Category Archives: Rants

Political Yeti: A Tale of Two Atrocities

Disclaimer: This post is entirely political. If that isn’t to your taste, please head somewhere else. I am an unabashed Leftist and that skews the way I see things.

I have said very little about the elections this year, not even back when Bernie Sanders was running. That is for three reasons. The first is that I really don’t like reality TV and in my opinion, these reports and memes and jokes really aren’t any different from the scripted reality tv you can find on any channel. Did people watching the debates learn any substantive? Or was it mere entertainment? As John Dewey said long ago, “As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.”
We’ll get to my second reason in a bit; it’s a bit unrelated.

But the third reason is that there is very little that can be said. Trump is a moron, yes. But it’s not the first year he’s run for President, and everyone seemed to forget that. It seems  manufactured how easily he rose to the top. It’s almost as if control of the media means something. And let’s not forget that despite how ridiculous, abhorrent, and offensive  Trump is, he’s not even as scary as, say, Ted Cruz or his own VP. There is not one good thing I can think of to say about Trump as a person, as a politician, or especially as a presidential candidate.

But … I don’t know that Donald Trump would make for a worse president than Hillary Clinton. Part of that is because he ran as a Republican. That means Democrats would oppose him, watch his every move. Hillary would be able to move with less encumbrance, as we’ve seen with some fairly conservative policies by Obama not be opposed by the left.

Sidenote, if someone like Romney had added more troops (30,000) to the Afghanistan War, refused to close Guantanamo after promising to, ordered Drone Strikes on US citizens, changed the definition of enemy combatant to any male over 18,  funneled billions of taxpayer money to banks, increased offshore drilling and generally helped the 1 percent, he would have been seen as a terrible president. Obama operates under different standards, apparently, and it’s reasonable to suspect that Hillary will too.

I’m going to say it: I think Hillary Clinton is a bad person. I don’t even care about the conspiracy theories and the right-wing suppositions. Her actual record is enough for me to know that as a liberal I can’t support her.

There are two things in particular  about Mrs. Clinton that horrify me.

Firstly she always votes for war. There are too many examples of this to list here, but here are some of the key points.

  1. She supported US bombing of Belgrade in 1999 (Kosovo War). She told reporter Lucinda Frank: [she] was traveling in Africa, called Bill, and: “I urged him to bomb”.
  2. She voted to invade Afghanistan in 2001
  3.  She supported sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban in mid-2003
  4. She voted to invade Iraq in 2002 – gave stirring speech in US Senate in support of it.
  5. As Sec. of State, she poorly handled the illegal military Honduran coup in 2009, but as recently as April 9, 2016, she defended the illegal coup. Honduras isn’t doing well these days.
  6.   She voted in 2006 to let US military continue to use cluster bombs in areas with concentrated civilian populations. 108 nations (but not the U.S.) have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, because they are the single most lethal weapon for civilian casualties in war.
  7.  And recently she spoke of no-fly zones over in Syria. This worries a lot of people–I don’t think it will lead to WWIII– but it will certainly “kill a lot of Syrians” (her own words.)

There are a lot more examples (Libya) but you get the point. If you think American lives are worth more than people in other countries, than I get supporting her. That’s not a traditional liberal value, however, and it puzzles me how many liberals overlook the fact that Clinton in power means that a lot of poor people will lose their lives.

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John Dewey – “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

The second point about Mrs. Clinton is that she’s very beholden to corporate interests. This is well documented. The NYT reported that Hillary Rodham Clinton will begin personally courting donors for a “super PAC” supporting her candidacy, the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has fully embraced these independent groups that can accept unlimited checks from big donors and are already playing a major role in the 2016 race.

There is indication of collusion between the Clinton Campaign and the DNC, and hiring Debbie Wasserman Schultz did nothing to distance herself from the speculation. Nor is the sudden vilifying of Assange, who was a leftist hero when he exposed Bush’s dirty underwear but now is more of a pariah than ever.

Forgetting right-wing rumors and unsubstantiated claims, her factual record speaks for itself. Hillary Clinton voted to bail out Wall Street, and the Glass-Steagall Act passed under Bill Clinton is one of the underlying causes of the 2008 financial crisis.(Admittedly, maybe she’s not to blame for that but it’s certainly consistent with her values.) She’s pro-fracking and has accepted millions from the fossil fuel industry, she voted for the Patriot Act twice, gave the infamous Super Predator speech, and she’s earned the praise of Henry Kissinger. Oh and just quietly? Trump isn’t the only one who wants to build a fence.

There’s a lot more, but I guess if that doesn’t convince you nothing will. I suspect that if Clinton was running against Reagan, liberals and moderates would have to choose Reagan as the more leftist choice. Perhaps it’s because my family grew up well below the poverty line, but I find impossible to ignore someone who consistently rewards corporations at the cost of opportunity for the impecunious.

