilistic and madcap as the Norks can be, they are not self-destructive enough to want to be the ones pronouncing an American political prisoner dead. Hell, the doctors were probably shitting bricks at the thought of taking the fall for allowing their prisoner to die instead of merely medically clearing him for torture, as instructed. They were in a position to save their own lives by getting him back home and not allowing him to die under their care in service to a hereditary megalomaniac who had his own uncle executed by anti-aircraft fire for falling asleep at a cabinet meeting. The news reports have had a lot to say about high-level diplomacy, some of it mediated by Swedish intermediaries, leading up to Warmbier’s release, but Pyongyang won’t give a credible explanation of what happened to him medically while he was incarcerated, and at least three other US citizens remain in North Korean custody, so there’s no reason not to think that prison doctors sounded the alarm about their maintaining a terminally brain-damaged man as a sort of in-house zombie Mao and successfully begged their superiors to get him the fuck out of the country before they stopped being able to keep him alive.

I know that we’re supposedly dealing with the most inscrutable Orientals here, but this is a regime with an uncanny knack for self-preservation in spite of its own extreme eccentricity and belligerence. It seems to understand that brinksmanship doesn’t work for regimes that go all the way over the brink. There’s some real value, then, in demonstrating to these thugs that they don’t get to start shit with everyone else and then back down at the eleventh hour, often in exchange for international financial sweeteners. There’s an extremely unfortunate realpolitik to the moral hazard of playing along with this family junta in the hope that it won’t lash out catastrophically, but the really honorable and effective thing for the international community to do would be to forcibly finish what North Korea has started. I feel rash just for suggesting all of this, but at the same time this is a pariah regime that thrives by repeatedly showing other, less vicious, more responsible governments that it lives in a parallel world without consequences of its own making and that there’s nothing that the rest of them can do about it.

Honestly, my best guess is that the Chinese will be the ones to cross the Rubicon, that is, the Yalu. Japan and the United States have sea buffers, South Korea is scared to death because its capital city is fully within the short-range artillery “kill box” bordering the DMZ, and Russia has only a few scattered homesteaders and the like who can be evacuated away from the border if shit starts hitting the fan. China is the country that has a militarily troublesome neighbor disgorging impoverished non-Chinese-speaking refugees into a number of its industrial border cities and generally stirring up shit while simultaneously angling for military aid and cooperation. For a number of years the Chinese Politburo has been getting awfully sick of all the Nork bullshit, and it’s historically educated enough to know that this wouldn’t be its first modern military invasion of Korea. Beijing’s frank amorality is precisely why it has devoted so much effort to establishing civilian business colonies throughout the Global South. Surely it looks at South Korea, not a fellow people’s republic, as a more harmonious and stable trading partner than the economically moribund, batshit crazily revanchist communist crime family in the North. As much as Red China doesn’t want to fully disavow Mao, it has little use for a egregiously dysfunctional neighbor whose government won’t stop reenacting the Cultural Revolution with extra doses of nepotism and family intrigue.

I don’t want to see another ill-advised international bloodbath (gee, like we have going RIGHT NOW IN YEMEN, for the most godawful geopolitical reasons), but I won’t be upset at all if someone gets in there and cuts the head off that snake. That’s a hermit kingdom the same way Ariel Castro was a hermit bus driver. Good riddance if it goes.

Winner: Reality

One has to wonder how some of these names are even possible, how, as they say these days, any of this can be a thing: the former Bruce Jenner, inevitably known to Willie Brown’s street people as “a trans-Jenner!”; Rachel Dolezal, the impressively white (and very White) leader of Spokane’s black Community, which one might expect to exist, or which one might not, but which one certainly wouldn’t expect to see under the leadership of the most powerfully Germanoslavic-looking woman ever to culturally appropriate a cobbled-together West African nom de guerre, a spray-on-tan, and whitey dreads: to wit, a trans-Rachel; an intractably histrionic bull dyke with the most impossibly bad fashion sense enrapturing tens of millions of fools of her own making with impossibly ridiculous driveling nonsense, and doing so under (and very much in) the name of Degeneres, E.

More newsworthy things have happened in Spokane since its founding, but to judge from the trans-racially trans-Rachel shit, the city has finally come to the end of a slow news century. It’s been written that there are many lawyers named Lauren or Lawrence and many dentists named Denise or Dennis. I have no idea whether this is actually the case, since I recall that it was written by David Brooks; meet me at the Applebee’s salad bar, where we shall all be eatin’ good in the deracinated neighborhood. Is any of this real? Is there some surreal cosmic force driving the appearance of these uncanny characters in the public sphere? Are they crisis actors in some elaborately staged hoax? Is someone making all this shit up?

We live in awfully strange times. Many my age, give or take, look back wistfully on the nineties as a simpler, less confusing, more carefree time. Our nineties weren’t gay, but Barney the Dinosaur sure was. For the life of me, I cannot remember where I was when I heard that Kurt Cobain had died, or if I even knew who the hell Cobain was before the lake took him. I do remember where I was when I learned that Tim Russert, unbeknownst to both of us, had bequeathed his own tongue-tied failson on NBC: the Post Exchange at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. #TheMoreYouKnow, bitches. I remember where I was for quite a few things. Few of them, as it happens, were Seinfeld episodes. Maybe it was just my young age, but at the time I found Seinfeld incomprehensibly dry. When I watch bits of the reruns these days, I realize that I underappreciated the show in my childhood and consequently what a total embarrassment Jerry Seinfeld’s standup career is.

