31 January 2006

Fairy chess

I just played a strange game of chess in a dream.

I have a soft spot for chess variants. I think it's my hope that there's one of them that I will actually turn out to be good at, since I'm actually a very poor chess player.

Just a little while ago, I was telling a client about Kriegspiel, a variant in which you cannot see your opponent's pieces. Traditionally, you have a referee who sees the board behind a screen, though I suppose now you can do it with software. A player tries making a move, but then the referee tells them whether or not the move was legal. Unfortunately, I was telling my client about this as a metaphor for their software: their interface had you manipulating data without being able to see it very well, with lots of unpleasant, surprising error messages saying "you can't do that."

Kriegspiel is one of the more famous variants, but there are a number of popular others and there are seemingly endless obscure variations, so probably someone out there has already played the game I played in my dream.

The game started with an empty board and the normal set of pieces, in the custody of each player. Each turn, you could make a normal move or deploy a new piece onto any square. In the dream, this made the early phase of placing pieces seem more like Go than like chess.

I have no idea if this is actually a playable game. In the dream, there was also a rule that you couldn't place a piece to create a situation of check or checkmate. But I think no reasonable player would place their king until last anyway. In fact, it's a flaw of the game as I dreamed it that you could withhold your king, and not place it at all! Fortunately for my dream, I woke up before I got to the end of the placement process.

You could solve that problem by having to place the king as your first move, with the rule that you cannot put your opponent's king into check until you've placed all of your pieces. That's a kind of cool reversal of the normal rules for check, which appeals to my sense of whimsy. And the question of whether to place the king centrally or on the edge adds an interesting layer of playing style.

Alternatively, you could have some rule that compels completion of the placement process. Maybe you must place your king as your next move after you place your queen. This would lead to a player who's losing the advantage wanting to work their way out by summoning their queen, but then the opponent with the advantage would have the choice of countering with a queen with the knowledge of where the first player's queen went. I don't know if that would work. Maybe when one player places their king, the other player must place their king as the following move, which might produce some interesting play where a player who thinks they have an advantage can precipitate the question of kings.

However you solve the king placement problem, you get a game with two phases. It starts with a placement phase, which is more purely about territory, like Go, then switch to a king-hunting phase more like normal chess. Solving the problem of king placement is the key to making it a real game, I think. Though maybe there's something about the board, too; it might make sense to make it a touch bigger, say 10x10.

30 January 2006


I was just talking to a friend about critical thinking skills, and the commonplace lack thereof, and how this is one of the things everyone should learn in school. And I now learn that we ain't even close.
More than half of students at four-year colleges --- and at least 75 percent at two-year colleges --- lack the literacy to handle complex, real-life tasks ...
Like what?
They cannot interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school.
Good gods. Apparently the survey showed folks were worst at math. I'm not talking about understanding calculus, here.
Almost 20 percent of students pursuing four-year degrees had only basic quantitative skills. For example, the students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the service station.
You can download the full report if you want. I'm not sure I can face it.
"It is kind of disturbing that a lot of folks are graduating with a degree and they're not going to be able to do those things," said Stephane Baldi, the study's director ...
"Kind of" disturbing? Ya think?

Look at that first list of examples of things that folks cannot do. Notice something? They're all areas where people were asked to read something that would likely be written with an intent to deceive them. But I'd guess that the folks who created this study didn't even use particularly deceptive examples. And we live in a society where deceiving us has become an industrial process.

The Man doesn't want you to have critical thinking skills. Be a rebel. Go get yourself some.

29 January 2006

Gung hoy fat choy

Happy Year of the Fire Dog!

Today might be a good day to check out Firedoglake, which is a pretty good lefty blog.

28 January 2006


Trogdor has just turned three years old.

Happy trogday to you
Happy trogday to you
Happy trogday, dear Trogdor
Happy trogday to you!

Against the unhappy possibility that you don't know what I'm talking about, run, do not walk, to see Strong Bad's original email about Trogdor.

And for the seriously geeky, fans of both Trogdor and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other high geekiness, I find that video of Trogdor's cameo in the final episode of Buffy is, of course, available on the web.

27 January 2006

Mock Swedish

I haven't seen The Muppet Show since I was a kid. One bit from it that I remember was the episode in which Madeline Kahn was the guest star. It turns out that she can talk to the Swedish Chef, which astonishes the other muppets, who are totally unable to communcate with him. “I rarely get a chance to speak Mock Swedish,” explains Kahn. “I had to learn it for a film rôle years ago, but hardly anyone speaks it.”

I recounted this to a friend a while ago, who thought that was terribly funny, because it turns out that Madeline Kahn really did do a film in Mock Swedish! De Düva is a very funny parody of Ingmar Bergman's films, done in Mock Swedish with English subtitles.

I thought that this was a time-release joke that took me twenty years to get, but it turns out that it's actually a weird stroke of luck in my flawed memory, because the Madeline Kahn gag with the Chef apparently never happened. My memory seems to actually be a mangled recollection of Jean Stapleton's appearance on the show, in which she reveals that she learned Mock Swedish through a correspondence course.

What can I say? It's a joke they should have made.

Update: More Bergman films: from SCTV, from Mystery Science Theatre 3000, from actor Jacques Villeret, from the Muppets, and the superhero film En Fläsh. Plus, of course, Twister with Death.

26 January 2006

Go ahead, make my day

Googling on "Dirty" Harry Callahan's immortal words "go ahead, make my day," I stumbled across a witty and interesting law school paper using the phrase as an example.
The assailant could complete performance, and thus manifest his acceptance of the offer, by continuing to threaten the hostage and risking Callahan’s violent response. This did not happen. Nor is this an example of acceptance by silence. Although the man gave no verbal response, by putting his gun down it effectively established he did not presume to discover what might have made Callahan’s day. As there was no acceptance, no contract was formed.
I hadn't seen Sudden Impact in some time. It turns out that Lt. Callahan was implying that he hoped that a robber would shoot a hostage, thereby giving Callahan justification in shooting the robber.


Now let me say that Callahan's other famous line, from Dirty Harry, doesn't squick me in the same way. At the beginning of the movie, Callahan has just been in a shootout with a bunch of bank robbers and has a bead on the last one who has a gun within easy reach.

I know what you're thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being as this is the .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and could blow your head clean off, you have to ask yourself one question, "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do you, punk?
The robber surrenders, but it turns out Callahan was bluffing. That kind of cool in the face of high stakes is an appealing fantasy. There's a part of me that yearns to be that kind of cool, even if it isn't a fantasy that I actually want to fulfill.

But the "make my day" isn't even appealing on a fantasy level. Callahan isn't even just shooting bad guys, or out-cooling them --- fantasies I can roll with. He's actively hoping that the bad guys make things worse so he has cause for further violent retribution. My fantasies don't look like that. But apparently some people's do.

25 January 2006

Are you ready to rock?

Via MKB, I learn that one person dares to truly consider the question.

(Oh, and that makes me think of another thing entirely.)

24 January 2006

Today's wiretap link

John in DC at AMERICAblog connects the dots about what it means if the Bush administration's illegal wiretaps included taps on journalists. It makes sense, because ...
... journalists have some of the best contacts out there and it's not unusual for journalists to talk to both sides of the story, or in this case, the good guys and the "evil doers." What a better, if not illegal, way to find the terrorists and their associates?

But before you say "yeah, go for it," consider the implications ...

... which are very not-good. Follow the link.

23 January 2006

Notice the hanger

From the magnificent Paul Conrad.

Tree of Life diagram

I know that I have a number of qabalist readers, so it occurred to me that y'all might like to use some new Tree of Life diagram images that I ginned up recently for my own nefarious qabalah doings.

22 January 2006

Joss' obsessions

Somewhere, I recall a bit of advice about writing fiction: that you should figure out what your obsessions are, and go deep into them, rather than trying to stick to what you think other people will find interesting. My man Joss Whedon is an example of this.

In the commentary track for Serenity, he says this over the bit of the film where we see little River, backlit, with an big nasty weapon in each hand, surrounded by countless bad guys who have fallen by her hand.

Here we have the Hero Shot, and I have never used that term more literally in my life. We designed the entire set, and the entire sequence, for this moment. It has been pointed out to me that I have a problem making fiction that doesn't have super-powered adolescent girls in it. I don't care. I think that's one of the sweetest things that I ever shot, and it makes me very happy.

Joss is unusually articulate about the dramatic logic that underlies his work, which is part of my fascination with him — I love getting to see the machinery — and why I keep quoting him here. And in some production notes in the Serenity Visual Companion which I am, yes, nerdy enough to own, he sums up the deal with River very tidily.

She is the monster. She is the damsel. She is the action hero.

I don't know about you, but that's how I like my feminism served: as the main dish on a big plate of pop culture fun.

21 January 2006


Naomi Wolf just admitted that she recently found Jesus.


Apparently, it's now illegal to be anonymous and annoying online. You can go to jail for two years!

Don't get me wrong, I oppose the death penalty but I'm tempted to revisit that position for spammers. But "annoy"? Internet discussion groups were founded on the principle of anonymous annoyance!

20 January 2006

More on Iran

Ken MacLeod is spooked by rumblings of war with Iran.
'There is a feeling of 1914 in the air,' Denis MacShane remarked the other day, about Iran. That feeling is of watching as the machinery grinds towards a war that future historians will look upon with horrified amazement.
Jeanne at Body and Soul asks some hard questions about the Iran situation: given that Iran becoming a nuclear power is apparently inevitable, how did this happen and what should we do?


Via Ashub, I find a guide to forming a heavy metal band full of delightfully unhelpful explanations of the difference between black metal and death metal.
The first thing you need to do if you want to start a band is figure out which genre of metal you are going to dip your toe into: death or black? What's the difference, you ask? Ah, well, that is like asking the difference between a cadaver pregnant with a demon's child and a forest haunted with pedophilic Viking spirits. Like, duh.
There's also some good stuff about how to dress, picking a band name, writing lyrics, and The Golden Girls.

If you decide to go the death metal route, ever-helpful Strong Bad has advice for you. If you go with black metal, I'm afraid you're on your own.

19 January 2006


Dear Mr. Trudeau:

I've enjoyed your strip since I was a young sprout. Usually still do. However.

Please stop being a sanctimonious old fart. (And no, joking about knowing that you are a sanctimonious old fart while you're doing it does not excuse you.) Baby Boomers are not the moral center of the universe. No matter how smart and witty you write Alex, it does not excuse writing Jeff and Zipper as amoral idiots.

