Tag Archives: Nanowrimo

How We Survived – End Of The World (Nano2016, chapter 13)

One. Two. Three. Four. They sang their cadence as they marched. The snow remained deep, but the air was warmer in the days now. Or at least it chilled the bones less. They had been outside the city for three days now, marching to some towns that were supposed to lead them to the source of the bandits. When they were in the city, they had heard many stories about the growth of lawlessness around the city in the summer time. Most of the residents had abandoned the wider outskirts of the city and they had left it to the police, army, and bandits to fight over it. With the freeze of winter, the bandits had fled, hidden among the people of the city, or frozen to death in unheated buildings. Everyone talked about the problem solving itself, and the problem just going away as the snow blanketed the world and enforced a ceasefire. Frozen hands couldn’t pull triggers, and solid powder didn’t fire. Frostbitten fingers couldn’t grip knives, or throw stones. Kristina knew better.


How We Survived – Guardians of light (Nano2016, chapter 12)

It was a strange kind of science and magic that held a dome together. From the bunkers and hydro farms underneath, to the electric trams above, to the towering housing blocks, to the glittering brass plated steel and glass that bubbled them all in, each had its part to play. All was dictated by the genius of Buckminster Fuller. His ideas became the math behind survival, the design behind the domes, the beating heart of dome ecosystems. Nothing could exist as a closed system – there needed to be input from somewhere. So there was light. There were influxes of people, and grain, and water. Where there was still water, and people, anything could be created.

If you were to build a dome city from scratch, it would be significantly easier than retrofitting cities that already stood. Blasting could achieve the underground clearance needed in a new city. But if the city was already there, you had to work around its people. First was the core, the stomach of the city, deep below the other functions – the farms and water. By boring into the ground, cities could access groundwater. Some cities dropped a shaft, more than a mile deep into the earth, as simply a first step to ensuring survival. Without water, there was no future for the people. All water that came from the ground was circulated upwards, first to the farms and people, and then everywhere else. On cold days the breath of hundreds of thousands would condense on the glass of the dome, building a mist around the people, and trickling its way down. It didn’t meet soil – it met drains, that brought it through reclamation plants, distillers, and other treatment centers. If the water wasn’t kept clean, it would doom a city.


How We Survived – Defenders of the Fatherland (Nano2016, chapter 11)

A colossal crack deafened several men, and outright killed two others. Grenades were flying and bullets zipped past ears close enough to sound like lead wasps. There was an immense firefight, as bodies charged hard held lines, and fell flat on their faces. Taking any kind of fortification was practically pointless, but generals gave orders, and those orders made it to the ground, and boys and men were pushed to try and follow them. An order never looked the same on the ground as it did on the small white table covered in miniature representations of war. The commanders loved playing with their toy soldiers. And then men marched to their death.

The battle and siege had already been going on for months. Yet all the while, the hammers kept falling, and the guns kept being produced. Sometimes they were made from scrap metal, panels from old cars, even cut up broken guns. Anything to keep sending bullets forwards to keep the city theirs. Karas worked in secret all those months, to produce a very special commission. The order had come in under an anonymous name just days before the armies arrived beyond the outskirts of town. The artillery shells had already started falling by the time he had started machining.


How We Survived – The Pack (Nano2016, chapter 10)

What was there but your pack? A city was a pack, but it was more like ants. Some mass of creatures scuttling, seemingly uninvolved with each other, but all working together in some small way. They made the place run just by being there, and doing what they were going to do anyway. A town was a pack – the people knew each other better, and it was the first point where you’d start to see people banding together properly. A town moved like a colony, a group of great apes. There were leaders, and followers, the females, and the children. Big structure, but it was all just a pack. The villages were the last stop before the wilderness. Villages were more like symbiotic animals. The birds picked the ticks, and the cop moved the drunks along. The mothers brought food to the young, and the bakers made the bread. But they didn’t move like ants, and there wasn’t a strict hierarchy. But under it all, from a country to a friendship, it was all a pack.

Dylan slid down against his perch, and stretched his leg to the fire, pushing small lumps of dry wood back before they could escape. Every fire seemed to burn brighter, and throw more sparks into the air. Carlos and Frank lay across the other side of the circle, Carlos asleep with his hat over his face, and his bag under his head. Frank whittled. They listened for the faint sounds of insects drawn by the fire, the dull beats of moth wings, the sharp puff when one of them strayed too close.


How We Survived – Centralia (Nano 2016, chapter 9)

It was a half moon that began its slow climb into the sky that night. It rose from the east, first peering through the long dead trunks before hitting clear sky. The stars seemed to part to make space for their majestic king. The light in the darkness spread across the ground, illuminating the sparse vegetation that struggled against its ultimate fate. Nothing that couldn’t move lived on this patch of earth for very long. The bracken and lichen began in wisps and it strived so hard to reach into the light, to overtake this place. It drank weakly of the water, and tasted all it could of the air. But this was all for nothing. Soon it would grey and feel its roots contract, shrivel, and crawl out of an earth that seemed to reject its presence.

The moon climbed on, bringing more dim illumination into the shadowy places. The eternal stone showed its cracks to the world, wearing its battle scars proudly. It had survived ice ages, and the boots of soldiers, and every end of the world so far. Madmen raved, carpetbaggers wheeled and dealed, saints whispers, tyrants screamed, and the everyday people talked of things deep, or idle. There was no more of that here. There was only one woman there to witness it.

Celia had grown up here. She barely knew of a world before the choke. Her father had told her stories, he had shown her the places where the plants were thick and lustrous. He told her about the arm thick vines that dipped their roots into the bottoms of streams and provided homes for tiny river fish that darted through the water like shooting stars. Providing brilliance in each moment. The moon crept on.


How We Survived – The Grey (Nano2016, Chapter 8)

Chester sat waiting for the morning meeting with Linus in the usual spot. He tried to stay alert but he kept drifting off to sleep only to have the bobbing of his head wake him up again. Chester didn’t do well in the mornings even with coffee that was full of aspartame and chocolate pastries filled with HFCS. The mornings under the Omaha dome were always cold so Chester had spent years sleeping later and later into the day until the dome had heated up to a tolerable level. It was hard for him to break that habit, even if he had been in New Philadelphia for a few years. The patchy sleep schedule of a detective didn’t help. At least Danny had been getting up in the morning and going to bed at night. Danny seemed very motivated these days so Chester had to get by on five hours of sleep so that he could get up before him. Danny would be going to the west side today and Chester was doing his best to be alert.

Linus dragged his feet while walking and flopped down beside Chester. He slapped Chester on the shoulder to stir him out of his bobbing head doze.

“I’m awake, I’m good, I am ready to go” yawned Chester.


How We Survived – Water (Nano 2016, Chapter 7)

A low wind blew the loose sand around the camp, sweeping it across the corrugated iron walls of Abel’s shack. His cough rattled loosely as he sat bolt upright, attempting to recall the last time he’d had a drink of clear water.

“Tank”, he rasped at the other side of the room, “Tank, get up.”

Something massive stirred in its cot, but didn’t rise. Abel threw a dented hubcap at the cot, but ended up just knocking over a can of rusty nails. He gave up on rousting Tank, wrapped himself in something that approximated clothes and stepped outside into the breeze. He stared out at what he figured would soon be the rising sun and walked away from the beaten camp to find a latrine. He snatched a small folding shovel from his bike in case he didn’t find one. You always had to bury it; you didn’t want to alert the flying insects to your presence for any reason. He pondered as he squatted that even though there wasn’t a lot of eating on them, if you got enough insects together you could get a decent handful of protein. He buried it anyway; there would be better ways to eat today.


How We Survived – Lord Willing (Nano 2016, chapter 6)

Early in the choke, we didn’t understand what was going on. Many of us were children then, catching snippets of a changing world from our parents. We would fear each coming day. Not just being afraid, as children are, but we were filled with a dread of a monster that we couldn’t even see. No one would tell us what was happening, so the spaces in our mind became filled with darkness, and twisting terror. Some of us came from Louisiana, and some of us had been there as the hurricanes raged, and filled our homes with water, each year worse than the last. Others, they lived in Kansas and saw the homes of their neighbours ripped to matchwood, each year worse than the last. The children of Los Angeles saw earthquakes, the children of Montana were buried in what seemed like a mile of snow. The Texan droughts, the crippling smog in the cities that would not abate. It’s a miracle of God that we survived to make it here at all.

