Archives for category: American Exceptionalism

God damn it to hell. I somehow just got both of my parents stone silent and into a minor snit over brunch by complaining about how counterproductive it is for leftists to harp on the trifling malapropisms of right-wing politicians. In this case, it was over Jeb Bush’s mispronunciation of “nuclear.” I’ll grant that I wasn’t very gracious in my pushback, but it isn’t a subject that I would have raised. It’s too stupid and diversionary to be worthy of discussion, but in Soviet Bougiekistan, discussion has YOU!

At root, I don’t think this pissing match was just about whether it’s acceptable for Republican politicians to be inarticulate and whether their stumbling style of speech has fuck-all to do with their worldview or their fitness for high office, as my dad suggested by saying that Jeb’s mispronunciation “speaks to a certain inattentiveness” and that “if he’s going to have his finger on the button, he should at least be able to pronounce it.” It’s really a pissant attempt to defend the prissy sanctity of the ivory tower and all that it represents from incursions by whatever elements aren’t completely on board with the project. I describe over 90% of the country here, 99% if one really needs one’s mind blown by having the Occupy meme flipped on its head and shaken vigorously for loose change. One practical application of this pissant stand for intellectual purity is that I’m a failure to launch who still hasn’t gone to grad school and hasn’t figured out how to successfully navigave what has to be the most treacherous job market in living memory, and even so I’m willing to deviate from the Democratic Party line to defend the dignity of sub-95th-percentile intellects from the projectile condescension and creeping treachery of the bourgeois supremacist cutthroats who have hijacked the American left. I wasn’t raised to think this way. I also wasn’t raised to stay in residential motels, to sleep in my car, or to do stoop labor with white trash and Mexicans, and I’ve done all of these things.

To exactly what end would I go to grad school? One of my best friends is still working as a code monkey five and a half years out of GWU Law, and he’s still something like $160,000 in debt for the honor. That’s a top-twenty nationally ranked law school, by the way. I was pretty keen on nursing for a while, but the things health insurance companies do to patients and to the decent clinicians treating them are horrific, and if I go to nursing school now, I’ll give up a fairly pleasant, if intermittent, line of work tending grapevines to be yelled at by belligerents whose asses I’ve been sent to wipe. Whether or not the cost-benefit analysis of this tradeoff is a purely financial calculus depends on how much blood, pus, shit, piss, festering body odor, sickness, bodily decay, and patient-on-staff assault one would enjoy.

This may sound like navelgazing, but it’s actually very relevant. Grad schools are rackets, their admissions standards are punishing and pretty unforgiving of fuckups, and those who make the cut are rewarded by establishing the company of outpatient mental health cases and condescending, treacherous, socially climbing sacks of shit. This is a time when many professors’ brats will inevitably be downwardly mobile, so Boomers, the least y’all can do is to show us some fucking graciousness about it. Or give us jobs. And, yes, I mean give, as in, hey, kid, we need some stuff done tomorrow, and you look like you’re capable enough, so come by at eight o’clock. I.e., no bullshit about where honorable applicant sees himself with honorable interviewing company in five years. I’ve gotten steady work at good companies without being badgered about that kind of shit, so I know for a fact that it’s extraneous. “Why were you out of work for so long?” is bullshit, too. It’s a fishing expedition. Do you need the damn work done, or don’t you? The owner of the vineyard where I worked over the summer didn’t ask me jack shit about my work history, except for confirming that I’d done some different kinds of vineyard work, and if you’re hiring grunts on an at-will basis, you have no need to ask, either.

It’s important to understand what this mentality is. It isn’t even meritocracy per se. That vineyard was a meritocracy. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and “Why haven’t you gone to graduate school?” is a simulacrum. It’s designed to mimic the form of meritocracy while entrenching the privilege of treacherous insiders to most disingenously engage in cheap posturing and shit on those beneath them on the totem pole. It rewards bad behavior, really, deeply bad behavior like calling people stupid in order to socioeconomically marginalize them.

The proles understand this. They may not be able to articulate it very well, but they get it. It registers with them in their guts. I fell through a trap door into socioeconomic marginalization with my, I dunno, 98th percentile intellect intact, and I still got shit on and pissed off by the high hats. This sort of thing can’t be pleasant for people who are less articulate, less networked, less financially backstopped than I am. It can’t inspire graciousness.

“Nucular” isn’t even a Spoonerism. It isn’t even a gaffe. The Queen’s English it ain’t, but it isn’t exactly a tongue-tied mess, either. Many people in Pennsylvania, for example, tend to drop L’s in odd places. Marylanders have a habit of mumbling like whoa. (Ironically, the rednecks on the Eastern Shore don’t. Instead, it’s the mumbly ones around Ballimer who look down on them for being country trash.) “Nuclear” is very widely mispronounced, but this doesn’t mean that the people mispronouncing it don’t understand nuclear power or nuclear bombs well enough to grok their danger. How uniformly stupid do the educated coastal elites think Republicans in flyover country are?

This won’t go well for the Democrats. It has already gone badly for them. In the midst of endlessly carping about the tongue-tied stupidity of George W. Bush, they ran two incredibly mealymouthed, sententious wonders against him: first Al Gore, then John Kerry. These people can’t possibly be sincere about their love for fine elocution when they field those two for national office and never step back to say, yeah, that wasn’t so fucking smart. Now the kingmakers are trying to install Hillary, a caustic moralizer instead of a sententious moralizer for a change. Even Obama was never as polished a speaker as Mike Huckabee, especially in extemporaneous comments.

This mad scramble to defend the English language from Republicans who mildly botch it is disingenuous, and the rank and file know it. It isn’t about intellectual vigor or thoughtful public debate or a life of the mind or any other high-minded happy horseshit like that. It’s about crudely and viciously jockeying for superiority. It’s about catching one’s opponents in inconsequential slip-ups and rubbing their noses in the dirt. It’s the kind of thing that will inevitably piss off and alienate poor and uneducated voters. If the Democrats are nasty enough to treat a governor whose father and brother were presidents so shabbily, how unconscionably will they treat high-school dropouts living in Kansas trailer parks?

The failure of emotional intelligence needed to sustain this haughty attitude is beyond me. These fuckers seemingly cannot fathom what it’s like to be less intelligent than one’s peers, less articulate, less influential, and to be shit on for it. They cannot understand how accusing populists, even insincere populists, of being of limited intelligence could ever backfire on haut bourgeois Democrats. By any reckoning of emotional intelligence or streetsmarts, they’re the dumb ones. They’re the piss-poor communicators. George W. Bush at his most syntactically garbled could talk circles around them. They were just too self-absorbed and self-important to notice.

A conspiratorial gloss on this preening linguistic superiority is that the intelligentsia really seeks only the trappings of intellectual refinement, not the substance, because the trappings are what they need to convince their employers to give them a pay raise. I.e., the brahmins are running a racket premised on an intellectual fraud. I tend to agree with this gloss, simply because it’s hard to find an alternative explanation that makes any sense as a rational strategy. Having snits about some rising tide of anti-intellectualism is easier and more effective than learning a real trade or working towards the sorts of real reform that would allow people to make a decent living without either developing 80th-plus-percentile specialized skill sets or constantly getting into gutter rumbles with the opposition over idiotic wedge issues, like some politician’s habit of making a common mispronunciation.

