downloadIt was 2006. I was in the airport in Nairobi, Kenya and on my way to or way home from (I can’t remember at this point) two weeks at the UNFCCC negotiations for research. I remember missing the boys—it was my first long trip away from them. But I especially and will always remember being pulled out of that place into another orbit entirely as a vivacious and beautiful woman in her 70s (I later found out) started to gush to me about going on three weeks of safari for the first time in her life. Casual conversation about all the places she was going and how she was getting there (a helicopter in some cases) quickly turned to her sharing part of her life story of how she got there.

“You see,” she said, “you know what changed my life? I’ll tell you. I was on track to live my life as a housewife in 1954—the standard thing that was expected of me, from a good family, with good prospects for a husband, etc. I was working (in Texas, I think) when Playboy started. Hugh ‘found’ me and asked me to be on the cover. I was playmate of the month.” She went on to say that it was such a crazy thing, in the 1950s, to pose nude, but that Playboy managed to cut this difficult path through the center of the culture at the time by choosing ‘girl next door’ types from obscurity. And she talked about the restrictions, about how you were supposed to act because you were a bunny. But she talked more about all of the ways it changed her, the places she went, and, most importantly, the female friends she made. She described that world as being part of a family and, more importantly, part of a sisterhood with respect to being Playmate of the Month and a Playboy bunny as you were part of the fold. It took her out of the anticipated and expected life she was on track for and changed everything. She lived a life, now in her 70s, long after her centerfold days, that, based on that one risk, led to a life that she could say was fully lived on her own terms.

What amazed me about her description of the experience were two things: first, that the women who participated in the Playboy (magazine) world were like sisters who supported one another, and not just for the moment. For life. They were there for one another as they got married, or pursued careers, and showed up when things went sideways. And second, that Hugh Hefner was at the center of a lot of it. If he found out you couldn’t pay your mortgage, it would suddenly get paid, and then some. Long after you were no longer centerfold material.

I knew about Hefner’s conflicted legacy, about his role in the sexual ethics of his day which were (again) contradictory. And I knew that there were huge issues with the magazine and the mansion along the way, particularly as it related to the difference between working at one of the clubs and being in the magazine. But I never heard this side of things: that they acted as family to one another, as a bulwark against the constricted (in the 1950s) norms of the day, and as a *sisterhood*—words that would later only come to be associated with the sexual revolution and feminism. But there she was, in the Nairobi airport, a real Playmate of the Month—one of the first—singing the praises of how it changed her life and singing Hugh Hefner’s praises for still being there for her in her 70s. On her way to a three-week safari. And glowing with the vivaciousness of a life well-constructed, empowered, and well lived.

Suffice it to say that I will always remember that momentary connection turned hour-long conversation while our lives crossed in an airport waiting area. Haven’t thought about it in a long while–in fact, until Hefner’s passing and the multitude of Facebook posts one one side or another of that coin that was his life. We are all, each of us, contradictory, aren’t we? We are never all of one thing or another. It’s important to remember this in the line of making sense of things, including ourselves.

—Anna-Liisa Aunio


Sleeping in one Tuesday morning. There’s someone moving around in the house. Someone big. Someone noisy. Maybe a lot of someones. Open my eyes. Five someones crowded into my bedroom. They all look like Darth Vader. They got the helmets and the black armored suits, the breath masks and the trademark breath mask noise. So they all sound like Darth Vaders. And guns. Nothing Space Age about the guns all five are pointing at me. One M-16. One submachine gun of some kind. Possibly an MP-5, I don’t know. I’m not an expert on submachine guns. They all look like MP-5s to me. Three of those ever-more-stylized 9mm and 10mm automatics the industry likes to market to the army and police forces. Oh, fuck. OhfuckOhfuckOhfuck!

Where’s the shotgun? In the closet. I’d have to climb over Carla’s sleeping body to get there. It’s only got three shots in it. The rest of the shells are in the other room. I’d have to get past two guys who already have the drop on me to get there. Batman could do it on a good day. I’m not going to try. Crap. The next few minutes are going to be very interesting, and the next few days are going to be very boring… because I now realize we’re going to jail. I look to my left and see Carla’s awake now. “What is this?” she asks in bewilderment. “Just what it looks like,” I tell her. “We’re going to jail.”

Not immediately, though. First, we went out to our front lawn. Cops start taking off their raid gear… Which now apparently includes scuba tanks? What’s that for? Were they expecting my house to be underwater? The old joke pops into my head, and I crack an involuntary smile – “How can you tell when someone used to be a Navy Seal? Don’t worry, he’ll fucking tell you!” I turn toward Carla. She’ll read my idiot grin as reassuring. She loves that shit.

And under his helmet, one of these Nebraska SWAT-pigs is wearing a Mets cap. That’s even weirder than the scuba tanks. In Nebraska, baseball is considered a fag’s game. Men watch football. Hell, even gay dudes watch football. Fags watch baseball. And if there isn’t even a high school game on, and you absolutely must watch baseball lest the idiot box actually be turned off for a moment, Omaha’s a suburb of Kansas City. Not a suburb of whichever one of the outer boroughs Shea Stadium is in. So the hat’s a prop. Has to be. He’s going to refer to it in the next few minutes. He’s going to play the “Us New Yorkers” card. Holy crap do I hate that!

Now, let’s get one thing straight. It doesn’t actually mean that just because I’m from New York, I hate the other 97% of the country. As long as they don’t pretend they’re New Yorkers, I don’t mind them that much. Somebody has to raise the cows so we can have Omaha steaks in Peter Luegar’s after the Yankees game. Somebody has to grow the corn so we can eat it popped at Yankee Stadium. Somebody has to provide baseball teams who lose to the Yankees, you know, like that white team that lost 13 thousand games to the Harlem Globetrotters. Yeah, if pretending to be from New York was fuck-up number one, fuck up number two was not knowing that New Yorkers watch the Yankees. People from Jersey and Connecticut watch the Mets.

Back in 2004, when Abu Ghraib was the top story on the news, I made it my business to learn everything there was to know about interrogation. I’d read Nazi Interrogator in high school, but I went through it again just in case I had missed anything. I scanned a thousand pages of The Reid Technique, and developed strong opinions on whether police should be able to use it all (They shouldn’t. It produces too many false positives.) I read the old pre-Gitmo Army Field Manual FM34-52
until I knew the difference between Futility Technique (“You know that at the end of the day, we’re going to find it”) and Fear Up (Mild) (“Tell us where it is and we won’t have to trash your house searching for it”).

I knew their most likely play was going to be Pride and Ego Down, so I was preparing myself for that. I mean, obviously, right? (“You’re not as good at this as you think you are. We got ten dead bodies in the morgue right now from hotspots in the shit you sold ‘em.” And then I’m supposed to jump out of my chair, “Not MY shit. My shit doesn’t HAVE hotspots.” Clang. One year mandatory minimum and the sentence can go as high as 50 years.) I’m in my late forties now, and my lifestyle isn’t the healthiest. I don’t HAVE another 50 years. So, the primary track running through my brain was me mentally preparing myself to not take the one kind of bait I have the most trouble letting lie – insults to my intelligence. A second track was keeping an eye on the pieces of evidence that were coming out of my house, and trying to guess if any of them added up to a manufacturing charge or an intent to manufacture. I knew there was enough in the house that, if put together correctly by a reasonably intelligent prosecution team, would be enough to put me away forever regardless of actual guilt or innocence. I just wasn’t sure if they knew it, or would know it when they saw it.