I've mentioned this before. Straighten yourself out, man.


Jonathan Korman

18 January 2006

Impeach Bush

52% of Americans polled favour impeachment hearings for the President if he ordered wiretapping Americans without judicial oversight, which means that 52% of Americans favour impeachment hearings, since he did do that. This includes 33% of people who describe themselves as conservatives. (And in case you're wondering, 36% of people polled in 1998 favoured hearings for Bill Clinton.)


Evil and insane

Jeanne at Body and Soul extracts the essence of a story in the Washington Post.
one of the prisoners at Guantanamo, Saddiq Ahmad Turkistani, was freed from a Taliban prison, where he was held for supposedly trying to kill Osama bin Laden --- something he confessed to under torture. He offered to help the United States, with whom he thought he shared a common enemy. The U.S. offered him refuge. He apparently forgot to read the fine print in the deal. He was stripped, tied up, fitted with dark goggles, and tossed on a plane for Cuba, where he has remained for four years.
"I don't see any method at all, sir."

17 January 2006

Urban design in Rio de Janeiro

So a few months back, I spent a week in Brazil. Most folks come back from a trip abroad with pictures of themselves in front of sightseeing attractions. I come back with photos of urban design ... and they didn't even come out that well. But I was pretty excited by the sidewalks in the Leblon district of Rio, where I stayed — and I've been reading City Comforts this week, which is all about this stuff — so I'm posting about it anyway.

The most important thing about them is very difficult to photograph, because it lives the the succession of things that you see walking down the sidewalk. The buildings mostly have a gently partitioned relationship with the sidewalk: there are big shop windows, waist-high concrete fences topped with iron, rows of elegant little metal bollards, trees and bushes, and so forth. So even though the streets are narrow, they don't feel confining, and there's always something to look at.

The sidewalks are also done with this tile mosaic in black and white, made into constantly varying big geometric patterns: swoopy curves and broad stripes. It really livened up the sidewalk, ordinarily so bland, in a simple and tasteful way. It made me think of the city of Neverness, in David Zindell's elegantly written SF novels, which he describes as marked with coloured stripes that make it possible to navigate the twisty, nameless streets; I imagine one might have a city with mosaics like Rio's that obey some rule, such that it would be impossible to get lost because the sidewalks always tell you where you are.

The neighborhood also has slightly sunken bike paths in red brick. The paths weave in and out of normal sidewalk space, and the different colour of the ground keeps you conscious of when you should keep an eye out for cyclists --- and adds a little charm to the sidewalk.


Notice, too, the little bollards in the centerline of the bike path. More gentle partitioning of the space.

Many of the intersections — especially the busy ones — had a very distinctive partition between the cars' street and the pedestrians' sidewalk. Though most of the streets had curbs, the corners had the sidewalk flush with the street, but there were rows of silver balls set into the ground, about a foot and a half high.

This was surprisingly effective in creating a psychological barrier between human and car space, and accomodated people on wheels better than the curb cuts that are common in the US. A beautiful, effective, and distinctive solution to creating that simple partition.

Update: LiveJournal based reader SterlingSF adds a comment ...

Amsterdam also makes use of the slightly separate bike path. It's a little scary when there's a lot of bike traffic becuase you can brush against the curb.
... and points out a cool collection of pictures of bike paths around the world.

16 January 2006


For more than a decade, I've been spamming people with this note every year. Now that I have a blog, I'm just sticking to re-posting every year. If you were here this time last year, read it again anyway.

Really. Take a few minutes. I think it's important ...

15 January 2006

Political ambition

I learn that a Mr. Jonathon Sharkey is running for Governor of Minnesota in 2006.
Honesty is very seldom heard nowadays, especially from a politician. So, I am going to break from political tradition. My name is Jonathon "The Impaler" Sharkey, Ph.D., L.D.D.D. I am a Satanic Dark Priest, Sanguinarian Vampyre and a Hecate Witch
Don't worry, folks. He assures us he's not evil. I'm inclined to take him at his word. Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey, after all, had a love of the theatrical but was no more evil than Bela Lugosi.

In spite of this possible political handicap, I like his chances. He's a former pro wrestler, like another successful dark horse candidate for the job was recently. Recent events have taught us that there is no embarassment on video so horrendous that it will prevent you from becoming Governor of California. (And really, you gotta watch the whole thing. It just gets worse and worse.)

Oh, and Sharkey plans on running for President of the United States in 2008. Give 'em hell, Jonathon.

(BTW, I see via Indri at Waterbones that bOING bOING has picked up the story --- and both of them have interesting things to say about him --- but I actually got it early via Dragonladyflame.)

14 January 2006


Via Warren Ellis, I learn that this map was apparently made in China a few decades before Christopher Columbus was even born. Or was it?

From Joe Bageant

This post was originally a quote-and-link to “Revenge of the Mutt People”, calling it “a long, brilliant, poetic, ugly screed singing both the pains and the dangers of the hungry, angry American white working class” and “a good counterpoint to my old post about the mass psychology of Republicanism.”. The original has linkrotted away, so I am posting it and a few other favorites of Joe Bageant’s writing, rescued from the internet archive. He was my favorite commentator on the thing we are talking about when we are talking about the conservative white working class; his book Deer Hunting With Jesus has my hightest recommendation.

Revenge of the Mutt People

January 2006

There are some things so disgusting that only a white man would be willing to do them.
— Walter Wildshoe, Coeur d’Alene Indian

Many years ago I worked at an industrial hog farm owned by the Coeur d’Alene Indian tribe in northern Idaho. The place stank of the dead and rotting brood sows we chopped out of farrowing crates -- bred to death in the drive for pork production. And it stank of the massive ponds that held millions of gallons of hog feces and rotting baby pigs, and every square inch was poisoned by the pesticides used to kill insects that hogs attract and the antibiotics fed to hogs from hundred pound sacks. The Coeur d’Alene Indians refused to suffer those kinds of conditions; they wouldn’t even manage the place. They contracted it out. As my friend Walter Wildshoe said: “Only a white man would work there.”

The hog farm, however, offered one company benefit. The white manager gave employees any young pigs that developed large tumors -- those with tumors smaller than golf calls went to market with the rest of the hogs -- or were born with deformities such as heads scrunched sideways with both eyes on the same side, or a leg that stuck out of the muchtop of their body instead of the bottom. We employees would butcher and eat them. Among hog farm employees, all of whom were tough descendants of the Scots Irish mutt people, free pork of any kind was prized, deformed with tumors or otherwise. You never saw a Swede eat the stuff.

So I took these pigs home and, using a huge old butcher’s knife, slashed their throats in the woods, right in front of my two kids -- ages two and four at the time -- without flinching even as the pigs screamed almost like humans and thrashed around, splashing thick dark glops of blood everywhere. It bothered me not one bit, just like it never bothered my daddy or granddaddy. Nor did it seem to bother my children as they watched, just like it didn’t bother me as a child when my uncle handed me sacks of barn kittens to drown in the crick. And Walter would shake his head and say, “Only a white man would wrestle a hog with a butcher knife. An Indian would shoot the motherfucker with a gun.”

My point here is that we rural and small town mutt people by an early age seem to have a special capacity for cruelty, compared say, to damned near every other imaginable group of Americans. For instance, as a child did you ever put a firecracker up a toad’s ass and light it? George Bush and I have that in common. Anyway, as all non-whites the world round understand, white people can be mean. Especially if they feel threatened -- and they feel threatened about everything these days. But when you provide certain species of white mutt people with the right incentives, such as free pork or approval from god and government, you get things like lynchings, Fallujah, the Birmingham bombers and Abu Ghraib.

Even as this is being written we may safely assume some of my tribe of mutt people are stifling the screams of captives in America’s secret “black site” prisons across the planet. Or on a more mundane scale of cruelty (according to CBS footage) kicking hundreds of chickens to death every day at the Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Wardensville, West Virginia, just up the road from where I am writing this. Or consider the image of Matthew Shepard’s body twisted on that Wyoming fence. All these are our handiwork. We the mutt faced sons and daughters of the republic. Born to kick your chicken breast meat to death for you in the darkest, most dismal corners of our great land, born to kill and be killed in stock car races, drunken domestic rows, and of course in the desert dusty back streets at the edges of the empire. Middle class urban liberals may never claim us as brothers, much less willing servants, but as they say in prison, we are your meat. We do your bidding. Your refusal to admit that we do your dirty work for you, not to mention the international smackdowns and muggings for the republic -- from which you benefit more materially than we ever will -- makes it no less true.

Literally from birth, we get plenty of conditioning to kill those gooks and sand monkeys and whoever else needs killing at any particular moment in history according to our leadership. Like most cracker kids in my generation, from the time I could walk I played games in which I pretended to (practiced for) killing -- Japs, Indians, Germans, Koreans, Africans Zulus (as seen in the movies Zulu and Uhuru!) variously playing the role of U.S. cavalry, Vikings a la Kirk Douglas, World War II GIs, colonial soldiers, and of course Confederate soldiers. As little white cracklets we played with plastic army men that we tortured by flame, firecracker, burning rivulets of gasoline, kerosene or lighter fluid. And if atomic bombing was called for, M-80s and ash cans. We went to sleep dreaming of the screams of the evil brutes we had smitten that day, all those slant eyed and swasticated enemies of democracy and our way of life. Later as post-cracklets in high school we rode around in cars looking to fight anyone who was different, the “other,” be they black, brown, or simply from another school or county. As young men we brawled at dances, parties or simply while staring at one another bored and drunk. We bashed each over women, less-than weight bags of dope, money owed and alleged insult to honor, wife, mother or model of car -- Ford versus Chevy. In other words, all of white trash culture’s noblest causes. With the “fighting tradition” of Scots Irish behind us, we smashed upon each other ceaselessly in trailer court and tavern, night and day in rain and summer heat until finally, we reach our mid-fifties and lose our enthusiasm (not to mention stamina) for that most venerated of borderer sports.

Said meanness is polished to a high gloss murderous piety most useful to the military establishment. Thus, by the time we are of military age (which is about twelve) we are capable of doing a Lynndie England on any type of human being unfamiliar to us from our culturally ignorant viewpoint -- doing it to the “other.” Sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, most of us, given the nod, can torture the other as mindlessly as a cat plays with a mouse. That we can do it so readily and without remorse is one of the darkest secrets of underlying the “heroes” mythology the culture machine is so fervently ginning up about the ongoing series of wars now just unfolding. And when one of us is killed by a rooftop sniper in Baghdad we weep and sweat in our fear, band closer together as Border brothers in the ancient oath of ultimate fealty and courage. And we meant it and we do it.