Seriously bad shit was going down in the world back then, and some of it was even going down in the United States, but the middle-class Americans who spoke on behalf of all normies were supposedly sheltered from it, not living in Waco and all, and so were able to enjoy nightly half-hour meta-jokes about profoundly frivolous New Yorkers with absolutely no work ethic, ironically played by actors with the powerful work ethics needed to show up consistently for high-volume network television productions, and ones in which they didn’t just play themselves like that sloppy failson bastard Charlie Sheen. Grab a beer and relive with me these glory days, back when Michael Richards had yet to turn from a harmless weirdo with the strongest play ethic on the Eastern Seaboard into an orator of racial screeds fit for the San Diego Trolley, or don’t; beer is too damn expensive for my downwardly mobile ass.

I lived through the nineties, and I did so as lucidly as anyone could have at my age. I remember watching the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings on live daytime television while I was preparing to go on some weekend camping bullshit in Foothill Park. All I could really tell at the time was that the grown-ups found it transfixingly seedy for reasons that probably didn’t reflect too kindly on their maturity; I had yet to be trained in sexual harassment by the VA’s Thomas-approved training video with the dirtbag black Alistair Cooke cutting in every few minutes for a fireside chat. That shit reached me at a level that I understood. Maybe, like Britney Spears, I was not that innocent. Maybe I was an old soul or some shit, too jaded for a project as unserious as Seinfeld. I don’t know. With all my soul, however, This I Believe (TM):

Joey Buttafuoco is living poetry.

A Damn Yankee’s stray thoughts on the latest official Confederate monument horseshit

The City of New Orleans–the municipality with the police department straight out of hell, not the fine-ass consist of Hoosier-overhauled all-American rolling socialism that will take you all the way up the river to the heart of the jurisdiction of another, perennially NBC-approved police department that comes modestly more indirectly out of that same horrid pit–recently undertook the ceremonial removal of a series of statues honoring some of the Southland’s sons of secession.

Proud Mary, pray for us and bless us, I guess. As we know from NBC and, if we’re a bit less civically embarrassing, from the news, Yankee cops never torture suspects in black sites for confessions to crimes that they didn’t commit, threaten to gouge a suspect’s eyes out with a Bowie knife as a way to get intelligence for Intelligence, weigh an enemy down in chains for a live water burial that is stopped in the nick of time by an up-and-coming detective who is rather bizarrely named after the local street system (just one of those differences of opinion that Hank Voight respects, as any sworn thug would), criminally harass and manhandle citizen activists with felony wiretapping charges for videotaping police misconduct, and/or gun down peaceable, retreating civilians in barrages informed by a combination of too much Red Bull, too much training, and too little command discipline. As we also know, perhaps from Richard Engel’s late-night live broadcast, hanging a sad old tyrant b’ism Muqtada for good measure after chasing him into a dirt hole in the ground and orchestrating the ceremonial Arab shoe defilement of his statues magically eliminates the need for civil society, state administrative capacity, police patrols, and the rule of law as bulwarks against years of helter-skelter mass-casualty bloodshed for years on end.

The city fathers of N’Awlins belatedly yanked (heh, I just said “Yank”) several statues of famous secesh from public property in cover of darkness and brought in a crane for a proper daylight Saddam-in-effigy hoisting of none less than Marse Bob Lee himself. This was done because it’s, like, literally 2017 already and shit, and maybe, I suspect, because Mitch Landrieu is literally a scion of the Landrieu family. The Landrieus, they’ve had Mitch, they’ve had Mary, and mercy, mah Lawd, Ah due decleyah, they’ve had Moon. The point being, the official removal of these statues had nothing at all to do with a hereditary politician being too shrewd to give up a gig that spares him the need to do honest work for a living and/or be a discreet family embarrassment ridiculed as a permanently “trusted” charity case. This was in no way a demagogic stunt by a grandstander who’s too white and too outwardly self-respecting to go full Chocolate City (like Ray Nagin, that sad crook who, for some awful reason, is now chargeable to you and me), but who, like any good little shitbird of a professional triangulator, never loses track of which way the winds are blowing, and from which swamp.

Shit, white boy. Can I be an ally without using that kind of language? Sure, I guess so. Can I have fun being an ally without using that kind of language? Hell no. Ellen wants me to have a little, and I’d have more of it if that horrifying, abjectly histrionic, socially climbing bull dyke took her badly-dressed ass back to Metairie and retired from public life. I’d sooner have gone to Coleman and listened to Robert Gisevius weep bitterly all afternoon than watch that bitch pollute my country’s television. Montgomery, where Bobby G. is being warehoused at our expense these days because that, too, is how we try to reify an NOPD that won’t blow you clear into the river with a twelve gauge because a public emergency is its latest excuse for charging around like a Latin American death squad, at least has something like scenery. I’m not saying that I’d get my schadenfreude from the misery of that sorry bastard; I’m just saying that some things (the long fugue of a cop who was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong attitude) are less utterly horrifying than others (a woman who should never have made it onto the traffic accident beat at the lowest-rated network affiliate in Shreveport but is, for reasons generally indicating that we’re a wicked and stupid people fully deserving our own collective punishment, syndicated nationally every fucking weekday afternoon).