“Listen, you’re obviously a smart guy. You obviously know what you’re doing here, I mean in terms of handling fentanyl safely and all. I read your Wikipedia Page. Hey, you know, I was a rookie cop in New York when you were leading the squatter revolt in Alphabet City…”

When I was WHAT? I might talk about that one year of my life the way Navy Seals talk about being Navy Seals and vegans talk about being vegans. But I never once claimed I was LEADING it. I had so much respect for the guys who were; Frank Morales, Jerry the Peddler, and a few others. I learned so much from them that to this day, thirty years later, my father still can’t say their names without spitting.

Speaking of spitting, Carla sounds like she just tried to swallow a sewer rat. I flash her another idiot grin. In Married-Couplespeak, her throat clearing was actually her nagging me not to take the bait, and my grin was assuring her I had this. Thirty years ago I’d also have tipped my hand to the cop that I knew his playbook far better than he did, because he just fucked up again. That’s now three times in four sentences. That’s gotta be a record. I turn to look at Mets-Boy and briefly picture myself castrating him. Unfortunately, I try to avoid hurting women when I can, even in inappropriate revenge fantasies, and this one would have involved kicking his sister in the mouth. On what planet would my service in the War in the Neighborhood (as comic book artist Seth Tobocman called his graphic novel about those events endear me to a New York City cop? What color is the sky in that world? Shit, I’d wash bedpans in the cancer ward just to watch a New York cop die. Anyway, dig it, Seth! You created me as a supporting character in War In The Neighborhood. Thirty years later, I’m spinning off into my own series. Dig that!

Mets-boy is using Pride and Ego Up. That only ever works on the dumbest guy on the team, the guy who’s so starved for a word of praise he’ll talk his way into a life sentence just to hear one from the pig putting him away. I’ve been getting “You’re a smart guy” free with my breakfast cereal every day since I was three years old. Under normal circumstances, I don’t much value it unless I have the same level of respect for the guy praising me. Pride and Ego Up is also a closing move, not an opening one. It’s like a Big Con that relies on fast-talk rather than a well-thought-out confidence play. The target eventually figures out he’s been had, and then you can’t do anything else with him.

I let part of my brain replay the conversation from last night where I’d heard the kind of praise from the kind of people that actually does mean something to me. I was showing Rick and Matt an idea I’d had for tweaking the Birch Reduction (what meth cooks call “the Nazi method”) by swapping the anhydrous ammonia solvent for one with the same properties that was much easier to get and much easier to work with. Half the risk in doing the Nazi method is getting your hands on a couple of pints of anhydrous ammonia. Legal risk if you steal it. Every farmer in town uses it as fertilizer, but it’s now a federal offence to steal it from a farmer’s field. Five years mandatory minimum, fifteen years mandatory minimum, something like that. Physical risk if you make it. The fumes from that shit can pull every drop of water from exposed soft tissues. You can lose your eyes, your mouth, your whole sinus cavity to ammonia fumes. It can turn the fat under your skin into soap. This ain’t like the cleaning product you make high-quality crack with (Or is it low-quality free-base? I guess that’s a matter of opinion). If you think you know how to work with anhydrous based on that, you don’t. Half the rest of the risk is the fact that the fumes can be smelled a mile away. Everyone in town knows when a major cook just got done. What if we could just sidestep all that, and still have the basic idiot-proofness of the Birch? I did a series of literature searches, and it turns out we can. There’s another solvent that should do just as well, that’s not even watchlisted. I could go to Midland Scientific today and buy a 55 gallon drum of it, and pay with small, circulated, non-sequential bills and nobody there or at the DEA will care. Well, I can’t TODAY. Today, I’m sitting in the one shady patch of my lawn with flexicuffs cutting off the circulation in my fingers and a cop in a Mets cap blowing smoke up my ass. You know what I mean, though.

I was showing Rick and Matt all the reasons I had to believe this new solvent would work. Rick and Matt are like the reigning aristocrats of the local kamikaze chemist scene. Rick was doing Birch reductions in the back seat of a moving car when he was in high school. And Matt doesn’t quite go all the way back to Silk Road One, but he does go back as far as Agora Marketplace, and that’s impressive enough. Rick’s been hanging around a lot lately, because he’s sweet on the ice-cold killer who normally sleeps in between my front door and my bedroom. Now that I think about it, the two of them took off at dawn looking like they had a bedroom of their own on their minds. Ahhhh… Let ‘em do it! It’s been way too long for both of them, and they are so adorable together. I’d never got a chance to talk shop with Rick or Matt before, and it did kind of feel like passing an audition. Rick was doing Steve Wozniak to my Steve Jobs. He had his mouth open and all he could say over and over was “This will change the world.” Hearing that from him, knowing who he is in this town, that meant something to me. A cop in a Mets cap blowing smoke up my ass, not so much.

Mets-boy wants to know if there are dangerous chemicals in the house that can hurt his men, now that they’ve taken off the scuba gear. That stuff is heavy, and if they have to walk in and out of my house in the sun wearing it, they’ll be wiped out in an hour. So if I could just tell him where the really dangerous stuff is now, he’d never use that against me. And then it clicked. Buddy here doesn’t know what he’s looking for. He busts meth labs all day long. He thinks a fent lab is more of the same. And he’s heard all the “one grain’ll kill you” stories. He doesn’t understand that my solvents and carrier medium are both food-grade, so I store them on my kitchen shelves. He’s already walked right past them twice. My “lab equipment” is a couple of pots and pans from my kitchen. When I’m done with them, I wash them and put them back. That’s the reality of a fent lab.

I probably shouldn’t have said ANYTHING, my lawyer will definitely kick my ass for this, but I told him (and told him again, and told him, at least twenty times, in response to twenty different versions of the same question), “There is nothing in the house that can hurt your men.”

And then the cop went into this long-winded explanation of how he doesn’t hate me, he’s just doing his job, see? And part of that job is writing “Cooperative” or “Uncooperative” next to my name on the report that the judge will see just before passing sentence. What I really need to understand, see, is just how brutally overcrowded the county jail is right now. (That’s the one part of this particular serving of pigshit that WASN’T a lie. County really is brutally overcrowded. No shit.) And so the judges understand they got no room to lock up guys who showed co-operation with law enforcement, who were willing to answer questions, and so on. Why, it might even be that I get released right there, with no charges at all, as long as I give him enough information to charge me with something right now… This is the Reid Technique, and this is why it needs to be banned. It’s World-Turned-Upside-Down and it’s based on a total lie. Confess the crime and you’ll go free, but ask for your lawyer or insist on your constitutional right against self-incrimination, and we’ll lock you up forever.