About half of the Americans killed in Iraq come from communities like Winchester, Virginia or Romney, West Virginia or Fisher, Illinois or Kilgore, Texas or ... About forty-five percent of the American dead in Iraq come from communities of less than 40,000, even though these towns make up only twenty-five percent of our population. These so-called volunteers are part of this nation's de facto draft -- economic conscription -- the carrot being politically preferable to the whip. The carrot does not have to be very big out here where delivering frozen food wholesale to restaurants out of your own car entirely on commission is considered a good self-employment opportunity. I’m serious. One of my sons did it for a couple of months.

Once you grasp the implications of such an environment regarding the so-called American Dream, the U.S. Army at thirteen hundred bucks a month, a signing bonus and free room and board begin to look pretty good. Even a nice long ass kicking tour of the tropics killing brown guys becomes attractive. Especially compared to competing with other little brown guys at home, humping “big-roll sod” across ever-expanding MacMansionland. In the process, we mutt people learn worldly lessons that the post graduate set raving about the jobless economy cannot know. For instance we know firsthand that there is no way to beat little brown sod balling guys willing to sleep in their cars and live on canned beans and store brand soda. Better to go “volunteer” for the Army.

Along with the military come those big bucks for college later, up to $65,000, which according to current wisdom is more than enough to buy your way out of the beans and soda pop car camp at the edge of the new Toll Brothers development. Maybe some poor kids do go to college on their military benefits. But personally speaking, I can count the number on one hand I know who ever did. Most of them were black. The rest seem to go to the local truck driving school (rip-offs designed to collect government money) or the ITI “vocational career training,” again designed to hoover up federal dough. Let's be honest here: graduating from the average American cracker high school here in the suburban heartland is not exactly the path to Harvard Yard. Your best educational option is probably the one you are looking at on the matchbook cover.

Now that education has been reduced to just another industry, a series of stratified job training mills, ranging from the truck driving schools to the state universities, our nation is no longer capable of creating a truly educated citizenry. Education is not supposed to be an industry. Its proper use is not to serve industries, either by cranking out feckless little mid-management robots or through industry purchased research chasing after a better hard-on drug. Its proper use is to enable citizens to live responsible lives that create and enhance their democratic culture. This cannot be merely by generating and accumulating mountains of information, facts without cultural, artistic, philosophical and human context or priority.

No one should be forced to dive into an ocean of debt to learn how the world works, much less escape minimum wage hell. It should be enough just to want to know. Then too, look at our educational institutions. Academia, at least from this outsider's perspective, is an almost impenetrable veneer of elitist flatulence and toxic competition. Jesus, no wonder this country is in such sorry shape.
— Arvin Hill, Texas philosopher

How in the hell did knowledge become so commoditized in America? Dumb question. After all, what do we expect from a nation of pickle vendors who will charge you for the air you breathe, and then make you beg for your change? At first blush, higher education and the working class Scots Irish mutt people seem to be oil and water. Maybe so. But the majority of them also have a snowball’s chance in Florida of getting a higher education. Especially when it comes to the institutions of learning that constitute our elite springboard into careers in law and politics, business and science. The Yales and the Harvards and Princetons.

For example, according to the Wall Street Journal, Asians constitute about 2% of the population but make up over 20% of Harvard graduates. About one third of Harvard graduates identify themselves as Jewish. Together Jews and Asians make up about half of Harvard graduates. Subtract these, plus the 15% minority quota and that leaves maybe 40% of openings for the 75 or 80% of white Americans who are not Jewish, Asian, Latino or black or whatever. Now throw in the skew of northeastern WASPs at elite universities and we are left with maybe 20% of openings for 60% of white Americans. It presents a sorry damned picture of liberal East Coast WASPs and Jews and minorities getting all the prime educational gravy. The neocon leadership is right when they tell working white Americans the system has been stacked against them by an unseen hand, though they never mention that their own kids are among the silver spooners rowing around in the Ivy League gravy boat.

I know I’ll get clobbered by Jewish and black critics for pointing this out. But liberal refusal to see white people as also being diverse, and seeing that some of them indeed need their own sort of affirmative action is exactly the kind of thing that helped the neocons lead these working white people buy the nose. Education is everything. You know it and I know it. And what the white working classes don’t know because lack of education has hurt you and me and them.

So why in the hell don’t we help this group of people into college and into the institutions that are elite springboards to careers in law and politics? Why not have affirmative action for Appalachian kids from the Ohio Basin or from the Deep South or anyplace else where tens of millions of kids grow up in houses containing not a single book, except possibly the Bible. Why don’t we do these things? Part of the reason is that this stubborn proud people does not whine beg or threaten its way to access to education, employment or anything else. And part of it is because we unquestioningly accept a system that calls greed and self-interest drive, thus letting the prosperous professional and business classes pretend there is no disparity around them for which they might just be partially responsible, even as they pay the maid and the gardener who lack health insurance a pittance -- or see that their mechanic’s bill reads, “repare of fuul injection, $105.” And because liberals have driven secularism into the ground and broken it off, and need to actually adhere to some religious values -- real ones -- even if we don’t feel particularly inclined toward religion. (Psst! Everybody else in America DOES feel inclined toward it.)

So we will either see that Americans, religious or not, get educated equally so they won’t be suckered by political and religious hucksters. If not, then we must accept that uneducated people interpret politics in an uninformed and emotional manner, and accept the consequences. America can no longer withstand the political naiveté of this ignored white class. Middle class American liberals cannot have it both ways. It has come down to the simplest and most profound element of democracy: Fairness. Someday middle class American liberals will have to cop to fraternity and justice and the fact that we are our brother’s keeper, whether we like it or not. They’re going to have to sit down and actually speak to these people they consider ugly, overweight, ill educated and in poor taste. At some point down the road all the Montessori schools and Ivy League degrees in the world are not going to save your children and grandchildren from what our intellectual peasantry, whether born of neglect or purposefully maintained, is capable of supporting politically. We’ve all seen the gritty black and white newsreels from the 1930s.

A member of this peasantry, I quit school at age sixteen in the eleventh grade to join the U.S. Navy. I hated school, hated the social class differences in a small town that make life so miserable during adolescence, when one’s community and social status is being nailed down permanently for anyone planning on staying here. As a former young white cracklet I can say with all confidence that when you live with a rusty coal stove in the middle of the living room for heat, your old man smells of gasoline and motor oil no matter how much he bathes and your mom suffers from strange, unpredictable behavior due to untreated depression, you do not much feel like inviting the doctor’s daughter home. Or anyone’s daughter for that matter. Doctor’s son = College, career, golf, nice car and a bimbo. Redneck laborer’s son = Well, if you stay out of trouble, there’s always room for one more broad shouldered chinless pinhead stamping out bright yellow plastic mop buckets on the injection molds at Rubbermaid.

Thus, at sixteen and choosing options, I decided that launching fighter jets from the deck of an aircraft carrier to kill gooks and the notion of pussy and booze on some exotic foreign shore looked damned good. When I think about what happened to my boyhood friends who stayed home and put in 30 years at Rubbermaid, my choice doesn’t sound that bad even today. They all became redneck ultra-conservatives, mostly out of some sort of fear and bitterness that I can never seem to put my finger on. But I knew these people in a younger and more hopeful time. I know they were capable of -- not to mention deserved -- more than they got out of life. Maybe their bitterness stems from that.

Meanwhile, their kids do the same as they did. Go uneducated. Sometimes I walk the street on which I grew up. And when I look around I see the same kinds of kids as ever. They are all fatter, but they are the same cigarette-smoking, know-nothing white punks that I was, the tough sons and daughters of the unwashed. In my old neighborhood where over one-quarter of adults do not have a high school diploma, there are lots of yellow ribbons in the windows, Marine Corps and Army parent’s icons on the porches and scrubby lawns, evidence enough that you do not need an education to contribute something of value the far-flung perimeter of our expanding empire of blood and commerce. Pure meanness is highly valued in Caesar’s legions. Lots of Americans don't seem to mind having a pack of young American pit bulls savage some flyblown desert nation, or running loose in the White House for that matter, as long as they are our pit bulls protecting Wall Street and the 401-Ks of the upper middle class.

The problem is this: pit bulls always escalate the fight and keep at it until the last dog is dead, leaving the gentler breeds to clean up the blood spilled. We mutt people, the pit bulls, have always been your own, whether you claim us or not. And until you accept that you are your brother’s keeper, and help deliver us from ignorance, you will continue to have on your hands some of every drop of blood spilled -- from the sands of Iraq to the streets of East L.A. All the socially responsible stock portfolios, little hybrid cars and post-modernist deconstruction in the world will not wash it off.

What the “Left Behind” Series Really Means

December 2005

Jesus merely raised one hand a few inches and a yawning chasm opened in the earth, stretching far and wide enough to swallow all of them. They tumbled in, howling and screeching, but their wailing was soon quashed and all was silent when the earth closed itself again.
— From Glorious Appearing by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins
The best thing about the Left Behind books is the way the non-Christians get their guts pulled out by God.
-- 15-year old fundamentalist fan of the Left Behind series

That is the sophisticated language and appeal of America’s all-time best selling adult novels celebrating the ethnic cleansing of non-Christians at the hands of Christ. If a Muslim were to write an Islamic version of the last book in the Left Behind series, Glorious Appearing, and publish it across the Middle East, Americans would go beserk. Yet tens of millions of Christians eagerly await and celebrate an End Time when everyone who disagrees with them will be murdered in ways that make Islamic beheading look like a bridal shower. Jesus -- who apparently has a much nastier streak than we have been led to believe -- merely speaks and “the bodies of the enemy are ripped wide open down the middle.” In the book Christians have to drive carefully to avoid “hitting splayed and filleted corpses of men and women and horses” Even as the riders’ tongues are melting in their mouths and they are being wide open gutted by God’s own hand, the poor damned horses are getting the same treatment. Sort of a divinely inspired version of “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.”

This may be some of the bloodiest hate fiction ever published, but it is also what tens of millions of Americans believe is God’s will. It is approximately what everyone in the congregation sitting around me last Sunday at my brother’s church believes. Or some version of it. How can anyone acquire and hold such notions? Answer: The same way you got yours and I got mine. Conditioning. From family and school and society, but from within a different American caste than the one in which you were raised. And from things stamped deep in childhood -- such as coming home terrified to an empty house.