There are worse Louisianans than Mitch Landrieu, then. Let us give thanks for the small blessings in our lives. Still, if you’re a New Orleanian, that dipshit is your mayor. I don’t have the Cajun-seasoned pride to know whether the jambalaya and the jazz funerals are enough to make up for that, but I do know, as a Californian, that free fish tacos at a Train deep tracks concert in the one clean part of Oakland wouldn’t be enough to justify a second Gray Davis administration. *Very Michael Franti voice* That’s the sound/of sunshine/up my ass….

Just a hunch, but maybe some of the Who Dat Ah ain’t nevah leavin’ da rivah pride is a red herring tossed out by wholesale thieves to distract goobers from, oh, the condition of the levees and the local police department’s recent history of renting its cops out to restaurants on private details during which they give customers beatdowns for criticizing the gumbo. As far as I know, that only happened once, but correcting it to the singular doesn’t stop a federal police force from looking like maybe a good idea in certain jurisdictions. Speaking of which, I understand the RCMP has a disused gateside foursome available for lend-lease to allies, including an emotionally volatile ginger, a professional storyteller, a guy who doesn’t have to go to Bourbon Street to get saucin’ like he’s in Tsawwassen, and a famous fish friend. Just you try to communicate to create a more electrifying story about seafood and spice.

Mercy, O’Hara, that again! And mercy, most of you are still here for Dubai Porta Potty, but at least I don’t use force of arms to compel y’all to shut your mouths. Gumbo Goombah, on the other hand, is as Southern as sweet potato pie, and he comes from a strain of Southern thought that never asks Admiral Farragut for thoughts on who might benefit from a permanent cool change.

For this crowd, statues honoring the secesh are public affirmations of piety, not the irreplaceable source of their faith. Their investiture with totem-like powers is rather silly. This goes for both sides. I guess I’m not going anywhere in Louisiana politics with an attitude like that, but what the hell, these are not mature expressions of political fervor.

On the secessionist side, it’s awfully curious that, of the losers in all American wars, the Confederates are the only ones with all this venerated public statuary. We don’t see monuments to Arnold and Cornwallis in Saratoga. Rommel and Tojo don’t grace the west end of the National Mall. Vietnam vets are so not Fonda Jane that the latter has taken to speaking publicly about her conversion to Christianity and whatever the fuck it was that she was doing with Ted Turner, not her brief flirtation with Ho Chi Minh, who was much more popular in Vietnam as a political and military leader than Turner is in Montana as an overly moneyed buffalo poobah. Even in Japan, a sovereign nation that bites its tongue internationally not so much because it will be cut off for fielding leaders who indulge in politically inflammatory speech as because it seeks to remain most Uncle Sam’s most harmonious military aid sugar baby and trade-surplus financial dominatrix, it is still widely considered rather edgy and tasteless for politicians to publicly commune with the Greatest Generation at the Yasukuni Shrine.

Sure, the Union had an interest in mending bridges with the subjugated Confederacy after Appomattox, but so did the UK have an interest in making nice with the dear departed colonies after the Treaty of Paris, and as I mentioned above, we don’t do ostentatious Redcoat statuary on this side of the pond. We were pretty sparing in the execution of Confederate officials, too: Jefferson Davis got to spend some time in federal chains for his trouble, but Robert E. Lee was given the deferential Hirohito treatment without intervention from MacArthur, so in the end it was mainly a few exceptional sadists (the Andersonville thug, for example) who took to the rope for their war crimes.

In the midst of this campaign of mass pardon, the Union also undertook the Reconstruction, an ambitious project, foreshadowing the Marshall Plan in some ways, to rebuild the South’s institutions free of the taint of chattel slavery and racial attainder. It was as Reconstruction faltered and then failed catastrophically, a bit over a decade after the conclusion of formal hostilities, that the Confederate statuary started proliferating in earnest. These monuments didn’t cause revanchist Jim Crow aggression against African-Americans; they were lagging indicators of a burgeoning reactionary political regime that was enforcing its will through ISIS-grade campaigns of terror.

The real problem was never some dipshit worshiping an idol of Marse Bob; it was organized terrorism, including Muadh al-Kasasbeh-grade public immolations and thousands of vigilante hangings. To this day, the fundamental problem is a carceral state that strategically targets black communities for the selective enforcement of laws, many of these governing victimless crimes, and the systemic abuse, most egregiously in the Deep South, of prisoners for unpaid labor, much of it heavy and coerced. On their own, the public statues to the Confederate generals would have as much political power as some sperg praying to a bedroom shrine of Father Serra and the Duke of Albuquerque for belated royal Spanish vindication against the usurping shrew QE I and that Swiss prick Sutter. They’re rallying points for a political culture that’s perfectly well entrenched and organized with or without them. They’re really just ancillary expressions of political power.

We can see the same thing with the increasingly gaudy courthouse monuments to the Ten Commandments in Alabama under that endlessly godbothering shithead Roy Moore. Moore was able to carry on his pissing match with the feds to the benefit of his judicial career, i.e., his political career, because Alabama’s entrenched political culture lavishly rewards such ostentatiously pious stunts. Alabama is littered from end to end with Baptist churches. So are some of its neighbors: as an organizer at Lutheran-Episcopal Disaster Response in Ocean Springs told us, “When there’s six of us and six of them, we tend to do things together.” If that stupid granite tombstone of the Commandments in the courthouse lobby was a ministry of Christian witness or a reification of Christian civic virtue, I’m Increase Mather. The public godbothering, this aggressive establishmentarianism, was already an inescapable feature of Alabama politics; Judge Moore was just a sheepdog marking the territory on behalf of the flock.