I can understand voting Third Party. I can even understand the Chomsky “Hold your nose and vote for Clinton.” But I don’t understand this whole-hearted “I love Hillary” stance from the left. If you are reading this and you will/or have vote for Mrs. Clinton, I’d love for you to share why in the comments. I can’t see that a vote for her is anything but a vote for the American Empire, for war and bombs abroad and the rich getting richer at home.

Hillary Clinton is not Donald Trump; she appears far more intelligent, far more composed, and the people she represents a direct threat against are far less American. But the more I think about it, the more I think that might be exactly the point. Using a propped-up Bogeyman so that you are afraid of any choice but her. Maybe that’s not true;  perhaps Trump is a legitimate candidate. It doesn’t really matter.

By the way, my 2nd point that I alluded to earlier is just this. Ultimately I don’t think it matters for the US who is the next president. There is an idea that we need to act now to save the country, but I suspect that time passed long ago. But that’s a subject for a different time.

For the record, I’m posting this because I have seen many people I know vitriolically supporting Hillary Clinton. To the point where to even suggest an alternative is seen as offense. Many on the left have joined the right to become intolerant bullies when confronted by differing opinions. Luckily, no one reads this blog so I feel pretty safe.

In summary, this Simpsons episode is a little dated, but actually not dated at all.

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10 Reasons I Can’t Live in America again

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged here. I’ve been writing and developing games and running an RPG here in Seoul which claimed much of my free time. Plus I think all bloggers go through a point where they wonder if the hours spent blogging might be better used on … almost anything else. But this is a subject that has been percolating in my mind for a while now.

Before I go any further, I’ll clarify by saying that the reasons I do have to go back–family and friends (and burritos)–outweigh these. Okay, Mom?

 

Consumerism: buy buy buy

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This has been covered before just about everyone, but the longer I live out of the US, the harder it is to come back to the bombardment of “buy X=happiness” messages that make up so much of day-to-day life. (The part of the world I live now is arguably just as consumerist, but not speaking the language or belonging to the culture makes it feel far less so.)

Buying into the culture gets harder too–“new” things like uber and Spotify and smart phones and well who knows what gaining popularity since I lived in the US lead to a disenfranchising feeling. (For me at least.) On the flip side, going back is often a process of discovering a new culture, which I do appreciate.

Over-Regulation and Bureaucracy

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Renting an apartment requires background checks and credit checks and promises of first-borns. My mom moved for the first time in years and was shocked at all the hoops she had to jump through. From checking into a hotel to registering for school, everything is so needlessly complex.

This might be more an Oregon thing, but it insane to me that a thirty year old person cannot necessarily buy a beer if they don’t have their ID. A non-ending series of permits are required for far too many things, from opening restaurants to painting your house. Everything is needlessly more complicated than it should be, and that’s no way to live.

Gun Culture

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See the guest post from 2015 by liberal anarchist and gun enthusiast Bob Swan to demonstrate that even educated people can hold very bad ideas. Selling guns in stores and online is, if the rest of the world is any sort of system to judge, a bad idea and a key ingredient of a toxic culture.

 

 

“I Deserve” Entitlement

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This one is harder to articulate–it’s a more a “I know it when I see it.” But it permeates everything; the decadent “I deserve” mentality and the counterpart, the prevalent “you should sue” mindset. This is a refection of rampant consumerism and while there’s nothing objectively wrong with those attitudes, they are pretty much 180 degrees from how I live my life.

Undereducated Populace

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Socialism is still a bad word. People don’t know it’s not the same as facism. I should note this does seem to be changing now, but there are still plenty of people who think that socialism=lazy people asking for free stuff. This goes far beyond the political. It’s a society that glorifies money and fame for their own sake.

 

Driving Culture

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The ultimate symbol of freedom in America? A machine that kills or injures over 2 million people a year, and includes costs for insurance, gas, repairs, and registration. Even Portland, famous for bikes and public transportation, requires a car to get anywhere out of it. Intercity options like Greyhound are stigmatized and inefficient for anything other than big cities.

Politics

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They suck everywhere but in the US they are a special flavor of suckiness. (And I wrote this sentence a year ago, well before this year’s singular madness of an election process.) I haven’t commented much on the election this year, but I’ll say this. For me, the candidates rank like this. Bernie Sanders (he’s not actually as liberal as I’d like but still the best by far candidate), and then Green Party candidate Jill Stein (better than Sanders but with even less of a chance), then a tie between Trump and Hillary (both of which are disasters) and then Cruz (the worst case scenario).

But part of me wants to see Trump in the White House. He is the president that “Honey-BooBoo”-watching, mass produced pop listening America deserves. The mirror image of the culture. And it would make for way better comedy shows. (Inherent in this opinion is that he wouldn’t be any worse for the people of the world than Clinton.)