Chester leaned back in his rocking chair, as the young children looked at him afraid, and the teenagers sat clasping their hands waiting for the world of the story to get better. He was never sure just how each new group would react, but he knew that history had to be preserved in more than just books. These children had never known the world outside this safe place, so they needed to know how it once was up there on the surface.


How We Survived – Your Place (Nano 2016, chapter 5)

Such beauty was rarely beheld by human eyes. Great swathes of vegetables growing bright and vibrant. Waves of grain stretched as far as the eye could see. He turned his palms downwards while walking forwards letting the husks brush against his palms. Their hard exterior gave way to the soft nutrition inside. He walked among the food that would feed the people of the world. His fruits, his vegetables, his grains… this was the food  which the world marched upon. Children born would be nourished by this, children would be raised on this, pregnant mothers would anxiously wait for this food. Hungry men, swept in the sweat of work would sit down with families and pray. They would link hands, and break the bread grown from his ground would adorn the table. All we ready to feast, but moments would be taken. Either the brief breaks before a sandwich at work, or the careful time taken by a housewife to knead, proof, and bake a loaf.

The bright and vivid hues of the peaches in summertime, or the deep browns of pecans and walnuts in the autumn. He tilled soil, he pruned trees, he planted each seed with care. No day began without a breakfast made possible by his work. The nights spent caring for plants, walking between the furrows spraying deftly at the leaves, clipping leaves, straightening petals. The world began and ended with food. And he was the world’s farmer.


How We Survived – Iron Sights (Nano 2016, Chapter 4)

Patton picked at the small pieces of ice that were beginning to form on his moustache as he stood above the ice breaking prow of the canal boat. The canal listed slightly from left to right as Lawrence moved his massive body along the length of the boat. Lawrence pushed his sleeves up slightly to keep his cigarette away from the fur around the cuffs of his coat. He leaned down to Patton offering him a very large cigarette from a gold case, which Patton gladly took. Any time spent near a flame, or even an ember was very welcome on the ice breakers. Long distance cargo boats rarely had many creature comforts.

“Do you know how impossible it’s going to be to find him?” said Lawrence aimlessly, as if speaking to no one in particular.

Patton lit the cigarette and looked up at Lawrence’s face. Lawrence stared out over the Siberian planes and exhaled slowly, his gargantuan chest rising and falling as he smoked. He was totally at home with the snow silently falling on his shoulders, while keeping a sharp eye out for arctic foxes and bears.

“It couldn’t possibly be as hard as you think” said Patton, struggling a little with the cigar sized cigarette.


How We Survived – Land Of Enchantment (Nano 2016, Chapter 3)

Nothing that was poorly defended was ever worth stealing. The stuff they wanted to stop you from taking, now that had value. They’d lock it up, put it behind bars, surround the bars in plate steel, mount guns on it, and do everything possible to keep it out of your grubby mits. Because they wanted to keep it in their greasy grasp.

The domes were locked up, in a way, but nothing was so heavily fortified in this land as the trains that criss-crossed in the open air. The first hurdle to stealing from a train was its speed. At the first sign of bandits, they’d lean on the levers, crank all their engine cars up as high as they could, and they’d start rocketing across the land. To hear a behemoth like that pass by miles away was one thing. To ride a motorcycle right next to it while the giant steel wheels skipped and sparked under the torque was something else. The engines were the size of houses, propelling miles long trains, carrying towns and cities worth of people. It was the only way to keep the cities alive – filling an iron box with lifeblood and pumping it along steel veins.

Everything a man needed, from beggar to banker, was on those trains. Luxuries like fresh coffee, pure sugar, and clean alcohol was all in steady supply. From great cotton producing domes in the south came good bandages, from the north meltwater was pumped into tankers bigger than city halls, from the east came great loads of grain and livestock. And from the west came people. Each found its place on the train, and as the domes became entrenched as the solution rather than a short term cure, the trains got bigger. When simply adding another engine car and another mile became insufficient, they added another story. They added fifty feet in width. The great steel chains were now so large that news of an attack on the middle of the train might not reach the end for an hour. Size was the second hurdle.


How We Survived; Strawberry Canyon ( Nano 2016, Chapter 2)

There are no ends on the earth. Each horizon is just a slice, keeping your mind in place, trying to prevent you from wandering too far. After the exodus started, some people decided that this was the slice for them, and that they weren’t moving. They started digging into the earth, and imprisoning themselves within sprawling domes. José was having none of it.

He’d always been a rambling man, and no dust bowl was going to stop him. Back in the old days before the war, they had seen this happen before. Crops died in the ground, crumbled to dust and left barren earth behind them. He dimly remembered a childhood friend that was sold because his mother couldn’t afford to keep all the children alive. Occasionally throughout his life he had considered looking that kid up, but with the constant fleeing at the time, it didn’t seem likely that he could have any idea where that kid went.

He slowed his motorcycle and pulled off the road for a cigarette. It hadn’t been that long since people had gotten themselves into a big panic and started running, but they had moved fast. Mostly the land looked like it always had, just maybe a little drier. But every 50 miles there was another ghost town, and most of them ripe for the picking, if you knew what you were looking for. He could get used to not paying for gas, or a bed, or cigarettes and food. The road provided.


How we survived; The dark bulb (Nano 2016, Chapter 1)

It takes a lot to unseat people from the natural order of things. People will tolerate war, they’ll tolerate rationing, they’ll tolerate shortages, and hardship. They’ll tolerate atrocity if they have to, at least for a while. But each has their breaking point, and as one after another they begin to snap like too dry brushwood, the world weakens. Each stress adds up, causing the fractures to merge and form fissures.

Some break when the radio stops playing. Others when the air conditioning is a few degrees off. But some won’t break until the earth crumbles in their hands, and takes to the wind just like their hopes. The loss of hope is the last breaking point for so many. They’ll die where they stand when the hope leaves them. Or they’ll rage against the end of the world.

It’s hard to see a revolution when it’s happening all around you. The rains slowed or stopped, and you don’t notice at first. The paper told you it was a problem, but the paper is full of problems. The protests start, and their inconvenience scratches at your windows, but you’d swear it was just the wind. The violence happens elsewhere; it won’t reach me. Safe and tucked within a country, bubbled by your state, softened by your city. Safe. Always safe.

Then the protests turn to anger, and the anger turns to property destruction, or to blood filled coups, and that was the point at which you started paying attention. Weeks and days too late, you decided that now was the end of the world. Ignoring the symptoms, ignoring the signs, literally ignoring the writing on the wall. It was coming for you too, the whole time. These ill winds whispered your name amidst the dry sagebrush, it whistled the song of your life in the pines. The drip drip of drying water fell in the canyon of your abandoned life.


WTF America: Hardly an ending at all (Chapter 28)

Hardly an ending at all

Copper jacket, or chocolate coating?

I purchased a moon pie in a gun shop.

So here we find ourselves, as I find myself, at the end of this particular journey. But much like journeys don’t really begin, this one doesn’t really end either. I’ve been musing only on the first year, and the other scattered weeks and months that I’ve experienced America for. There’s so much more to come, both in terms of a life here, and in terms of this book.

The way NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) works is that you have the month of November, just 30 days, to get 50,000 words down. It’s something I do every year because the only way to get better at something is practice, and what better practice for novel writing is there other than writing novels. The creative process is gamified in the best possible way – you have a little box to enter your word count as you write, and the more you update that box the closer you get to pushing a bar over a line. It externalizes the goal, and it turns creativity into filling bars. And filling bars tickles something in the gamer brain.

It’s almost like you’ve accidentally got a novel at the end of the month, as a side effect of filling those bars. They always say, don’t they, for they’re always saying things – “Everyone’s got a novel in them” and the purpose of NaNoWriMo is to make people externalize this novel. I’ve learned that not every novel that’s written is good, because I’ve got some junk lying around on hard drives and in cloud storage. But you wrote every day, and you had a plan, and you had a goal. That’s the reward, and that’s the lesson.

I hope to bring this lesson on board going forward, because writing about this country that I inhabit, this nonsensical land, the area between cold and baleful seas that they call America, has been wonderful. The support I’ve received for it makes me believe that this cobbled together mass of nonsense might have a shot. But we need more book before we can do that. This one’s too short, and there’s so much more America to experience. I couldn’t possible stop here, I’d be doing the country and myself a disservice.

People asked me about the things I didn’t cover. I was asked why I didn’t cover the meat ballet that is sports entertainment professional wrestling, and I must admit that’s a fantastic idea. I spent an hour or two researching the topic and realized there was so much more to it than I remembered from my viewership that lasted for a few years during the attitude era. The gimmicks, the violence, the consumerism, the hackneyed storylines, the simple villains and even simpler heroes. This is a marvellous topic to cover, however I need to get more experience with it before I can talk about it at length.