That’s really all anyone is accomplishing by becoming a party to these disputes over Confederate monuments. They’re pissing matches, almost literally so. Is the Confederate battle flag heritage or hate? Shit, white boy; get you a cracker banner that can be both. They retired the Southern Cross from the South Carolina statehouse after Dylann Roof shot up Mother Emmanuel. It’s so interesting that no one has ever committed a spree killing without inspiration from feverish internet racism message boards and a fixation on that particular insurrectionist flag. A nutty creep with a racial ax to grind shoots up a bible study, and the problem is obviously a controversial flag that mostly inspires others to fly the same controversial flag. Suddenly it goes from obnoxious political recursion to incipient armed RaHoWa.

The Raising Up of the Storm Roof gave the Unionists an unusually convenient opportunity to mark their territory. Mind you, they didn’t flex their political muscle by going balls to the wall over blatantly racist (and very blatantly classist) voter ID laws. Their conception of politics is mostly flipping the bird at Strom Thurmond’s grave as praxis. The latest monumental grandstanding in Louisiana runs along the same lines, except that in this case the retirement of the secesh from public life didn’t obviously have anything to do with anything else. God knows what kind of wag-the-dog trick Mitch Landrieu may be trying to perform; in a city and, for that matter, a state that dysfunctional, there’s no end to the shit that an unprincipled politician would have the motive to sweep under the rug. New Orleans is a Potemkin Village Disneyland surrounded by a barely governed third-world city that is sinking progressively into the outer reaches of the ocean. Then again, the Landrieus have always been good Democrats, so they certainly wouldn’t want the city to rise again in a regressive fashion. Besides, bayou Louisianans have always cherished that seafront lifestyle; this progress merely allows them to live more intimately with their beloved Gulf.

In Post-Soviet America, Gulf of Mexico vacations down at YOU! Ain’t that, well, actually not nearly the scariest thing about America, let alone Louisiana. Orleans Parish has just about the most underfunded and understaffed urban public defenders’ office in the United States, and Louisiana has absolutely the highest incarceration rate on earth. Other countries don’t do federalism the way we do it. In Canada, Belgium, and Switzerland, it’s a vehicle for harmless linguistic snits. In Germany, it’s mostly a budgeting partition. In the United States, it’s a license to raid black urban neighborhoods for plantation slaves to staff Angola. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest. Genuine criminals are caught up in the dragnet, too, but that’s practically incidental to the true purpose of this regime, as is any personal reform they achieve. This regime is ordered to the socialization of breeding costs for an enduring plantation system without having to commission privateering raids in West Africa, since it’s always so expensive to bless the rains. Even by the licentious mainstream humanitarian standards that are generally applied to judicial and prison systems in the United States, the Louisiana system is extreme.

Ultimately, the Society for the Prevention of Kwesi Millington for Sheriff loses the energy to fight truly egregious injustices, which are wildly out of control in Louisiana, when it wastes its time and energy bitching about venerable statues of the Confederate officer corps and the waving of the Southern Cross as a bloody shirt for the discount salty crackers. The conspiratorial way to look at this is to conclude that it is entirely by design. By the way, you pretty much have to be on the Asperger’s Spectrum to give a shit about the Confederate political flag, that is, the official colors of the government for which the rebels were ostensibly spilling so much blood. Plenty of people talk about the Stars and Bars, but hardly anyone, especially in the North, even recognizes it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people refer to the Stars and Bars when I’m certain that they have the battle flag in mind. For a long time I conflated the two myself.

Do I care if some loser wants to fly a Rough and Ready city flag over a State of Jefferson flag over a Gadsden Flag over the Cracker Banner over Old Glory herself? Frankly, I don’t, Butler, you shifty creep. My sense of patriotism is not so easily wounded because it is reaffirmed every time a well-governed, duly constituted federal force sits a goon squad of local-yokel tyrants the fuck down, neosecesh or not, and tells them how exactly how they are going to behave as a condition of their presence within the sovereign territory of the United States of America. That’s why these colors don’t bleed; it isn’t the damn dye job. But maybe that’s why I do so much of my politics over the internet. It’s easier to argue over totems than values, and totems seem to be what rile up the screechers.

FYI, Amtrak’s other trains out of New Orleans terminate in New York City and Los Angeles. No matter which direction you head, if you go to the end of the line, you end up under the jurisdiction of a horror show of a municipal police department, and if you want to get to the least horrific of the three, all you’ve got is a train every two or three days that, if it’s running on schedule, pulls in at, like, four in the morning. The real reason to leave on that midnight train to Georgia, believe it or not, is that it leaves at a vaguely civilized hour: namely, midnight. I know, Wow Very Explain. Even so, I like my train service like I like my Deep Southern government: efficient, accountable to its customers, clean (sort of), maybe on time, smooth, air-conditioned, and, oh hell yes, federal.