One September day when I was in the third grade I got off the school bus and walked up the red dust powdered lane to my house only to find no one there. The smudgy white front door of the old frame house stood open. My footsteps on the unpainted gray porch creaked in the fall stillness. With increasing panic, I went through every room, and then ran around the outside crying and sobbing in the grip of the most horrific loneliness and terror. I believed with all my heart that The Rapture had come and that all my family had been taken up to heaven leaving me alone on earth to face God’s terrible wrath. As it turned out they were at the neighbor’s house scarcely 300 yards down the road, and returned in a few minutes. But it took me hours to calm down. I dreamed about it for years afterward.

Since then I have spoken to others raised in fundamentalist families who had the same childhood experience of coming home and thinking everyone had been “raptured up.” The Rapture -- the time when God takes up all saved Christians before he lets loose slaughter, pestilence and torture upon the earth -- is very real to people in whom its glorious and grisly promise was instilled and cultivated from birth. Even those who escape fundamentalism agree its marks are permanent. We may no longer believe in being raptured up, but the grim fundamentalist architecture of the soul stands in the background of our days. There is an apocalyptic starkness that remains somewhere inside us, one that tinges all of our feelings and thoughts of higher matters. Especially about death, oh beautiful and terrible death, for naked eternity is more real to us than to you secular humanists. I get mail from hundreds of folks like me, the different ones who fled and became lawyers and teachers and therapists and car mechanics, dope dealers and stockbrokers and waitresses. And every one of them has felt that thing we understand between us, that skulls piled clear to heaven redemption through absolute self worthlessness and you ain’t shit in the eyes of God so go bleed to death in some dark corner stab in the heart at those very moments when we should have been most proud of ourselves. Self-hate. That thing that makes us sabotage our own inner happiness when we are most free and operating as self-realizing individuals. This kind of Christianity is a black thing. It is a blood religion, that willingly gives up sons to America’s campaigns in the Holy Land, hoping they will bring on the much-anticipated war between good and evil in the Middle East that will hasten the End Times. Bring Jesus back to Earth.

Whatever the case, tens of millions of American fundamentalists, despite their claims otherwise, read and absorb the all-time best selling Left Behind book series as prophesy and fact. How could they possibly not after being conditioned all their lives to accept the End Times as the ultimate reality? We are talking about a group of Americans 20% of whose children graduate from high school identifying H2O as a cable channel. Children who, like their parents and grandparents, come from that roughly half of all Americans who can approximately read, but are dysfunctionally literate to the extent they cannot grasp any textual abstraction or overall thematic content.

Most of my family and their church friends (mainly the women) have read at least some of the Left Behind series and if pressed they will claim they understand that it is fiction. But anyone who has heard fundies around the kitchen table discussing the books knows the claim is pure bullshit. “Well, they do get an awful lot of stuff exactly right,” they admit. Beyond that, most fundamentalists delight in seeing their beliefs as “persecuted Christians” become best sellers “under the guise of fiction,” as the Pentecostal assistant who used to work with me put it. “They show the triumph of the righteous over those who persecute us for our faith in God.” Fer cryin out loud, Christianity is scarcely a persecuted belief system in this country, or in need of a guise to protect itself. Year after year some 60% of Americans surveyed say they believe the Book of Revelations will come true and about 40% believe it will come true in their lifetimes. This from the 50% of Americans who, according to statistics, seldom if ever buy a book.

Fetishizing of the End Times as a spectacular gore-fest visited upon on the unbelievers is nothing new. But the sheer number of people gleefully enjoying the spectacle of their own blackest magical thinking made manifest by mass media is new. Or at least the media aspect is new. It reinforces the major appeal of these beliefs, the appeal being (to restate the obvious) that they get to pass judgment on everyone who disagrees with them, and then watch God kick the living snot out of them. It doesn’t get any better than that.

All my life I have seen these people and there are no more or less of them proportionately than before. It is simply that, A) they have built their own massive media, and B) educated middle class folks are noticing them now because they vote and a major political party is willing to violate the church-state boundary to get their votes. They have always been out here and always in about the same percentages. Think about that. It took me a while to accept it too. But George W. Bush learned the significance of this while campaigning for his daddy back when he was supposed to be at his National Guard meetings. Part of his job was to bring in the fundie Christian vote for Poppy. Come George’s turn to play poker for the presidency in that quadrennial rich man’s game we call elections, Sparky knew what cards to play. The effete John Kerry had not a clue. Still doesn’t. Neither did you. Right? Don’t feel bad. I even knew the great unwashed tribes of the faithful were out here, wrote spooky and panicked articles about it before the elections and still underestimated the capability of the death obsessed Christian right.

Lookie here. If you think I’m overcounting, think one more time about those Left Behind books that have sold over 65 million copies at this writing. Sold to people who do not even like or buy books. Gore Vidal and Susan Sontag never wrote anything that sold 65 million. That lead-footed prose and numbing predictability that Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye grind out in the Left Behind series might not even be called writing. But whatever it is, at least 65 million folks that our nation failed to educate find deep meaning and solace in it. LaHaye has also sold 120 million non-fiction books, which makes him the most successful Christian writer since the Bible.

Sales figures aside, it is entirely possible that the Left Behind series is as important in our time and cultural context as was, say, Harriet Beecher’s Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in its time, wherein Lincoln called it “the little book that started the big war.” The truth is that LaHaye is among the most influential religious writers America ever produced and is the most powerful fundamentalist in America today. He is the founder and first president of the eerily secretive Council for National Policy, which brings together leading evangelicals and other conservatives with right-wing billionaires willing to pay for a conservative religious revolution. He is far more influential than Billy Graham or Pat Robertson and was the man who inspired Jerry Falwell to launch the Moral Majority. He gave millions of dollars to Falwell’s Liberty University. He’s the man without whom Ronald Reagan would never have become governor of California and the man who grilled George W. Bush, then wiped the cocaine off George’s nose and gave him the official Christian fundie stamp of approval. He created the American Coalition for Traditional Values that has mobilized evangelical voters, putting neo-conservative wackjobs into political offices across the nation. In short, he is the Godfather of Soul, fundie style. When the man lays it down, his peeps doo dey duty.

Scratch LaHaye and you’ll find an honest-to-god surviving John Bircher. In the 1960s when LaHaye was a young up-and-coming Baptist preacher fresh out of Bob Jones University, he lectured on behalf of Republican Robert Welch’s John Birch Society. We are talking about a man who believed Dwight Eisenhower was an agent of the Communist Party taking orders from his brother, Milt Eisenhower. Along the way LaHaye extended his paranoid list of villains to include secular humanists who “are Satan’s agents hiding behind the Constitution.” And the only way to destroy them is to destroy their cover.

I have asked preachers about the Left Behind books. They all claim to have reservations about them. Fundie preachers are snarky about any beliefs that do not precisely mirror their own, and no two ever agree completely. They publicly find fault with the apocalyptic Left Behind books even as they privately enjoy the books’ popularity. Most say the series overestimates the number of people going to heaven. Which figures, given that their stock and trade is the divine exclusivity of a club called “The Saved.” No sense in ruining the brand by franchising it too cheaply.

Same goes for television as for the Christian pop-lit. Fundamentalists delighted in the NBC series Revelations. Admittedly it was a bullshit job from network people who had not the slightest understanding of the subject, but could smell more money the closer they got to it. They were right. Xian fundies sucked it up. Coolly as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, the fundies I know denied they enjoyed Revelations at all because the producers “got some things wrong,” (as if it were possible to be wrong regarding dire predictions made centuries ago by superstitious mystic fanatics about something that never came to pass.) They say the main thing wrong was having Christ return as a little child. Most hardcore fundies preferred their vision of a Rambo Jesus arriving to beat the fuck out of everybody who ever disagreed with Him or them -- sinners’ eyeballs turning to putrid jelly, blood flowing everywhere, etc. (In Revelations Jesus arrives on horseback wearing a blood soaked robe.)

These media products are more than harmless American Christian kitsch culture or just more American religious swill. Swill it may be, but it is also dangerous propaganda and the writers know damned well that propaganda value. Just as the propaganda value of associating Jewish people with rats in Nazi Germany helped the German populace accept persecution of the Jews, the Left Behind books foster a morality that excuses horrors done to “non-believers.” Forget about sanity and reason. Christian fundamentalist media promotes a hermetic worldview cut off from reason. From the standpoint of those who consume such media messages, it is not so much propaganda as it is an abundant offering so complete as to be a parallel bizzaro world of its own. It gives answers to questions not even asked.

It is a world in which the Secretary General of the United Nations is the anti-Christ (Left Behind) and the “Clinton Crime Family” deals in cocaine and is linked to the Gambino family (Joshua Project, and other sources.) It is one in which abortion doctors are microwaving and eating fetuses according to testimony given by anti-abortionists before a Kansas House subcommittee (WorldNetDaily, of course) and where crowds of good folks get teary-eyed as Rev. Pat Evans, of the NASCAR “Racing for Jesus Ministries’ rumbles onto the track. Evangelical NASCAR? Yup. What ABC called America’s “unapologetically evangelical sport.” I can see you dear reader, running and holding your head and screaming at the thought. Yet it’s true. At Bristol and Talladega the earth is shaking for Jaaaayzus! Now that we have Evangelical NASCAR, what, I ask you, can ever go wrong?

“To be saved is to fall into the ludicrous and satanic flippancy of false piety, kitsch.” -- Trappist monk Thomas Merton

Forty years later Merton is still right. Like most American liberals, not to mention all of Europe and the rest of the world, I learned through education to write the U.S. born-again literature off as kitsch religion, merely bad theology in an unholy marriage to bad writing. Another product of the American Jesus industry. If we liberals can name it, assign it to some appropriately vulgar and sentimental corner of our degraded culture, and then remain tolerant of it, then we feel have dealt with the damned thing. After all, it is the comparative worldview of the teeming red state masses. But there is certain arrogance in such pop cultural erudition and thin worldliness, isn’t there? In itself, our attitude is too flip.

