Friday, 17 February 2017

Ten Things Which America Doesn't Really Get


Bacon. It's all streaky. I once encountered proper bacon in an establishment describing itself as an English style pub, and was so surprised I had to get the waitress to ask the chef where he bought it. Apparently he had it flown in from North Carolina.

On a similarly carnivorous theme, lamb isn't particularly popular over here either, meaning kebab shops are sadly few and far between. There are a couple of Mediterranean places which do a decent doner kebab, but they never quite get the pita bread right, or the chili sauce, or the fat, grumpy bloke who calls you my friend but otherwise refuses to speak English following a long, long evening of being addressed as Stavros by horizontally-inclined beer enthusiasts.

Beer. Sadly no-one in America ever just nipped down the road for a pint, so it has come to be regarded as an exotic practice. Beer tends to come in bottles, either your regular swill or artisan beverages with knowingly stupid names like Burst Radiator or Enraged Skinhead, most of which taste like what you get when touching the two terminals of a standard nine volt battery to your tongue. Bars - which are what we have instead of pubs - tend to serve either Miller Lite or Budweiser, neither of which really count as beer; excepting the fancier places serving Burst Radiator, Enraged Skinhead and others on tap to men who spend the evening talking about different kinds of shit beer. In England I generally encountered unorthodox beers in a pub, usually by means of a decision-making process concluding with the words, fuck it - I may as well have a pint of that, I suppose, whereas here the activity seems spiritually closer to stamp collecting. This is why I stick to Mexican beer, and because it actually is beer.

Civilisation. This entry was going to be Government, but then I'm not sure any country really has the hang of that one, and the broader heading allows for discussion of contributing factors. Colonial America was founded seemingly with the intention of getting around the problems of what happens when you have hereditary leadership, meaning no Kings or Queens and that the job of President should go to whoever the people generally feel is best suited. Unfortunately this now amounts to who can afford the most effective advertising campaign, meaning it's usually the upper classes, in turn meaning that we're slipping back towards a dynastic model of leadership. This is justified by the erroneous notion of how those with the most money must be really amazing to have earned their fortune and are therefore well-suited to telling the rest of us what to do. All sorts of factors have contributed to the evolution of the English upper classes, and not all of them necessarily meaning we get terrible people at the end of the process. Some may be arseholes, but I've met a fair few who aren't, and who are very much aware of the mechanism of their privilege and who tend to have genuinely benefited from an expensive education - as you would hope. Here, on the other hand, being upper class is just a case of having a shitload of money, regardless of how it was obtained, and the American upper classes are pretty much just Terry and June from the English sitcom of the same name but with a mammoth bank balance. I know this, having stood behind them in queues and listened to their gormless conversations about Bon Jovi and alt-country and the Obama dictatorship and a better standard of person in their shitty golfing slacks. This is why socialism has become a bad word amongst those who have no actual experience of it and don't really quite understand what it means, namely because our upper classes are people who genuinely believe that money makes everything right, and that the best deal is the most popular, simplest, and therefore the cheapest - which as anyone who ever shopped at the Dollar Store will tell you is not necessarily the case.

Here's the thing with socialism: if you want to be a part of civilisation, then you are obliged to pay taxes as a contribution to that civilisation, given that the civilisation in question is about more than just you. Taxes pay for roads, emergency services, and general infrastructure, and it really isn't down to you to decide who deserves what, and it is about the whole rather than what's directly in it for any one person. If you don't wish to pay taxes or be part of civilisation, that's fine. You have the option of fucking off to the forest or the mountains or else discovering your own country using a road you've laid yourself rather than one of the ones we paid to have built for you, and you should be ready to generate your own electricity when you get there.

Any civilisation worthy of the term tends to be comprised of people who make things and do stuff rather than spending their time asking what do I get out of this? or whining about how political correctness is destroying their lives.

Law Enforcement. My experience with the police force in England has generally been consistent with the idea that whilst there are doubtless a few bad 'uns, these are persons who have somehow eluded rigorous checks in what is otherwise a fairly extensive training program. I could be wrong about this, but I sometimes get the impression that the training procedure of our police force is a guy who asks would you like a gun? Hopefully I'm very much mistaken.