Fyre Island: a schadenfreudetastic overseas overproduction of elites

Haven’t there been enough hot takes about the Fyre Festival clusterfuck already? Of course not.

The setting:

Great Exuma. (I’m sorry to hear that you have such a condition.)

The promise: 

Bitchin’ tunes performed beachside by some of today’s hippest musical acts before an audience of marriageable and eligible young people of a certain class in a certain decorously partial* state of undress, complemented by deluxe chartered transportation, real good eats, fine-ass crash pads, and opportunities for audiences with visiting gods from the extended Kardashian Pantheon.

*(The author did not mean to imply that any of this is not horseshit. I report; you decide. And many of you decide to read only Dubai Porta Potty, so there’s that.)

The reality: 

Conveniently absent entertainment acts/gods, soaking wet disaster relief tents, canceled charter flights, an unannounced lock-in in an airport terminal without air conditioning, and crappy cold sandwiches.

Plaintiffs’ complaint: 

Defendants conspired to communicate to create expectations of Instagrammable Fun Stuff fully in accordance with the Harris Standard.** Instead, they forced defendants to live like refugees on a vacation to the Bahamas, Madoff with their money, and fed them deficient forms of Sammich.

**As in Crystal.

Those three words, though. No, not the three that inspire soft rock emo acts to tendentious song because they cannot otherwise muster the courage to express their love to their love. Does that storytelling former horse friend have to be the Sheriff of the Bahamas now, too? Is it, as they always say, because he’s black? Maybe, if I were more culturally sensitive in these matters, or hadn’t done exceptionally no travel in Florida and the Caribbean for someone who spent his high school years as a junior member of the Pennsylvania haute bourgeoisie, I would understand that Grenada isn’t part of the Bahamas. Besides, si je me souviens correctement, Northside Juice was born in Montreal, which is as Canadian as repeatedly threatening to secede from the Confederation over pissant linguistic disputes. If that happened, what on earth would the Francosecesh do with one D. Russell Williams, formerly of Trenton, currently of Port-Cartier, and forever of his own interest in your daughter’s drawer full of drawers? Guess you’ll have to find someone else to maintenir le droit maintenant, mec.

That’s more than some of my prep school classmates remember from our French classes. It’s also more, I was told, more than some of them could remember of where they had changed planes on vacation the previous week.

Defendants’ response: 

“[I]t was NOT A SCAM!…. I truly apologize as this is NOT MY FAULT….”

Dissenting victim impact statement: 

Yeah, it kinda sucked, but as a merely middle-class party crasher, I very much enjoyed watching the rich bitch about a bunch of petty shit. Verdict: #WINNING!

Governmental response: 

Significantly more diligence and competence from the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, an agency with a vague, general fiduciary responsibility to tourists visiting the Bahamas, than from the festival’s organizers, who had an explicit contractual responsibility to their guests to deliver on their promises barring unforeseeable acts of God, a responsibility that is enforceable in US and Bahamian courts.

Precedents in musical history: 

Jim Morrison inciting his audience to a punk-on-pork riot in Hot Summer Chicago, then retreating backstage and fleeing through a private back door (mmm, mmm, mmm, lookin’ out mah….); The Rolling Stones’ Saigon-style aerial evacuation from Altamont in the face of the Hell’s Angels; any shitty, overpriced nightclub with a half-assed HVAC system and no kitchen.

Aggravating factors: 

Kendall Jenner took undisclosed payments well into the six figures to promote the Fyre Festival, causing it to materialize out of thin air as a cultural phenomenon. This was a violation of FCC regulations requiring the disclosure of paid content on electronic media, and it was done under the auspices of a commercial festival that was mismanaged to the point of wholesale fraud. If she does federal time, even in pretrial detention, for this scam (which was NOT A SCAM!), we’ll know that there’s still, or again, something like the rule of law in the United States. Or maybe in the Bahamas. The Bahamian authorities can always file extradition papers against Kendall Jenner, Ja Rule, and their crew once they’ve filed indictments, and a chartered international Con Air flight might do these fuckers some good.

Then there’s the sandwich thing. Someone took the time to make and box shitty sandwiches by the hundreds in the midst of a logistical crisis affecting hundreds of visitors. Any wildfire food service contractor can have a decent hot chow line up and running within a matter of hours of touchdown on site. So could many amateur church disaster response operations. The Fyre Festival took place on a site adjacent to a Sandals Resort. If that joint didn’t have enough spare kitchen capacity and staff to do a hot catering job on short notice for a market-rate fee, I’m Paul Prudhomme.

Mitigating factors: 

I’ve taken the Reno bus system to gas stations and eaten better than that. Get your white ass into Maverik before eight in the evening and you can procure world-class sammich, too. Or after eight, depending on what the specific store has in stock. It’s open all night long.

The point is, these festivalgoers were idiots. We had some preppy douchebag from Raleigh carrying a generationally proliferating diversity of Roman numerals behind his surname and complaining about how he’d paid too much for some sandwiches, and meanwhile I’m over here, warm homeless, eating a hundred times better for eight dollars a meal, if I’m a glutton who gets the damn Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup cookie, too, at a convenience store chain that I can reach on a bus through skid row with a $3.75 prepaid day pass. What a fucking dumbass. Not me, of course; that WASP shithead from Raleigh.