This is the polity that I inherit. Goddamn fuckin’ A.

Scatologically oriented individuals not familiar with the Pennsylvania Dutch Country (I have in mind people like Lady Kentfield) may be amazed, or at the very least pleasantly titillated, to hear that Shartlesville is a real place. It’s located on Interstate 78 between Allentown and Harrisburg. I’ve been through it a number of times.

It’s a place that, to be honest, has nothing whatsoever to do with this essay. It does, however, have a name that’s hella funny, if you’re thirteen, and disgustingly topical.

They can’t be avoided. They’re legion. You see them late in the evening at gas stations in East St. Louis, struggling to retrieve appropriate donuts from the bakery case. You see them piloting their scooters along Orangethorpe Avenue in Buena Park, opportunely stuffing another few onion rings into the pie hole just as they pass you in front of St. Pius V. There’s enough sidewalk, but not by a wide margin, because that part of the margin is theirs. Perhaps you wonder, a bit abashedly, how you can look down on them when you’re en route to Paul’s Place for an Ortega burger meal, one of the most gluttonous meals in Orange County, but it’s an impertinent question. Those who walk upright can’t help but look down on those who are scooterbound by fifty. Literally. It doesn’t help things that you’re walking close to two miles round-trip to get lunch and dude’s flying Old Glory off the back of his rig. His FICA deductions can’t be enough to pay the Scooter Store for his chair, his bus fare sure as hell won’t cover the cost of the delays OCTA suffers when he boards and alights through the center door (because OCTA’s procurement officers are the kind of dumbos who think that center-door wheelchair ramps make sense), and he’s probably on SSI, but at least he’s patriotic about being a net financial and social drain on his society. God bless America.

His kind travel by local bus. But of course. The British gutter press prefers to focus on those who buy custom pickups to accommodate their own girth, but those are outliers. As a spatial matter, there may not always be enough space to shoehorn another of the prematurely bescootered living a life of learned helplessness onto the bus, but as a legal matter, there is, because if there weren’t it would be a disability rights lawsuit waiting to happen.

These aren’t Queen’s big fat fatties. If they’re of the female perspective, BBW is a stretch, kind of like what has happened to their skin. If they’re shapely, it’s only because those beholding them have an unimaginable catholicity of taste when it comes to shapes. When I say that I like big girls, I–how can I say this?–I don’t mean that. Left to my own devices, I’d let the details go unspoken, since I’m attracted to women of various sizes and consider it rather gauche to stipulate technical specifications for my dates, but there’s a lot of size elision in the BBW community, and this is the same community that popularized “Myspace angles” and is notorious for refusing to countenance basic nuances about body size and attitude. They leave me no choice but to specify that my strong desire to spoon the living daylights out of certain self-confident, full-bodied women because they’re totally snugglable (okay, I’d bang them, too, especially if they took the initiative) does not imply a tacit desire to thus caress thoroughly insecure bathroom self-portraitists whose asses would envelop the spare tire that I carry around above a 36″ waist.

No. There’s fat, and then there’s holy shitballs I must be tripping on acid because there’s a guy at this Chinese restaurant who’s made up of all kinds of shapes that don’t exist in nature. Go figure that I ran into this guy while mildly sleep-deprived (not literally into him; I’m not sure I’d have made it back out), having just arrived in Los Angeles from Sacramento on a trip that started at 5:15 am. I was in an even worse state in East St. Louis, having driven all day from Colby, KS, on five and a half hours’ sleep; later that night, I drove the first four miles out of Brazil, IN, on Interstate 70 with just my running lights, but even so, my Civic and I made it to Indy intact. One does not simply keep a straight face around the well-rounded donut enthusiast in these circumstances.

This guy at the restaurant in Chinatown wasn’t just fat. He was cubist. He looked like something out of “Guernica,” probably a missing apartment block on the edge of town. I wasn’t trying to look at him; the waitress had seated me there, and I hadn’t had the presence of mind to check that there was no megafauna in my field of view and sit facing the other direction. Surprisingly, this guy had three fairly slender friends with him. Collectively, I’d guess that these guys weighed fifty pounds more than he did. He was Latino, as were one or two of his friends; I recall one or two of his friends being Asian, but I wasn’t paying much attention to them.

Realize that the restaurant where this scene unfolded was not a buffet; they probably would have been barred from the premises if it had been. Lunch was a la carte, and no kidding, the boys were there for lunch. Biggie didn’t distinguish himself just by his size; whenever I glanced in his table’s direction, he had a fork in hand. He ate with great gusto. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen another person eat so heartily.

Shovel all the coal in, gotta keep it rollin’. The absurd pathos of it all was too much for me in my sleep-compromised state. Like a friendzoning ex in an overwrought eighties power pop ballad by Chicago, I had to look away, baby, look away. Of course I didn’t want him to see me that way; it was just common decency. I continued to steal a glance now and then when I felt an unusual degree of self-control. I stayed long enough to see his party get up and leave. To my relief and slight surprise, even Biggie up and left the table on his own two feet; I might not normally describe his manner of movement as “walking,” but for a man of his girth it was close enough. Verily, as he waddled away from lunch, he left replenished with fuel for the journey that we call life.

Throughout this grotesque scene, I felt smug in an Old Testament sort of way: Thank you, God, that I am not a woman, or a gentile, or an ass, or of a size and shape that have never been described in the Torah since we ancients simply haven’t seen such people. It was certainly a nice feeling while it lasted. Just by sheer contrast, Biggie made me figure that I had my shit together. Another thing I figured was that I’d probably make it to the Starbucks in Little Tokyo without coming into any significant intestinal discomfort. I figured I’d have to shit before long, but probably not within a half hour. Right?

Wrong. As I stood on the platform at the Chinatown Gold Line station, I felt the need to fart. Not to urgently shit; just to fart. No one else was nearby, and the station is outdoors: so far, so good. But when I cut it loose, it had that tell-tale warm, moist feeling. Oops, I realized, I think I just went poo in my asshole a little bit; I do believe I just beshat myself slightly on a fucking light rail platform. I knew that I could easily hop off at Union Station for an emergency ass-wiping, but I also knew that doing so would turn my circumstances from slightly disgusting to powerfully disgusting. I did not feel like mixing it up with disheveled crazies in a filthy restroom right then, so I held on, walked a bit more smoothly than usual through Little Tokyo, and made it to Starbucks. There I confirmed my fear: I had kept the mess off my underwear, but only through utmost discipline; as I thought, I had sharted.