North-East. England has Newcastle-upon-Tyne, home of the greatest accent known to man, and we get fucking New York. You'll know if you've ever met someone from New York because they will have told you about a million times and will have pronounced it Noo Yawk Cidee in an attempt to be cute. Additionally they will probably have described the place as some sort of free-thinking utopia in a land otherwise dominated by record-burning Ku Klux Klansmen who hate black people, improvised jazz, and anything resembling Communism. The only New Yorkers I like tend to be rap artists, persons such as MOP, current title holders of the world's greatest improvised exhortation to party heard on a rap record, which was bang your head against the wall, come on! during some song on the Warriorz album. Those guys can do no wrong so far as I'm concerned.

Pork Pies. I only get the craving once a year, and I could possibly purchase one from a certain mail order outfit specialising in fancy foreign foods, but the $70 refrigerated shipping cost is prohibitive considering that I'd probably eat half of the thing and then go off the idea, as I have done in the past. My dad always used to have a pork pie for Christmas morning which was apparently part of some tradition, although I don't know if it was just him or whether it's some more widespread observance. Here in San Antonio we traditionally have pork tamales on Christmas morning. A tamale is made from maize flour - and pork in this case - steamed in a corn husk. They're from Mexico and of pre-Colombian origin; and they're okay, but it just isn't the same.

Come to think of it, the cakes are all a bit weird too - kind of dry and far too sweet and always with that cream from a fucking spray can. Greggs should seriously think about opening up over here. They'd make a killing.

Rebellion. This is something with which American teenagers - or sometimes older people - engage between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one. The epitomy of American teenage revolution is Michael J. Fox dancing to Depeche Mode on the hood of a car stalled in gridlocked traffic and in doing so teaching the grown-ups a thing or two about what it means to be young. Rebellion generally occurs once you're done with the scouts and before you get a job selling car insurance to those seduced by advertising for Dodge vehicles. Sometimes it's difficult to believe that this is the same country which came up with Elvis, the Ramones, and MOP.

Ska. As Wikipedia is my witness, Ska is a musical genre that originated in Jamaica in the late fifties and was the precursor to rocksteady and reggae, combining elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues. It is characterized by a walking bass line accented with rhythms on the off-beat. It isn't, and nor will it ever be, twelve white dudes from Vermont in pork pie hats playing a song with a chorus sounding more like U2 than Prince Buster. Sorry. I don't make the rules.

Sweets. Candy always sounds like a euphemism for something illegal, and in a few cases it actually is. Our chocolate bars mostly taste like the supermarket's own brand products, and I'm talking Wavy Line or Happy Shopper rather than Waitrose. We have Cadbury's, but mostly sold only in stores frequented by a better standard of person and accessible only by means of vehicular transport.

Vehicular Transport. If you don't drive in America you're pretty much screwed unless you're conveniently married to someone who does, as I am. It's easy enough to walk around the centre of whichever town or city you may be in, but I would guess there are not many people living in the centre of their town or city. Most of us are in the suburbs where there's no nipping down to the shop on the corner for a can of pop and a pork pie, or even a tamale. Given this heavy emphasis on automotive travel, you might think this would be an area in which America excels, but sadly no. The extent and scale of our roads and highways combined with a population density much lower than that of the United Kingdom means that a traffic jam is something to be endured for slow moving minutes rather than stationary hours, but America has chosen to compensate for this relative freedom by having everyone drive trucks the size of your average fishing trawler. The fucking things are enormous, resembling giant Tonka toys, and whilst I can see one might justify such gargantuan vessels on a ranch, or if engaged in a business requiring that one travel with a fleet of lawnmowers in the back, otherwise there's really no excuse. Dental assistants are rarely required to convey injured bison back from the creek so far as I am aware, so they most likely choose enormous trucks as compensation for some deficiency, although obviously I have no idea what that could be.

A recent television commercial for the Dodge motor company shows actors portraying the Dodge brothers - Horace and John - magically transported from 1914, newsboy caps and all, leering with joy at their legacy of giant-sized Hot Wheels cars pulling wheelies and revving engines. Their joy is clear from lurid smiles comparable to those of fetishists who take sexual pleasure from pooing in their own pants and who have presently done just that. The commercial is hard to watch, and it's annoying, and I guess the assumption is that rest of us are expected to want to share in this sort of excitement.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Tits


I've had another sleepless night for no reason I can identify, except possibly that it's uncommonly fucking cold and Bess and I have let Kirby stay in our room. Usually the cats get either the rest of the house or outside when we retire depending on which they prefer, but Kirby often spends the night on the corner of our bed because she's generally well behaved. Last night was the exception to the rule and she spent the hours of darkness walking across my face or otherwise engaging in cat aerobics; although I have a feeling I wouldn't have been able to sleep anyway. These days if I can't get to sleep - which admittedly isn't often - I get up and spend a couple of hours writing stuff no-one is ever going to read, then return to bed when I'm properly knackered; but on this occasion it hasn't worked.

