"Online Thieves and Corporate Puppets," by Alpha Unit

A musician spends time and energy creating a work of music – time and energy he or she can never get back. What is his effort worth? How do you place a value on what a musician has created? The argument over this question goes back for years – probably to the beginning of commercial music, actually. I’m sure plenty of you can remember the battles over file sharing with companies like Napster, Limewire, and Grokster that have lost court battles over copyright infringement. While musicians are serious about protecting their intellectual property, many of them point out that they have no beef with their fans. The fans aren’t the enemy. Corporate America is. As Ellen Seidler puts it:

Online piracy isn’t about altruism, it’s about income. Today’s technology allows web pirates to steal content and monetize that content with a click of a mouse. Meanwhile, “legit” companies encourage and facilitate this theft while also profiting from it (ad service providers, advertisers, and payment processors).

Ms. Seidler explains that companies like Sony, Radio Shack, Pixar, ATT, Chase, Auto-Zone, and Netflix are generating an enormous amount of income by placing advertising on websites featuring streams and links to pirated content. Of course the ads also generate income for those operating the pirate websites. Says Ms. Seidler:

This dubious connection to piracy is not limited to the companies whose ads appear on various pirate sites. Even more problematic are those companies, like Google (via AdSense), that generate their own robust revenue stream by providing the interface for the pirate-site pop-up ads themselves. In this equation everyone except the actual content creator makes money from this theft.

According to The Trichordist, this piracy isn’t about fans sharing music. It’s about illegally operating businesses making millions of dollars a year from the exploitation of artists’ work and not sharing any of the revenue with artists.

To the uninitiated, it might seem odd that what seems like a simple question of right or wrong is even being debated, but these sites that exploit artists are supported and promoted by faux civil liberties groups opposed to protecting creators’ rights – and internet giants are happy to throw their support behind them. Together they have crafted a narrative of creator rights as quaint and outdated, offering artists a brave new online world where they can throw off the shackles of labels (or publishers, or studios, etc.) and give away their work to find fame and fortune. However, after a decade of half-baked ideas, faulty business models, and outright lies, we know this is simply untrue.

The artists at The Trichordist say they might not always be a fan of record labels, but at least the labels negotiate contracts, pay advances, market and promote artists, and are contractually accountable for wrongdoing. A musician has no such enforceable rights in what they call the Exploitation Economy. As for the view that the internet is a powerful tool for distributing music more cheaply, these guys are adamant that pirate sites have no place in this scheme. They say that nothing is stopping musicians from sharing or giving away their music through legitimate sites like SoundCloud and Bandcamp. As far as they’re concerned, there simply is no justification for the existence of pirate sites. Major companies such as American Express, Citibank, Direct TV, Levi’s, Macy’s, Princess Cruises, Target, United Airlines, and dozens of others have been cited as placing ads on sites that are receiving notices for copyright infringement. David Newhoff points out that this is about large American corporations supporting and legitimizing the exploitation of American workers.

I’ll say it again without equivocation. These sites are in the business of exploiting workers. Period. Don’t let’s get distracted by the fact that copies of files don’t cost anything to produce or distribute or that you think WMG is evil or you don’t like the RIAA. That’s all that bullshit again, and it has nothing to do with the way in which these sites generate revenue. All that “free” media represents hours or years or even decades of labor, either by one person or by hundreds of people.

And the idea that by downloading files illegally you’re “sticking it to the Man”? The truth, he says, is that the ardent file sharer is a corporate puppet that has no idea which companies are pulling its strings. If you think this website is valuable to you, please consider a contribution to support the continuation of the site. – RL