It felt for all the world like karma. I gawked and snickered at Biggie, discreetly, for his uncontrolled gastrointestinal activities as a differently-sized American. Not half an hour later, I lost bowel control, discreetly, in a rapid transit station. The punishment seemed proportional to the crime, fifteen minutes of private-enough grossness for fifteen minutes of private-enough haughtiness towards an unimaginable mouthstuffer of unimaginable proportions, give or take. And it seemed appropriate that karma should come anally. It’s true of any karma, but especially so of karma for rudeness over alimentary failures of the flesh. At the one end, Biggie couldn’t keep it out, and at the opposite end, I couldn’t keep it in. It was embarrassing (for him, too, if he had any introspection), but in my case it felt instructive.

Of course, I’ll still laugh at the morbidly obese; if I’m not a slave to the sinful nature, I’m a slave to the point-and-laugh-at-the-unnatural nature. But with any foresight, I’ll do some abdominal floor exercises beforehand. Look, it’s not like I’m trim and ripped. I’m no Channing Tatum. It’d be really cool if more women looked at me more than skin deep, especially the hot ones, but I can understand why they don’t. If they looked less superficially at Biggie, say, at an autopsy or a gross anatomy lab, they’d discover that he has mad muscles; the blubber doesn’t move itself, now. A lot of us actually are ripped; it’s just hard for the superficial to see it beneath the insulation.

I’ll laugh at them, but I’ll laugh at them cautiously. We all laugh at larger-than-life Americans at our own peril. They’re among us.

Put more accurately, we are among them. If it were really our world, would the rest of us have to vacate the good seats near the rear bus door to make way for Scooter Store customers who could probably walk well enough if they tried? Would Southwest Airlines have come to grief over that passenger spillover surcharge nonsense? I think not. These things happen for a reason. We are but small, substanceless men living in a land of giants.

Mr. Rogers never lived in Sacramento, but if he had, I have to think that he would have lived in a modest but tasteful house near Land Park. He was the kind of person who would have enjoyed Land Park, as well as the other parks and museums not too far away in downtown Sacramento. These municipal treasures are wasted on Sacramentans.

Sacramento has trolley service, too, but it ain’t Mr. Rogers’ trolley service. To be fair, the clientele on the San Diego trolleys can fall short of the Rogers standard, too. The only time I’ve ever been referred to as a “nigga” was on the San Diego Blue Line, by a dude who was “borrowing phones from random niggas and shit” (and not thanking them afterwards, asshole). Sac Regional Transit has not, to the best of my knowledge, reached that promised land of post-racial equality, although with its teeming masses of wiggers, it can’t be far off.

Many people would argue that the language I used in the preceding paragraph is racist, regressive, inflammatory, and hence irresponsible. Some of these people would like to ignore and euphemize racial slurs until they go away forever; personally, I’d like to envision Mariska Hargitay fucking me silly until she in fact jumps into bed with me and doesn’t utter a critical word about my premature ejaculation. Straight dope, yo, that’s about the chance that the euphemists have of purging society of four centuries of racial bigotry by guilting everyone else into being as hypersensitive as they are. There is some ancient nastiness ingrained in the racial attitudes of this country, attitudes that we’ve been very successful at exporting to other countries lately (along with things like the three-drug lethal injection cocktail, which our own courts have finally started recognizing as an imprecise and inhumane method inspired by a very stupid but earnest sort of hypocrisy); one does not simply create a just and humane society by banning use of the “N-word” and derivatives thereof.

As I’ve discovered anew over the past couple of weeks, Sacramento has a special cultural nastiness of its own, one that draws heartily from the deep well of American racial bigotry. To adopt the local parlance, a lot of the homeboys and a few of the homegirls around here are hella fucked up. So when I refer to some of these asshats as “wiggers,” I do so deliberately. These white boys aren’t so much playing that funky music as they are adopting the dress, speech, mannerisms and attitudes of the black underclass for their transgressive effect, or something. I can’t say how self-aware some of these people are; how does one say “transgressive” in ebonics? Besides, there’s a good chance that their goal isn’t to be transgressive, and hence irritating, but rather to be intimidating. This is a subtle but very important difference: there may be no extenuating circumstances for commissioning Wayne Brady’s strangulation of a jive-assing loser for looking like a fool with his pants on the ground, but there probably are extenuating circumstances for commissioning his strangulation of an asshat whose body language suggests that he’s one trifling provocation away from committing battery on a stranger. This proposal is a sort of “Minority Report”-meets-White Kensington vigilante dystopia, but if it sounds totally nuts, you probably haven’t been on the Sacramento light rail system lately.

What actually is totally nuts is probably over one percent of the population of the cities of Rancho Cordova, Sacramento and West Sacramento. There are a lot of loony motherfuckers on the loose around here. I haven’t seen all of them, but I’ve seen enough to figure that 6,000-odd isn’t an implausible nut count. You have to figure, too, that a lot of irredeemably useless eaters who spend their days motoring around their Section 8 apartments on their scooters eating KFC leftovers aren’t mixing it up with the light rail crowd that often, and that their isolation and physical infirmities don’t leave them entirely right in the head. Regional Transit has more than its fair share of Scooter Store customers under 60, but I can’t imagine that a majority of the prematurely nonambulatory in metro Sac are on or around the transit system at a given hour. The underclass really comes into prominence after business hours, when so many of the competent people who spend their work weeks downtown head for the hills, likely El Dorado Hills, which has a per capita household income of over $100k. This is a case in which correlation probably is causation: the hordes of civil servants and government hangers-on are able to pull in the big bucks because they’re more or less able-bodied and not Looney Tunes.

What’s really telling about the losers, thugs and nuts on and around Regional Transit and Yolobus (for those of you who #YOLO, or hate on those who #YOLO, I did not make that up) is that their prevalence is wildly out of proportion to what I’ve found on the LA Metro and OCTA systems. There are some mighty strange rangers among Metro-Big Blue transfer passengers (again, I did not make up Santa Monica’s wackadoodle SWPL name for its municipal bus system, the Big Blue Bus), but they’re ultimately just eccentric; for all their oddities, they have manners and a fair amount of dignity. Similarly, the white trash on Harbor Boulevard in Orange County have found ways to let their freak flags fly on the 43 bus without resorting to antisocial displays of pride. Reserving a seat on a crush-loaded forty-footer for the bowl of instant soup that one is snorting in the hope of annoying the taciturn Mexican lady across the aisle is not antisocial by Sacramento standards; sporting a fullet and belting out a tone-deaf rendition of “Fly Like a G6” (that is, more tone-deaf than the studio version) doesn’t come close. There’s a lot pathos there, since homegirl is not on track to buy a G6, and the 43 is arguably the least fly line in the OCTA network (which says a lot), but none of that suggests that the whole fucking county is being taken over by street criminals.