I’ve been told that I’d love Burning Man, for that matter. What absolute nonsense. I might as well pick up some thugs and losers from the rescue mission, go roll around in the dirt somewhere out near Fernley all weekend, like a fucking animal, and then throw a wad of twenties into the Truckee River. Can it just be that I live too close to the edge these days to be taken with a stone-idiotic latter-day potlatch for White People? Burning Man is one of the stupidest goddamned things I’ve heard of in my life. Lately it’s had class divisions and resentments on account of luxury tents. Great: techdicks pulling Muammar Qaddafi shit and riling up a bunch of lesser assholes who still have the money to LARP that Sudan refugee camp lifestyle and then bitch about how down-to-earth and oppressed they are.

Why does the Air Force never test-bomb the parts of the desert that could use a good nuking? To Burn Man: It’s a Barbecue Book.

Of course there’s always a barely hidden sexual purpose to these festivals. They may not be breeding grounds, exactly, or courtship grounds in any proper sense, but they have an unmistakable matchmaking purpose. They unite people of reproductive age who are presumably sexually fit and compatible under the auspices of approved chaperone organizations that tacitly promise to keep out the riffraff and fuglies. The idea here is that if you get raped, it’ll be a proper Brock Turner rape, not the ineffectual ministrations of some hopeless dweeb, or if you’re a dude, you won’t be pawed by homely bitches with weak social skills all weekend. *Most Maggie Smith Voice* What is a “week-end?” No, come to think of it, it’s more about class than looks, and when it’s about looks, it’s about looks that reinforce the same poisonous class expectations as ever. The young men at these festivals would sooner be expected to marry some none-too-pretty debutante mean girl from a good family (sic, probably) in Laguna Niguel or Alpharetta than dilute the family fortune with the smoking hot, genuinely down-to-earth maid’s daughter from Boyle Heights or trysts with some working girl from the Pork-n-Beans. I don’t know much about Florida, but what I do maybe I shouldn’t. At least I know when I’ve changed planes in Miami.

These dumbass festivals just pretend to be countercultural and subversive. Hell, the Fyre Festival was hardly even countercultural, given how thoroughly celebrity bullshit has crowded out square middle-class values in the mass mind. Surely the potential upsides to currying favor with Ja Rule and the Kardashians is greater than the upside of extra shifts doing whatever the fuck it is that the scions of the Roman numeral set in Raleigh do for a purported living. Plus one would be hanging out with the kind of people who also have enough disposable income to fly overseas in the hope of chilling with Kendall Jenner. Write it off as a networking expense, brah.

I’m more subversive than that by taking the bus. I’m more subversive than that by chatting with bums at Starbucks. There isn’t any money to be hustled out of my listening to Psychotarp’s nonsense for half an hour straight or giving the RTC another $3.75, though. For that matter, I don’t think most of the hookers I’ve hired are being shaken down by organized crime to any bothersome extent, which I can’t say about the Fyre Festival’s attendees. Some of them (the hookers, not the idiots with the case of Exuma) I know for the next thing to a fact are not being shaken down, and I’m including among these an admitted junkie and a lady with a $300-a-month lease on a Mini Cooper. I can’t stop the small businesswomen I support from supporting expensive forms of big business. For that matter, I’m not the kind of grandiose prick who thinks he should.

It isn’t necessarily that hard to cut off the racketeers. All it takes is the wherewithal to find businesses that aren’t bloody obvious rackets and do business with them instead. Thing is, you don’t get the social proof that comes with the popular insiders’ rackets that way. It’s just you and some hooker, or you and some convenience store clerk and some Cheddarwurst. That may not be Germany’s Best Wurst, but I’ve had the latter, too, at the Heidelberg in Queensbury. Not that I know Cousin Gigolo and his landlady to be classy and/or solvent enough to put on the ritz and spend ten dollars apiece eating out. Uh, not that way. But at least he gets free rent out of the deal. Some of the other fuckwads above spent more on a single case of Great Exuma than Cousin Gigolo doesn’t spend on rent in two years.

The most appalling thing about the Fyre Festival is that these rich shitheads got taken over by other rich shitheads. The Dunkin’ Doorman may not deserve my coffee money, but he damn well deserves theirs.

The chronicle of Young Turks who are in no way whatsoever running for high office

Mark Zuckerberg is not running for the presidency. We know this because he has been on a tour of living rooms and auto assembly lines in Midwestern swing states, as one does out of pure philosophical interest in the folkways of Flyover Country and never out of crass political interest. Similarly, we can be sure that Chelsea Clinton is in no way involved in either her own first campaign for the presidency or her mother’s third because she and/or back-of-the-office staff have devoted her Twitter account to some of the most painfully anodyne political commentary and career girl agitprop imaginable and has recently sat for a number of flagrant softball interviews with high-circulation national newspapers and magazines. These are but of course some of the things that one does simply because one and/or one’s forever grasping mother is just kind of bored and can’t think of a thing to watch on Netflix at the moment.