I shouldn’t complain too much. Two minutes later Mets-boy Mirandized me, I asked to talk to my lawyer, and that was it. Real Reid Technique is never over that fast. Real Reid Technique doesn’t end, ever, until it produces a signed confession. If it takes 50 hours of bouncing a suspect off the walls, then it takes 50 hours. The interrogators will sleep in shifts. The suspect won’t sleep at all. If it takes 100 hours, it takes 100 hours. Most guys, most physically and psychologically strong guys, can’t take 4 days and 4 nights of no food, no sleep and constant threats and intimidation. After 4 days and nights, they no longer know they’re in a police station and the men talking to them are police officers. All they know is if they sign the paper in front of them, they’ll be allowed to sleep.

There’s a wonderful little video that makes the rounds on Facebook every so often. A mile-a-minute-talking little Boston Irish lawyer gives a law school class his Ten Reasons Not to Talk to the Police.
(1. It can never help you. 2. If you do admit guilt, it will be with no benefit in return. Etc.) Take an hour and watch the whole thing and then finish reading my story. It will not be a waste of your time. And if you can’t remember all ten, just remember this one. “Boy, am I glad I told the police everything before I talked to my own lawyer!” said no defendant ever. I didn’t think I was likely to be the first.

Like I said, Track A was Interrogation 101. Track B was Wow, Rick and Matt Really Think I Could Be Good At This. How Cool Is That? Track C was “OK, what do they actually HAVE? And do they know what it is? And do they know what charges it can be used to support?” Carla was doing the same. And was already way ahead of me because she’s a much better jailhouse lawyer than I am. She’s got the functional equivalent of three years of law school and seven of working as a criminal defense lawyer’s junior partner. I could maybe pass for a paralegal, in New York and two or three other states (not this one) and even then, not if the light was any good. We both had a short list of smoking guns; objects that if we saw them coming out in a cop’s hands, we knew we’d be going away for a very long time. And to our surprise… none of them did.

In addition, Carla wasn’t just looking for her smoking guns, she was also mentally cataloging every object that came out and trying to reason why, as well as simultaneously keeping a mental inventory of what they were missing. Despite our different routes to get there, we got it at exactly the same time. My mental exercise was easier. There was one item, stored in one particular room that I was more worried about than any other. Alone, it was nothing and of very little consequence. Combined with other items in a well done display of circumstantial evidence, it would be my downfall. As other objects from that room came out, I was paying very close attention. As soon as I saw they’d moved on to the next room, I knew they missed it, and it was time for another Married Couple Conference. As I turned to make the eye contact, slight nod, wink, and look away, I saw Carla throw her head back and that million dollar smile flash across her face. She wasn’t even trying to hide it as her eyes flashed in joy. I saw her look up at the crystal clear sky and silently mouth the words “thank you!” She noticed the cops turn to look at her, and said “at least the sun is absolutely beautiful today!”

My slight nod and wink to her may have been more subtle, but in the end we were speaking the same language, and mentally high-fiving one another. “Do you see it, Baby? They got *nothing*! We’re going to jail today, it’s going to be a big drag, but in the long term, I ain’t worried because They Got NOTHING!”

High Crimes and Misdemeanors — The Further Adventures of Greg and Cindy Markowitz

I had the most bizarre experience last week.

Cindy invites her Trusted Lieutenant Smith over to the house this afternoon to talk business. There’s a strange woman with him. MUCH hotter than he usually manages.

I’ve always been a bit suspicious of Smith. You know when someone’s just too good to be true? That’s Smith. He’s WAY too good at this stuff to be working for a couple of amateurs like us. I had her ask him where he picked it up and he told her he’d worked for other dope organizations for the last 15 years. This is his profession. Actually money-laundering is his profession. And even though that’s not what we need right now, he also has the skills we do need.

Cindy: “Who’s she?”

Smith: “She’s my boss.”

Cindy:”Whaddaya mean *she’s* your boss? I’m your boss.”

Smith: “Mmmm… Not exactly…”

At that point I figure we’re both about to get shot. I’ve seen all those 1970s dealer movies. I know what the Godfather does when the Plucky Independents start cutting into his bottom line. He sends his Trusted Lieutenant to shoot them in the head.

But no. Smith’s purpose with us really is what he says it is. He really is helping us out. He’s just doing it on someone else’s orders. I never heard of anything like this. We eat into the mob’s business and they send one of their top guys to *help* us? I’m still processing this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m real happy I didn’t get shot that day. But still, this *is* weird.

I found out why they’re so interested in us. They’ve never seen a panic like the one that hit when our stuff ran out. Apparently nobody has. I just heard of somebody’s last gram (that I sell for $500 an ounce) going for $300 and somebody else’s going for $50 a tenth.

Also really cool watching Smith’s hot boss tonight calling other dealers and telling them, “Whaddaya mean you can’t tell me exactly which fentanyl analog is in your China White and exactly how much there is? This is 2017! You HAVE to give the customer that information!” We started that a few months ago, it’s now officially become a thing.


A couple-three days ago, Cindy’s former Trusted Lieutenant, Mark, shows up on our doorstep with this guy we’ve never seen before. This was exactly the behavior that made Cindy fire his ass in the first place. Anyway, he presented Sam as being in the landscaping business and we talked about that for a bit. I only ever worked at landscaping for one day, but even that was enough to get that Sam didn’t know the first fucking thing about it. Next day Sam comes back on his own. There’s no pretense about landscaping this time. He’s a smack dealer (Big surprise there, I don’t remember the last person in my home who wasn’t. It may have been before moving out here.) and he operates in the burbs. He really thinks we’re wasting our time in the hood selling to Mexicans, meth-heads and bikers. I noted that he failed to mention “niggers” in his list of undesirable clientele when the guy he’s trying to be without a doubt would have said it, filed that one away for later and kept listening. In fact, he says, we really ought to relocate and set up shop in his territory.

Wait, what? Who in the fuck invites the competition into their turf? Especially when we have (hope to have again, anyway) a product better than his that we can sell for a third the price. We can eat his lunch and he knows it. There’s got to be another shoe about to drop. A few more minutes, the big reveal comes out. He’s passing. His father is black and he’s passing. This is supposed to throw us off balance and if we were from here, it would have. While we’re pretending to process it, he gets his ask ready. Directing to me he says “It would really be for the best if you prepared Mark a hotshot. Would you be willing to do that?” I just growled at him “I didn’t hear that and you didn’t say it.” Then, the absolute gall of this guy, he directs the same question to Cindy sitting two feet away, like it hasn’t just been asked and answered. Cindy won’t cut me down in front of a stranger (Nor will I do the same to her) so she repeats what I said, word for word.

Then he says “You’re leaving me no choice. Is it OK with you if *I* cap him?” Now while neither Cindy nor I are murderers by nature, we’re also not going to stand in someone’s way unless we like you at least a little. That’s just… not our business. And the truth is, I never had any use for Mark, and Cindy has given him every chance in the world. So we both assured the guy we sure weren’t standing in his way. “Do what you need to do,” we both said. “That’s your thing. Now don’t get us wrong, it wouldn’t break our hearts if this happened, but we do not want anyone to do it for our benefit. That said, again, we’d shed no tears if it did in fact happen!”

Next morning, Cindy’s whole crew is here. I’m lying in bed trying to decide which end of it to puke off of. That’s how dry it is these days. I don’t know a single dealer in town who’s even able to feed his own habit right now. Anyway, yeah, my wife has a crew now. She never lied about what she was before I married her. First movie we ever watched together was Johnny Depp playing George Jung in “Blow”. She needed me to understand who I was getting involved with.