My working thesis is that Orange and Los Angeles Counties have retained enough of a productive economic base to maintain a genuine working class, while Sacramento County has failed in its efforts to prop up its downwardly mobile working class with bullshit make-work projects, and has been left with what is better described as a former working class. But that’s only a partial explanation. As a state capital, Sacramento has a huge concentration of well-paid jobs in state government, but there is a large underclass that apparently does not aspire to these jobs, despite living practically on the doorstep of countless state offices. I suspect that the former importance of the military to the regional economy explains some of the trouble; to quote Captain Bones, “those, my friend, are the enlisted.” There’s also the matter of surplus losers effectively being exiled east of Eden, so to speak. The social pathologies that I’ve witnessed in Sacramento are similar to what I’ve heard described of parts of the Inland Empire, especially the cities of San Bernardino, Victorville and Riverside. The industrial economies in the latter cities, especially Victorville, are undeveloped compared to those in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Victorville is basically a prison town, much like a number of shitholes in the Central Valley. It’s easy to imagine those who got drunk and fell off the vo-tech wagon early in life moving inland to stretch their Wal-Mart and social services checks. In any event, the situation with the underclass in Sac looks like an intractable mess. Even if these shitheads are employed, it’s hard to see them moving up into positions of any responsibility with their feral stance towards life.

If you’re thinking that redemption will come from the middle and upper classes: in your fucking dreams. I’ve already alluded to evidence that the productive and competent segments of the population have largely seceded from the most dysfunctional areas of greater Sacramento. As a result, the latter neighborhoods are, like the characters of America’s most popular apocalyptic fiction, Left Behind (TM). The best we can hope for is that the children of the middle and upper classes will keep gentrifying downtown and Midtown, by going out drinking and that kind of thing, but that doesn’t answer what is to be done about the hard cases. One option is to give them one-way light rail tickets and tell them, “Hop off at Zinfandel and be a dirty menace all you like, but don’t come back here, okay?” I submit that this sort of thing is a much more common social services policy in the United States than mainstream media reports suggest. It works in Paris, too.

What might actually work would be to ramp up inpatient and outpatient social services. As it happens, this afternoon I heard a guy ask a lady at the Power Inn station, completely in earnest, “Are you inpatient or outpatient?” It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. In fact, it’s always a beautiful day in the neighborhood when former USP Coleman correctional officer Erin “you’re a dead man” Sharma is serving a life sentence at Sacramento Community Corrections. The problem with this social services approach, of course, is that it costs money. A lot of money, because the social services agencies can’t hire just anyone at minimum wage to deal with alcoholics, the mentally ill, ex-cons and that ilk. Doing it on the cheap only increases the risk that a discipline problem like Sharma will end up festering on the payroll until she snaps and solicits the murder of an asshole who assaulted her.

That’s the thing with government services. There’s some waste, there’s some fraud, there’s some incompetence and featherbedding and self-justification, but there’s also some trying to facilitate the social adjustment of down-and-out losers whom the social workers and cops on the scene are often of a mind to strangle, Wayne Brady-style, and there’s some driving the 21 bus through Rancho Cordova, where one witnesses hostile, likely unemployable wiggers raising children. Governments hire people to deal with some really ugly shit, and they generally pay these people a premium because they’re dealing with ugly shit, and maybe also firearms or forty-foot buses. Yeah, they could be making minimum wage on the night shift at 7-Eleven, so maybe the whole set-up isn’t fair to convenience store clerks who get shot by armed robbers, but still, it’s better than most of the alternatives. If fairness is what gets our panties into a bunch, it isn’t fair that night-shift bodega clerks aren’t career corporate bullshitters who pull in $60k as “HR specialists,” either. Look: something has to be done about the druggies and nutters so that they stop making life unbearable for everyone else in their neighborhoods, so do we want to hire qualified and competent people for the job, or do we want to do it on the cheap and hire Erin Sharma? We could probably get a good rate on her since she’s a felon.

What does the middle class in greater Sacramento want to do about these people? The anecdotes I’ve heard on the subject aren’t encouraging. One of the drivers on Yolobus, who truly is a class act despite his dubious politics, tends to bend his passengers’ ears about what thieves the Democrats are and how welfare “was meant as a hand up, not a handout.” To be clear, I’d rather have EBT beneficiaries be productive and engaged than consumptive and idle, but trimming the welfare rolls won’t come close to fixing West Sac. There are an awful lot of people on food stamps who are in every regard but their overt government dependency well-adjusted and respectable, and there are more than a few beneficiaries who would be resorting to theft or worse to make ends meet without food stamps. Similarly, Section 8 keeps a lot of people off the streets, which is a huge public benefit; better yet is well-run public housing (not the Robert Taylor Homes, to be clear), which cuts out the tyrannical crooks who infest private property management.

Another, worse, anecdote than the Yolobus driver is the very well-coiffed lady I overheard at a noodle joint on Broadway this afternoon, complaining about how one of her friends “is a bleeding heart. The problem is that he thinks we should be bled.” It takes some gall for a Sacramentan to say such a thing. This is a government town that would be at the uppermost headwaters of Shit Creek if the state agencies disappeared. Every living soul here is a beneficiary of net government expenditures. There is no way around this truth. No amount of complaining (probably truthfully) about the incompetence of the DMV negates the crucial effect of state spending on Sacramento’s economy. If these whiners really care about small government, they’re free to move to Stockton, which has one.

This pseudolibertarian gibberish illuminates one of the subtle but insidious things about right-wing hypocrisy: its simpleminded earnestness. Lefties lose debates because their introspection and sense of nuance compel them to admit to their own hypocrisy and entertain some measure of self-loathing. Right-wingers deal with contradictions by blithely ignoring them, instead presenting as gospel truths whatever pat, contradictory tautologies fit their prejudices. Some of the bigger names on the right are cynical demagogues (as are some on the left), but other right-wing leaders, and a great many of their followers, appear not to notice that they’re basically making shit up. It shouldn’t be hard to see, however, why I find this sort of rhetoric much less objectionable coming from someone who has daily exposure to some of the most fucked up bus transit passengers in California than from someone who looks like she may never have set foot on a city bus.

Niggas be fucked.

In the interest of SEO sleaze artistry, I am compelled to reprint the following request for advice from a hypothetical reader:

“Should I pledge a sorority? I’m interested in the opportunities that Greek life provides to develop leadership skills and make personal and professional connections that will last a lifetime, but I’ve also heard that sorority girls have a reputation for being catty and mean, and I’ve heard that some of them have really crazy mental issues. Word on the street is that the technical term is ‘cray-cray stuck-up bitches.’ What should I do?”

That’s a good question, if I do say so myself. Instead of offering my own advice, however, I’ll start by offering some noteworthy advice recently provided by an officer of the Delta Gamma sorority chapter at the University of Maryland, College Park:

“I will fucking cunt punt the next person I hear about doing something like that, and I don’t give a fuck if you SOR me, I WILL FUCKING ASSAULT YOU.”

You go, girl! Terp the derp!

To be perfectly clear, that last quotation is not one that I made up. There are some nuances of punctuation that I’m too sloppy to consistently obey, but in this instance I would have been torn between the orthographic clarity of hyphenation (“cunt-punt”) and the smooth stylistic eloquence of non-hyphenation (“cuntpunt”). Speaking of other nuances, I have never explicitly threatened to use premeditated assault of my subordinates as a punishment for social deficiencies that I find annoying. But I know, that’s LITERALLY just me. Duh!