"Auto Unions Moving Forward in Tennessee," by Alpha Unit

Industriegewerkschaft Metall was the largest labor union in Germany, and the largest union in any democratic country in the world, between 1950 and 2001. It represents workers in the motor vehicle industry. Half of the 20 seats on Volkswagen’s supervisory board are occupied by members of IG Metall. Blue-collar and white-collar workers are represented in a works council. This is an integral part of Volkswagen’s corporate structure and gives workers a say in plant and company operations. This system of joint decision-making among employer, workers, and works council – known as Mitbestimmung – is accompanied by the usual negotiations between IG Metall and management over wages and benefits. Berthold Huber, the former head of IG Metall, says Mitbestimmung keeps an eye on the system as a whole – the health of industrial employers as well as workers. “If you give people rights, they take on responsibility – that’s what Mitbestimmung has taught us,” he says. IG Metall wants to establish a works council at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and has joined with the United Auto Workers to bring this about. The hurdle for the unions is that US labor law does not allow for company-sponsored unions. In order to have anything like a works council in the United States the company has to operate in conjunction with a labor union. Hence the push to organize workers at the plant in Chattanooga. The UAW says that a majority of the workers at Chattanooga have signed cards supporting unionization. Some of the workers have said that the UAW and Volkswagen acted unlawfully in the solicitation and handling of authorization cards and filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB just determined, however, that neither organization violated US labor laws in their unionization push. Volkswagen said in a statement that the decision by the NLRB confirms its legal position. It also stated:

Furthermore, we wish to reiterate that as a general principle, Volkswagen supports the right of employees to representation at all its plants and is in favor of good cooperation with the trade union or unions represented at its plants….For this reason, Volkswagen is currently working on an innovative model for the representation of employees’ interests which will be suitable for the USA. This model will be based on positive experience in Germany and other countries where the Volkswagen Group is active.

Naturally not everyone is happy with what’s going on in Chattanooga. Business interests, Republican politicians, and anti-union organizations have been doing everything they can to stop unionization at the plant. Politicians say that if the UAW prevails it would hurt the state’s business climate. They want Volkswagen to disregard the card signings and insist on a secret ballot election instead. If the UAW is successful, it would be the union’s first victory at organizing a foreign-owned assembly plant in the South in 30 years of trying. If you think this website is valuable to you, please consider a contribution to support the continuation of the site. – RL

"He's Still a Mariner," by Alpha Unit

Richard Phillips is no hero. He himself said so. He was captain of the Maersk Alabama when it was seized by Somali pirates back in 2009 and says that the real heroes of the whole incident are the US Navy, the Navy SEALs, and the merchant mariners who sailed with him. Some of the crew members who sailed with him swear he’s no hero. They’ve been telling the media that it was his recklessness that got the ship into the hands of the pirates in the first place. Nine of them have filed a lawsuit against the Waterman Steamship Corporation and Maersk Line Limited alleging that the companies willfully sent their employees into an area where pirates were attacking merchant vessels and showed a willful disregard for their safety – mostly for financial gain. In their lawsuit they detail some of the physical injuries and mental anguish they’ve suffered as a result. Captain Phillips admits that he ignored calls to stay at least 600 miles off the coast of Somalia, but he told ABC News that it didn’t matter. He had never been that far from Somalia before and ships are sometimes taken 1,000 miles out. He also said that everyone in the Merchant Marine has to face pirates at some point, adding, “If you don’t want to deal with piracy, you need to get another job.” Captain Phillips has the support of his union, the International Organization of Masters, Mates, and Pilots. Steve Werse, a union executive and a sea captain, told ABC that warnings of pirates off the Somali coast were so numerous in 2009 that if you listened to all of them you’d have never left port. He also explained that the warnings were just advisories of suspected pirate activity and carried no legal weight or authority. There is nothing “magical” about sailing 600 miles off the coast, he said, because pirate attacks have occurred even beyond 1,000 miles off the coast. The Masters, Mates, and Pilots union represents licensed deck officers, marine engineers, state pilots, unlicensed seafarers, and shore side clerical and service workers in the maritime industry. Captain Phillips and his union have taken advantage of the publicity surrounding the movie about his kidnapping to draw attention to the Maritime Security Program (MSP), which is run by the Department of Transportation. The program keeps 60 ships ready to carry cargo for the US military at war, and it carried 95 percent of Defense Department cargo during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, from tanks to food. In return, the federal government provides the ship owners with an operating stipend to offset the increased costs of maintaining their ships under US registry. (It’s cheaper to register elsewhere, because of US labor and environmental regulations.) Budget cuts due to sequestration were scheduled to reduce funding to MSP next year, which led the US Maritime Administration to warn ship owners that a third of the vessels in the fleet could be eliminated. But the fleet has been preserved now that President Obama has signed into law the bill to reopen the government. MSP funding is to remain at a level sufficient to maintain the entire 60-ship fleet. Congress has to approve funding every year. The Maritime Security Program provides vital services to the military, but for mariners, it’s really about preserving jobs. He’s famous, but Captain Phillips remains a working seaman.