Then Mark shows up at the door. I have to figure at this point, he’s either clearly trying to goad me into fucking him up, or else legit does not have the basic social skills that say “You don’t show up unannounced at a woman’s door after sending them angry texts, nasty crank calls, and talking shit all over town about her.”

Panic ensues. If he sees the crew here he’s going to decide he was right all along that this was a big huge fake drought we’re pulling to try to cut him out. I get up slowly, open the door and tell Mark “you wait right fucking there I’m getting my boots,” and then bark at Cindy, “Get me my boots, wallet and car keys! I’m going to fix this once and for-fucking-all!” At this point I have to do the fake badass routine. This is the midwest. If I let another man disrespect my wife like this, nobody here will take me seriously. Ever. I’m furious he’s put me in this position and feel like death warmed over at the same time. But in a few seconds pissed off at this asshole wins out over sick, so I get my boots, keys, and wallet, and walk out.

I stagger outside and lead Mark to my car. Predictably, he starts spewing his schizo-paranoid bullshit at me. Usually I got no patience at all for that shit, but today it’s going to lead Mark right where I need him to go. So I play right back at him. “I’m taking you someplace safe. I’m parking you at Frank’s place for the day. You got a kid in Portland you never saw, right? In a couple of hours, someone you thought you could trust is going to give me a one-way bus ticket to Portland and a wad of cash to get you set up when you get there. Now, do you understand what happens next if you don’t take it?” He says yes.

I tell him, “I’m not sure you do. I know you’re a tough guy. You’re not afraid to die. It only hurts for a minute. But think about me. I’m a fucking amateur! I’m a little rich-kid pussy! I just wanted to sell some dope and make some money. I never cut up no dead body before! I never drove around with fucking body parts in the trunk of my car before! I know *you’d* never run from a fight, but think about me!”

Frank was none too happy when I showed up on his doorstep and even less happy when he saw I had Mark with me. Frank is a bigtime importer. None of these little street pissants want to get on his bad side. But how he maintains that is by not letting the street into his home. I’m asking him to change what’s worked for him for years. I begged, he agreed — until sundown. And ‭I owe him a big one to be claimed later. Ha! Six hours? My dog could pull this off in six hours. Nothin’ easier! Before I drive off, I shout to Frank “Don’t let him make any phone calls. I don’t want anybody to know he’s here.” More to the point, I want him isolated so he can’t check my story and find out what a line of bullshit I just fed him.

I get the bus ticket. One way to Portland, as promised. Mark never told me his last name, but I overheard it once, so I got it printed on the ticket. Back to my place, tell Cindy’s crew what I’ve done, pass the hat around. Or try to anyway. But imagine this, the elite of the Midwest’s dealing scene is assembled in my home and not one of them has two nickels to rub together much less one to give me. Myself, I got maybe 20 bucks left on my card.

Alright, no cash. Pigfuckers that they are, I will remember this. I’m taking a man who never asked for a chemical timebomb to go off in his head, and I’m sending him to a city where he’s never been, where there’s exactly one person who knows his name and exactly zero who want to talk to him and I’m sending him there with lunch because that’s all my card will handle right now. Three granola bars, an apple, a banana, two bottles of water, a pack of cigarettes and a mickey of Southern. I asked the cashier to put the booze through separately because I wasn’t sure I had enough to cover it.

Take him to the bus station. Departure minus 45 minutes. If he’s going to have a brain-blow, now is the time. I’ve been keeping his ticket in my pocket as a mind-game. I made it something he has to want and ask for instead of something being forced on him. Now the whole fucking crew shows up, minus Cindy. Cindy could forgive Hitler, once, if he begged and was super sorry and sincere. But there’s a reason her favorite t-shirt reads “Sweet as sugar, cold as ice. Cross me once and I’ll shoot you twice!” So I’m not a bit surprised she didn’t show up.

Now everybody wants to be my best friend and Mark’s. Fuck ’em in the ear! If they can keep Mark distracted for 45 minutes until final boarding call, I’ll take it. But by no means will I confuse that with doing the heavy lifting where they left me on my own. Tick, tick, tick, and finally it comes. Final boarding call for Chicago, New York and points east. I put my arm around Mark and start fast-talking the busdriver. “My friend’s been on the street for a while, he hasn’t got ID but the ticket is legit, I myself paid cash for it, paid it to that woman behind the counter, she’ll remember me…” Driver buys it. Lets Mark board the bus. Then there’s a half hour delay for God knows what. I plant myself against the window looking out at the bus, and brace my arm against the sill so I don’t fall down. But I need to see it. This ain’t done until the bus pulls out of the lot with Mark on it. And I need to see it happen.

The station security guard doesn’t like what I’m doing. I’m not breaking any rules, but it’s still suspicious as hell. I give him the Manson stare and he finds pressing business in a back room. Finally, finally, could not have happened at a better fucking time, the bus leaves. I walk out with it, just so I can see it disappear into the distance with our problem on it.

Back to the house, they tell me I saved Mark from another hit, besides Sam’s threat. Maxie — the horse veterinarian chick with the horse-sized habit — has money, and she paid some meth-head to cap Mark. Note to self: Maxie needs a talking-to if she wants to keep hanging around my house. I bet she never even looked at what the murder clearance rate in this town is. It’s 86%. And what characteristic do the other 14% share that she doesn’t have? I’m going to guess the ability to threaten a shooter already in police custody with a fate far worse than lethal injection is part of it.

The truth of it is I was told Mark was greenlit three times, not twice. It just so happens I know a bit more about the third story than the guy telling it to me. Yeah, we sold some dope to a Son of Silence, yeah, they probably got a “no hypes, no pipes” policy like most bikers do, yeah the guy was found dead with a needle in his arm and our dope in his bloodstream. All of that’s true. But he left a note. “Goodbye cruel world! I don’t want to live after my girl left me. And so I’m deliberately slamming my entire supply. Right now.” Couldn’t have cleared me better if I wrote it myself. I let it be known I was ready to go talk to the Sons and explain myself. But they already had the note. His handwriting, his signature. They accepted it at face value, didn’t think I could tell them anything they didn’t already know.

All our dealers have strict instructions to report even the slightest health problem of any customer up the chain and if one of our customers dies — of any cause whatever — no detail is too trivial or extraneous for me to want to hear it. We’ve reformulated our carrier medium twice, just to help the IV users avoid skin infections. We tried telling them to just snort it but realized in a matter of weeks that once people get used to needles they inevitably go back to them. It’s this bizarre thing where they basically forget there are other ways to get dope into your bloodstream.

I found a scientific paper from 1914 that cross-indexes all the common bugs, including staph and aureus, the two worst skin infections, with all the common sugars, and I picked the one that no bug you’re likely to find in your skin can eat. It’s an obscure wood sugar, similar to xylose, but Wal-Mart sells it as an artificial sweetener under the name “Truvia”. Much safer than the lactose/mannitol cuts the industry has been using since forever.