The comment thread for the Gawker article is, to use the term in the sense of the old Chinese blessing, interesting. To be fair, a great many of the comments, maybe even a majority, are from sane, decent people, many of whom are also excellent writers with highly pertinent perspectives or tales of their own. The problem is with the remainder, much of which is comprised of some combination of servile, brownnosing supplication to the ostentatiously belligerent and rank asshattery. A disturbing number of commentators in this group praised the author of the e-mail for her leadership. Thankfully, others stepped in and called foul, trying to impress upon them that leaders who behave that way provoke workplace mutinies; I put in my two cents’ worth to this effect by comparing this lady to the tyrannical managers who fall victim to workplace massacres and the military officers who got fragged in Vietnam. The problem (a scary one on close examination) is convincing people that abrasive imperiousness is reckless leadership at a time when Donald Trump has been so successfully promoted as the epitome of managerial excellence. Keep in mind that the Donald is widely regarded by forensic accountants who’ve reviewed what they can of his books as an insolvent serial fuck-up who covers for his uselessness by using his outward appearance of wealth to hustle for free stuff. If we look too closely, then, we see that this article on a two-bit sorority nutcase of no previous notoriety is actually a very disturbing indictment of American corporate management and popular culture. Read it and weep.

This, America, is what’s wrong with Greek life. This case is ad absurdum, to be sure, but that’s all; the underlying nature of the misbehavior is replicated in countless sororities and, with a bit more douchebro swagger, fraternities. Verbal abuse, sexual abuse, forced drinking, corporal punishment, endangerment of pledges on highways and precipices, and rape are all committed with the complicity or encouragement of Greek organizations too often to be regarded as aberrations. Here and there one finds good chapters that should be preserved, perhaps even whole organizations that are good, but most of them are run by shitheads, and quite a few, most of them fraternities, are criminal organizations that should be prosecuted and disbanded under RICO.

Cults suck, kids. Don’t join one. There are other ways to make friends and get laid. While you’re at it, consider being cautious around the religious organizations, too. Don’t be afraid to tell their pushier members that you’re too busy chasing tail to come to small group (here’s looking at you, Intervarsity). Figure out who the sluts are, and approach them not out of concern about their sexual immorality, but out of a subtly craven spirit of egalitarian friendship. Seriously, I only wish I were kidding. I made the mistakes of not doing as I currently advise.

There are a lot of people enrolled on the baccalaureate track who want to waste your time: sectarian cult buggers, Greek ratfuckers, socially climbing cutthroats in student government, straight-up freaky-ass nerds in student government and debating clubs, another two factions of sectarian cult buggers in my case, ad nauseam. You don’t owe any of them your time. If they get rude in their efforts to let you have their way, you have no obligation to be reticent about putting them in their place. There are social conventions against telling them that you resent their efforts to keep you from the library and the cute chick that you’ve been trying to game there, but these conventions are bullshit ones that serve to embolden the officious.

Perhaps you matriculate with a history of regular participation in the Boy Scouts of America. If so, God help you. God help us all, on our honor, all of us, we who be loyal Scouts. Spending one’s free time with other weird boys didn’t do a hell of a lot of good, now, did it? It’s great training for incels, to be sure. To get to understand chicks, damned if you don’t have to hang out with chicks. So if you still have time to get your ass into an Explorer troop, do so. Them thar’s co-ed, now. Even if it’s an Explorer troop devoted to the exploration of careers on the production line at the local wire factory, if there’s ladies present, get your own ass equally present forthwith. Better are the police, correctional and Customs Explorer troops, since they may have hella hot adult leaders who are interested in demonstrating upon your person the body search methods that they use on detainees, albeit in a much more consensual manner than they or their peers in Greek life use on the vulnerable. Speaking of the Greek lifestyle, if you really can’t resist it, please be sure to have some lube and rubbers handy, and to move your bowels beforehand if you’re the recipient.

Is that gross? Here’s another idea: Future Farmers of America is a wholesome coeducational organization that may be a better fit than scouting for the socially retarded young person. (It isn’t just boys who can be socially stunted, mind you; you should have seen my main suitor in college.) FFA participants who raise livestock are afforded the opportunity to learn valuable anatomical and physiological lessons that they can later apply to their peers.

Eww. But I assure you that worse has been said about farm animals and those who care for them; I’ve heard it with my own ears. It is fitting, then, as she and he both said, that I’m currently in Da-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-vis. To be more pertinent, though, if farm girls are your thing, try to find ones who don’t get too worked up at Creation. Same thing goes if you’re on the manhunt for the near term. The zealots have to be crazy good in the sack to make up for the subsequent drama when they get convicted by some milquetoast circuit-riding dweeb about the dangers of sexual immorality.

Come to think of it, it’s a funny thing that we Americans pride ourselves so on our independence. It seems that one doesn’t find Germans or Swiss so reflexively seeking permission from community representatives to fuck others, as such a question would be regarded as hopelessly uncouth, and it seems that Germans in particular are hesitant to submit to the diktats of power-hungry tyrants with delusions of grandeur, as that sort of capitulation is regarded as rather historically ignorant.

Rebecca, if you’re gonna cunt-punt me, fucking cunt-punt me to Munich. Bitch, please. Or to Geneva. My French is better anyway, and in a spirit of penal leniency that would LITERALLY deflate Chris Hansen’s penis, the age of consent there is sweet sixteen.

Murica.

“Rip to the victims of Boston new massacre…withthatsaid, these events may not happen inphilly because before a cop is killed or a suicide bomber can say the Allah phrase he be shot by someone with mostly an illegal gun, especially once the identities are released by media. Let this be known to oversea bad guys, the city of brotherly love will never cower to the fear and attrious actions, we will stand tall and perserver…damn our country was born here….”

 

Fuckity fucky fuck. More misadventures with downwardly mobile SWPL in denial who preen over their pets instead of doing right by their relatives.

Is this codependency? Maybe, but that’s somewhat beside the point.  I’m trying to strategize here, just as I kept an eye out for ways to break into healthier, saner, more respectful cliques while Junior Bear and his more impressionable hangers-on hazed me on a semiweekly basis. On the plus side of the ledger, the benefits that I derive from my putting up with Farmer Uncle include free cross-country ski rentals (his ski boots fit me perfectly), insider access to flexible training in the wine industry, and a fallback that allows me to be productive no matter how many times I get fucked over in the formal labor market and stay a step or two above abject homelessness. The negative side of the ledger I’ve discussed at tendentious length in previous screeds and have already mentioned in this one.

So do I realize a net benefit or a net loss from this Faulknerian clusterfuck? Shit. How does one do a cost-benefit analysis of such a disaster? And it’s a rather crass exercise in any event. But as I’ve said before, we’ve crasser in these parts. Starting, of course, with my disingenuous slumlord-cum-employer, who acts as if I have other options at my command, which is certainly a great way to absolve himself of responsibility for me.