So I have a slow day, forcing myself forward through the drudgery of my usual housewifely chores at quarter speed. I make the mistake of having the radio on and tuned to one of the stations which isn't wall to wall Tejano, but it's mostly news about how our President-elect is planning to outlaw rainbows believing they promote homosexuality, or he's appointed Dylann Roof to be the next Minister of Black People. A few weeks ago I made a mental note to avoid the news, but I keep forgetting. Later I go out on the bike, but it's still fucking cold. Frost is infrequent in Texas, but we compensate for the shortfall with icy wind of the kind Alex describes as a cold winter bastard in A Clockwork Orange. The Nahuatl speaking Mexica of Tenochtitlan - Mexico City as it has been since 1521 - associated their land of the dead with the north and divided the mythic realm into nine tiers, and one of these regions was called Itzehecayan roughly translating as Where the Wind Is Like Obsidian Knives, possibly deriving from some ancient fact-finding mission to San Antonio in the middle of January, or Izcalli as it would have been by their calendar.

It's been a long, slow day and by the time evening comes we decide to eat out seeing as the boy is staying with his father. We get in the car and Bess asks, 'Where do you want to eat?'

'Fuck it,' I say. 'Let's go to Hooters.'

Hooters is a sports-fixated restaurant chain seemingly sold on the idea of all the waitresses having great big tits. It was parodied as Bazooms in an episode of King of the Hill, and when I first moved here I was surprised to discover it was real. It seemed like an anachronism, something left over from Benny Hill's little known tenure as governor of Texas, but Bess had told me that despite any other concerns, the food was good, which primed me with the puzzling notion that people go to Hooters for the food.

Sure.

'Isn't it kind of er...'

I didn't need to finish the question for obvious reasons.

'Kind of,' she told me, 'but the food really is good.'

So along we went. The place is clean, bright, and cheery, but not quite with the depressing efficiency of McDonalds, and there are a million flat screen televisions attached to armatures all around the ceiling. There is a football game in progress, or handegg as it should probably be known. I don't know who is playing because it's not a game I understand - the Washington Racists versus the Fresno Basset Hounds or something. We are seated and tended by a waitress called Meghan who seems nice but is thankfully not my type. Being a happily married man, none of them are really quite my type even without taking the age gap into consideration. Having reached fifty it has come as a great relief to find that I'm not significantly attracted to younger women. I always feared becoming a dirty old man, but most women under thirty now seem physically peculiar to me, somehow nascent and unformed. I suppose the media has spent so much time presenting a certain female type as a physical ideal that I mistook it for how we actually work, and thankfully for the most part we don't. Although were I still in my twenties, I'm sure my nuts would have exploded before Meghan had even brought our drinks.

According to Wikipedia, an older version of the Hooters Employee Handbook reads:

Customers can go to many places for wings and beer, but it is our Hooters Girls who make our concept unique. Hooters offers its customers the look of the All American Cheerleader, Surfer, Girl Next Door.

So actually they're mostly just regular gals, admittedly very presentable regular gals, but far from the megatitted trainee strippers I'd been expecting. One of the team seems to be wearing a vest top which somehow has straps which, buckled tightly, make it appear as though she's transporting a couple of blancmanges - wibble wobble wibble wobble - but she's the only one. It comes as a bit of a relief. Despite the above protestations, and despite my inner Ben Elton, I am nevertheless a man who knows what he likes and who responds in certain ways to certain things even if I sometimes wish I didn't, and I'd probably find breasts above a certain volume something of a distraction whilst trying to navigate a menu, particularly with them hovering mere inches from my face.

Bess describes another branch of Hooters where most of the waitresses seemed to be moonlighting as strippers and had those weird fake boobs which appear solid and overinflated, more like what I expected; so either that's just a different place or Hooters has been reigning it in a bit, going for a more family friendly vibe. The sign outside displays the name Hooters written with the oo as the eyes of an owl, although the oo also resembles tits; and okay, so owls make a hooting noise but the chain knows it's not fooling anyone. I had assumed the owl allusion might be part of some recent self-conscious rebranding, but apparently it's been around more or less from the start. Nevertheless my inner Ben Elton still isn't having it.