We’ve had three false alarms, including that biker. We got one late night report from an hysterical woman that we’d poisoned her brother. The morning paper gave the cause of death as multiple gunshot wounds. The truth didn’t make her happy, and I never thought it would… but it got her to stop talking shit about us. We got another saying Mark had called 911, and then bolted when a cancer patient overdosed. Not cool in a state with a Good Samaritan law. The guy who phones in the overdose is un-fucking-touchable, no matter what he sold to who. We were able to establish that the building doorman saw cancer guy walking around the lobby six hours after the supposed overdose, so that one’s not on us either. We’ve had two overdose incidents that should not have happened, that are going to force some more changes in the way we do things, one where the guy was tagged and bagged before he woke up. But both times, the guy came all the way back. We’ve sold 2-3 thousand grams without killing a single person. We are on our way to proving what we set out to prove — that supernarcotics can be sold without killing anybody.

Does Life Imitate “Breaking Bad” or Does “Breaking Bad” Imitate Greg and Cindy Markowitz?

I bought some carfentanil on the darknet a while ago, decent quantity too, 200 milligrams, about the size of a bar-quarter of coke. I diluted it down using the procedure in “My Near-Death Fentanyl Experience” except I used a ratio of 1000 milligrams of sugar to 1 of carfentanil. Straight fent gets cut 100-to-1. Carfentanil, W-18 and alpha-methyl-fentanyl get cut 1000-to-1. There’s this new stuff, it’s not on the market yet but it probably will be, 4-carbo-ethoxy-fentanyl, another order of magnitude stronger, that’ll need a 10,000-to-1 cut. A 20 pound bag of sugar for a single gram of the drug. I wouldn’t begin to know how to handle that shit safely. Mask and gloves won’t do it. I’m guessing Level 3 Center for Disease Control protocols, maybe even Level 4.

I also added a few drops of blue food coloring, partly as a hat tip to Breaking Bad, partly to make it impossible for anyone to mistake it for heroin — or worse, to try and pass it off as heroin.

At or around this time I was whining to Cindy that I wanted to get some meth but I couldn’t afford to buy as big as my usual darknet vendor insisted on. There was a moving job we did a while back, it took me a week to do half of it, Cindy and a three man crew took another week to finish the other half. I needed to undo it all by myself in two days and I wanted my redneck rocket fuel to power through it.

She said she’d try to find something locally. And she did. From a fellow patient at her methadone clinic. The guy shorted her. I won’t say “burned” or “ripped off”. Those are strong words implying a degree of premeditation that I can’t prove. But I’m on 100% solid ground with “shorted”. She got exactly half the meth she paid him for. She ran into the guy again the day before I got back and his story was almost worth the amount of money that went missing. Almost.

Cindy and I are always on the lookout for people willing to try carfentanil and give us feedback on it. The stuff is new and there’s very little solid information out there about how it works. There’s no history of legitimate use on humans and most of the illegitimate use is as a heroin substitute/adulterant. We don’t really know that much about carfentanil as a recreational drug in its own right. See? We’re not asking people to get wasted just to get wasted. This is for Science. This is for expanding the scope of human knowledge. So when Cindy gave her clinic buddy a wad of cash to pay for my meth, she also gave him a quarter ounce of carfentanil cut down to the strength of high-quality heroin. Gave him the whole list of safety rules (snort bumps not rails, wait a good 20 minutes before taking more, etc.) and instructions to share it with his friends. Yes, she handed out wholesale quantities of supernarcotics in a methadone clinic. That’s the bit that makes it art.

Her friend didn’t have the best experience. One line knocked him flat on the floor, he grabbed onto a dresser to pull himself up and managed to pull the dresser down on top of him. He spent the evening lying on his floor underneath a piece of furniture. But that was Okaaayyy…

His friends were a different story. I don’t know what they’re used to getting around here, Mexican black tar kind of came and went a few years ago and I don’t know what’s around now. My wife goes to a methadone clinic so I suppose she could find out. But whatever it is, it don’t compare to carfentanil. This stuff blew them away. In my experience, needles are a one-way trip. Once a user starts injecting, they never go back to sniffing lines. For some reason, injecting carfentanil doesn’t seem to work so all these hard-core decades-long IV users are sniffing lines off a mirror like they were 16 again and loving it. One guy described sitting on the floor sniffing half-matchhead-sized bumps and drooling on his shoes for four hours. Shit, if I’d come up with this stuff in the 1980s when IV drug use was the most efficient transmission vector for AIDS — they’d have given me the Nobel Prize. Or 25-to-life. Not sure which.

These guys are begging for more of it. They’re telling their friends about “Blue Moon” and the new Heisenberg who makes it. It’s become a local dope scene legend. All of which means Cindy has the upper hand getting the short from the original deal fixed. She tells the guy, “The next thing that’s going to happen is you bring me what you owe me. After that, other things will happen but first you need to make this right.” In other words, she promised to wholesale carfentanil to him, let him be the guy who can meet the demand for this legendary new Blue Moon. I was out of town for a week. Imagine if I’d left for a month?

Thoughts on Fallacies


Once upon a time, Margaret Mead was in conversation, with James Baldwin, about the responsibility they felt for the future of their children.He said “The world is scarcely habitable for the conscious young… There is a tremendous national, global, moral waste.”

Mead replied: “I know.”


Baldwin went on: “And the question is, how can it be arrested? That’s the enormous question. Look, you and I both are whatever we have become, and whatever happens to us now doesn’t really matter. We’re done. It’s a matter of the curtain coming down eventually. But what should we do about the children? We are responsible; so far as we are responsible at all, our responsibility lies there, toward them. We have to assume that we are responsible for the future of this world.”

Mead eventually said: “then we come to a point where I would say it matters to know where we came from. That it matters to know the long, long road that we’ve come through. And this is the thing that gives me hope we can go further.” [1]

They were discussing racially motivated murders that happened during the Civil Rights movement, and they were discussing war and suffering around the world. Mead’s comment about the importance of knowing “the long, long road that we’ve come through” really jumped out at me, because Mead was an anthropologist.


Her “long road” is, therefore, not merely historical, it is evolutionary. Racism, terrorism, warfare, and genocide are the scourges of history, but are they the scourges of our entire evolutionary past? Do they represent some inevitable and enduring aspect of human nature? There are many people who would affirm that humans have always been hierarchical, xenophobic, and violent; that these are characteristics deeply engrained in our nature.

To explain human capacity for tolerance, charity, and gentleness many scholars refer to the effects of civilization. Thus, Thomas Hobbes, for example, believed that humans in a “state of nature,” or what today we would call hunter-gatherer societies, lived a life that was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” in which there existed a “war of all against all.” This led him to conclude, as many apologists for states have since, that a stable society required leadership in order to control the rapacious violence that was inherent to human nature. In Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Aynn Rand wrote that “Collectivism is the tribal premise of primordial savages who, unable to conceive of individual rights, believed that the tribe is a supreme, omnipotent ruler, that it owns the lives of its members and may sacrifice them whenever it pleases.” Rand advocated industrial capitalism to free humans of such fetters.

Meanwhile others were insisting that the human mind was a blank slate receptive to any social system to which it was exposed.

What a confused and tangled set of misconceptions about human nature! When otherwise educated people have a misconception, they tend not to take kindly to information that contradicts it. Of course, this is because they do not consider this to be a misconception, but rather a received truth. And, in the case of war, genocide, and xenophobia, after many thousands of years of such practices being widespread in those same societies responsible for recorded history, the idea that such behavior arises out of human nature is an understandable position.