There’s so much that I haven’t done yet. I live in Arizona and haven’t visited the grand canyon. I haven’t seen the border fence that everyone assures me is full of holes, and those holes are full of Mexicans or Isis agents, possibly both. I haven’t experience enough of California to write more about it, and I would very much love to. The people are so pretty, oh so pretty, and I wonder if they’re as vacant as they’re made out to be. I haven’t been to the East Coast at all, I haven’t seen the amber waves of grain, I’ve never visited America’s hat. I haven’t driven a car here, I’ve never been to a car show, I’ve never seen a monster truck rear and snarl as the audience barks beer and peanuts over one another as yet another old chevy is turned into a pancake of its former self.

There’s the biggest mall in America, which you’d assume is the biggest mall in the world, and I haven’t seen its special brand of lunacy. I haven’t been exposed to the snows of the northern states that would, in a stroke, overwhelm every pitiful Irish snow flurry that I’ve ever seen  I haven’t experience beer pong. I was once promised shitty lattes at 3am by a friend in North Carolina, and I should probably take her up on that. I was also promised tea on a porch in the same state by another friend, and I should get in on that offer. I’ve never visited the south, never been in a truck stop, never attempted an “eat this massive steak and you don’t have to pay for the massive steak challenge,” though I’m fairly sure that’s an undertaking that no foreigner could manage without substantial training, and perhaps some surgical enhancement.

There’s so much more, and there’s a list as long as I am tall of the things I haven’t done. I haven’t touched on nearly enough topics either. American attitudes towards sex, I never talked about the movie or television business. There’s plenty of particles and parcels of American culture, pop and otherwise, that I just haven’t clapped eyes on yet, so I couldn’t possibly comment. It was Black Friday yesterday, and I didn’t head out to the local big box stores to see the frenzy. I can only imagine what that energy is like, as humans crush other humans against doors.

I’m also only in my first year of marriage. I’ve heard tale that this is the honeymoon period, and it will last for several years, so that’ll be fun to find out. I’m looking forward to a lifetime spent with this woman I met by telling her to “Make me a sammich, bish” during an online drinking contest on a news discussion website several years ago. Maybe 7 or 8 at this point. She’s been a wonderful guide to America, always willing and patient when I have stupid questions about American happenings. In fact most Americans I’ve met has been interested in explaining their culture, mannerisms, and quirks to me. Often I’ve found it more fun to play dumb that admit I know a little, because seeing someone try to explain why there’s whipped cream on their pie is often more interesting than assuming it’s because it’s delicious. And it is delicious. Oh by the way; if you microwave pumpkin pie, to heat it up a little, it’ll melt on your plate. See, I’m learning new things about this country and it’s weird customs every day.

I’d like to thank all of you that bothered to read this thing. There were calls all year to turn a rinky-dink set of images with curious captions into a book, and I was pleased to write every word of it. Sometimes examining an experience can fracture it, and then it can’t be reassembled into its component pieces. The magic leaves it, and then the memory goes a little fuzzy, and you wonder if it was magical at all. This is not like that at all. As I’ve written this month, people have been incredibly supportive, and I would like to thank you all. The intent of this book was to show the people back home just what kind of life I’ve been living over here, among these Americans, these people that eat cake for breakfast, these people that have religious breakfast cereal, and cathedral like malls. These people that drive cars that are too big, these people that put cheese on everything, and these people that have taken me in and made me feel like one of their own without trying to make me think like them, or be like them. Other than the pronunciation of aluminium, and youse can go fuck yourselves on that one. Five syllables for life.

Another hope is that maybe my American readers could see the migrants; the immigrants, with or without papers, with or without pale skin, with or without a funny language, with a little more compassion. I’ve certainly learned that Americans are a normal bunch of people, and I would hope that I’ve given them a more rounded understanding of Ireland, and of the Irish people. A little cross cultural exchange can go a long way, and I hope that I can be a part of that by asking WTF America.

And again to my readers and cheerleaders – thank you. Without you people this would just be a bunch of shouty words that I posted online, something that faded into the background noise of the internet and was forgotten. And remember that it’s not over. More than likely, this book will not only require subsequent additions, but it will also require substantial editing. Not everything that you’ve read will make it out into the world unmolested. This particular chapter is kind of a placeholder for now, because there’s a wrestling chapter to write, and a sitcoms chapter, and a car show chapter, and a road trip chapter, and so many more chapters to write. I will do my best to update the blog with some sense of regularity, but I don’t think I’ll be able to write every week. I don’t have enough things happen to me in a week to serve up hot steaming batches of WTF America, but I will be updating this book, and the blog, and everything else. There’s more America, and there’s plenty more WTF to get my hands on.

Thank you all for indulging me.

WTF America: A Relentless Abundance of Pie (Chapter 27)

A relentless abundance of pie

Clockwise from left: pumpkin, apple, apple

The pumpkin spice must flow.

So I’ve touched on thanksgiving before, in the chapter about how Americans eat. And this day, like no other in the American calendar is about consumption. For years it was about the food, the family, the togetherness. But most of all it was about the food. This year, with me being so far from family, and most members of Kimberlee’s family living in California, we held what we’ve heard called an ‘Orphans’ thanksgiving.’ The premise is simple – invite friends instead of family. Because you’ve got friends that are local, who aren’t going anywhere for thanksgiving, so someone elects to host and everybody comes over.

Kimberlee battered many items of food into submission and deliciousness over the course of several days. Homemade cranberry sauce, homemade gravy, cornbread stuffing with oysters, and an expertly cooked 13 pound bird. She cooked it in a paper bag, a practice that baffled me, but it’s hard to argue with the results. I had only been to one thanksgiving before this one, and it was a pretty different experience. Last year Kimberlee’s mother was living in the state, and we were stony broke, so we brought over some scratch made mac and cheese, because that’s what we had. We were still treated to abundance, as Kim’s mother laid on a spread that fed 5 or 6 of us.

Kimberlee’s mother is a religious woman, and I’ve long since hung up with altar boy robes and backed away from the church. Saying grace is also not something I grew up with, so her speech to open the festivities was an interesting spectacle for me. She made mention of the abundance of food, naturally, but we were also treated to a short oration on the treatment of native americans in the US, which I will not attempt to even paraphrase. It’s not like this information was particularly new to me, and it didn’t bring down the festivities, it was just interesting to see this perspective, on this day of great feasting. After one of the most filling meals of my life, I believe we watched a GI Joe movie, which has nothing to do with anything, but I felt it important to note the star spangled cap on this American experience.

This year felt very different. It wasn’t a small gathering of family. It was a party, of the much more decadent kind. I started drinking at 1.30, but fear not dear readers because I am well versed in marathon drinking. I’ve attended an Irish wedding or two, and that’s enough alcohol drinking training for most. The early part of the day was a few friends eating dinner, shooting the shit, and a little bit of cleaning up after ourselves. We went around the table saying what we’re thankful for, and most of what I said has been echoed in these pages before. It’s been a transformative year for me, and for Kimberlee.

This thanksgiving, I was very much looking forward to a feast. The year has had its highs and its lows, we’ve been broke, and now we’re in a spot where we could not only afford a feast, but we could afford to take our friends in. Being skint in America is not a fun experience, and to get this day where we could all throw caution to the waistband and eat and drink our fill several times over was very satisfying.

One of the main things in my thankful speech was how readily I’d been taken in by these strange creatures, these gun toting crazies, these people that drive cars that are too big, and these people that prepare feasts that are too large; these Americans. Not only did several guests provide a relentless abundance of pie, but everyone brought their kindness, and their generosity. People that I’ve known for barely a year came to my little flat with champagne, bourbon, chocolates, appetites and the aforementioned relentless abundance of pie. They brought with them a festive and thankful spirit. They also brought Cards Against Humanity, which if you haven’t played you need to get a copy of it. It’s an experience that is hard to match when you see half a dozen adults crack up into laughter because they have a series of cards that are the perfect answer for “________: kid tested, mother approved.” I’ll spare the gory details, but know this game isn’t for the weak of spirit, or the bruisable of sensibilities.