It took coming home to a born again red state to realize how cultural documents such as Left Behind or the movies Revelations and Passion of the Christ do great harm, and at a critical time when we are facing economic upheaval, fighting illegal wars and suffering deep religious antipathies across the planet. “Aw,” my liberal New York and West Coast friends tell me, “That is overstating the case. The Democrats will eventually be back in power.” We cannot afford to wait a few more years and see. No matter if the Dems actually can be elected back into powerlessness, they will have needed at least some of these people’s votes to get there. Next election we will find out if it is possible to be elected without the fundamentalist Christians. So far the Democratic political elite, who only take their thumb out of their ass to change thumbs, has not been able to stop the religious right’s relentless push. And I think it is because, at least from where I sit right now, the democratic establishment has not offered, much less delivered, and is incapable of delivering what my people really need -- decent educations so they will not be prey to three thousand year old superstitions. The left has yet to demand for all Americans a genuine absolutely free education, an opportunity to enjoy a life of the mind, or to even know such a thing exists. Hell, you got yours and I got mine, right? So screw’em. We progressives have failed. We were always and still are our brother’s keeper and now the throw-away Americans, the ugly little dickhead at the car wash and the truck driver and the guy who delivers the bottled water to our offices are coming to get our assess, even though they aren’t quite sure why. My Random House editor told me not to get on a soapbox about this, but I cannot help it. (Sorry, Rachel)

I am not trying to be smart-assed, but to indicate the fear of what is unfolding around me as a person living in the belly of the beast. The reality gap between fundamentalist and urban liberals is unfathomable. Liberal observers watching from a safe distance in New York or San Francisco conclude it is pure stupidity that caused millions of Americans to continue support of the Bush junta in the face of overwhelming evidence of lies, deceit and contempt for the constitution, even as the fat cats raided their retirements and picked their pockets at every turn. Others think it is just plain meanness that attracted them to Bush. And so do I sometimes, because stupidity (the Jesus stockcar entries should be proof enough) and meanness are surely part of the attraction to a certain type of conservative -- that poisonous toad Karl Rove being their chief deity of meanness for meanness sake.

There remains one nagging problem. Despite their masochistic voting patterns, fundamentalists are very ordinary and normal Americans. People who often as not go out of their way to help others and endorse most American values. So how do we reconcile the warmth and good nature of these hardworking citizens with the repressive politics, intolerance, nationalism and warmaking they support? Why do such ordinary people do such awful things? The Germans have been wrestling with that one for 60 years, and sixty more years from now they still will have not solved the riddle in any meaningful way for the rest of the world. Barring ecological and cultural collapse, historians will say America suffered under the same sort of extraordinary delusion, a national hallucination of God and empire and exceptionalism. The thing about a hallucination -- and take it from a person who has enjoyed many fine ones on various chemicals and herbs -- is that it is a convincing reality in its time. Try talking to a fundamentalist about politics and God for an hour. You will see the spell that holds sway. Let us be thankful for pro sports or we would have nothing whatsoever to talk about on those rare occasions when a fundamentalist and a liberal ever bother to speak to one another.

Allow me to get down to the nub of this and say what urban liberals cannot allow themselves to say out loud: “Christian majority or not, the readers of such apocalyptic books as the Left Behind series are some pretty damned dumb motherfuckers caught up in their own black, vindictive fantasy.” There. I said it for you. Let us proceed.

Beyond that, there is a more mundane aspect of the success of the Left Behind books. It is fair to say that Left Behind readers are happy to discover a pop-lit phenomenon that they can participate in at all -- popular literature that doesn’t conflict with their insulated and armor plated world view. At last they have something else to read besides Guideposts and Readers Digest, both of which pass as highbrow lit in most fundamentalist households. Aw come on. You know it is the truth the same as I do. If you go into the homes of most fundamentalists, you will not find many books at all, much less books that contain real ideas. Now they have the Left Behind series, the huge sales of which, as they see it, validate their beliefs. I know I am painting with a mighty wide brush, but so what? It’s by and large true. Considering that by no means do all fundamentalists believe in The Rapture, and that the whole Rapture thing is a cult within a larger cult, the popularity of the Left Behind series says something about the sheer scale of apocalyptic Christianity in the American heartland today. Do the readers believe the books? Again, I would say most do. Here are a couple of typical reader testimonials for the books:

This series of books is the best I have ever read. I have looked long and hard to find a resource that put scripture into easy to read, and understand format. Many people I know get frustrated when they try to read scripture because they have trouble understanding the language. ... Now after reading these books I have a better understanding of where I stand at this moment.
I started reading the Left Behind series in 2000 with the first book in paperback. ... I read it and was impressed with how well written it was and have read or own every book. In impact, it has gotten me closer to God than where I was before. ... I grew up in church, but was always afraid of what was supposed to happen at the end times. I was afraid of the Book of Revelation, because the thought of all of the evil that had to be fought terrified me. While reading the Left Behind series, I followed along with my Bible, and I am so excited that I am understanding and learning more than I ever have. I am no longer afraid of the fight against evil, because I know that I am on the side of the greatest and most powerful force. Thank you for getting me started on this path of learning.

These people may not be your neighbors or friends, but they are ordinary and typical Americans. If you the reader are a college educated middle class person, then folks like those above outnumber you roughly three to one in this country. If that is not reason enough to drink, then I don’t know what is. No matter what happens, in the next election, we are going to be dealing for a long time to come with millions of voters who think Left Behind is great literature, spiritual guidance and a political primer all in one. Do we really think that cartload of bloated hacks called the Democratic Party knows what to do about this? Do you really think Howard Dean has a clue about how to deal with this entire class of Americans. Hardly. And besides, even if the Dems can get elected again and restored to the impotency they have come to represent, they will have needed these people’s votes to get there. Or they simply will not get there. So let’s not expect the Democratic political elite to save us from watching the fundie takeover attempts escalate in the future (In which case, assuming my book makes some real dough, I will be watching from abroad, thank you.) Essentially it comes down to the fact that a very large portion of Americans are crazier than shithouse rats and are being led by a gang of pathological misfits, most of whom are preachers and politicians. We are not talking about simple religious faith here. There is a world of difference between having religious faith and being a born-again zealot who believes in his heart that he is thumping Darwinian demons out of classrooms and that Ted Kennedy is the anti-Christ. Trading down to the Democratic party of the pussies really will not save us. It will just buy a little time. But we have whipped the hell out of this dead horse before, haven’t we? Forgive me.

Meanwhile, we are left to contemplate communication with these folks, people whose leaders deliver unfathomable pronouncements such as the following one regarding family finances and the national economy from a Christian radio broadcast.

The mystery of the harlot of Jerusalem is solved, people! Praise the Lord! Deuteronomy 15:6 says plain as the nose on your face that “For the LORD thy God blesseth thee, as he promised thee: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow; and thou shalt reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over thee. Therefore, the harlot is NOT the gentile nations! “The harlot controls and rules over the gentile nations, sitting on them.” Rev 17:1. And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: Rev 17:15. And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. NOW IS THAT NOT PROOF ENOUGH?

Get that?

Me neither.

But what the hell. It makes sense to millions of voting Americans. So do I hear a great big Amen out there?


I get reminders of fundamentalism’s dark magical thinking every day. And it is always the little unexpected ones that slap me hardest with the reality that these people are in the grip of their mass delusion 24 hours a day. A couple of weeks ago I loaned my brother my old truck until he could get his engine rebuilt. A week later he retuned it with much sincere thanks and a smile. On the vent window of my truck is a 4-inch decal, a silhouette of two square dancers (my father-in-law, who gave me the truck, was a square dancer.) When I climbed into it the next day I noticed that the square dancers were covered over both inside and outside the glass with two layers of duct tape. After all, we cannot be riding around in trucks with demonic emblems blasting out invisible rays of Satan’s “Power of the air,” can we?

It Ain’t Easy Being White

March 2005

As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged.
— Justice William O. Douglas, Supreme Court justice
Would the sonovabitch who super-glued my hair to the bar when I passed out please come take your goddamned beating like a man!
— Pooty Jenkins, welder

“Pooty don’t you ever wash them booger hooks of yours?” That’s Carol the bartender watching Poot pick up his Royal Burger with two blackened hairy paws that look like they just finished welding a greasy transmission housing back together -- which is exactly what they did. “Carol Darlin,” Poot replies, “FUCK YOU.”

Nobody ever claimed dining at a working man’s joint like Burt’s Tavern was a polished experience. Or even sanitary.

Whatever the case, some of us will be buying Poot rounds tonight because A: he tends to get drunk and forget to pay his tab, and B: he just lost his job at the metal fabrication plant to some sweatshop in Bangkok. Pooty has been here an hour already, long enough to get warmed up for the evening. “I’m gonna follow my job to Indyneezya! Um-hum! Then I’m gonna strangle the livin piss out of the little motherfuckin gooks.” Nevermind that Bangkok is in Thailand, not Indonesia. It has little bearing on this evening, which I suspect will be a long one.

“Shuddap ya goddam ape!” yells someone in the back. Poot is a godamned ape. Even his own wife says so. She once stood up in the tavern and called Poot “nothin but a goddamned ape!” which has become sort of the Pooty meme around here. The punch-line. Whenever he gets to be too much someone will say, “Aw Poot, yer nuthin but a goddam ape,” and everybody will laugh and Poot will let up on whatever offensive or tedious jag he happens to be on at the moment -- usually the Redskins or deer hunting laws.

He’s a fun ape though. Pooty is the guy who once bolted one end of a 60-foot chain to the rear bumper of a police car and the other to the Confederate statue in front of the court house, then raced right down Main Street by the police station at 1 a.m. The result was moreover predictable with regard to both the police car bumper and officer Danny Fogle’s sphincter. We were 17 then, full of piss ‘n vinegar and not above such pranks as greasing the railroad tracks through town with lard. If a kid pulled that today he’d get 10 years, assuming he escaped being gunned down in the street -- “greased” by the cops, as it were.

Meanwhile, back in Bangkok

Your job doesn’t have to get shipped to bumfuck Asia to get hosed in the workplace by foreigners here in Winchester. We’ve got 4,000 Mexicans in this town of 29,000. Nearly every one of them is illegal but the authorities pretend not to see them because they provide the cheap labor for the local elite’s plants and businesses and wipe the brie off the liberal college faculty’s countertops after the cocktail parties.