So, what do we have to counter it? There are about a half dozen pieces of information: equally undeniable, that should give pause to even the most stalwart followers of Rand or Hobbes.

Fallacy #1) Collectivism suppresses individuality.

This is clearly a fallacy. The human species is intensely pro-social, thus all human societies are collective endeavors, even capitalism. Thus the attribute “collectivism” does not entail suppression of creativity and individuality – even the most “simple” economies have innovation, as well as conservation of knowledge and technologies. Their values and ideologies tend to channel, not prevent, individualism.

Fallacy #2) That modern civilization decreases mortality due to violence.

This one is still hotly disputed.  There are, in human societies, three main causes of deliberate death by conspecifics. These are a) interpersonal violence, b) lethal social controls, and c) warfare.  While the first two categories of violent death appear to occur in most cultures, the final one, most definitely, does not.  Warfare is a rare occurrence between groups in hunter-gatherer economies. This  does not appear to be an artifact of recent history: there is very limited evidence of inter-group warfare from the archaeological record from the Pleistocene, when everybody was a hunter-gatherer.

There IS some evidence of interpersonal violence, even cannibalism, but murder and eating people happens in contexts other than war. Even genocidal violence, as when a whole party of men women and children are massacred, can happen in other contexts, such as retaliatory vengeance, fear of disease or of spiritual contamination.

The steady decline of violence in state societies – popularized by Steven Pinker in his book, The Better Angels of our Nature, is not an empirical fallacy, but it is a statistical one, Transforming data on violent death, from the absolute numbers into percentages of total population, tends to produce a picture of declining rates. This is perhaps partly an artifact of the simple fact that population growth, in most agricultural economic systems, has far exceeded the increases in violent deaths for several thousand years now, and this has most clearly become exponential in the last hundred years.

Accepting this idea of declining “rates” further implies that there is actually some sort of inevitable rate of general mayhem, murder and violent death baked into human nature. If so, we then must ask what might be the cause of such rates, if indeed they are some inevitable part of the human condition? And how do some populations get stuck in more violent cultures than others?

More pointedly, we might ask ourselves what, if anything, does this ubiquitous human irascibility, and occasional lethal violence, got to do with warfare? If we plot mayhem caused by violence, crime, malnutrition, disease, toxic exposure, and poverty, we could play the same statistical game. Indeed, some people have done so. But what evidence do we have that such things as epidemics of disease, and natural disasters resulting in starvation, occur at some regular rate linked to any particular economy?

Here we enter the intellectual territory well trodden by students of animal ecology. Population regulation is well understood in  other species. It appears to be achieved, in most natural wild populations of animals, by density dependent changes: as the numbers approach carrying capacity, deaths due to stress-induced aggression, reproductive failure, and diseases increase – even before signs of malnutrition appear.

The experimental research on rats done years ago, as well as studies of wild rabbit colonies, of wolf packs, of caribou, and of relationships between wild hares and lynx, are interesting in this regard. They show that populations begin to fall long before food supplies run out. In fact it appears now many of the deaths – even in epidemics, result not from the introduction of the novel microbes, but rather, due to the stress-induced drop in immunity attendant upon over-crowded populations. Moreover, deaths by violence also increase in many species when they are overcrowded. Hunter-gatherers generally live at lower population densities than people in other economies, and yet at the highest densities, as in huge modern cities, there are quite low rates of violence.

There is thus another whole category of causality that has an effect on mortality, and that is “structural” violence. This is down to racism, socio-economic inequality, and discrimination against “deviant” forms of sexuality, minority religious beliefs, or even political ideology (for example, communism has been targeted as well as capitalism). These permit levels of hardship and social rejection that create extreme stress for disadvantaged people, and such that their lives are often shortened. Even the life expectancy of their descendants, if they manage to have any, can be reduced. Such structural violence is unknown among mobile hunter-gatherers, and yet has been a feature of state societies, with very few exceptions.

Fallacy #3) Humans are naturally prone to xenophobia.

This is also known as the “in-group vs out-group” to “tribal” tendency. Here we enter an other very contentious area.

However, I think it IS a fallacy.

Why? Well, for one thing, preference for, and defense of, known and familiar companions is not the same as hostility to unknown or unfamiliar people. There is no evidence that people, even in “a state of nature” are inevitably hostile towards strangers – or neighbors. Early encounters between explorers like Columbus and the native people of the Caribbean, for example, reported curiosity, friendly offers to trade, and high levels of hospitality – to the point that Columbus was enthusiastic about the potential enslavement of such innocents. The later hostility that greeted European settlers had as much to do with these early experiences of misunderstanding, and exploitation, as it did with the high handed attitude of new outsiders who came, clearly, with intent to usurp the lands of the people.

Children do not automatically show fear or dislike of age or play-mates based on skin color, dress, accents, or other aspects of superficial appearance. Experiments have shown, however, that assignment of people to “outsider” status does happen very quickly in young children. Rather than an evolved “tribal” tendency, an instinctive xenophobia, this is usually based on teachings.  It is when adults assignment of inferior moral or intellectual abilities – effectively “other-ing” those who are differentiated by appearance, behaviour, or symbolic tags. Jane Elliot’s work showed that children quickly catch on, and start actively being horrible even to former friends and classmates, and do so on the most arbitrary evidence of difference, such as eye colour.  All they need is a specific and authoritarian assertion that some tag indicates who ls an inferior or wicked person.

Three additional fallacies concern hypotheses about historical trends, that interrelate with one another to underpin the myth of progress.

Fallacy #4)  Human life span has been increasing since “the Stone Age”.

This one is very pervasive. In fact, however, it is life expectancy at birth which varies a great deal between cultures, not the age to which people CAN live. Life span appears to be species specific: humans can live about 30 years longer than most great apes; but many decades short of the life span of certain species of trees and tortoises.

Life expectancy on the other hand, is a feature of death rates at various ages, and thus represents at statistical probability of surviving to various ages. In a cultural ecology with high rates of malnutrition, stress, or infection, life expectancy will be low. This was the case in 17th century France, where life expectancy for males was under 30, as it was throughout most of human history, and is among some Pygmies in the Congo today.


Life expectancy might very well have got far lower even in industrialized economies had it not been for the invention of vaccines and the discovery of antibiotics. Highest rates of mortality tend to occur at the youngest ages as immune systems get their training wheels, so prevention of death caused by microbes caused a massive jump in life expectancy over the past hundred years. Life expectancy varies with income throughout the industrial world, and tends to be lowest among colonized people, whether they are Scots in the UK or native Canadians or Aboriginal Australians today.


Fallacy #5) The assertion that all economies, prior to the industrial age, were inadequate in meeting human needs.

The entire colonial program summarized by the unfortunate phrase “White Man’s Burden” as well as the overt racism in Rand’s view of “primitives” stems from this. International food aid programs and the activities undertaken by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundation institutes to spread “green revolution” technologies, were often predicated on the assumption that traditional societies had woefully inadequate systems of farming and animal husbandry.

The idea is still very widespread that this inadequacy is responsible for malnutrition in the “third world”. This is related to the previous point, in that it mistakes the causes of innovation. Rand’s assumption was that things tend to be invented due to individual striving for perfection and are manifestations of genius.