Zuckerberg’s tour of the Midwest has inspired an interesting conspiracy theory holding that Sheryl Sandberg put him up to it as a way of shooing him off the Facebook campus so that she could take over. The premise here is that the way to distract the Zuck from his current techdick glories was to put it in his head that there’s a greater glory awaiting him, specifically, a political glory whose pursuit happens to lure him way the fuck out of Menlo Park. It sounds plausible, but so does the idea of Zuckerberg having a heartfelt personal interest in running the United States and officially collecting our Likes. It’s exactly the sort of situation in which Sandberg’s sleazy scheme to Lean In on her boss could coincide perfectly with his own interest in becoming the ultimate meddler in national and world affairs. Sandberg planting the idea of the presidency in Zuckerberg’s head is true to her character, but so is Zuckerberg’s grandiose belief that he is morally fit for the presidency and not too scandal-prone and controversial to win it true to his own character.

Think about it: the more encouraging scenario here features a scummy gambit by the Lean In bitch to inflict a notorious tech dork on our presidential politics not half a year after the conclusion of our last interminable presidential election season. It’s pretty pathetic. Any way we look at this episode, it says a great deal about the degradation of our national leadership. We’ve got the boy king coming down from Olympus for a perfectly innocent cultural mission to the mortals, and if we’re lucky, we’ve also got an obnoxious, devious corporate feminist putting him up to this stunt with no expectation that it will be anything but a wild goose chase for him.

Yuck. What I find most worrisome about this presidential grooming tour is that Mark Zuckerberg is no longer the sputtering, ridiculous babyfaced dork that he was when he first catapulted himself onto the Silicon Valley A List. Outwardly, he has grown up enough to start looking arguably presidential. Let’s not pretend that the air of gravitas and majesty that is famously expected of our presidents can be achieved only by the cultivation of some precise appearance of patrician grace that only members of our own political party, whichever one we favor, can possess. Our recent presidents have included a Georgia peanut warehouser, a screen actor who won reelection after bumbling his way through a debate while sundowning from Alzheimer’s Disease, a hilariously tongue-tied patrician fuddy-duddy, a first-generation lace curtain Arkansas hillbilly who was renowned for his “bimbo eruptions” before he had even been elected, a raging dry drunk failson who fancied himself a Texas cowboy, an alleged Chicagoan who had been raised in Hawaii by white Kansan parents but was black enough on account of his absentee father to be helpfully smeared as a Muslim Mau-Mau Manchurian Candidate (this made him look calm by comparison to his own nut gallery), and a famous television oaf with a habit of plastering his name everywhere in thousand-point type. A techdick who was a total dork in his twenties but doesn’t look like such a dork in his thirties is not a dramatic departure from these awfully inconsistent recent antecedents. No, this does not mean that it would be a good idea to put him in the Oval Office, but since when have we stopped to make sure that any of these guys would be a good idea? These are the guys responsible for the fundraising rental of the Lincoln Bedroom, “Mission Accomplished,” and “We tortured some folks.”

Exactly what Chelsea Clinton is trying to accomplish is harder to suss out. The National Review article that I linked above is some good shit, even if it gets a bit overbearing from time to time in its fussy conservative snark. The comparison of Chelsea’s sorry excuse for a career to Kramer’s retirement to Florida in his forties is entertaining, but it perpetuates a category error about the purpose of what is charitably described as her employment. It isn’t just that she’s a scion of immense privilege. Chelsea’s purported work life has a very different look from the purported work lives of Trump, Kennedy, or Bush scions. The latter families produce a few wastrels who are easy enough to cashier out of the public eye, some drunks and cokeheads, and a great number of prominent scions who, at least at first glance, take on prominent leadership roles in business or government. Chelsea Clinton is the only child of a young dynasty, and her own children are too young to be put into any sort of power, so there are no internal points of comparison for her, and there is also no one in her generation to distract the Clinton paparazzi from her disreputable behavior. At W’s worst the Bushes had their dutiful Jeb, and the Kennedies are legion.

The point of Chelsea’s arguably flaky career path was never, it seems, to teach her a work ethic, nor was it fundamentally to keep up appearances of productivity and upstanding citizenship in her family by way of saving face for her parents. Nor, it seems, was it to try to establish her on a path that she would find personally fulfilling. It’s plausible that Billary have been grooming her for her own power, but that doesn’t appear to be the case, either. Millions of Americans with none of the Clintons’ influence and wealth have careers that look as haphazard as Chelsea’s, but one of the advantages that the Clinton machine surely gives Chelsea is the capacity to have someone else do enough advance work to make sure that she isn’t blindsided by the sorts of bad workplace environments that convince workaday people to abruptly quit their jobs.

The most credible explanation for Chelsea’s apparent dilettantism is that she is actually showing up just long enough to milk organizations on her parents’ behalf and maybe cash herself out satisfactorily. Her stint at NBC was especially notorious for her lavish pay and her not awfully much work. It’s easy to imagine Matt Lauer boiling with resentment that he has to pay his dues by showing up before dawn and pretending to give a shit about celebrity gossip for thirty years straight and maintaining his gravitas before a tacitly suicidal racist Paula Deen in order to make his fortune while that talentless Clinton bitch gets to wander in and out at will from the next thing to a no-show job at his company, nay, in his office building, just because of who her mommy and daddy are. But what kind of fool would be surprised to learn that NBC is crookeder than the Hana Highway? That outfit retains its reputed roleplaying furry because he has the talent and the work ethic to pull the damn thing off. It retained Donald Trump for somewhat different reasons (only somewhat), and it retained Chelsea Clinton for distinctly different reasons. The Donald occupied the overlapping portion of the Venn Diagram, the intersection of genuine on-air talent and wholesale corporate graft. Lauer is squarely (roundly?) on the talent side, while the Chelsea is squarely (and in this case I do mean square) on the graft side.