So it is understandable that one of the things which fries local working folks’ asses about liberals is their denial of the problem of illegal immigration -- the crushing effects on wages for working class whites. It is also one of those things liberals will just never get. Liberals are so scared of being labeled racists that they simply refuse to acknowledge the issue. And besides, it’s not educated liberals’ jobs being taken by the Mexicans. But ya know what? If I stood up on a box in any beer joint or VFW in the country and said “Clean up illegal immigration, no more wetback wages for anybody,” I’d get cheers and free rounds on the house. It ain’t racist, it’s plain dollars and cents.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration and business of all type likes cheap terrified illegal workers and is not one bit moved by all those little brown carcasses in the Sonora Desert. By avoiding the issue or advocating services for the illegals already here, liberals give working class folks the impression they approve of slave wage labor and non-citizens receiving public funds -- which they don’t, of course. But most Americans think they do. Most of working white America does not like it and would be more than happy to see an 18-foot border wall with machine gun emplacements and a mine field between the two countries. We have a disconnect here folks. Anyway, it’s not a good idea to get on a soapbox at Burt’s about medical care for illegals. The guy you are talking to probably doesn’t have health insurance. When we get universal health care, then the illegal Mexicans can have free medical services. Maybe.


Ahem. Meanwhile, Lucian Bandister, the only regular black patron at Burt’s, is telling Carol that: “It takes a white man to really kill. It takes a Ted Bundy or a Jeffrey Dahmer. While blacks and Hispanics are out there hustling dope and boosting cars you’ve got your dynamic white males slipping around raping, killing and like eating 25 goddamned people before they get caught!”

Given enough beer, Lucian, like everyone else at Burt’s is a social commentator, historian and expert. They can expound on anything. But these days at Burt’s you won’t hear a word about one thing -- terrorism. Not unless you bring it up. Despite all the blood-in-the-face patriotic rage supposedly felt by working people over 9/11, I am going to commit heresy and say not one shit-faced patron here tonight believes that the world changed on 9/11. What happened in New York City was just another televised event here among the NASCAR and Jimmy Johnson smoked country ham crowd. It was never real to them. Not to people who have never been to New York, and to whom New York is just an imaginary place on television where idealized liberal nether-worlds and nightly murders are electronically served up. And the Twin Towers? It is safe to say that none of these stump jumpers in downtown Deliverance ever even heard of them until they went down in a cloud of asbestos dust and smoke on their TV screens. Yet coastal intellectuals such as Norman Mailer are writing about how 9/11 psychologically affected working class America’s sense of virility, security, confidence, national mythology, etc. Not really. Now if the Styrofoam peanut plant across town closes down, eliminating 500 local jobs, THAT is world changing around here. You have a hard time believing it, don’t you? Yes, I can imagine.


Of course two years ago everybody was absorbed in that mobius tape loop of the planes crashing. It was an emotional topic for a while. But so is a football ball game. For a while. And it still provides the bloodiest shirt Americans will ever wave, an excuse to avenge something, strut around patriotically and root for our side. Just like a big football game but with explosives and torture. And for us Southerners it provided a fresh opportunity to kill dark skinned people, always blessing in the slave states.

But if you stop and think about it, all the scare noise was and still is coming out of the media and the feds, not the people. Same goes for the War in Iraq. On the whole Americans haven’t given a flying fuck about wars, other than for entertainment value, since Vietnam went sour on them. “Iraq War? Pick up a couple of magnetic yellow ribbons at the Seven Eleven, will ya?” And that is it. Of course if you pour enough beer and rag on the subject long enough and you’ll get some heated arguments going about the war or the treatment of Taliban and El Quieda prisoners held in Guantnamo.


Back to the subject, I think working class Americans have always been like that. Insulated. A little time in the National Archives listening to taped interviews reveals that most Americans were not much moved by Pearl Harbor at the time either, because, aha! Hawaii was simply not real to them. Especially before television. At the time of the attack most Americans didn’t much give a rip, even though the newspaper headlines screamed “NIPS HIT PEARL HARBOR!” And everybody asked themselves, where inna hell is Pearl Harbor?” Half the country, particularly the South and the Midwest, wouldn’t have even known World War II was going on if it were not for the shortages. American life was isolated and insulated by distances then. You’d never know that from the propaganda and hoopla generated since.

Now we are insulated by ignorance, body fat, cheap spectacle and electronics. Hang around the working class places very long and you’ll see that they almost never talk about current events. They never mention politics except in an election year. They never mention any larger issues than sports, movies, and where to get good ribs and seafood and why GM just can’t seem to build a decent engine. They put up flags and patriotic symbols because it seems like the right thing to do because everybody else does. But no conscious analysis takes place. Most working whites, blue collar, technical, service or whatever, are nonpolitical. And to the extent that they hold beliefs, they hold the beliefs they think they are expected to hold. Just like they hold little flags, and ribbons for the troops. That’s to tell you who they believe they are, Americans and Americans only. Plain Americans, cut from the rest of the world by a self isolating belief that it’s better to be American than anything else, even if they really can’t prove why. Ignorance is bliss and, somehow, America is where everyone supposedly dreams to be. No depth of thought and consciousness involved or required. There is the American on top and the rest of the world who is envious and plotting to steal their freedom.

In the end maybe we cannot count on white Americans to change. An African American friend writes me that, “As long as Americans have that belief, Bush is safe and the world is in trouble. For all I know, the liberals and the suburbanites, even the progressives and leftists are a bunch of know it alls with the same supremacist tendencies in sheep clothing. They just can’t shed this hubris of the curse of being better than the rest of the world for no good reason. There is something pathetic about this world view. So I’ll just work with people of color because they don’t seem to have this illusion and actually like other cultures and the world. They are the future and they need to be in power because they will change the status quo. I don’t believe that white people in general want to change anything at all.”

One thing for sure. Traditionally, we can count on working white Americans to go off in a homicidal swarm to “defend our way of life,” whenever our leaders periodically declare it to be threatened. Whenever they nail the cowhide to the barn. Right now we have a fullblown case of the cowhide syndrome. Anyone who grew up on a farm knows what happens if you butcher a cow, then nail the hide up high on the barn. The rest of the cows go absolutely freaking bezerk until it is removed. Now George Bush and the neos have nailed the hide on the barn and they have no damned intention of taking it down. For the moment however, it is not election season so things have calmed down a bitand it is mostly the neo-con leadership and the liberal herd that is agitated and bellowing out there. Everybody else is at Wal-Mart.

Numb-nutted dolphin killers?

Most people here in Burt’s Tavern never get exposed to anything liberal, which is to say universal, generous and just, unless it comes from within their own families or their church. This being the South, they never expect an ounce of mercy from the workplace or any kind of government. Especially government. If they did, many could be made to understand the virtues of liberalism the same as the rest of the world. Not all of course, but many. I’ve convinced quite a few of them myself. It’s about education. We all need educating.

So when I suggested last month in a column that an organized effort to inform and educate lower income working people, I and got emails that said:

That is the most ridiculous, inane thing you’ve ever written.


Our problem with you guys is you fat, stupid, sweaty, mouth breathing, redneck, dolphin killing numb-nuts reelected George Bush.


White trash suffer from what psychiatrists call “no insight.” They will never agree with anyone from outside their zone of consumer culture ignorance because their desperate pride includes the right to be dreadfully wrong about everything and telling people more educated than themselves to “fuck off!” That’s what makes them feel good. The only thing that gets a rednecks attention besides the next six pack, is a good swipe upside the head with a two by four. And when the self awareness dawns, it’s too late, because he’s bankrupt, homeless and in jail.

Finally we have proof of liberal rage.

Allow me to address the skepticism of many lefties: Do you think red state working folks are too damned dumb to recognize the truth if and when it is ever presented in relevant terms? OK, don’t answer that. But buried under the cholesterol, fear and consumer state indoctrination, it is there. And lest you get too proud, remember: You voted for Kerry. We all be dumb sometimes, brutha. Most of the time, really. So educating working class folks is worth a try if for no other reason than that the alternative is just too awful to contemplate -- Dale Earnhardt on the ten dollar bill. I can’t help but believe that if informed folks, like those on websites such as this, helped people focus on mutual class enemies, then the Bush bandits would have plenty to worry about.

And besides, the fundamental difference between true liberalism and conservatism in America today comes down to a simple question: Are we or are we not our brother’s keeper? Well?

Can white people be trusted at all?

As someone who grew up poor, rural and white, but moved to the city and took advantage of the educational opportunities we once had in this country, I probably represent an imperfect synthesis of snot-assed liberal and redneck Southern dirt eater. More of the latter because the taste of dirt has real staying power. Which is why I moved back here to Winchester, Virginia five years ago to be around the only people with whom I ever felt completely comfortable (not the same things as shared values or I’d have swallowed a can of lye the first week back.) Despite attempts to be hip, cultured and urbane, I know I am seed of that tribe of ignorant white dickheads who drive the trucks, fight the wars and vote for people like George Bush. Smalltown working folks. And I can tell you this: It sucks out here in the heartland.

Many people who idealize rural or small town America either never grew up there or haven’t been back in 30 years. The place has gone to hell. Rural America is now a cold heartless place that is very difficult to escape, where the rules of hard work and honestly no longer apply. The only people making any dough in rural and smalltown America these days are bankers, lawyers, doctors and a few with government jobs. Thanks to the new global economy, it is hard and desperate terrain for working people. Mean too.


There is really no nice way to say it. Even allowing for the way the system manipulates and exploits them, working white Americans, all things considered, are becoming a mean people. Being forced to eat shit and ask for seconds just to have any kind of a job makes you mean. So they hang on to being white. They believe in the tacitly acknowledged white privilege, though they get damned little if any of it. Working whites share the same European culture of material accumulation and consumption with the corporate elite who own their lives. They believe in private property, they do not distinguish between their trailer and the boss’ monster-bellum. They believe in defending it with weapons. They believe in consumption. They believe in the myth of the entrepreneur and the self made man. It’s all bullshit but they believe it because they are part of the three quarters of Americans who have no more than a high school education just enough to absorb political propaganda and marketing messages. And they are going to stay that way so as long as we let corporations and crony capitalism continue to reduce our working brothers to machinesto a mere resource.

Challenging prevailing political and economic systems is something educated people do. So to change their fate (and the fate of the ecosystem, the nation and a lot of other things) working class America will have to become more educated. Regardless of the way it appears, red state working class Americans can be reached. But we have to humble ourselves. Admit that they have been screwed by the system more than most of us (and admit we are at least partly to blame for their situation. We had more power than them and we let the system go bad.) Elsewise we are all screwed. And if we are all screwed anyway, and it sure as hell looks like that from the end stool at Burt’s, it is because the richest nation on earth broke John Locke’s social contract by not providing quality universal higher education. Just like it refuses to guarantee health care.