In fact, there is considerable evidence that slash and burn horticulture, nomadic pastoral, and forager economies are adequate, and even produce abundant food at the cost of considerably less arduous labour than was typical of agricultural economies until the mechanization of farming. Certainly these economies featured higher rates of infant and childhood mortality, but so did the pre-industrial feudal society.  Humanitarian concerns leading to widespread vaccination and health care also caused unprecedented population growth. What tends to be overlooked is the fact that this in turn led to changes in land use, which resulted in malnutrition, local competition over resources, and suffering due to violence, racism, and poverty.

The historically accurate view is that innovations tend to occur to solve problems. Seen thus, the whole industrial era could be seen as a scramble to innovate fast enough to solve all the problems arising from previous innovations!

Not so much progress, as redress, then.


Fallacy #6) The assumption that there is some kind of evolutionary master plan programmed into humans.

The evolutionary trajectory – both physical and economic, of our species, is often pictured as “progress”. Thus, cultural “evolution” is tacked on, to models of prehistory showing descent of bipedal creatures from tree-dwelling apes, gradual increases in brain size and technological sophistication, and the emergence of anatomically modern humans.


This sometimes creates the impression that the growth of population, and the shifts in economic and organizational complexity, over the last 10,000 years, occurred because of increased cognitive prowess – or “genetic pacification” or “self-domestication”.  This is often presented as the march of evolutionary progress, in human welfare and even in consciousness.


Fallacy #7)  That all human societies tend to be hierarchically organized, resulting from competition, so the strongest males dominate everyone else, and males tend to dominate most females.

This is clearly a fallacy, since most hunter-gatherers tend to have levelling mechanisms that create a relatively egalitarian access to food, shelter, solace, and reproductive opportunities. If anything, what has been proposed for much of the human evolutionary period, is a kind of reversal of dominance, where the strongest individuals actively ensure the welfare of the young and more vulnerable members of their groups.
Socio-economic inequality is not an inevitable outcome of the Neolithic revolution, either.

Fallacy #8) Humans are special snowflakes because God said so.

Can we really posit that humans are that different from other animals? Does the idea that density dependent changes in behaviour occur in humans seem so threatening to modern people, most of whom live in densely populated urban areas… so threatening that we cannot even explore it? Can we also look at how humans function as part of an ecosystem, in fact, often playing an active part for good or ill, in the web of life?

I would like to end by decrying a false dichotomy.  This is created when someone  presents the human past, evolving within a hunter-gatherer economy, as the representatives of a lost and peaceful Eden, and “evolutionary environment” that shaped our species and made us ill-suited to the denser aggregations, carbohydrate-rich diets, and fast pace of life in civilization.

There is no real evidence that humans are genetically shaped for the activities of any particular economy.  People only a few generations removed from living as hunter-gatherers take readily to careers in livestock farming, computer science, banking, stand-up comedy, and so on.  Conversely, hunter-gatherer diets even today vary considerably, and many are hardly lacking in carbohydrates from cereal or starchy roots. Indeed, it is because of this that these were among the first domesticated plants.

The point of most contention is always the issue of war – or, as some phrase it “coalitional inter-group lethal violence”.

The relative absence of war among mobile hunter-gatherers is often mistaken for assertions that all such societies, so typical of our evolutionary past, were pacifist paradises occupied by “noble savages”.  Critics, having first erected this straw man, then contest the evidence by pointing to reports of violence and murder in ethnographic reports and archaeological discoveries. They also tend to confuse the issue by mixing in reports from extant or prehistoric sedentary hunter-gatherers, and even from horticultural or pastoral economies.

Few go so far as to publish insinuations that researchers specializing in the study of hunter-gatherers were, at best, suffering from romantic delusions, or, at worst, dishonest. The presentation of modern day hunter-gatherers, as if their economy survived only due to isolation, is of course closely linked to Fallacy #5. If you believe that hunting and gathering was riskier and more arduous than keeping livestock and growing crops, naturally what follows is an assumption that people only need to see these more desirable options and they will then emulate them. Closely linked to this fallacy is the assumption that there is a progressive directionality in economic and cultural change as innovations (like domestication and more substantial housing) are acquired because they “make life easier” or less risky.

What if the truth is stranger? What if sedentary life, food storage, plant and animal domestication, and institutions dedicated to leadership and social control were in fact developed to deal with the repeated failures?  What if the accumulative inventory of creative  solutions sometimes resulted in economic practices even MORE arduous and risky?  Does this destroy anything at all beyond our myth of progress?

I would like to plead for another piece of middle ground. Research among modern day hunter-gatherers may have overturned Hobbes, but does demolition of such previous negative stereotypes necessarily require that we depreciate either farming or civilization? They are riskier ventures, true, less stable in extreme densities, but no less bear stunning testimony to the adaptive scope and power of the collective cognitive niche; the fusion of two heritable but very different replicators.



Who Gets the Job?

benetton-races_3481677bConnections get you the job in a corrupt organization, but they’ll get you absolutely nothing in a perfectly meritocratic organization (which doesn’t exist). In a perfectly normal organization, connections won’t get you the job, but they’ll get you the interview. In his controversial bestseller, In Praise of Nepotism (2003), Adam Bellow maintains that giving interviews primarily (or even exclusively) to people with connections is by and large a good thing. Despite what you might think, connections are an excellent filtering mechanism. What’s more, when you hire people with connections, the reputations of their connections are to some extent on the line. This gives everyone skin in the game. And that matters. Big time.

But of course, like all things human, hiring people with connections isn’t without its drawbacks. If people with connections are the only ones who get the interview, people with connections are the only ones who’ll ever get the job. For many organizations, this isn’t a problem; but for organizations like the CIA, it is. Soon after 9/11, the CIA realized that they needed to hire more sophisticated urban types from the coastal cities, more people with Arabic and Farsi. What’s more, they realized that they needed another corn-fed, blonde, blue-eyed Nebraska boy like they needed a hole in the head (they don’t blend in especially well overseas). If you wish to diversify your organization’s personnel, you have to interview people without connections.

In 1775, Samuel Johnson wondered at the hypocrisy of American slaveholders prating on and on about freedom: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” Thinking along similar lines in 2017, we might reasonably ask: How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for meritocracy among people who got their jobs through connections? Once you let go of your attachment to that fiction known as the perfectly meritocratic organization, it’s easy to get over your resistance to affirmative action.

Can affirmative actions programs be gamed? Sure. Everything human can be gamed. Will the oppressed of today become the oppressors of tomorrow? Maybe. If they do, we’ll fight them. But let’s cross that bridge when we get to it. Will minorities within your organization eventually become an entrenched interest group that fights to keep affirmative action in place long after its goals have been achieved? Probably. I’d expect nothing less (or more) from flawed human beings like me. But so what? That’s not a valid argument against affirmative action. It’s merely a sad reminder of the fact that the struggle for justice is without end.