I just recalled that NBC hired Jenna Bush as a front-of-the-house faildaughter, too, and also unfortunate failson Luke Russert. What a shitty outfit. NBC paid these presidential failspawn not for their direct services but as proxies for the corruption of their families. Hell if I know what exactly any party was getting out of the deal, but these were no social calls. Roughly the same thing is true of Chelsea’s alleged career as an author. She’s got all these books out under her name that were almost certainly farmed out to ghostwriters, and some of the material is embarrassing enough that one has to wonder why the fuck anyone with an ounce of self-respect as, say, the holder of a PhD in international relations would be willing to put her name on such horseshit. Chelsea is an author of record for, among other works, a 402-page volume of civic agitprop for teenagers and the text to an illustrated children’s book called, if you can stomach it, She Persisted. Must the bitch make Mitch McConnell look sympathetic and not constipated for the first time in his career?

That isn’t a writing career, of course. I’m a lot closer to having a writing career than Chelsea Clinton, and I scavenge deposit bottles for a living (sic, generally speaking, but don’t hate). I follow amateurs who haven’t published anything in years (Success is Overrated, for example) who have writing careers that leave Chelsea’s in the dust; there may not be much to follow from day to day, but when there is, it’s worthwhile. Countless people make some kind of living personally writing their own material, and much of it is very much worth reading. Too much, in fact: Mark David Chapman not so famously got behind on his reading at the University of Hawaii before he very famously got ahead for good on his Lennonist agenda.

So why is Chelsea Clinton taking credit for superfluous, vapid garbage that she didn’t even write? It’s because she’s a living licensing agreement. She’s a franchiser of her own name.

Is it really a surprise that the Clintons are involved in such a scam? It’s pretty restrained compared to their Foundation and Global Initiative. We can at least be pretty confident that this particular slush isn’t directly watering Middle Eastern unsavories. God only knows who’s latched on to the publishing scam as a second- or third-order crook, but its visible parts look pretty Buy American, and in an environment as degraded as Clintonworld, that’s worth something.

As an only child of overachieving parents, I used to sympathize with Chelsea Clinton, and I guess I still do on some level. Her family is one hell of a burden to inherit, and there’s little she can do to escape it. Her regression to the mean might be disappointing, but it’s entirely to be expected. Consider, for one thing, that her preternaturally charming and eloquent father bred with her ice monster of a mother. On the other hand, she’s somewhere past the age of moral responsibility by now, even if her (sic) writing suggests otherwise. There must have been other things she could have done for a simulacrum of a living that didn’t involve running interference for her parents and acting as their bagwoman. Are her parents deranged and desperate enough to put her under duress to do these things? I guess maybe I shouldn’t completely rule that out. We don’t hear a peep out of Amy Carter these days, but Jimmy and Rosalyn are no Bill and Hillary, so who knows.

Can we really make heads or tails out of any of this shit? The Clinton White House has to have been an exceptionally bizarre upbringing. As much as Chelsea’s recent behavior has been reprehensible and deserves ridicule and rebuke, she’s the one who was born into it. Her parents are the ones who chose to go into their life of crime. Of all the Boomers who were too selfish to breed, what hideous sin did we commit as a nation for the Clintons not to be among them? It says something that Chelsea is apparently sober and able to raise her own two young children (to the extent that any of the obscenely rich raise their own children), while Amy Winehouse, the daughter of a mere pharmacist and a mere cabbie (okay, London cabbie, so the motherfucker knew his maps) was the one who terminally burned out at 27. Unfortunately for the rest of us, this gives Grandpa the opportunity to conveniently show up on the tarmac in Phoenix for an impromptu conversation with Loretta Lynch about Charlotte, and also golf. For us mere peasants, Charlotte might be where American has us change A321’s on some all-day or all-night itinerary from hell; for Ma and Pa Clinton, she’s a get-out-of-jail-free card. The Clintons don’t fly that Eurotrash big metal, now, and they don’t need no Sky Harbor when the whole world is their harbor.

The National Review article above mentions Chelsea’s profligate offerings of thanks to people you and I wouldn’t know from Adam’s off ox, as her daddy liked to say back in his downhome days. In that sense, Chelsea’s publishing isn’t about its own text, but about its credits. Billary famously maintain an Infernoesque multi-quantum orbit of sycophants, errand boys and girls, hired muscle, court propagandists, James Carville, and assorted hangers-on. One of Chelsea’s responsibilities, we learn, is to feed this shitty flock, which can apparently be thanked adequately by giving it credit for the inspiration for some of the worst writing in the Anglophone world. Surely there are some kickbacks somewhere in the mix as well, since it’s impossible to imagine that this is not a crowd that welcomes the money and the cash. Narcissism is a good adaptation for that business, but imagine being in it only for the narcissistic supply. What a fucking loser one would have to be to associate with such scum without mercenary motives. Don’t worry, though: the Clinton campaign strung along plenty of unpaid interns.

Bill and Hillary went into business as a criminal couple, but with Chelsea, their yuppie snowflake, some years past her social debut and active in the family business, the Clintons can at last properly be called a crime family. Sometimes Jeremiah Wright’s God Damn America sounds like a prayer; other times, it sounds like nothing more than a news announcement.