I think thanksgiving is a great idea. There’s no demand of gifts, it’s a secular holiday, and from what I’ve seen of it so far it inspires people to bring fun and generosity to the table, and to the party. I’m sure I sound a little gushy, but I don’t care – I’m amazed that the Americans I have met have been so welcoming. Within a few months of being here I already felt like I was being treated like an old friend, and now that I’ve hosted my first thanksgiving, I feel like I’ve known these people forever. It fills the heart in a way that makes the ribcage creak out with pride and joy.

But what would a WTF America chapter be without a little complaining. So to the topic that usually comes up around this time of year – consumerism. And specifically that consumerism that occurs around the most capitalist of days, Black Friday. For those not in the know Black Friday is the starting gun for the Christmas shopping, and there are deep discounts on a lot of items. The purpose of Black Friday is, generally, to drive people into a frenzy of buying, to stimulate the economy, or to fill in the ledgers of stores, or whatever the purpose is.

It’s not a kind sounding name, because it’s not a kind day, by all accounts. The trend of the day has begun to seep out into the days around it, with stores opening on thanksgiving itself for ‘Grey Thursday.’ There’s an online equivalent called Cyber monday. Retailers are extending the shopping beyond the day itself in each direction, and there’s a lot of talk of hollow consumerism. The trend has apparently begun spilling over into the UK too. There’s no excuse for it there, there’s no thanksgiving to follow. Some consumers that went out for the spectacle and the bargains this year noted that people were buying shit that they didn’t want or need, because they’re caught up in the frenzy. There’s a helpful website called Black Friday Death Count that keeps track of the injuries and deaths caused by tramplings, or customers shooting each other, or using mace on one another, because they really really wanted a $12 waffle iron.

This is the flip side of the abundance. If retailers can drop their prices this far it makes you wonder where the profit is coming from. Or it makes you wonder if the stuff that people will step over each other’s battered bodies for is worth anything at all. There’s so much shopping to be had in America, and this day, Black Friday, is like D-Day for buying shit. Most of it shit you don’t need. I’ve seen people on social media decry the tradition, but still go out to grab something because the lure of sales is too good. You’re not saving any money by the way – when you buy something, you have less money than you did before. No matter how deep the discount, you will always lose money on a transaction where you give some of your money away.

After a day of feasting, and relaxation, you’d think people would have enough. But this is a very commercialized country. There is no ‘enough.’ I don’t tar all Americans with this brush by the way – there are plenty that aren’t involved in this spectacle-fight they call shopping. But those that do make the most noise, because they will coldcock someone for a fucking tickle-me-elmo, which the child will likely stop giving a shit about before the batteries even run out. I get that shit is cheaper today, sometimes in excess of 50 percent off, but honestly you don’t really need it. It’s not important what it is, or how much you think you need it, you probably don’t. There are black friday sales for cars, for fucks sake. Such a major purchasing decision should not be made based on who can turn up to a lot with cars on it first, or 500th, or whatever the special is. Because there’s money exchanged for this stuff, it’s not called looting, but it looks remarkably similar.

There’s a relentless abundance in this country, and I’m glad to partake of it a lot of the time. A little money in your pocket, and you’ll never want for anything. But days like Black Friday remind me that there’s far too much of a good thing out there. Nobody will tell you no in America if you want to buy something. And you’re certainly not going to listen to me if I tell you no. I get that people want shit. Having shit is nice. You need your shit, your car’s full of shit, you’ve got too much shit in your house. I’ve got a bunch of shit that I use all the time. I could live without it, but for the most part I won’t, because I don’t have to make that choice. I can have anything here.

But what I liked receiving most this thanksgiving wasn’t the food, or the booze, or anything that I could have bought today, or tomorrow, or the rest of December which is the busiest shopping month of the year – it was the friendship. Belonging is better than owning every time, and sat around the table discussing the high quality of the stuffing, or sat around the table playing a card game for horrible people, or sitting outside getting a little fresh air after dinner while talking nonsense about rat-sized cockroaches making their own sandwiches… these are the moments that made my thanksgiving. The turkey will all get eaten, the whiskey bottles will run dry and get thrown out, and the shopping will continue unabated, regardless of what I have to say about it. But the memories and moments remain with me, and remind me that even amidst what could rightly be called a maelstrom of shopping, that friends are what matters.

That said, a relentless abundance of pie is forever.

WTF America: Personal Censorship (Chapter 26)

Personal censorship

Seemed appropriate

Even the herbs and spices are insulting

As far as I’ve seen of it, America is a country of big ideas. Ideas like a constitution, to enshrine the rights that the people have. The interstate system, or the great public works of the 30s and 40s. Never was a job done by halves out here. To quote Ron Swanson “Never half ass two things; whole-ass one thing.” So when it comes to opinions, Americans have opinions wholeheartedly. And they’ll tell you these opinions, whether you like it or not.

They’ll sing it from the rooftops, on radio, or television, in newspapers, on blogs, in magazines, on the sides of blimps, in your dreams. Wherever you can think of, someone will post their opinion, and they’ll go on about it at great length, because by gum there’s a first amendment that lets me say whatever the fuck I want, whenever the fuck I want, with very few restrictions.

Back home, there’s a very different culture. People have opinions, sure, but there’s nothing better than knowing something that someone else doesn’t in Irish culture. Secrets, and rumors, and half truths are abound and people love them. There’s no happier an Irish person that’s got some dirt on someone. But knowledge about the other locals is power, so often you’ll hear about someone that just got knocked up by someone else, even they they were both seeing other people, and sure your man is only recently separated from the wife, because (and I hate to gossip) but she was running around with his uncle. Knowledge is power, but it only retains power through its rarity. Secrets and knowledge go hand in hand back on the island. The more you know about your friends, enemies, and neighbours the more power you have, provided that they know as little as possible about you.

People fish for information on you at every possible moment. Cashiers in the grocery store will ask you some rather personal things, because sure they see you in there all the time. It’s not because they think you two are friends, it’s because there’s dirt to be had. I was an enigma among these people, because I drifted in and out, and I wasn’t the most social of creatures. I usually went to other towns to socialize – other towns that had my friends in them. So when I would walk into local bars, I would be asked what part of America I was from, and how long I was visiting for. There was usually a look of bemusement on their faces when I told them that I was from the part of America that’s in Ireland, 10 miles away from here, in the same county as them. My accent is neither Irish nor American, but people can never seem to peg where it’s from. It’s a wonderful trick I have.

But in America, people will tell you this kind of information without solicitation. You don’t have to dig and pry, people will out and out tell you. Pictures of their dinner are on Twitter, they’ll post to Facebook about the nemesis they have a work, people will extol and vomit forth all information they have at the drop of a hat. They’ll even tell you about the time they dropped their hat. I’ll take a brief second to say that I’m not against this. It’s nice to talk to people that genuinely care about what you have to say to one another, and don’t immediately turn that back against you as some kind of parochial weapon. Information is really power here if you keep it to yourself.

This is why there are teams of muckrakers churning out streams of attack ads come politics season. Tiny little pieces of information are turned into flechette rounds to pepper your opponents squeaky clean image. And then the opponent does the same, because it’s an arms race of information now. Everyone needs to know that this guy was stapled to a desk during the war, everyone needs to know that this guy supports ‘Obama style tax increases,’ everyone needs to know that this dude not only smoked, but inhaled, and enjoyed, and is addicted to the pot. He smoked 7 whole marijuanas this morning alone. He wants to put revolving doors in the border fence. And so on, and so on.

Americans are more than willing to share information with one another, which makes the surveillance state they have here all the more confusing. There’s the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and the DHS and they all want as much information on you as possible. They’ll wiretap you, steal your phone records, keep every piece of information on you on file in perpetuity. And the response I hear from most people, mostly American people, is that if you don’t have anything to hide, this shouldn’t worry you. Because people aren’t stingy with information about themselves, they don’t understand why other people would be. In a world where you’re happy to post your location on Facebook, and your innermost thoughts on your blog, what sense is there in keeping things back from other people?

The level of sharing is very endearing to me. You ask people how they’re doing, and they’ll tell you honestly. And if they’re not doing so well, you want to help, and you’ll hear a story about that time they weren’t doing so well, and maybe you’ll help, or they’ll help, and there’s a whole lot of helping, and sharing, and care bear staring going on. It’s lovely to feel supported and nourished as a person, because people are honest and they don’t come to you with a lot of bullshit.

However. And there’s always a however isn’t there. Sitting upon the log that is this conversation, this bullfrog of doubt and malice that’s about to enter. With this naked honesty comes a lack of self censorship. People will tell you what they think, without reservation. They can’t stop themselves a lot of the time. And some of it, like the stuff that comes out of the mouths of the crazies, is downright frightening. An American is not usually a person that’s interested in suffering in silence. They will suffer loudly, and in public, and you’ll get it in the neck any time you’re around them. If you think these statements are about you, they’re not.