The White Hole, by Joseph Hirsch

A short story by Mr. Hirsch. This story deals explicitly with race. It was controversial at the time, but the editor liked it and I think it has held up well with time. It first appeared in 3 AM Magazine in 2007. – Robert Lindsay.

The White Hole

By Joseph Hirsch

Before his death, Anton Walters III had been one of the most powerful and influential voices in the White Power movement (though he would have preferred the term ‘Separatist’). In fact, Federal sources revealed that he had taken part in a telephone conference from within the confines of his compound in Spokane, Washington, concerning the Nazi Low Riders, a notorious prison gang, and whether or not they should allow members with Latin blood into their ranks. His vote had been a predictable ‘Nay’, but it had fallen on deaf ears. The drug trade and changing times had drowned out his vote, and it was best he died when he did before having to witness any further decline within the movement he had helped build. Walters had first made his presence felt in the mid-Eighties. Before that, his writings mostly concerned big game hunting and the best methods for defense against nuclear fallout. He printed his manuals at his own expense, though the costs must have been offset or eaten by his bread and butter enterprise, which was, conveniently, running a printing press. His works frequently showed up at Gun Shows and Trade Expos, though they weren’t displayed prominently, and he didn’t begin to receive feedback until his thoughts, and his pen, turned to the question of Apartheid during the height of the tumult in South Africa. He gained his fair share of supporters, and a few critics, after calling for the assassination of Nelson Mandela. But he continued on, undeterred, until he contracted throat cancer in 1986 after a lifetime of indulging in both smoking and chew tobacco. He underwent radiation therapy and beat the disease despite his advancing years. And maybe the brush with death could explain the shift from hard-line essays to the dreamy speculation of his fantasies, which would go on to arouse the minds of his extremist readership. His flagship character made his first appearance in a book entitled, simply, The Norseman. The book concerns a put-upon farmer whose wife leaves him for a strapping young black man, taking both of their daughters with her in tow. The distraught farmer, after having lost everything, goes into his backyard, falls among the furrowed ranks of corn and beseeches Christ for mercy. The farmer’s crop turns fallow the next day, leaving him without a harvest. Embittered now, and dark of mind, the farmer turns to the Old Gods, and he summons Odin, pleading not for mercy, but for revenge. Against all logic, and told in a prose that keeps it from becoming laughable, a galleon with twenty-four oarsman rows its way onto his farm, a Viking to match the greatest of black virility at its helm. Cloaked in the pelts of fierce beasts and wearing a horned helmet, the Norseman vows to succor the poor farmer’s hatred. The Viking then goes on a tear across the plains, until he finds the wife and the ‘moor’, as the Viking refers to him. Happening upon the couple as they are in congress in a sleazy motel, the Viking proceeds to decapitate the black man and then orders the wife to fellate him, after which she joins her lover in a heap at the foot of the bed. The novel ends with the Norseman returning to the farm, the farmer’s children in tow, clinging to his strong body… The Norseman became a runaway success and went through five printings before Walters realized he would need to find a legitimate publisher to handle the demand. The first installment was followed by five sequels, all of which were equally successful and relied heavily on the same formula of a white nuclear family disrupted by an outside influence, usually in the form of a black man. All of the follow-up novels sold just as well, or close. Walters’ proudest hour came when the original installment appeared in a reversible omnibus with The Turner Diaries, the only other Separatist/ Supremacist tract to surpass his own books in sales. The success of the series allowed him to move from his single-wide trailer to a log and cedar split-level situated on ten acres of verdant wilds, with enough room for a shooting range and a small tribe of deer, each of whom was assigned an appropriately Nordic name. His favorite, was, of course, Odin…. **** Walters had a younger brother, Edgar, who lived some few-hundred miles away in Missouri. Walters the Eldest had tried to impress upon his brother the perils white womanhood would face in the coming century, but Edgar was a happily married and well-adjusted state trooper with two sons of his own whose beliefs ended at the Methodist Church he and his family attended every Sunday. He regarded his brother with some fear, and couldn’t for the life of him understand where he had gotten his ideas, as their parents had been of tolerant stock, especially considering the time and place from whence they came. Unfortunately, Edgar’s wife left him (though not for a black man, as he repeatedly assured his older brother), and he contracted the cancer which was a part of their shared heredity. When it spread to the lymph nodes, and it became clear that he wasn’t