Hooters is selling sex, isn't it? Its success is reliant on the objectification of women, on reducing women to objects set on parade for our pleasure. Well yes, and three men sued the company for sex discrimination back in 1997, specifically for denying them employment and presumably because being men, their knockers weren't much to look at; to which Wikipedia responds:

In employment discrimination law in the United States, employers are generally allowed to consider characteristics that would otherwise be discriminatory if they are bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQ). For example, a manufacturer of men's clothing may lawfully advertise for male models. Hooters has argued a BFOQ defense, which applies when the essence of the business operation would be undermined if the business eliminated its discriminatory policy.

So it is what it is, as they say. It's a symptom of a condition of society, and if we need to get pissy and start shaking fists, there are probably a million more deserving targets. The waitresses here seem just like waitresses anywhere, only with slightly less clothing and it's hard not to feel a little sorry for them. Even if you're a complete idiot and all you have going for you in this world is breasts, waitress at Hooters was probably never anyone's dream job; and it really doesn't feel like a strip joint. The place is rammed, and about a third of the customers are women, and there are children running around. The men are mostly big, hairy trucker types, paunchy and balding, oily jeans and baseball caps featuring the logos of agricultural feed suppliers. I just hope none of them came in here expecting to score. Surely no-one is that delusional.

Meghan brings our drinks. I order smoked wings and my wife has a burger. When the food arrives it really is delicious, and so delicious that you actually would go out of your way to eat it; so it genuinely isn't just about the boobies, which is a nice surprise.

A place like Hooters will always have its knockers etc. etc.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

In the Days of the Form Destroyer


Having eyes, ears and a brain, its been hard for me to ignore what's been happening to this country over the last week or so, or - if you prefer - what looks one hell of a lot like it's happening. I'm no longer even going to concede his name, because as any ritually-inclined person will tell you, naming them gives them power. In this case it gives them the power by which I might be summoned against my will to the magic chalk pentagram of a search engine prior to being shot in the head, deported, or shipped off to a labour camp; and it will probably be somehow done in the name of protecting freedom of speech, because I guess that's how it works now.

I think of him as the Form Destroyer. The term comes from the theology of the Intercessor in Philip K. Dick's A Maze of Death, and it seems to fit. The Form Destroyer embodies the universal process of entropy and may just as well stand for evil if you prefer, or Satan in Christian terms. Philip K. Dick characterises evil as the absence of empathy in a number of his novels - which I'm sure was already knocking around as an idea when he came across it: broadly speaking it's a blind spot where one individual either lacks or is otherwise able to ignore intuitive understanding of what it might be like to be in someone else's shoes. In evolutionary terms, it has had its uses in so much as that predators who began to feel sorry for whatever they were about to eat probably didn't last very long, but despite what Ayn Rand and others might have had you believe, we are no longer under any obligation to play that game. As a species, we are mostly able to survive without it being at the expense of someone else, because we have these large brains by which we are able to reason and achieve things without acting like a total cunt. Further to this, back before Richard Dawkins turned into Bernard Manning, he presented a strong argument as to why altruism is a desirable quality in evolutionary terms, so it might even be argued that we, as a species, have evolved better natures and our ability to empathise with those we don't actually know.

At this point, I imagine the voice of toxic Christianity might like to interject with arguments amounting to don't you be trying to tell me about what's written in the bible, boy - although it's not actually an argument so much as the equivalent of the yelping noise made by a dog when you get too near the bone on which it's been working. This is because the voice of toxic Christianity - which is something quite different to that of actual Christianity - responds principally to the use of certain trigger words or ideas in a similarly canine fashion, and responds by puffing itself up and making territorial threats. It does not understand that bullying an argument into silence is different to invalidating that argument because, lacking sophistication, it is unable to empathise, to formulate a mental model in which it compares itself to its opponent so as to understand how a view in opposition to its own could work. It still lives in a world divided into self and non-self, much like an animal. This is additionally why it will tend to phrase its beliefs in terms of unshakable certainty, even if those beliefs are based on only the vaguest hunch of whatever just kinda feels right.