Disclaimer: WTF America is a comedic take on American culture as viewed by an outsider. Remain calm.

It’s like the religious people that stand on street corners, or the guys wearing the “The end is nigh” sandwich boards, or it’s the politicians on TV, or it’s the celebrities weeping on daytime television about how traumatic it was to write their autobiography, because it contains chapters about the time they went to the amazon river and the dreaded candiru swam up their urethra.

You hear shit that you wouldn’t choose to hear in a lifetime, like the urethra line above. I don’t care that Bill Clinton gave an intern a cigar. I don’t care that somebody tweeted a penis picture, I don’t care that celebrities grocery shop like normal people. Every day, and every where, you’ll be inundated by information in America. It’s everywhere. You’ll be informed that this product is better than this product because of a series of features that the two products do not share. The constant stream of censor-less, unkempt, relentless, ever present information begins to push things out of your head. You forget what fresh cut grass smells like, because switching you Geico can save you 15 percent on your car insurance. There’s nothing that stops this torrent of information other than abstaining from listening.

And my god the opinions of regular folk. Have I told you that they’ll tell you things unprovoked? You’ll mention something off hand, like money, or the economy, or something that the president said, and a series of slogans will fall out of their mouths. A verbal diarrhea of bumper stickers will flood its way across the table and it will begin to drip down the far side onto your brand new shoes. Their irises dilate, they grip the table with both hands, and the torrent continues unabated, filling the restaurant floor ankle deep with opinions, factoids, half baked theories, talking points, and blather blather blather. Their arms stiffen, their back arches, and they begin to turn inside out, pushing every single opinion they have out of that hole in their face. By this point you’ve become impressed that these people have anything left in the at all, and they haven’t turned into a california raisin version of themselves, all shriveled, bitter and at last opinion free.

Nobody censors themselves, because they don’t have to. The only thing you have to lose in this country by saying something is friends, or maybe a job. You won’t lose credibility, because anything you say can be defended as opinion, and your right to free speech. Even if the things you say are completely repugnant. Repugnant by any definition of common sense, or human decency. Racism is ok, as long as you’re not in some position of power. It just depends on the people that you’re being racist towards. And even then, there are people that are openly racist to your face, and they’ll sit there like a smug shit with an unreasonably proud grin on their face because they’ve offended someone. Not that I give a shit if you’re offended, it’s not a productive use of my time to avoid offending others. Trigger warning: you’ll probably think I’m an asshole because you’re fond of something I’m making fun of, like Betty Crocker Reese’s Pieces make-at-home box candy bars.

People will say things on Twitter, on Facebook, in person, with bumper stickers, on billboards, on political attack ads, and your mind boggles that someone would expose themselves like that. But here isn’t Ireland – back on the island these statements would turn you into a pariah. But here, who gives a fuck, you can say whatever you like. No matter how fucked up it is, because it’s constitutionally protected under almost all circumstances.

And I love it. Yeah, given the right to free speech people will say the most horrible shit imaginable. But it lets you know where they stand, and then you know where you stand in relation to them. You don’t have to talk to their neighbours to find out what paper they read, they’ll straight up tell you they hate mexicans. But people don’t bullshit you like they do at home. They won’t talk you up in your company and then be shitty about you every other day of the year. And since most people don’t give a fuck what you think, you can say whatever you like too. Most of the time. And thank fuck for that – this book would never get written otherwise.

WTF America: Fundamentally misunderstanding the problem (Chapter 25)

Fundamentally misunderstanding the problem

'Bacon' flavoured - contains no bacon

This post is kind of heavy, so here's one of my favourite WTF America pictures to take the edge off

So I’ve noticed a recurring theme in this life, as well as in this country I currently live in. Everyone’s got a problem. Doesn’t matter what the problem is, everyone’s got one. They can talk about it for hours, or sometimes they won’t even recognize it as a problem. I’ve discussed this in the confidence chapter, the religion chapter, the working chapter. Because underneath it all, most people actually have the same problem. And that problem is fundamentally misunderstanding the problem in the first place.

Let’s cobble together an example. Imagine if you will that your country in undergoing economic depression (that shouldn’t be a stretch for most of us) and you’re having a rough time of it. You have a job, but taxes are too high, you don’t get paid enough to make ends meet, and overall shit is just kinda fucked. Who do you blame? Well, there’s plenty of people to blame for this problem you have. You could blame the dole spongers, that seem to have money when you don’t. Yeah, that must be it – your taxes are letting them sit on their ass, so they don’t have to work.

Another example; the other political party are in power, and boy they are so much worse than the political party that you support. They enact policies that are harmful to your way of life, that impinge on your freedoms, that make the whole country go to hell in a handbasket. They give welfare (corporate or otherwise) to people, they take away or distribute guns. Damn other party, fucking up your roll.

The issue with these worldviews is that (and sing along with me, now) people are fundamentally misunderstanding the problem. Why are taxes high? Why are your wages low? In 2000, before the market crash, before 9/11, the unemployment rates were really low. Everybody was working. So did everyone decided within those ten years to become the “Non-working class” as I’ve heard them described, or have circumstances changed. Maybe your wages are depressed not because your taxes are too high, but because the market has devalued your labour because there’s an overabundance of labour. When everyone’s looking for a job, and they’re glad to have any job, wages go down.

The $10/$15 minimum wage argument is an interesting one. Most that I’ve talked to think this is either the best idea ever, or it’s the worst idea ever. Let’s begin from the position of the nays – it’ll cause inflation, people don’t deserve the money for the kind of work that pays minimum wage, tips mean that people earn higher than the minimum wage, the minimum wage isn’t supposed to be a living wage. Here’s where people are (sing along) fundamentally understanding the problem – none of that really matters. The isn’t an unemployment crisis right now, there’s a wage crisis. If people can’t afford to spend anything in a demand side economy (I demand; therefore you supply, instead of I supply; therefore you demand) then it doesn’t matter how much is in supply. If wages are higher, then people can buy things, then as demand picks up, supply can pick up which lifts up the whole system. Then there’s more demand for labour as business can’t meet supply, and you see how this cycle perpetuates. The argument about the minimum wage isn’t about the wage itself, it’s about resetting the floor on the labour market so more money is injected on the bottom rung of the working economy.

The other party. Oh the troubles they cause. Their policies are the pits. They don’t represent the will of the people, so we should vote for the party we like and then we’ll get the representation we want. What’s that? Local elections? Nah, we don’t need to turn up for those, they’re not important. And there is where people (sing, sing, sing) fundamentally misunderstand the problem. Back home when there’s an election, a party gets in, and then the opposing party forms what’s called a shadow government. This shadow government appoints ministers, and committee members and whatnot for the purpose of telling people what decisions they’d make, if they had the power. Every single political party that I’ve ever seen on the opposition benches is great at being in opposition. They wouldn’t do this, they would do that, they would like to issue an official statement about the policy that etc etc so on and such other bullshit.

Leading is different. The whole nation is in opposition to you (it must seem) and every decision you make will be second guessed and ridiculed. And maybe that’s a good idea, keep those bastards humble. However, once they flip sides, and the other party gets in, they’re the best leaders in the world. Every party is the best party in the world – when they don’t actually have the power to do anything. Sometimes they’re very good at obstructing the other party, as the GOP has been this last few years.

Switching your vote to the other party, or abstaining from voting, or other things of that nature doesn’t fix the problem you have, because money’s the problem. Politicians vote in accordance with the moneyed interests. Either their own, or a lobbyist, or what they believe is best for the economy of their state, country etc etc. Voting doesn’t impact nearly as meaningful a change as writing to your representatives does. A group of Irish vapers contacted their representatives in Europe and managed to swing a vote. Talking to your government, and making demands of it in those times between elections is what’s important. If you vote, then abdicate responsibility for four years, I guess your vote mattered a little, but you chose the outcome of those four years.

I’ve fundamentally misunderstood problems in the past. With education, and the ability to dissect your media, you get a much better idea of the root cause of problems. I’m not saying that I’m smarter than anyone, and that you must agree with me, I’m just asking that people think more deeply about the causes of their problems. Sometimes they’re not even problems that you have, you just think they’re problems and you have them. Persecution complexes are abound and people believe they have problems that they don’t. Perhaps what’s worse is, in line with the whole ‘temporarily embarrassed millionaires’ bit, people ignore problems that exist. Economic issues, racism issues, privilege issues. These things exist here as much as they exist anywhere else.