going to beat the disease as easily as his brother had, Edgar found himself with no choice but to remand his children over to his older brother’s care. John and Eric Walters came to live with their uncle in the Spring of 1995. John had been twelve at the time, Eric eight. After showing each of the boys their rooms, and making them feel at home, Anton proceeded to indoctrinate the children in such a way that Edgar, if he could hear it from within the confines of his coffin, would have probably rolled over in his grave. No one knows for certain what went on at Compound Walters, but if we were to speculate, certain shows of youthful normalcy such as hunting and sports were allowed. But the pickup basketball games and the laps swam around the lake were probably greeted with caveats from the sideline: “Good, grow strong for the white race.” And the outings with the shotgun might have been prefaced: “Pretend that deer’s a black man,” or something along those lines. The boys were home-schooled. Most of the outside world was filtered out. The one exception may have been the satellite TV, which Anton couldn’t resist, with its constant stream of damnation that fed his mind whatever thoughts of impending apocalypse or greed it needed for confirmation of Society’s collapse, everything from the spinning Wheel of Fortune to the wild fires in Arizona, Armageddon spelled out on the big-screen with closed-captions to boot. The extent of the abuse the children suffered, or even if there was abuse, is unknown. We can assume there was some form of abuse, else why would Anton Walters the Third’s body have been found tied to a chair in front of the television? As to how the children took their White Pride education, when Walters was found, dead and starved, attached to the chair in front of the TV, the screen was blaring BET, an assault of Rap Videos in surround sound, gloating in front of his incontinent body. No one could mistake this ironic finish for an accident. When you consider that the Satellite package included more than three-hundred channels, the erstwhile Walters brothers had obviously intended to send a message to whoever found the old man, his body lighter a few credit cards. The trail of the aforementioned credit cards stopped somewhere in Seattle, and no one had seen or heard from the brothers for at least a year. If they were alive, or where they were…it was all an unknown…. ….But that wasn’t the bank’s business. Their job was to foreclose on the house, and bury its history. After the injunction was waived, a crew was ordered to restore the inside, another crew to handle the grounds outside, before the log mansion was to be set on the auction block; for Walters, in the white-heat of his creativity, had neglected to give the federal government its due. The under-the-table atmosphere of the conventions where his books were sold only encouraged his dodgy behavior, and it was only after the IRS discovered that he owed eight years of back taxes that the body had been discovered. God knows the state of decomposition it might have been found in had it taken longer to uncover his fraud. As it stood, the body had been taken out of the house months ago. After they removed the SS regalia and everything else that flew in the face of the man’s repeated statements that he was merely a ‘Separatist’, the rest of the home’s contents were auctioned off. The final detail was the lawn, which still needed cutting. The two foreman, both beefy white men, stood posted on the side of the pickup where they kept all the landscaping tools. Their six-man Salvadoran work crew had undone the flatbed, pulled out the mowers and weed whackers and had gone to work. The two men shouted over the sound of their crew. Grass as fine as dust blew out from under the rusty machines, groaning out a stream of fuel that mixed with the sun and spelled Spring. “D’ ya hear they found the kid?” “Who?” The other one asked, lighting a cigarette and wondering if it was a safe thing to do with all the fuel residue around here. “The nephew. You know the story here right?” The boss looked irritated, quizzically staring his friend down and wondering if he was going to have to explain the whole fuggin’ thing again. “Yeah, yeah. I know. Crazy-ass clansman.” “No. Wasn’t no clansman. But close.” “Yeah, so anyway. The nephew.” The second one said, prompting him again. “Yeah, right.” The first one said, picking it back up. “They caught his ass in Arizona. Dumb fuck was using his uncle’s credit cards to buy himself lunch at a Burger King.” “Huh.” The other one said, leaning his elbows against the side of the truck. He noted that only one of the Salvadoran crew was wearing a mask to protect himself from the fumes. Was he some sort of foreman among them? he wondered. The hierarchy for him ended right here. He didn’t know anything about them. The Salvadorans were Mexican to him. Among these musings, the light bulb went off. “Wait.” The second one said. “What?” His boss said. His friend’s voice sounded contradictory. He didn’t know they were having an argument here. “I thought there was two of them.” “Two what?” “Nephews.” The second one, whose name was Chet, said. His boss, Harmon, wanted to argue, but knew he was right. It was his turn to say it. “Huh.” He said. Huh, it hung in the space between