—John Faithful Hamer, Being a Philosopher in Social Media Land (2017)

The Real World

10507119_10152224074252683_6351617770361211778_o-001Although the idea that reality might be little more than a collective hallucination has probably occurred to thoughtful people since the beginning of time, it has achieved widespread acceptance only amongst certain kinds of people. In ancient China, it appealed primarily to government workers, eunuchs, urban-dwellers, and bureaucrats who were, for the most part, divorced from the earthy realities of farming and child-rearing, and the bloody realities of animal husbandry and military life. Theirs was a world, not of blood and soil, but of numbers and words. This allowed them to develop a remarkably theoretical view of the world.

600x-1As I read Scott Adams’s blog-post this morning, it occurred to me that very little has changed. Articulations of this idea have changed—in ancient China it was couched in the language of Buddhism, in the twentieth century is was couched in the language of postmodernism, whilst today it’s often couched in the language of evolutionary biology—but the kinds of people it appeals to hasn’t changed. It still appeals to people who live in a world, not of blood and soil, but of numbers and words. It still appeals primarily to men like Scott Adams who are, for the most part, divorced from the earthy realities of farming and child-rearing, and the bloody realities of animal husbandry and military life.

I take a long walk in the woods whenever I’m tempted by the likes of Scott Adams. Spending time in the woods reminds you that a real world exists out there, outside of the virtual world of fire-light shadows that we create for ourselves (and each other). I say this not, I hasten to add, to denigrate the human-built world (I’m a city boy, after all), but merely to put it in its place. Aristotle was right: a human being divorced from political life isn’t fully human. But a person divorced from nature is something far worse.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2017)

The Golden Age

“Creating the future is a frightening enterprise, especially when we do it without any awareness of the past. I am amazed how little we actually care to examine past human experience. It’s like hunting in a wood full of bears, ignoring all the disarticulated skeletons of dead hunters, and confidently proclaiming that bears don’t really exist. They belong to the past!”—Joseph Gresham Miller

Lucas_Cranach_the_Elder_-_The_Golden_Age_-_Google_Art_ProjectDo you dream primarily of what is, what once was, what could have been, or what could be? Your answer to this question tells me almost everything I need to know about you. Political conservatives locate their Golden Age somewhere in the not-too-distant past (e.g., the 1950s), whilst religious fundamentalists locate it somewhere in the unsullied early history of their movement (e.g., the Early Church for Pentecostals, the Pious Predecessors for Salafists). Progressives and starry-eyed idealists locate it somewhere in a future purged of the sins of the present, whilst Romantics locate it in a past purged of modernity, a pastoral place that looks a whole lot like The Shire described by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings. Most environmentalists seem to locate it in some eco-friendly pre-modern past wherein we all lived in happy harmony with sweet Mother Earth. Computer geeks locate it in a shiny future replete with flying cars, robots, and killer apps, whilst defenders of the status quo, apologists of the present like Steven Pinker, insist that we’re living in a Golden Age right now. The outliers, of course, are the pessimists, like Arthur Schopenhauer and St. Augustine, who insist that life in The City of Man has always more or less sucked, and that there has never been, nor will there ever be, a Golden Age.

St. Augustine argues in The City of God that Original Sin has so corrupted human nature and the natural world—with sin, disease, and death—that the reformation of the individual and of society will always, of necessity, have to be a highly circumscribed exercise. All is not possible, insists the Bishop, because the freedom to do good is habitually hemmed in by this-worldly corruption. “The choice of the will,” avers Augustine, “is genuinely free only when it is not subservient to faults and sins.” St. Paul the Apostle likewise believes that decisive victory in the war against sin is not possible in a fallen world; the battle is, instead, fated to rage on and on, even within his body: “I know,” he once lamented, “that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:18-19). Like Paul, Augustine maintains that there are some intractable human problems which the individual and society will have to grapple with again and again, until the end of time. Perfection can be nothing more than a noble goal in The City of Man. Always before us, yet perpetually out of reach. A beacon on the horizon of a fallen world.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)

The Battle of the Sexes is Bullshit: A Review of Stephen Marche’s The Unmade Bed (2017)

imagesAt the dramatic climax of Traffic (2000), Michael Douglas’s character, the guy in charge of the War on Drugs, breaks down in the middle of a press conference and goes off-script: “If there is a War on Drugs then our own families have become the enemy. How can you wage war on your own family?” The overarching message of Stephen Marche’s The Unmade Bed (2017) is of a similar stamp: namely, that the martial language employed by “social justice warriors” and “men’s rights activists” is a toxic dead-end. The Battle of the Sexes is bullshit: “Rather than enrich the realm of politics with the difficult business of intimate life, identity politics flattens the personal until it fits into established intellectual categories.” If the hawkish ideologues who fan the flames of the “Gender Wars” in Social Media Land are to be believed, then our own families have become the enemy. But how can you wage war on your own family? And why would you want to? Your spouse isn’t the enemy: “The central conflict of domestic life right now is not mothers against fathers, or even conflicting ideas of motherhood or gender. It is the family against money.”

The Unmade Bed is a deeply moral book. And Marche treats his subject with all of the seriousness it deserves. But it’s also a remarkably funny book. The following scene is a case in point: “I was at a bachelor party, one of those bizarre rituals in which men have to stoop to their stereotype as a kind of recognition of common brutality, and we were all drunkenly heading to a strip club when my wife called. She needed to talk. A man she worked with called her ‘Honey.’ It pissed her off. It pissed me off. It pissed me off that this classic old-school garbage should survive. And so I found myself enraged, genuinely enraged at the sexism of a world that would call my wife ‘Honey’ just as I was entering a business in which I was going to pay to see women naked. Such are the everyday minor anti-epiphanies of living through the twenty-first-century rearrangement of gender. They subtract from rather than add to what I thought I knew about myself and others.”

Marche’s discussion of housework in the last chapter is equally hilarious: “Housework is the macho bullshit of women. And, in this light, it is perhaps not surprising that men have not started doing more housework. Men might be willing to lose the garbage of their own gender stereotypes, but why should they take on the garbage of another? Equality is coming, but not the way we expected. The future does not involve men doing more housework. . . . Caring less is the hope of the future. Housework is perhaps the only political problem in which doing less and not caring are the solution, where apathy is the most progressive and sensible attitude. Fifty years ago it was perfectly normal to iron sheets and vacuum drapes; they were necessary tasks. The solution to the inequalities of dusting wasn’t dividing the dusting; it was not doing the dusting at all. The solution to the gender divide in housework generally is that simple: Don’t bother. Leave the stairs untidy. . . . Never make the bed. . . . A clean house is the sign of a wasted life, truly. Eventually we’ll all be living in perfect egalitarian squalor.”

As Marche demonstrates, in loving detail, we’re all in this together, whether we like it or not, and we’re going to have to find a way to muddle through it together. We didn’t create this mess, this mess of world-historical proportions, but it’s ours to clean up: “Instead of furious despair, what our moment demands is humility and compassion.”

—John Faithful Hamer, Parenting in the Age of Studies Have Shown (2017)

River Wisdom

The saltwater seas have lessons to teach us,
same is true of the freshwater lakes,

but these are not the lessons taught
by the world’s great rivers.

Long before we were connected by
highways and railways and airways,

we were connected by rivers.
And it is thus great rivers like the St. Lawrence

which remind us of our connections
to everything else.

He that hath ears to hear,
let him hear The River.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2017)

(photo credit: Sebastian Furtado)