The main problem with (# # #) fundamentally misunderstanding the problem is that people put their energy and resources in the wrong place. Instead of voting for a good third party, people vote against the guy they hate. Instead of fighting a war on poverty, we fight a war on the poor. Instead of worrying about police brutality, we’re questioning how much of an angel a victim of brutality was. We make these justifications because we approach the world with a worldview that (# # #) fundamentally misunderstands the problem, so we make bad decisions. One could almost call it prejudice.

When I (# # #) fundamentally misunderstand, I ask myself why. Does someone have a vested interest in me not getting it? Am I privileged, or prejudiced, am I wrong, misinformed, misled, or just plain ignorant of some facts that exist.

You would hope that most Americans were a little more media savvy than most people, being that they’re surrounded by media. But sometimes you realize that Americans are a lot like the rest of the people worldwide, and you don’t realize this fact because they’re showing off their best qualities, their empathy, or their humanity. Sometimes Americans can be dicks. Sometimes it’s towards a whole group of people that don’t deserve it. And sometimes they’re the most compassionate people on earth. Mostly they’re both at once, because you can’t condense a people down to a single example.

But since we’re condensing down a year’s worth of personal experience of mine, let’s continue. It bugs when we don’t self-examine. Self-examination, and not just the kind that doctors recommend at least once a week, is important. Everyone should be engaged in it, because when you truly understand yourself, you can begin to understand the people around you. And that’s what I’d like people to fundamentally understand. I’d love it if everybody knew it deep down in their bones. That each of us deserves that which all of us deserve. When we start reducing other people to problems, we strip each other of our humanity. The homeless problem is about people, not the problem. The poverty problem is a problem because people are poor, not because one column of numbers is a perceived drain on another column of numbers. The gun problem, the mental health problem, the employment problem, the wage problem, the national security problem, the problem with kids these days, the problem with the democrats, the problem with the republicans, the problem children, the problem drinkers, the problem with taffy these days….

We reduce other people because then we don’t have to think about it, we can just think about the problem. Problems, a lot of the time are easy to solve when those problems are not not attached to people. “We could solve the homeless problem if we just ticketed people in city centres” is the kind of suggestion that someone took seriously and implemented. But because our old friend (# # #) fundamental misunderstanding, someone thought the problem was that homeless people were sleeping in the city centres, when the real problem is that people have slipped through the cracks and are living on the street.

I’ve said that we need to imagine each other complexely, and that the truth resists simplicity (I believe I have, and if I haven’t before I’m quoting author John Green) and we need to live by those maxims. We need to engage with painful truths about racism, sexism, and violence if we hope to live in a peaceful society. But hey, maybe I’m (# # #)… you get what I’m driving at.

WTF America: Healthcare (Chapter 24)



Something, something, railway to hell. Not every caption is a winner.

Boy have I not been looking forward to this one. It’s been on the list of prospective topics since the beginning of this work, and I’ve dreaded it. Because this topic is so huge and nebulous. It’s like trying to eat a bowling ball – how the hell are you supposed to get into it, to the fleshy center? How to penetrate this thick skin? Oh well, fortune favours those that attempt to write about the American healthcare system. Let’s start with my personal experience of healthcare.

So by all accounts I’m a relatively healthy and robust individual. I’m overweight, but as far as doctors I’ve talked to are concerned, I’m relatively ok. I no longer smoke (I do vape) I walk to keep my trim 215 pound figure. I drink beer, but hopefully not to excess. I ride a bicycle, and I ride like I’m a vehicle most of the time, so I’m unsure how that shakes out on the scale of exercise vs. exposure to danger. I’ve been eating my veggies, drinking my water, and staying off the crack pipe. I’ve never broken a bone, not that I’m aware of, and aside from occasional vertigo tilt after spending a while in the back of a car on the freeway at night, I haven’t had an run ins with the healthcare system. Never spent a night in hospital, aside from the whole being born in a hospital gig. People say when the chips are down “At least you’ve got your health.” I’ve got a pretty good relationship with my health now that I’ve dropped 60 pounds and started eating better.

I feel like I’m the sort of poster child for someone that doesn’t need insurance. I don’t work in a dangerous job, I’m pretty careful, I’ve got all my fingers and toes. I’ve fallen over a few times, but I’m fairly steady on my feet. Aside from the flu, I’ve got all my shots. I’m housebroken. I’m the full package, ladies. Back during my career as an unemployed dole jockey, there were benefits to consider. One of these benefits was the medical card. The medical card is one of those wonderful products of a welfare state, because it’s a benefit you receive because you’re unemployed. It functioned to reduce costs on the individual. Prescriptions were cheaper, stays in the hospital, trips to the emergency room, routine doctor visits for little things, dental checkups, free eye test every two years, that sort of thing. It meant that you could offset the cost of medicine, and of care, so that people didn’t remain chronically sick, because when you’re unemployed and sick, the last thing you need to do is spend the little amount of money you have on getting better. Can’t get a job when you’re sick, so if you’re broke, let’s make it a little easier. It was a good system.

I encountered a similar system when I was living and attending university in Northern Ireland. They have the NHS there, and if you’re a student you can get a card. Just register with a doctor, and you can get what you need for free. No cash money down. Sure, you pay it in taxes over your lifetime, but that’s how socialist healthcare works. “No money down; new knees today! No waiting!” Well there’s some waiting sometimes. I got a tetanus shot, I had blood tests to check for diabetes. I didn’t avail of the NHS all that much – didn’t have a need of it – but it was very nice to know it was there. I had wisdom teeth pulled on the NHS after being referred by a doctor across the border. I’ve had a few wisdoms pulled, never had to pay money for it, because I was unemployed. If you have non-pressing issues like that you can either pay to get it done now, or go on a waiting list and then you’ll get it done later when you get to the top of the list. The NHS even sorted out my tied tongue, for free. It was a good system.

And then I see this system. First off, the model is insurance based, not government based. So you’d imagine that the system would be stacked in favour of insurance companies, and you’d be right. There exists some terms, that make it deliberately hard to understand your insurance. ‘Deductible,’ ‘copay’ and ‘coinsurance’ and I’ve run across these words because as I type the enrollment for the affordable care act is open again this year. The deductible is the amount of money that you have to pay out of pocket before your insurance begins to cover you. So for the first $10,000 (or less) comes out of your pocket, if I’m understanding this correctly. So you get insurance and then it doesn’t pay for anything unless you have to fork out $10,000 first. Thus far this isn’t sounding like a good system.

Then there’s the copay. This is the amount of money that you must pay after the deductible. So you’ve forked out your ten grand, but to stop you using the insurance you have to pay a little bit out of pocket. I don’t understand why anyone would willingly go to the doctor for no reason, and then receive a prescription for no reason. I’m sure these people exist, but you’ll be paying out of pocket even when the insurance is paying for stuff. Add on top of this the monthly premium you have to pay. There are lifetime limits (I think that’s what they’re called) which mean that you will never pay more in a year than a fixed number regardless of the care that you need, but honestly that’s for people with large and chronic medical conditions and bills. I’m sure that’s a small number of people that have insurance, but being sick in America is expensive as shit.

I cannot for the life of me understand coinsurance. It seems to be another copay that applies after you exceed the deductible. Any healthcare pros out there that are reading, I’d love a better explanation of all three terms. I’m baffled in my attempts to protect myself in case I get sick.

So I’ve bantered on about the boner pills, but there are advertisements for everything. Even medications for really niche medical conditions that people have. They’ll even advertise a new medication for a new condition, and they’ll preface this by scattering symptoms around the commercial. “Do you go to sleep at night, or not, and wake up in the morning, or in the night? Do you toss and turn, or do you sleep soundly but still feel groggy? Then you have (some fucking thing wrong with you) and we just so happen to have a pill for it.” And then there’s a litany of disclosures that this medication might kill you, or turn you into a monster truck that craves human flesh or something. It’s baffling.

I don’t pry into the medical lives of my friends, but I’m wondering just how many people around me are on medications at all times. You hear that people are acting like they’re off their meds, and it makes me wonder if they are. Listen to the TV and you’ll believe that everyone should be on something. Everyone’s sick. But if everyone is sick, wouldn’t the healthcare system be better at curing them, or managing their pain, or defeating their illnesses? Medical companies are routinely among those that make the greatest profits worldwide, so why i anybody still sick?