them. Which was alright, since it was too hot to speak anymore. The chips of grass flecked up and stung their faces, like thorns or mosquitoes, pesky inanimate insects unearthed as the ground was brought back to proper manicured form. It was too hot to even look at those Mexicans, Salvadorans, let alone do what they were doing, God bless them, working without a sound usually, except for the one now, coming toward them, the one wearing a mask. He spoke in rapid-fire Spanish. They wouldn’t have understood him even without the mask, but that only made it worse. “Good God, man, what?” The man overcame his panic enough to pull the mask from his face, let it slide down to his sweating neck. He pointed to a spot where his countrymen were gaggled together. “Aqui!” He shouted. The foreman and his underboss brought themselves up from their sticky idle alongside the pickup truck and headed over to the point where the men were gathered like mourners around their dead. “Okay. What the fuck?” The first white man said. “Aqui.” “Yeah. A key. A key to what, man?” A nuclear symbol, the black and yellow triangles, a yellow jacket warning harkening from the Cold War days, stood out on a metal bubble, protruding from the ground, a circle riveted with steel bolts, like a shield. Around the circumference of the steel bubble, were the words White Power, traced like the outlines of reflected smiles or the most primitive of fish. Both of the men exchanged glances. What the hell? With the bank’s consent, and with two of its representatives present, a welder was called in, a friend of the foreman’s. All in attendance gave him and his torch a respectful berth, the Salvadorans marking the furthest reaches of the perimeter, the foremen a little closer, the two bank reps the closest, as this promised to be of the most relevance to them. Whatever it was, it would either raise or lower the value of the property as a whole. They wouldn’t know until the man with the torch, faceless beneath the mask, had burned a hole in the bubble. The sparks reached their apex as it popped, then yielded. The welder gripped the manhole cover in his gloved hands and threw it to the side. He pulled the lid of his mask from his face, revealing sweaty eyes that could barely do more than squint. “Who’s going in?” No one had to. Someone was coming out, stooped, mistaken for a midget, since the gait was that of age, but it was the cramped space that had wizened the boy. They all stood and watched him. He visored his eyes with his hand, stared at the circle of people around him, and spun three-hundred and sixty-degrees. It overwhelmed him, and he fell in his dizzy spell onto the grass. Two of the Salvadorans ran to him. Another one went for the water in the trunk of the pickup. The boy’s chest was heaving. He was hyperventilating. One of the bank reps, the woman in her mid-thirties, stepped around the boy and the group gathered around him, and she peered inside. It was cool, a dank cave, counterpoint to the heat outside; the cool, mixed with her own curiosity, beckoned her further, and she descended within. A motion sensor triggered and brought her out of the dark. The subterranean eight by six world illuminated, and she saw what the boy had seen for…how long? The answer was there, above a shelf where a bible, a bottle of vitamins, and a 9mm Beretta semi-auto handgun were resting. Fortunately the gun (which looked loaded from here) seemed untouched. The teddy bear, on the other hand, appeared to have been snuggled until mangled, a source for the child’s fear that had endured until one of the black sequins that was its eye fell from the socket, under the wear of spit when it wasn’t wrapped around a sucked thumb. Better the teddy-bear than the gun, she thought, before marveling at the digital face which was precise down to the second…. 13:10:05:23:09 Thirteen months, ten days, five hours, twenty three minutes and nine…no ten…now eleven seconds the boy had been down here, alone. With foodstuffs, a teddy bear, vitamins, and a handgun. A pulley hung from the ceiling. She clutched the base of the square knot, and walked from one end of the six by eight cell to the other. She immediately felt a breeze as slats yielded in the ceiling, revealing a most-primitive form of cross ventilation, which sent her to the other side of the room, and the child’s only other form of entertainment: a military-issue, World War One style gas mask. Up above, the other man cradled the boy who had been forced to grow to pubescence in a space too small to even use the bathroom. The boy stared into his eyes, looking like he was about to die, more probably about to pass out. He mustered some words for the man, too faint to hear without reaching down. “What, son?” The boy repeated it. “Did the n—— take over?” The man winced and drew back, maybe because he was black, and the boy had spoken in commiserate tones, as if they were on the same team. The man fought his repulsion, looked up to make sure no one else had heard, then leaned back in. The boy didn’t know what the word meant. Or, if he had at some point, he had somehow forgotten in the intervening year. The man cradled him and knew the words meant nothing, didn’t know whether the boy’s brother or the boy’s uncle had locked him down here. But he wanted to kill somebody.