Codependency doesn’t seem to explain the relationships that Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt have with their other investors. Rather, these appear to be dominated by their investors’ fear that Farmer and Stoner will throw a fucking fit if they’re challenged too directly. It’s a sick carrot-and-stick dynamic: be deferential, and we’ll be pleasant, or maybe unctuous or pushy; be assertive, and we’ll turn into raging assholes who will make you look bad as an obvious party to a vulgar family squabble over money. The investors have a lot to lose if they treat Farmer and Stoner like the accountable adult debtors that they would be if this drama had unfolded on the open market, and probably not a whole lot to regain financially, given how many parties are standing on the sidelines, hands outstretched to a mendacious couple who make a big show of pretending that they aren’t broke, getting broker, and in hock to everyone.

Prejudice plays a huge role in this mess. Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt were never typecast as family fuck-ups. Both of the family aliens have long been typecast as fuck-ups, as have I in recent years, but Farmer and Stoner have retained their roles as responsible, productive, and competent, no matter how ridiculously incompetent, irresponsible and financially draining they’ve been. Hence the family bitchfests in which the consensus is high dudgeon over Alien Aunt or Alien Uncle accepting a $600 check or two from Grandma, and the deafening silence in response to Farmer Uncle successfully beseeching my dad for $50,000 so that he’d only be $18k behind on payments to the old friend who had double-crossed them on a gentleman’s agreement on the mortgage whose note he held and threatened to foreclose on the farm. This dude, whom I’ll call the Rosshole because that’s how Stoner Aunt petulantly referred to him for a time, was hurting himself. He was $3m in unrepayable mortgage debt of his own for his mixed success in speculative property development, and his third wife had reneged on her own gentleman’s agreement, as it were, to let him cheat on her with his girlfriend in Montana, filing for divorce, and more pertinently, for the horse property that he had built her. This left the Rosshole living on a cot in the back of his business office, behind a sliding partition, until he prevailed upon his girlfriend to finish up her forest service career in Medford, where, quite conveniently for him, she bought a house and let him shack up with her.

The Rosshole and his new squeeze are the inverse of the Former Forester and her husband; it’s really quite amazing. It’s also quite amazing that no one has openly blown a head gasket over Farmer Uncle’s risking the money of various relatives and friends in his witless attempt to trust the Rosshole to be honorable while both of them circled the drain. Even after getting mixed up with this train wreck of a man, Farmer Uncle got something like tens, if not hundreds, of times more latitude to dissipate relatives’ money without complaint than the aliens got when they hit their mother up for petty cash.

Then there are the complaints that while my parents, Farmer, Stoner and the Caretakers spent a lot of time cooking and cleaning at family reunions, the aliens mostly sat around, watching TV and waiting for dinner. Caretaker Aunt likes to pile on with the additional complaint that Alien Aunt spends too much of her scarce walking-around money at the taquerias that are currently proliferating in the ever-more-Californicated horse country of Middle Tennessee. At rock bottom, however, the truth is that no matter how cheaply Farmer and Stoner cook for themselves and occasionally for their relatives, that won’t mean that they don’t have several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of money from those near and dear to them tied up in a shitty cryptononprofit investment. The other deep truth is that Alien Aunt isn’t about to drop $50k on burritos. No matter how shitty or overpriced fast-casual Mexican food is (and it’s more than a bit of each), anyone who gets worked into a lather over one of the family loafers freeloading off God’s people for taco money but not over the family con artists sponging off the pushover moneyed in their orbit for bet-the-farm money is not operating rationally.

For Caretaker and Alien Aunts, the animosity of sisterhood probably explains some of it. You go, girls! For everybody else, it’s just that good old American resentment of the lazy. To quote Louisville Metro homicide detective Mickey Cohn, “I solve these cases for a living. You drink beer for a living.” Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt may hawk a bullshit class of private stock to those under their thumbs for a living, but they apparently do a pretty good job of pretending to farm, cook and move firewood around their property for a living. I’ve long been put off by the smugness with which they busily flit around kitchens and found the aliens’ unpretentious, honest laziness much less annoying, but I’m clearly in the minority on this matter, perhaps a minority of three. (Your guess is as good as mine as to the home planets of the other two.)

Hard work, or the illusion of hard work, covers a multitude of social and financial sins in this country. That’s how Junior Bear maintained such a large coterie while not shutting up about life insurance for ten minutes. Getting shit done is all well and good, but the act is crucial. That’s why Grandma didn’t come across as such a hard worker. She just stoically did what she thought ought to be done without making a big fuss about it. She didn’t complain about other people being lazy fucks, either.

Things are, alas, different in Our Valley. All the world’s an Elizabethan stage for the preening Ashlander. And do I ever know it. For Farmer Uncle, being a malevolent prick only some of the time is an important part of the act. It throws the rest of us off, since they can’t know from minute to minute whether he’ll act on good faith or bad. It convinces us that we have something to gain in not chewing him out for being beyond the pale, and in a way we do, but we also have a lot to lose, and there’s no way to know whether we’ll gain or lose on balance. There are simply too many variables, many of them completely unpredictable.

There’s another, subtler, aspect to Farmer Uncle’s assholiness. It’s a strategically hail-fellow-well-met, passive-aggressive tone of voice, one that outwardly sounds perfectly amiable. It’s the perfect tone of voice with which to manipulate a sorry bastard, because anyone who is visibly provoked by it will likely appear to be the less reasonable, shriller party, the provocateur rather than the provoked. Overfamiliarity works brilliantly for Farmer Uncle. He has no business calling me his “buddy,” given how wretchedly he has treated me, but if I were to tell him not to use such overly familiar language with me, I’d almost certainly come across as an overly sensitive ass. I don’t know whether it’s conscious or not, but the fucker really knows how to push people’s buttons.

What inspires this screed is the voice message that he left me the other day. I paraphrase, but closely:

“Yo, Alien Watcher, it’s Farmer Uncle. I won’t be coming down to the farm today, we’re puttering around the house….I’ve got an idea for you to set up a more permanent encampment over where the Vegetable Man had his site for a while. You probably know there’s running water there, so you could set up a stove and a tent. It’s just an idea, no pressure. Also, I wanted to make sure that you’re feeding the cats. Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow. Stay dry.”

At the 100% risk of beating a dead horse, let me review some events that made this voice message provocative: Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt were the ones who didn’t let me return to their house subsequent to the great butthurt I caused them by fleeing Stoner’s recurrent envelope-pushing and Farmer’s sudden eruption of anger last May; the running water that Farmer mentioned does not feed a flush toilet; Farmer Uncle continues not to pay me, despite having discreetly released himself from a longstanding agreement to feed and house me when I was in town working for him; lows were expected to be around freezing for the following three nights, but I had to leave a seven-by-ten-inch hole in the wall so that the cats could come and go, and there are probably more cracks in the walls than I’ll ever find on my own; I did not move to Oregon to take care of a couple of cats that he blithely leaves out in the cold whenever his mind drifts away from the farm.

Here’s another amazing thing: Alien Uncle is the one who has always been accused of having too many cats. That’s no surprise for a high-functioning Aspie who has been known to send out Christmas cards describing his cats as his “family,” complete with a family portrait. (“Everyone has a family, no matter what their family may be….” Giggity giggity.) But he’s never asked any of us to feed them when he’s too negligent to do so, and he doesn’t preen over them. He doesn’t presume that people working for him for free should live in uninsulated outbuildings and shit in boxes, kind of like cats, but dirtier. It doesn’t matter if he has too many cats; they aren’t our problem.