Well clearly people are still sick, because it’s about money. Buy insurance forever, and keep paying the copays and keep coming in under the deductible and you’ve got the world’s greatest money spinner. I’ve heard that the need of medical care, and especially prescriptions is an “Inelastic demand” which means that if it costs $5 you’ll pay because you need it, and if it costs $100 you’ll pay because you need this if you wish to continue being alive. That’s no system that needs to have profit as its goal. That profit model will kill people.

If you’re like me, and a lot of people are despite the insistence from the TV that we’re sick, and you’re sturdy enough, you’ll figure you don’t need insurance. So people don’t pay in, and premiums go up because there’s a smaller pool of paying customers and a larger (relatively) pool of sick people that are drawing from the insurance. These people aren’t wasters, or fraud kingpins; they’re sick. They need healthcare. Used to be if you had a preexisting condition, insurance companies could deny you coverage. They could do all sorts of shit before the Affordable Care Act became law, now it seems that it’s a little better.

But it’s still baffling and money motivated, far as I can tell. I’m not against doctors earning money, or technology marching forward with the proper funding, but the system couldn’t give a shit about that in the grand scheme. Grind money out of the sick, grind money out of the well. Sell the well vitamins, and scare them with how expensive hospital stays are. Tell the well to stay well or the disease bogeyman will get them. Ebola will get them, so sell them hand sanitizer and gas masks. Americans are terrified of getting sick, and I’m sure it’s because everything is so fucking expensive. Just watch the show Breaking Bad if you want a party realistic look at what people will do when they’re scared of dying. Yeah, I get that it’s fiction, but my point stands. When you’re sick, you’ll do anything to get well. You’ll pay outrageous money, and they know that. So they’ll charge you outrageous money. This isn’t a good system.

Pay more in taxes, subsidise healthcare, create a single payer system, nationalize it, offer tax incentives, spend less on the military, or corn subsidies. Do fucking something to fix this. Because this looks to me like some kind of very slow motion disaster. Sick people should only focus on getting well. That’s how you keep a country happy, by keeping them healthy. I know some healthcare professionals, and they’re incredibly dedicated to keeping people out of hospitals. There are sick people in hospitals, and the carers I know wish to get them the fuck out of there, because if they never see you again they did their job. You’re well now. And these are the people that deserve the damn money, not a bunch of… thieves. Insurance is a form of thievery, and these guys are the best in the world at it.

So far no one in my time here has employed the phrase that I’ve been waiting for; “If you don’t like it, then you can get out.” I’ve seen it, it just wasn’t directed at me. I’m growing very fond of this country and its people. But that doesn’t mean that I’m about to just accept those things I see that are repugnant to me. This is not a good system. Needs fixing. Get somebody on that.

WTF America: Religionish (Chapter 23)


Beardy Fucko

First you get the power, then you get the women, then you get the tea scented candles

Ohh what a hum dinger. So we know that your average Yanquai is posessed of great confidence. Those in positions of power hold even more. And those who appoint themselves to positions of power hold the greatest confidence of all. Your neighbourhood watch are of the belief that they are arbiters of decency and community, when really they’re a bunch of lawn gnome dictators at best, and people that stalk the streets as wannabe police officers at worst.

Your common or garden variety nosy parker usually contents themselves with being in your business, perhaps the business of a cul-de-sac, occasionally the business of a whole village. Your next level of asshole feels it necessary to command the peoples of a larger area. For example, these are your city councilors, the country officials, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. It’s not enough to simply hold power, these folk feel the need to command it, to grind it out as much as possible, to continue to turn the screws, to eek out ever more, and ever more, and ever more. At this level of power you begin to see people dictate how others must live. They enact policies petty, paltry, and powerful within a limited area. No standing on street corners after 7pm. No trick or treating, no eating in public parks unless one brings enough to share with all other attendees of said park.

Further echelons of power bring further reach, and often further corruption, but as you grease your way further up this downward facing ladder, you’ll find that the expectation is that the greater the power, the greater the reach. So the people of your town believe that they have an impact on the county. The county people believe that they may as well represent your state or province because it’s basically the same thing. States run countries, countries run coalitions, coalitions run continents, so on and so forth, you get what I’m driving at.

However, no matter how far you go in this particular chain or power, your time is (in theory) limited by term limits, or whims of party support, or you simply become too old to elect. This petty fiddle faddle that you institute can be mostly undone once the next guy comes in, which means your power is fairly limited, fairly short lived, and ultimately you become pretty powerless. Checks and balances are a wonderful thing.

So where else do you go for power, if not in the legislative branches of your particular governments? Well you get involved in homeowners associations, or you become a landlord. You run your way up the land and money ladder. There you get to put the screws to people for money, and you will accumulate more money over time, which begets more money with which to oppress the proletariat, if you get my meaning. Money is a powerful motivator, and if you manage to position yourself as wealthy, you will be given not only the power that your money commands, but you’ll be given vastly more power than you deserve. It boggles my mind when people listen to the likes of Donald Trump, but then I remember he has money, ergo he has power, ergo he can say whatever the fuck he likes and people will listen because he has an abundance of the former, and therefore an undeserved overabundance of the latter. Money is power for sure.

But how fleeting is money, how fleeting is that kind of power? Well, it’s remarkably resilient as it purchases the electoral kind of power. Enough money would make most people willing to do most anything. So say you’re unelectable, and you can’t get your hands on money. You could attain power through force. People do it the world over, by installing themselves as warlords, or they become gang members and leaders, or they join armies either organized or otherwise. This is a popular method of gaining power, if the constant chattering of the blinky box in the corner is to be believed. People get themselves to a position of tyranny, and they’re very hard to remove. The only checks and balances seem to be more, ever increasing violence. But you can only oppress people so long. Look at the soviet revolution in 1917, or the Irish, French, or American wars of independence and times of revolution. People, in great enough irritated numbers, will do most anything to oust those in power once they’ve had enough. Everyone’s got their breaking point.

So what’s left, after you’ve gone through all these institutional power structures. Well, there’s always religion, and this is perhaps the most egregious example of power. It’s unelected, it’s everlasting, and it has a leg up on almost all other forms of power out there institutional or otherwise – it’s in your head. Religion doesn’t have to beat you over the head to make you think their way, they just have to scare you into it. By the way, examples around the world will show you that religion is more than willing to beat you over the head physically, given the right circumstances.

But let’s stick to our main thread here. Religion is a power that people internalize, in that they internalize an external power. They give up their personal power, because religion offers answers, and it allows people to abdicate their responsibility. I’m not talking about the personal experience of religion by the way – you can find a way to your own personal Yahweh all the live long day, but when the institution trumps individual thinking, you’ve given up your free will, which I believe is one of the greatest things a human possesses. Free will makes you stand up and say “Hey… we’re getting fucked here, and I for one am at least a little miffed, I don’t know about you guys.” This sentiment is sometimes followed by the throwing of bricks, but at least we’re sort of on the right track as long as people understand their situations.

So you’ve given up your personal power, and you’re surrendered to the church. Now you are a vessel, waiting to be filled, in the language of some church (probably, I’m sure someone has said it) and you are going to be filled with those things that someone has decided. There are plenty of things to take away from the various religious books around the world, but the thing I keep landing back on is the whole “Love they neighbour” kick. The golden rule is to treat others as you would have others treat you. But that’s not important once the man with the power comes in. And there’s always a man who got some power somewhere.

American religion, the limited amounts of it that I have seen, appears to have a very low barrier to entry. There’s no special clothes, no 7 years in seminary, no magical pointy hats and gold cups. You can pretty much get into a building, and start talking, and you’re a church. Start collecting donations, tax free, and you’re a church. “The seventh lamb of the aching heart of the first christ jesus” on the front of your building probably makes you a church too. American religion also seems to be some sort of nailbomb that went off. Infinite splinters, infinite smaller fissures cracking outwards and downwards from larger fissures forms smaller and more specialized churches. They have this word, ‘Christian’ which baffles a boy that grew up with a catholics vs protestants mentality. I’ve heard that people who declare themselves atheist in Northern Ireland are asked a follow up question; “Yeah… but are you a catholic atheist, or a protestant atheist?” which is one of the most ridiculous questions that exists. There’s no christian sensibility that I’ve found, unless I was talking to born again christians, and let us not talk of them.

Actually, let us do. They’re here, and I’m fairly sure this idea started here. Because the lord is forgiveness, you can repent at any time, and you’re in. When asked about the amount of sins one commits during a lifetime, while still accepting the lord as your saviour, fundamentalists have told me that “You still get into heaven… but God won’t be very happy if you were a sinner.” Saved if you do, and saved if you don’t, it seems.