Anyway, one of the problems in my opinion is that the US is too big and too diverse and the solution of splitting into separate countries  still seems too radical.

Measurements

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I actually defended our wonky system for years, but I can’t do it anymore. It would be hard to go back to funny old Fahrenheit and miles after the nice conciseness of the metric (almost) everywhere else in the world. It’s the 21st century and a system based some English King’s foot probably isn’t the best system imaginable.

Fear culture

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The USA is good at big portions, and that includes the buffet of fear-mongering options that citizens chomp down on with glee. Fear of other countries. Fear of germs. Fear of immigrants. Fear of the other. Fear of the Other. Fear of Republicans and cyber-predators and flying and terrorism and so many other ungrounded fears.

Even in relatively safe places like Portland, people knocking on doors is a cause of fear. And yes, a fearful populace is a more easy to control but is that all there is to it? It would be exhausting to be afraid all that time and, quite frankly, I’m afraid to be that afraid.

Portland is a Hard Place to Live

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Most of the reasons on the list are philosophical. This is purely practical though. It’s so hard for me to find a job in Portland. I have applied in my life for several hundred jobs in Portland (over a period of almost 20 years now) and heard back from fewer than 20. I’ve been rejected from Powells 3 times. And I only apply to jobs where I fit all the criteria. I always thought it was just hard to get a job in Portland but my sister has no problem doing it so maybe it’s just a me thing. It’s definitely discouraging to come back and be *lucky* to get a job temping or in a grocery store.


So that’s my thinking. From afar all of those things seem kind of terrible. But as I said, with so many good friends and family there, I probably will come back.

 

 

Yeti Rants: Making Yourself Another Face

If I were to ask you how you felt about foreigners’ behavior in other countries, what would you say? Do you believe that people should follow the customs of the countries they were born in/currently reside in? That paying respect to different customs is the mark of maturity and wisdom?

Or do you think one’s own values trump the local flavor? That personal integrity stays the same regardless of where your body happens to reside?

Of course most people will operate somewhat between those two extremes. Both of these seam reasonable but each have a flip side as well. On one hand, what if you’re an asshole who ignores customs in favor of your own actions? Taken to extremes, this is sociopathic behavior. On the other hand, does it matter if traditional values are based on superstition, religion, and other falsehoods?

Taking a place on the spectrum, wherever you are, does not justify the kind of two-faced Shakespearean hypocrisy I allude to in the blog title. It increasingly seems to me that people support causes or deride them with no thought to the logic behind their rushed judgements.

To take two recent events, a controversy currently going on in Korea is that a religious group is opposing the efforts by the LBGT community to throw a pride parade. Traditionally, Koreans have not supported or even acknowledged homosexuality. In a country that is over 50 percent Christian (the fundy American flavor at that) they have a holy book that uses the word “abomination when discussing the issue.

To most of us, this is ridiculous. Giving in to bigoted and superstitious religious fundamentalists who draw moral lines between what is natural and what is not in their own didactic terms goes against every impulse of modernity and open-minded thinking. The values that brought us everything good in the world, basically.

You can see for yourself how with “tradition” on your side (even a relatively recent tradition) you are free from the pressing demands logic, the stress of making any sense at all. This looks like satire but it is actually being handed out to foreigners in the streets of Seoul.

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Amid the zany claims of 5000 years of “great moral virtue” (some Christians claim that Korea developed Catholicism separately from the West) and equating homosexuality with bestiality and incest, there is one valid, legal point. It’s a shitty law, but it is a law.  You can fight to get the law changed (I’d agree you should fight to get the law changed) but you cannot do this and then argue that customs and traditions should be generally be respected.

Backpackers Eleanor Hawkins and Emil Kaminski, among others, are also in the news. Recently they stripped naked on top on Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo. Their party (as much as could be tracked down and arrested) was jailed, fined almost 1000 pounds each, and deported.

A couple days later, and earthquake killed almost 20 people and stranded hundreds more. Many cited the taking off of clothing by Miss Hawkins and Mr Kaminski as the reason for this tragedy. Among those assigning such  blame is Malaysia’s State Tourism Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun.

They actually didn’t break any laws, only custom. And yet the overwhelming response to taking off their clothes in public was that they were shallow, stupid, and irresponsible. These are the best things that were said.

In Mr. Kaminski’s own words, he recieved “thousands of pieces of hate mail” with many “death threats” labeling him a “cultural terrorist” and a “pig shit asshole” with wishes that he could be pushed off the mountain or get his head chopped off. In one internet poll, 91 percent of over 2200 hundred voters agreed that visitors should be mindful of local culture. A highly rated comment one site sums up the general attitude: If you don’t agree with their laws, that’s fine, but just don’t violate them while you are visiting the country. Otherwise, don’t go to that country.