It’s also worth mentioning that Alien Uncle doesn’t buy his house cat kibble that has been marked up by a factor of four to pay for the “life force bits” while making a show of letting the nephew working for him snack on a hunk of salami from the discount meat bin at Shop-n-Kart. How strong a mitigating factor is it that I like the salami much more than that pampered prince of a kitty-cat likes the “life force bits,” which he leaves in a pile at the bottom of his dish? Not too fucking strong, I submit. And am I one to brag about feeding my relatives discount meat while feeding my precious kitty overpriced kibble because my wife is a henpecking nutcase who believes in marketing? Nope, and if I do say so myself, it isn’t just because I’m a bachelor.

I’m reminded of the time that a bakery executive’s wife told me and a German exchange student who was staying with my family that we were free to use the portajohn in the yard rather than the indoor toilet that her daughter’s friends were invited to use. What a gracious party hostess. But she was married to a leading member of Central Pennsylvania society, one whose bread everyone in the region has eaten at some point, and the lot of them lived on what can only be described as an estate. My expectation that I would not be consigned to the servants’ privy was too high. I could not expect Franco-Jeffersonian liberty, equality and fraternity from any of them. They certainly did not preach such a thing; paterfamilias, for one, was too busy telling his tendentious stories about the back nine that morning.

One can, however, reasonably expect better of a couple who fancy themselves great egalitarians, or, to adopt Stoner Aunt’s grating terminology, “helpers” who help other “helpers.” One might also reasonably expect that “help” to include payroll income, so that the subordinate “helper” might eventually have some pension income to show for the 30-45 hour weeks that he puts in at harvest, but that would violate the ethos of paying for things with the holy trinity of “munchies, tunes and good vibes,” that good old Craigslist rideshare three-in-one that is, as they say at Bi-Mart, “just right for the Northwest.”

Well, shit, I shouldn’t libel Bi-Mart by association with these moochy fuckers; Bi-Mart provides its employees payroll income and indoor flush toilets. Nor should I libel its employees, as they appear substantially less likely than the average resident of “Our Valley” to routinely shit in an overflowing box and then pretend that this custom is normative.

And it would be interesting (maybe in the sense of the old Chinese curse about “interesting times”) to see whether the causes of my foregoing complaints would be considered “just right” by the various departments of health and labor with jurisdiction over this good ol’ country mess. Could be “just right” for intervention, I reckon, and for reminding the principals that they were not brought up to preside over such a squalid racket because, good grief, you were raised on the nice part of the Peninsula!

Similarly, it might be “just right” to wrap up Prince Kitty’s unpalatable leftovers in scraps of Bi-Mart paper bags (no other store’s will do, now), lather the homemade suppositories in K-Y Jelly, and hand one each to Farmer and Stoner with the words, “Hey, buddy, why dont’cha try administering this-here anally as a home remedy for your constipation? The life force be with you.” Yeah, that’s cruel, but only on the most superficial, socially stunted examination is it worse than the passive-aggressive comments that Farmer and Stoner make to me, their ill-sheltered and unpaid employee, about how warm, well-sheltered and well-fed they and their cats are. As a matter of strict equity, I say it’s appropriate; can anyone successfully argue the Opposing Viewpoint? 

Of course, it can be said that Farmer Uncle and Stoner Aunt aren’t always disingenuous schadenfreude junkies who assuage their own insecurities by degrading others, and that they don’t mistreat me all the time. I may sound like I’m flippantly erecting a straw man while salivating about going full Dennis Rader on it in the next sentence, but the good interludes actually do weigh on me when I consider laying down a righteous bitchslapping on Farmer and Stoner. They remind me that things could go from unpredictable to straight-up bad all the time if I push Farmer and Stoner over the line from light intermittent butthurt to the chronic full-strength kind, and that I could provoke this throttling up merely by treating them as adults who are accountable for their own decisions and that kind of thing. But to belatedly return to the artistic photographer formerly known as Bill Thomas Killman, let us consider that Dennis Rader didn’t murder people all the time.

A shrill thing to say? Ask honey badger for his thoughts on that. And let’s consider some behaviors from which OJ Simpson could be expected to refrain at any given moment, as a matter of statistical chance: double murder, armed robbery, domestic battery, angrily calling his wife an ungrateful cocksucking slut.

I’m not kidding. I may have Godwinized the shit out of the last couple of paragraphs, but it is absolutely true that people return to their abusers all the time because they know that things can go swimmingly when they aren’t going nightmarishly. Or if not swimmingly, at least they can go well enough. Am I usurping the rightful province of domestic violence victims? Maybe. I’m on the fence about this, but I can say that one of the reasons I walked out in May was that Farmer Uncle was really losing his temper, to an extent that I had never witnessed before, and that I very seriously feared that he would totally lose it and assault me. In that case, I would have called the cops at the first opportunity and asked the responding officers to throw the book at him. In a sick irony, such an incident would have made it much easier to prove my overall case against him, because he would finally have shown his hand too openly for anyone to ignore. No one would have taken his side at that point. To be cynical, I damn near set up the perfect meathead’s honeypot sting, entirely by accident, and but for my reflexive aversion to conflict, he might well have fallen for it.

So the problems go deeper than Farmer and Stoner preening over their bratty cats. Still, it doesn’t help their case that they value those pain-in-the-ass animals more highly than they value me. They’ll swear that I’m libelously full of shit on this point, but I’ve described actions that they might take to make me reassess their character, and I’m not waiting with baited breath for them to follow up their cheap talk.

Over the past few months, the Rogue Valley has become home to one of the weirdest, most perverse causes celebres of our time: the plight of poor Gary Harrington, who was imprisoned for the crime of collecting and storing rainwater on his own property. A surprisingly wide coalition, including libertarians, permaculturists, and even Thomas Drake, who is about as genuine voice for civil liberties as exists in the United States today, has come to Harrington’s defense, convinced that he is the victim of a capricious and perhaps illegitimate state.

It turns out that there’s a bit more to the story than first meets the eye, at least forty acre-feet more. Harrington’s innocuous little catchment system consists of three ponds with a total capacity of about 40 acre-feet and dams up to 20 feet high. This “rainwater storage” infrastructure is more accurately described as a system of private reservoirs. According to this febrile article claiming that the state of Oregon has criminalized permaculture, Harrington owns somewhat over 170 acres, so he has close to a quarter of an acre-foot of reservoir storage for every acre that he owns. This does not account for any artificial elevation of the water table on his property as a result of the reservoirs, an effective certainty that would further retard the natural flow of water from his property into public waterways downstream. Harrington’s individual effect on the Rogue River, its riparian areas and fisheries is fairly small, but the potential cumulative effect of other landowners appropriating similar amounts of water for their own use without authorization is immense. This gives the state a clear and compelling policy interest in deterring property owners from doing what Harrington has done.