Reaching out is asking intellectuals to abandon the intellect as a bridge-building device and move over into intuition and compassion to create the understanding needed. Compassion necessarily requires some degree of selflessness, not a common attribute to folks accustomed to the “me-first” high self-esteem world of American liberalism. It’s a hearts and minds kind of thang.

One last kick at the liberal dog

Just like the Republican junta’s biggest potential enemy is their own hubris, thus is ours. Let’s be honest. The liberal elite is not entirely a Republican myth. This generation of white liberals is not involved in class issues, and have become more about trendiness. To the average working American Friends and Sex and the City is the face of modern liberal culture. They are not wrong. The very fact that most elite celebrities call themselves “liberal” and don’t receive any heat tells you something is very wrong. A real class warrior would spit on the celebrities and materialistic, narcissistic celebrity itself.

American liberals define themselves and the issues within the same consumer culture machinery as the red state tire-biters --- perception of class status (elitism.) This IS the main difference between educated liberals and less educated working folks. Neither are citizens of the United States or anything else. The United States no longer has citizens. It has consumers. So middle class liberals delude themselves into thinking they are so different from people like Pooty, Dink and the others who break wind and pool sticks down here at Burt’s Tavern based upon their consumer choices. Most liberals are not in a much higher income bracket, but their consumer choices -- paid for on credit -- allow them to mimic the ruling class. Starbucks vs Sanka, Mother Jones vs George Jones. Mark Twain vs Shania Twain. There is little hope for us until we realize these ultimately meaningless consumer choices are not representative of any competing or compelling values, but merely distractions that stimulate and keep alive class divisions and hatreds.

For the time being at least, American liberalism has George Bush to blame for everything. And much the same as a zoo ape enjoys even negative attention, George Bush, peeling his lips back and mocking the crowd, is having the time of his life. But one of these days we will have to deal with the real reason middle class white American liberals hate Bush. Liberals hate Bush because he is a traitor to the white classes. Bush revealed the true face of American power and exposed it as the corrupt hoax it really is. He is a “cowboy” imperialist as opposed to the more acceptable kind -- the Kennedy, Carter, Clinton type who conducted their dark little murders at the edge of the empire in secrecy while Americans wasted most of the worlds resources. The Anybody But Bush crowd would have approved the use of force against Iraq if it had been presented by a senator from a Blue State with a bullshit UN resolution, as opposed to a simple ‘Yeeee-ha’ from a retard frat-boy from Texas and overwhelming international revulsion. Either way, the ruling political and corporate elites still maintain their privileges and status. The ABB movement was not about stripping anyone of those; it was simply about keeping self-serving appearances to preserve our Jabba the Hutt worldview and lifestyle.

It is 2 AM and Pooty is in top form now and still determined to follow his job to Indyneezya and “make gook sauce out of the little fuckers.” But he won’t. Instead, he will take a job with no benefits at Skink’s Welding, a locally owned non-union sweatshop, and he will lay down welding beads on refrigeration units for about half what he made before.


And all heads in Burt’s are turned toward the front window where outside police car lights are flashing as the cops search a teenager for dope in front of the train station. The young blonde cops act like characters they’ve seen in crime dramas. In the distance is the approaching light and horn of the C&X, BLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONK BLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONK! The police car lights bounce off the storefront windows, and there is the smell of beer and the past and a sure enough approaching apocalypse And the whole damned sad hologram of America rises up, arching over the scene

Nothing to do but go home, break out the Old Grandad and drink it straight up from a rusty canteen cup. The voice of a ghost breaks in on the reverie.


Right, Hunter.

Poor, White and Pissed

February 2005

If you are reading this it is very likely that you are a liberal, maybe even an outright screaming burn down the goddam country commie -- in which case I say, “Come sit by me comrade!” (Especially if you are a blonde.) Like most lefties you probably live in an urban area, or someplace with reasonable cultural diversity. More than likely you are educated and can read this without moving your lips. Maybe you even live in the freethinking People’s Republic of Berkeley, or bustle along under the fabled lights of Manhattan where you can see independent films and buy such things as leeks and soy milk at your grocery store.

I, however, live in a town where it is easier to find chitterlings, ponhaus and souse in the grocery store than a leek -- and where Smokey and the Bandit still plays to packed movie houses year after year. My hometown’s claim to fame is the 1983 “Rhinehart Tire Fire” in which some five million discarded tires burned for nine months, gaining Winchester, Virginia national news coverage and EPA superfund cleanup status. The smoke plume was visible in satellite earth photos, the cleanup took 18 years and the fire stands as my hometown’s biggest event of the Twentieth Century. As for intellectual life, this is a town where damned few residents ever heard of, say, Susan Sontag. Even though our local newspaper editor did manage a post mortem editorial on Sontag, which basically said: Goodbye you piece of New York Jewish commie shit!, most people reading the paper at their breakfast tables around town were asking themselves, “Who the hell is Susan Sontag?” They would ask the same thing about Daniel Barenboim or Hunter S. Thompson because those figures have never been on Oprah. Our general ambience was well summed up by a visiting Atlanta lawyer who looked around town and observed: “Dumb lordee I reckon!” This from a guy who’s seen a lot of dumb crackers. Laugh if you want, but this is the red state American heartland everybody is talking about these days.

Is it possible for a higher class of person to live in American places like Winchester, Virginia? Not really. Only the local old family business elite and well-paid plant managers transferred here find such a place livable -- the former for their social status and the latter in the safe knowledge they will be transferred out someday.

Most of the rest of us stuck in Winchester are what used to be called the traditional working class. These days, when we are called anything at all, it is White Trash. Poor working whites, people with only a high school diploma, if that. Nationally we at least number a quarter of white U.S. workers, thirty five million in all by the government’s own shaved-down numbers. Nobody knows for sure in a nation that calls millions of $7-an-hour janitors and marginal people working “contract labor”, with no insurance or benefits, “independent businesspersons” and “entrepreneurs.” Small independent business people are, we are told, “the backbone of America’s economy.” If that is true, then it’s a sorry assed thing because we are talking here about citizens who bring down maybe 25-30K a year before taxes. With both spouses working. I told my freelance janitor friend Gator that he was the backbone of the American economy; he said he felt more like its asshole.

In any case, my people are not the people in the cubicle next to you at work (though they might well be cleaning it at nights when you are sleeping.) Mine are not people complaining about paying off their college loans or who got the best parking spot at their office campus complex. They are people with different problems entirely. Mostly related to truck payments. Or people like my old tree service boss Danny, who cut off a finger working with a chain saw, wrapped it in a McDonald’s foil wrapper and ran to the hospital to get it sewn back on. Or any of the thousands of people in this town who smash apples into apple sauce or boil them into vinegar at National Fruit Products, performing soul grinding shift work year after year with no opportunity to ever be promoted, or obtaining health care at all. Just the seasonal layoff when all the apples are smashed and the millions of gallons of vinegar bottled. Working class people going nowhere in a town that smells like vinegar.

One of the problems we working class Southerners have is that educated progressive Americans see us as a bunch of obese, heavily armed nose pickers. This problem is compounded by the fact that so many of us are pretty much that. Call it the “Dumb-crackers-lordee-I-reckon” syndrome. But liberals err in thinking this armed and drunken laboring species is an exclusively Southern breed. No matter where you live in this nation you will find us. We are the folks in front of you at the Wal-Mart checkout lugging a case of motor oil while having nicotine fits. But even in such democratic venues as shopping, our encounters are limited because we do not buy designer beer and you do not buy ammo or motor oil by the case.

And if we aren’t in the checkout line then we are probably waiting on you as clerks. With our bright red regulated vests and nametags we do not look poor or desperate. But I can tell you that the smiling, wise old guy in the orange vest in the plumbing department of the local Home Depot, Roy, the one who knows everything there ever was to know about plumbing, is limping around on bad knees with two bone grafted discs from a life as a construction laborer, and at age 67 is working solely so he can have health insurance. Not for insurance from Home Depot mind you, but so his entire paycheck can go to cover the private insurance he must have if he doesn’t want to lose the rundown bungalow he and his wife bought right after the Korean War to medical bills. The one that is now in such a bad neighborhood only the slumlords who dominate our city council ever make an offer, and even then not much. He’s been losing ground for 25 years. Not that any of the tanned middle class suburban customers here or anywhere else give a good goddam. This is solidly red state neo-con Virginia, where people have a ready explanation for Roy’s condition in life: As Jimbo the newsstand owner here says, “They are losers who cannot cut it in the greatest society on earth. Darwin was right. Gandhi was wrong. Tough shit!” This is the same guy who once advised me to “Always kick a man when he is down; it gives him incentive to get up.” I sometimes think it was the meanest thing in hell that made America’s little working class towns such as Winchester.

Paw, am I a paradox?

To be poor and white is a paradox in America. Whites, especially white males, are supposed to have an advantage they exploit mercilessly. Yet most of the poor people in the United States are white (51%) outnumbering blacks two to one and all other minority poverty groups combined. America is permeated with cultural myths about white skin’s association with power, education and opportunity. Capitalist society teaches that we all get what we deserve, so if a white man does not succeed, it can only be due to laziness. But just like black and Latino ghetto dwellers, poor laboring whites live within a dead end social construction that all but guarantees failure. If your high school dropout daddy busted his ass for small bucks and never read a book in his life and your mama was a textile mill worker, chances are you are not going to be recruited by Yale Skull and Bones and grow up to be president of the United States, regardless of our national mythology to that effect. You are going to be pulling an eight-buck-an-hour shift work someplace and praying for enough overtime to make the heating bill. A worker.

The political left once supported these workers, stood on the lines taking its beatings at the plant gates alongside them. Now, comfortably ensconced in the middle class, the American left sees the same working whites as warmongering bigots, happy pawns of the empire. That is writing working folks off too cheaply, and it begs the question of how they came to be that way -- if they truly are. To cast them as a source of our deep national political problems is ridiculous. They are a symptom of the problems, and they may be making it worse because they are easily manipulated, or because they cannot tell an original idea from a beer fart. But they are not the root cause by any means. The left should take its cues from Malcolm X, who understood the need to educate and inform the entire African-American society before tackling the goal of unity. Same goes for white crackers. Nobody said it would be easy.

Don’t laugh, you’re next!