Why do people ascribe to religion. Having retired from catholicism some 10 years ago, I couldn’t tell you anymore. I guess for some, it provides comfort in a scary world, for many it provides a routine that they set their weekly watch by. Some volunteer for their love of community, some feed the homeless, some travel to other countries to build schools while spreading the word. Which kind of seems like an asshole move; “Sure, we’ll build a library, but you guys have to pray with us while we do.” No free lunches, no free libraries. it seems.

But I’ll wager that a lot of people are in it for the power. You can lead a congregation without qualification, if you talk nicely, and you’ve got the confidence, and if people feel that you’ve got the straight dope on the lord. But that’s kind of it. Once people are in that position, they can say whatever they want. And people will listen, even if they hate your message. Which explains the Westboro Baptist Church. No peace a love among these people. “God hates fags” is their rallying cry, if you hadn’t heard, and I’m sure you have. Ignoring these people diminishes their power, because they do it to get a rise out of people. This is trolling, with a bible.

Speaking of trolling with a bible – the religious protestors in my neighbourhood. I’ve mentioned them before, but they’re an example of this little bit of power mentality. Once they gain even a grain, a modicum, a speck of power, they immediately turn it to the work of oppression. They browbeat people, they shout at people, they display their images and they bring hatred. About 50 yards away from the taco shop. They’ve got this maelstrom of tiny power, confidence, bigotry, and nosy parker syndrome that makes them stand out there to tell people what to do. Combine the little-power that religious leadership brings, with the belief that if you don’t yell at people you’ll go to hell, and add in a dash of “I can’t think for myself” and you’ve got these people.

Kimberlee has a wonderfully calming phrase; “They’re doing the best with the information they have.” And she’s right. They’ve received information, and they believe that it’s the best information out there, and they’re living by it. I live by the best information I can get my hands on. But when you go to organized religion like that, and you abdicate responsibility, are you really doing your best, as a person or a reported child of the lord?

The religion here runs the range from that “Gimme that good old religion” religion, to the new “Fuck the unbelievers, we’re the only true faith” people. And honestly, it doesn’t look like religion to me most of the time. Looks like people with that little-power, that micro tyranny that sits in the minds of followers and punishes them when they have a thought. When you get people to punish themselves before they even act, I guess you’ve gotten your hands on the greatest power you can access.

Enterprising religious assholes.

WTF America: Another planet (Chapter 22)

Another Planet

Partial solar eclipse

Follow me on a journey. You had taken your protein pills, you have put your helmet on. You’ve been blasted into space, and your mission to be the first dude out the door on a new planet. As you travel, you see the place you come from fade behind you, and you travel past star systems, nebulae, and cosmic wonders. Your mind travels as you travel, you consider just what you’ll find when you arrive.

You fly, weightlessly, through clouds of neon and xenon, the atoms crackle against the hull as you are safe inside, shielded from the radioactive malestrom outside. Your new home is far away, and you’ve been briefed on some basic information. You know some landmarks, you’ve been warned about the local plants that you don’t want to eat, and the local animals that you don’t want to poke with a stick.

Your verdant fields of green will be replaced with sparse vegetation, with a lot of rocky outcrops, scattered rocks, and sandy plains. You won’t be able to see the activity of glaciers, because the landing zone wasn’t on as high a latitude as your home country. You were nominated for this great honour by your friends, your romans, your countrymen, and you’ll be the first. Like I said, you’ve been given some scant information, so really you have some soft information. It’s not a hard and crunchy fact. It’s not a truth that you can measure against, it’s a truth you can test again and again.

But you land on the planet, and you find 7-11s, and cadillacs, and some weird version of football that primarily arranged around big men colliding against one another while grabbing an egg shaped ball, with their hands. Little kicking, no sphere. It’s not like the reports at all. Much more to the point, this planet is inhabited by strange aliens. They’re around 6 feet tall, they look similar to you, but not the same, and the say things like “Hi Helen” and “Thanks, Obama!” This was not in the report. So these humanoids consume foods, some of which is similar to the foods you grew up with, but the ingredients can be very different.

So they look humanoid, but you come to the conclusion at some point that this species evolved independently from yours. It’s like when you hear about life on other planets, and there are creatures that somehow figured out how to live on sulfur instead of air, or something. It’s not quite the same. It’s like a mirror world.

Honestly, culture is the big thing that makes this planet different. Sure, you can chalk weather and such down to axial tilt and the rotation around the local star, but the majority of the stumblings blocks in integrating with this society will be cultural. But the plan wasn’t even necessarily to integrate with this culture. The paperwork didn’t tell you that there would even be humanoids, so you’ve got to learn their ways fast. I liken it to the story they tell about the first thanksgiving (More on that in a later chapter) The way I heard it was that the native americans taught the pilgrims to farm during their first year on The Northern American continent, and then they had a big harvest festival to celebrate. Additionally I’ve heard that the pilgrims were a bunch of morons in search of cold, so without native intervention they’d have frozen to death and starved, because it’s hard to eat gold.

As with most human cultures that happen upon an outsider, this culture you’ve stumbled upon took you in. They give you some local food, they give you a funny tasting drink, they dust you off, and they get you out of that silly spacesuit that is too hot for the local climate. They begin to explain, through a series of gestures and some words that you apparently have in common, how this planet functions. They appoint a king every few years, and everyone hates him during his term. They tell you how their interesting food works, and the marvellous processes they’ve derived for making something called ‘Whipped Topping.’ You explain to them your culture, you tell them about your planet, and your journey across the stars, and they seem interested. The more you tell them, the more both parties realize that there are more and more things in common. The present you with a beer like substance, and a cheese like substance, and a tv show like substance. It’s all there, but it’s all slightly different.

Ok, I’ll put this tortured metaphor to bed. My point is that there’s a sense of the uncanny for me, a lot of the time. I was out in the desert with some friends, shooting for most of the day, so my brain is full of sound and fury right now, but I’ve been comparing it to last year when we went shooting. I was a new person in this country, and had never really handled a gun before, and I had never encountered this sort of environment before. I didn’t know where the social faux pas were, to the point that when I received a compliment on my good shooting, I was sure that I had done something wrong. When you live on planet America, it kind of resets your expectations of how people are going to act. It’s best to ask if you don’t know, because in my experience people love to talk and they’re more than happy to talk when it comes to a subject they know well. I’ve found this to be pretty universal wherever I’ve been.

Your expectation is that, I guess, people will be much the same and that’s true to an extent. But Americans, because of their differences in culture, are like a different species of people that has evolved in isolation in tandem with yours. You share the same root species, but there was a branching at some point where things diverged. To make a crass point, interbreeding is still possible, but I feel like Americans are a distinct species compared to me and my people. Distinct enough to note differences, and those differences are distinct enough that I felt it necessary to write this book about it.

I’ve gone native on this new planet. Their way of life makes a lot of sense, once you start to swing your perspective around until it lines up with the way they live, and their culture. When surrounded by the abundant food, and the firearms, and the politics, and the ways of thinking, you can feel your brain start to make different connections. I’m sure that there’s no American brain, but I’m fairly certain there’s an American way of thinking. I’m not sure that I’m totally on board with it, but I feel the species gap narrowing, because no matter how great the cultural gap, it can be bridged. I didn’t realize for a long time today that one of my shooting mates was British. She’d lived here for so long that she looked American to me, and she sounded that way too.

I wonder if this is the fate of explorers that come to Planet America. The culture surrounds you, takes you in, you forget that there are other worlds out there, because your thought process extends only as far as the planet you live on. Obviously I’m aware this is planet earth, I’m employing an extended metaphor. But this is how it’s felt to me. And if you’re able to get back to your home planet, what do you tell them? What information do you bring? Like living on the moon and settling down – would the children be so accustomed to the local gravity that they couldn’t possibly live back on old terra? Then the cultural valve suddenly flows in the other direction. They become the explorers, going back to the old world, and they see the difference. But do they see difference, or do they just not see the things they know?

I know when I got here that I was searching for markers of the old planet here. And things may have rhymed, but they were not interchangeable. Maybe that’s how you settle on a new planet – by not attempting to make it like the old one. This new one has it’s own atmosphere, it’s own ecosystem, it’s own humanoids. So plant, sow, explore, tame, observe, understand. You’d be amazed at the things that can grow and flourish here. And they’re all things that weren’t in the mission statement, things that weren’t in the paperwork.

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