There’s another thing that a casual reader might miss about Harrington’s plight: he has not been criminally charged. What in fact happened was that he was ordered by state water authorities to drain the reservoirs, appealed the order in a state court, lost his appeal, and defied the court order by leaving the reservoirs intact, on the utterly specious and self-serving claim that he no longer had the authority to modify the reservoirs because he had sold them to a private association. Sale price: $4 for the lot of them. As a rule of thumb, if you purposely defy a lawful order from a duly constituted court of law, you’ll go to jail in contempt of court. Courts are rarely inclined to say, “Gee, now, Mr. Harrington, you obviously feel strongly about this, but maybe we could reach a compromise to drain ten acre-feet, leaving you with thirty?” Thirty days in jail for this weaselly connivance in defiance of the law is, as American penology goes, too lenient to register as an affront to civil rights or liberties. The poor jailbird clearly contrived a private membership association for the sole purpose of defying a court of law so that he could continue to withhold water from the public waterways, a fraud for which he has so far not been prosecuted.

The alert student of American history will recognize Harrington’s ownership transfer strategy from the Gilded Age. It’s the same shell company sleight of hand that the industrial trusts used to evade accountability while they did their best to steamroll the unions, civil society, regulators, and anything else standing in their path. Gary Harrington is no scrappy, much put-upon underdog. He’s a petty robber baron. He’s the kind of person who gleefully misappropriates resources from the commons and drags his feet on returning them when lawfully ordered to do so. A lot of people would happily turn into such asshats if given the opportunity; not many people own hundreds of acres, after all, so it’s a small subset who can show their true colors in such a position of privilege. It is for such people, among others, that we enact and enforce laws. If they’re allowed to just do their own thing, they’ll externalize substantial, and possibly unbearable, costs onto other parties, often ones who are much less able to afford adequate counsel to make themselves whole through civil litigation.

The regulations reserving Harrington’s impounded water for the commons are imperfect, but not exceptionally so. The paranoid fringe has made a lot of noise about the exemptions for permanent structures and paved surfaces serving as incentives to despoil agricultural and wild lands. In point of fact, this would be one of the most cost-ineffective and ridiculous ways to secure a water supply. Few landowners would be idiotic enough to attempt such a thing, and especially ambitious ones would have their plans nixed by local zoning authorities or the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals. Western Oregon is a fairly wet area. In most years, there is enough flow in the streams and rivers for all landowners fronting them to exercise their water rights and still leave a residual flow adequate to support downstream fisheries. These surface water rights can often be supplemented with duly permitted groundwater wells or irrigation district hookups. Except in severe drought years, few stakeholders are truly left high and dry.

Rainwater catchment is a negligible adjunct to these well-established lawful water sources. Really, it’s more symbolic than anything. It has a certain country DIY cred that makes back-to-the-land types cream their pants, and then get worked up into high dudgeon when they perceive an official threat to this piddling source of water that they hold so dear. They don’t want the fucking government interfering in their hobby, or Gary Harrington’s. This is how Harrington, whose reservoirs haven’t a thing to do with permaculture, got adopted by permaculturists as their plucky little underdog ally. The point of permaculture is to build a more or less self-sustaining ecosystem of edible and otherwise useful flora and fauna. One has to work with, not against, the climatic conditions on one’s land to accomplish this, including the hydrological conditions. Or maybe I’m wrong, and permaculture is actually the establishment of cranberry bogs and catfish ponds in the oak scrub for no other reason than the wood that one sports at the sight of unnatural concentrations of water. That seems to be what some of Harrington’s permaculturist allies think. They seem frantic at the thought of being unable to dump large quantities of extraneous water into their food forests because the big bad government told them no.

As Mark Twain said, whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over. Just over the hill from “Our Valley” is the Klamath Basin, where, about a decade ago, a rabble of disgruntled ranchers effectively hijacked a federal irrigation system and redirected public water to their lands in defiance of administrative and court orders reserving that water for fisheries downstream in the Klamath River. They did this with Dick Cheney’s blessing, and they remain cult heroes in Mountain West property rights circles to this day. Gary Harrington’s self-important asshattery is by no means unprecedented. Perhaps he’s butthurt that the Oregon state courts weren’t chickenshit in his case like the federal authorities were in the face of the water thieves over the hill. It’s a bad idea for the authorities to let the mass theft of public natural resources slide, even if the aggrieved downstream stakeholders include, God help us, reservation Indians. I’m inferring the racial angle, but it’s an educated inference. Relations between the white man and the red man can be pretty bad in Humboldt County and along the Nisqually River, to name just two areas with which I’m familiar, and even self-styled progressives from farming families on the east slope of the Cascades have been known to refer to “our wetbacks.”

But Indians or no Indians, what does one do for the wittle fishies? Something, hopefully. Again, that’s why we have the hated federal agencies and courts, to strike as reasonable and equitable a balance as possible at times when the stakeholders, left to their own devices, might regress to warfare. It’s called civilization; you may not care for it, but I do, and I’m not the only one. On this side of the Cascade-Siskiyou spine, it’s quite fashionable to be pissy that the upper reaches of the Klamath River remain dammed, blocking fish migration. The undam-the-Klamath crowd is correct that the Klamath fishery would probably be healthier and more robust if the dams were removed, but they never explain what would replace the baseload hydroelectric capacity provided by the Boyle Powerhouse. Contrary to popular belief in these parts, one does not simply make renewable electricity. Flood control considerations might be worth taking into account, too. So it turns out that “Undam the Klamath” is a rather daft policy position. I like healthy fisheries and rivers, too, but I try to live in the real world, in which electricity and flood control have to come from somewhere.

This is the same real world, by the way, in which the water that all the proudly self-reliant screechers in the Klamath Basin obtain at below cost to irrigate their thousands of acres of potatoes and alfalfa has to come from somewhere. These irrigation projects are public goods that have contributed massively to the general welfare by allowing huge numbers of people to be efficiently fed, so there’s no reason to be resentful that the rednecks in the Basin are being subsidized, but let’s please be intellectually honest about it. Barack Obama is right: you didn’t build that. You aren’t even paying for it in full, so a bit of gratitude and perspective might be in order. And if you go ahead and steal it and refuse to give it back when so ordered by a court of law, a bit of jail time might be salutary. Just sayin’.

I haven’t really addressed the libertarian angle of the Harrington donnybrook, but it’s pretty straightforward. It’s another iteration of the perennial libertarian tragedy, the saga of a philosophy that in principle facilitates a flourishing of individual freedom and self-determination but in practice gets hijacked by glorified thieves, who often enough reduce their victims, those with less hustle than themselves, to subsisting on cat food. This is why old-school liberals can’t get elected in Russia; too many Russians remember liberal officials doing things like stealing their province’s entire supply of winter heating coal, selling it on the international market, and pocketing the proceeds. Maybe I made Gary Harrington out to be more haut bourgeois than he actually is. He’d be a piker among the oligarchs. But that’s like saying that Mikhail Khodorkovsky is more congenial than Donald Trump. It’s no reason to speak highly of the jerk.