Admittedly, much of the vitriol Kaminski received was after he mocked locals, their officials, and their customs in a snarky video that certainly did his PR no good. His counter: If local religion prohibits certain actions, then local believers of that religion should not engage in it, but they cannot expect everyone to obey their archaic and idiotic rules.

If he sounds combative, keep in mind that in addition to death threats he has been accused of causing the death of almost a score of people. Also keep in mind that he seems to be a bit of a dick. That aside, isn’t his attitude largely how we Westerners feel about the local religion in Korea? Is it not both archaic and idiotic to demonize homosexuality and to blame earthquakes on literal demons angered by the sight of bums, boobs, and wangs?

In fact, blaming natural disasters on the moral failings of others is old hat for those who fight for tradition.  In 2014, UKIP councilor David Silvester blamed punishing floods in the UK on the passing of a same-sex marriage bill. But the list of disasters blamed on the LBGT community and their desire to get married is nearly limitless. Little did you know, earthquakes and hurricanes and 9-11 itself were all because of people not respecting tradition.

I mentioned the Malaysia incident in some detail because it so recent. But similar instances in Cambodia and all over South East Asia periodically crop up. Hell, last year, Malaysia put a person in jail for 6 six months because they filmed their friends playing naked on a private beach. (And no, playing in this instance is not a euphemism.) It seems to be verboten to suggest that these customs and traditions are out of place in the modern world. If so believe this you then also must believe either that your opinion only matters in the country you were born in or that some ignorant traditions are worth keeping and others must be discarded, but with no objective criteria to know how.

If the the case of the would-be paraders and the naked backpackers are substantially different, I fail to see in what respect. Whether visiting a country or living there, there shouldn’t be an obligation to follow the most narrowly defined or anachronistic customs as defined by zealots. Perhaps the right to be naked is not a vital one, but assigning any moral decrepitude or indecency to our non-clothed forms is just as idiotic as equating two men kissing with a man humping a sheep.

So … how do you feel about customs, traditions, and the need to acknowledge  them?

Yeti Eats and Rants: Restaurants vs Home Cooking in Chiang Mai

It’s just not true. Yeah, everyone says it but apparently no one has ever tried it. Otherwise they’d know.

I’m talking, of course, about the age-old question of whether it’s cheaper to cook your meals at home or to eat out. It’s a problem that concerns us all, right? In the west, restaurants are almost invariably more expensive, but with street food and cheap cafes, many Asian countries claim to reverse that dynamic.

And it seems like every blogger and travelers and expat in Chiang Mai has bought into the idea that going out to eat is cheaper than cooking at home. This is for two reasons, I think: 1) They’re lazy and want it to be true and 2) No one has actually tried it.

Which isn’t to say that it isn’t cheap to eat out. Restaurants serve curries for 60-100 baht (2-3 USD). Street food (a plate of noodles or a spring roll) is as little as 25-40 baht.

Here is some of the cheap food you can get at the restaurants around the city.

Curry and rice - 2 dollars

Curry and rice – 2 dollars

Street Food - Ramen 1.40

Street Food – Ramen 1.40

Flatbread Veggie Stirfry - $2.50

Flatbread Veggie Stirfry – $2.50

Buffet.  5 Dollars.

Buffet. 5 Dollars.

As you can see, the restaurants aren’t exactly bank breaking. It’s simply far cheaper to eat in. There are 4 massive supermarkets within a 10 minute bike ride of our place, and we’re not even that centrally located. Several fruit and veggie markets are likewise strewn across the city. The markets have tons of fresh fruit, veggies, noodles, etc.

Now the price of your home cooking depends greatly on what you are whipping up. If you are making any kind of stir fry or curry or salad or soup, it will be cheaper at home than at the restaurant. Western food will siphon a few more baht, but even Italian or Mexican can be quite cheap. And things like spices, salt, pepper, soy sauce, and chili sauce are ubiquitous and all quite cheap.

Here are some of the meals we’ve made.

Plate of Veggies - about 50 cents

Plate of Veggies – about 50 cents

Bag of Veggies - About a Dollar

Bag of Veggies – About a Dollar

The original Sriracha - 70 cents

The original Sriracha – 70 cents

Homemade Couscous - 70 cents

Homemade Couscous Sald – 55 cents

Homemade Stirfry - 80 cents

Homemade Stirfry – 80 cents

Homemade Pad Kee Mao - 40 cents

Homemade Pad Kee Mao – 40 cents

Whether you eat at home or at restaurants, Chiang Mai is a pretty awesome place to live. There’s a reason that some 30,000 expats live in Chiang Mai at any given time. And we have to admit that there are a thousand reasons not to cook at home. Maybe you don’t like the taste of your cooking. Perhaps it seems like too big a chore. Possibly you didn’t get an apartment with a kitchen. Valid reasons, all. But let’s please put to rest the idea that it’s cheaper, because that’s just not true.