Middle class liberals, or affluent conservatives for that matter, are hard put to understand poor white working class culture. With our guns, God and coarse noisy aesthetic, (let’s face it, NASCAR and Shania Twain?) we look like a lower species, a beery subset of some sort. The truth is that poor white working culture is not a subset of any other American class. It does not operate below the middle and upper classes, but parallel to them. Just as there are few ways out of it, there are few ways in. Its inhabitants are born here. The educated left cannot easily get inside. When it comes to access, liberal social academics are camels passing through the needle’s eye, though I’ve never met one who would admit it, or even knew that observing is not necessarily understanding. Consequently we find many books/studies focusing on ethnic minorities, but few credible ones about our defiant native homegrown poor. To my mind, it is impossible to be tenured and have street cred, but then I am just a prejudiced redneck prick from Winchester, Virginia, otherwise referred to as “Dickville”.

Yet this place from which and about which I write could be any of thousands of communities across the U.S. It is a parallel world created by an American system where caste and self-identity are determined by what one consumes, or cannot afford to consume, education and of course, the class into which one is born. Like most things American, it was about money from the get-go. The difference is that some of us have known this truth from birth and on brutal terms. For instance, few middle class Americans today ever sold newspapers on the street corner at age twelve to pay for school clothes or carried coal to a dirty living room stove all winter. I did both. They never sat down to a dinner of fried baloney and coffee after cold hours on the street corner. If this sounds like some Depression era sob story, let me say that it was in 1959-62. And right now I can find a hundred people in my neighborhood who did the same, or some kids still doing it (often Latino these days). My point being that there are and always have been a helluva lot of us know-nothing laboring sons out here, whether more fortunate Americans acknowledge our struggles or not. But they should. You see, it’s like this: When the heartless American system is done reducing us to slobbering beer soaked zombies in the American labor gulag, your sweet ass is next.

Everybody loves the Dalai Lama, but nobody loves po’ me!

Ain’t no wonder libs got no street cred. Ain’t no wonder a dope-addicted clown like Limbaugh can call libs elitists and make it stick. From where we stand, knee-deep in doctor bills and hoping the local Styrofoam peanut factory doesn’t cut the second shift, you ARE elite. Educated middle class liberals (and education is the main distinction between my marginal white people and, say, you) do not visit our kind of neighborhoods, even in their own towns. They drink at nicer bars, go to nicer churches and for the most part, live, as we said earlier, clustered in separate areas of the nation, mainly urban. Consequently, liberals are much more familiar with the social causes of immigrants, or even the plight of Tibet, than the bumper crop of homegrown native working folks who make up towns like Winchester. Liberal America loves the Dalai Lama but is revolted by life here in the land of the pot gut and the plumber’s butt. Can’t say as I blame them entirely, but then, that is why God created beer. To make ordinary life more attractive, or at least stomachable.

Whatever the case, helping the working poor does not mean writing another scholarly paper about them funded by grant money. That is simply taking care of one’s middle class university educated self. Yet the cause of dick-in-the-dirt poor working white America is spoken for exclusively by educated middle class people who grew up on the green suburban lawns of America. However learned and good intentioned, they are not equipped to grasp the full implications of the new American labor gulag -- or the old one for that matter. They cannot understand a career limited to yanking guts out through a chicken’s ass for the rest of one’s life down at the local poultry plant (assuming it does not move offshore). Being born working class carries moral and spiritual implications understood only through experiencing them. It comes back to street cred.

The Census Bureau keeps numbers on the working poor. Universities conduct studies and economists rattle off statistics. If studies and numbers alone could solve the problem of working poverty, then rip-off check cashing would not be one of the hottest franchises in the country and Manpower would not be our largest employer. Yes, and if a bullfrog had wings it wouldn’t bump its ass. Reason and social science are not cutting it, and numbers cannot describe the soul and character of a people. Those same ones who smell like an ashtray in the checkout line, devour a carton of Little Debbies at a sitting and praise Jesus for every goddam wretched little daily non-miracle. (If that last part does not make sense to you it simply proves my point about the secular liberal disconnect.)

A good start on healing this rift might be this: the next time those on the left encounter these seemingly self-screwing, stubborn, God-obsessed folks, maybe they can be open to their trials, understand the complexity of their situation, step forward and say, “Brother can I lend you a hand?” Surely it would make the ghosts of Joe Hill, Franklin Roosevelt and Mohandas Gandhi smile.

More crap about values

Before I am asked the more specific question, “What the fuck do you think middle class liberals should do then?” I’m gonna answer it. ORGANIZE! Quit voting for that pack of undead hacks called the Democratic Party and ORGANIZE! Howard Dean is just another millionaire Yale frat boy. ORGANIZE! Quit kidding yourself that the Empire will protect professionals and semi-professionals such as you and ORGANIZE! Spend time on a Pentecostal church pew or in a blue-collar beer joint and ORGANIZE! Join the Elks Club and ORGANIZE! Realize that there is no party whatsoever in the United States that represents anything but corporate interests and ORGANIZE! Start in your own honky wimp-assed white bread neighborhood and ORGANIZE! Knock on doors and ORGANIZE! Move heaven and earth and hearts and minds and ORGANIZE! And if enough people do it, it will scare the living piss out of the political elite and the corporations and they will come to club you down like they did in Miami and Seattle. But at least you will have been among the noble ones when the history is written.

There now. I’ve got it out of my system.

Given that every damned utterance or word published about America these days has to have political implications and relevancy to the crooked 2004 elections, let’s talk about the much discussed political anger and “values issues” of hitherto faceless, self-screwing working class folks. Tell ya what. I have both prayed and been shit-faced six ways to hell with these people and I am NOT seeing the much ballyhooed anger about the values most often cited, such as gun control, abortion or gay marriage. True, these are the issues of the hard-line Bible thumpers and fundamentalist leadership that has harped on them for decades. And the politicians love that crap. And apparently so do the media pundits.

But here in this particular heartland, once I step away from the fundamentalist, I am simply not seeing the homophobia so widely proclaimed by the liberal establishment. Hell, we’ve got three gay guys and at least one lesbian who hang out at my local redneck tavern and they all are right in there drinking and teasing and jiving with everyone else. As my hirsute 300-pound friend Pootie says: “Heck, I have a lot in common with lesbians!” (I would concede however, that homosexual marriage, however, was just a bit too much for some of the working class to accept in the 2004 elections. It was the visuals.)

The working class people in my town are angry, but not especially angry at Queer Eye For the Straight Guy, or unseen fetuses. I think working class anger is at a more fundamental level and that it is about this: rank and status as citizens in our society. I think it is about the daily insult working class people suffer from employers, government (national, state and local), and from their more educated fellow Americans, the doctors, lawyers, journalists, academicians, and others who quietly disdain working people and their uncultured ways. And I think working class anger is about some other things too:

It is about the indignities suffered at the hands of managers and bosses -- being degraded to a working, faceless production unit in our glorious new global economy.

It is about being ignored by the educated classes and the other similar professional, political and business elites that America does not acknowledge as elites.

It is about one’s priorities being closer to home and more ordinary than those of the powerful people who determine our lives.

It is about suffering the everyday lack of human respect from the government, and every other institutional body except the church.

It is about working at Wal-Mart or Home Depot or Arby’s wearing a nametag on which you do not even rate a last name. You are just Melanie or Bobby, there to kiss the manager’s ass or find another gig.

It is about trying to live your life the only way you know how because you were raised that way. But somehow the rules changed under you.

It is about trying to maintain some semblance of outward dignity to your neighbors, when both you and the neighbors are living payday to payday, though no one admits it.

It is about media fabled things you’ve never seen in your own family: college funds set aside for the kids, stock portfolios, vacation homes...

It is about the unacknowledged stress of both spouses working longer, producing more for a paycheck that has been dwindling in purchasing power since 1973.

Yes, it is about values. It is about the values we have forsaken as a people -- such as dignity, education and opportunity for everyone. And it is about the misdirected anger of the working classes toward those they least understand. You. And me.

By the way, the working people I am talking about are not entirely unhappy with life, just angry to a certain degree at this point (and bound to be angrier when the Bush regime finally runs the nation’s economy off the cliff). They simply resist change because for decades change has always spelled something bad -- 9/11, terrorism, job outsourcing -- always something bad headed toward worse. Arise oh pissy liberals!

It is one helluva comment on the American class system that I get paid to speak, write about and generally expose to liberal groups the existence of some 250 million working Americans who have been fixing America’s cars and paving its streets and waiting on its tables from day one. As a noble and decent liberal New York City book editor told me, “Seen from up here it is as if your people were some sort of exotic, as if you were from Yemen or something.”


This is not to berate educated liberal America -- well, OK, a little. But if liberal America has been somewhat too smug, my working class brethren have been downright water-on-the-brain stupid to be misled so easily by the likes of Karl Rove and the phony piety of George Bush. (And god dammit Pootie, Saddam did NOT attack the World Trade Center!) However, liberals and working people do need each other to survive what is surely coming, that thing being delivered to us by the regime which promised us they would “run this country like a business.” Oh hell yes they are going to do it. So the left must genuinely connect face to face with Americans who do not necessarily share all of our priorities, if it is ever to be relevant again.

Once we begin to look at the human faces of this declining republic’s many moving parts, the inexplicable self-screwing working class voter is not so inexplicable after all. God, gays and guns alone do not explain the conservative populism of the 2004 elections. College educated liberals and blue-collar working people need to start separating substantive policy issues from the symbolic ones. Fight on the substance, the real ground zero stuff that ordinary working people can feel and see -- make real pledges about real things. Like absolutely guaranteed health care and a decent living wage. And mean it and deliver it.

Who ho! It ain’t gonna be easy, because poor working class Americans, like the rest of us, have become fearful, numb, authority worshipping fools reluctant to give up the mindless heroin of cheap consumerism . . . just like you . . . just like me. They’ll never come to us, so we must go to them. Which means working the churches and the wards and the watering holes, the Kiwanis Pancake Breakfasts, our workplaces, and lo! Even the beeriest underbelly of America -- where nice liberal middle class people do not let their kids go for fear it will damage their precious little SAT scores. Again, nobody said it would be easy.

Brotherhood. Solidarity. Compassion. Too idealistic? Futile? Maybe. But if these are not worthy goals, then nothing is.

Delivering on all this in a peaceful orderly fashion will be a bitch. So hard in fact that I do not much intend to participate. Fuck it. I’ve wanted an out and outright armed revolution ever since the November elections. But that’s another matter and the guy listening in from Homeland Security right now can go take a flying fuck. Write to me in Gitmo, y’all! Just address it to “Joe from Yemen.”