So the Form Destroyer is now in charge, and in only a week it has begun to feel like the end of days. Maybe this actually is the end of days as foretold in the Book of Revelation, and all those people who've been going on about it with such venom have had it all wrong; and before we get to don't you be trying to tell me about what's written in the Book of Revelation, boy, it's true that I haven't read the thing and that's because I don't live in a fundamentalist theocracy so I don't have to, or at least I didn't. Nevertheless, maybe we could have had heaven right here on Earth just as promised, but in invoking the name of the Form Destroyer with such passion over and over and over, they have brought him into being and now we must all suffer. He's here and he'll make everything worse because that's what he does. He will elevate hatred, intolerance and ignorance, and he will teach his throng to revel in these qualities and to take pride in them. There's surely little point in even regarding him as an individual for he is a focus of entropy, the universal force which returns everything to the dust from which it came. He is incapable of a genuinely creative act. It is not in his nature, and he's the guy who decides whether we live or die based on either profit margins or just kinda feels right.

Environmental science is now seemingly valued according to whether it gives the right answer, the one we want to hear, the one which won't interfere with our financial transactions. Last time I checked, we were already pretty much environmentally screwed, and so these times will be looked back upon as the point at which we had a chance to turn things around, or at least to slow the steady decline, but instead we elected to step on the gas and silence the voices of dissent; except who will there be left to even look back upon any of this given that we're turning the planet into Venus?

We really are screwed, but feel free to regard it as one opinion of many if it makes you feel better. I must admit, it would be pretty embarrassing if those science guys were wrong and we saved the planet for nothing.

Civil liberties seem to be vanishing, or at least experiencing significant shrinkage on a daily basis - or if you prefer, certain people seem to have picked up an idea of that being the case for some funny reason. I don't even know how wise it is that I'm writing this because the rules seem to have adapted to a more flexible form. I'm here on a green card. I would like to stay here if at all possible because I genuinely love this country, which is why I dislike what's happening to it in the name of making America great again. It was already great, or at least heading in roughly the right direction. Destroying and undermining everything which has made America great does not make America any more great than a diet of chips, jam and donuts constitutes a fitness regime. Making stupid people who don't understand things happy is not the same as making something great.

Yes, stupid people.

If you don't understand something, then whatever opinion you express in relation to that subject is worthless no matter how much it just kinda feels right. If your opinion in relation to that subject is derived exclusively from the opinions of others or just one side of an argument, then it is worthless. Unless your opinion is informed by some direct experience in relation to that subject, then it probably isn't worth very much; but your biggest mistake is assuming that your stupidity is as valid as another's knowledge. Just because you dislike something, or you have no understanding of it, or you don't even know what it is, that doesn't mean it's necessarily bad or should be subject to prohibitive measures or attitudes.

Nevertheless, I get it. No-one likes to be thought of as stupid, and we've apparently forgotten that actually it's okay to not know something, because if it matters that much, all you have to do is find out about it; and yet people don't, because finding out about things entails learning which can occasionally lead to a discomforting shift or revision of previously held beliefs and opinions, and no-one likes to think of themselves as having been wrong. It's possibly ironic that so many of the demographic of which I speak have spent so long telling the rest of us how political correctness is quite literally destroying their lives, and yet political correctness is really just basic decency, manners, and not being a dick, so it's also why we're apparently no longer allowed to say that people who don't understand things and who don't even want to understand things are fucking stupid; so everybody gets a go. Everybody gets to have their say, and possibly even a cookie and a pat on the head.

You say you hate faggots? Very good. Here you are. Don't forget to brush your teeth afterwards.

I love this country and I love the ideal of free speech by which I am allowed to write these words without fear of investigation by whatever revived House Un-American Activities Committee is doubtless about to spring back up from the underworld of no lesson having been learned. Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution, arguably with a few minor exceptions, but then there's plenty of stuff guaranteed by the Constitution which seems to have gone out of the window lately, or at least that's how it's looking from here. I'm half inclined to just shut up and get on with it, fearing that agencies hostile to my continued liberty may be taking notes from my social media as they are already doing with others; but maybe all our grousing, whining, and just saying no is the one thing we have left. Maybe they've won when we shut up.

In the meantime I have to live my life without thinking too hard about other occasions when the Form Destroyer was at large upon the face of the Earth, and without thinking too hard about the parallels, because the parallels really are there, regardless of whether I like it or not. If I think about him as the Form Destroyer, the idea seems more abstract and therefore easier to stomach for the sake of my day to day sanity, although I'm not even sure that's a good thing. Above all, because I have the intellectual capacity for consideration of the possibility that I'm either wrong, or simply overthinking it all, or at least the possibility that I'm wrong about how it will all go, then I really hope that I am wrong, and that I'll still be here in a year's time to feel like a fucking idiot. After all, I was wrong about him even getting elected in the first place.