The Last Slice of Pizza, by Joseph Hirsch (A Dystopian Science Fiction Novel)

Brief Synopsis:  Michael Fermi is what many people would uncharitably describe as a “loser.” He is in his mid-twenties, living at home with his mother and delivering pizzas for a living. His life is about to change, however, as he has been selected by an alien race which intends to install its parasitic spearhead in his body in order to use him for their own purposes. This unseen race, known as the Grand Arbiters, will use this method of bilocation to observe humanity through the eyes of the lowly pizza man, in order to determine whether or not Man should be eliminated, and his precious Earth destroyed alongside of him.

The Last Slice of Pizza

By Joseph Hirsch

What the Reader Doesn’t Want to Know

The President of the United States of America walks into the War Room, flanked by two four star generals and the Secretary of State. While there is an impressive, massive table dominating the room, this is not the War Room we have grown accustomed to from countless movies and TV shows. There is a stainless steel carafe of water on the table, centered on a tray with three drinking glass that have been left untouched. The White House Press Secretary and the Vice President of the United States are the only people in the room who are seated. Everyone else stands, either uneasily against the wall or off to the side of the President. The Press Secretary says, “Mr. President, at three-forty five am this transmission was intercepted at Cape Canaveral along with a decryption cipher, which arrived via radio signal at ten second intervals over the course of the following forty-five minutes. At that time, all communications ceased.” The president has his ring finger pressed against the side of his skull, the fingertip flush against his hair which became shot with gray roughly a year into his second term. His golden wedding band is dull from being rapped repeatedly against the surface of his desk in the Oval Office. The message is then played: “Homo sapiens, you are being contacted because we wish to inform you that several tons of radioactive explosives have been placed in the molten core of your Earth. This bomb cannot be defused, and requires no secondary trigger mechanism. It has been activated by the positively charged ions, rotation, and convective motion of your Earth, which are responsible for producing your magnetic field. The bomb will detonate in twelve hours.” A terrified murmur makes its way from one to the other of those assembled in the room. The most powerful man on Earth has been reduced inwardly to a whimpering child, though he is still man and leader enough to conceal his terror from those who look to him for guidance, and who still want to believe that he can get them through this. “In order to dissuade you from your doubts, reticence, or your suspicion that this may be a hoax, we have decided to incinerate a star whose coordinates we have provided to your scientists at NASA. This incineration will take place roughly eleven hours before we destroy your Earth.” The president has clasped his hands together, as if praying, though he is more likely deep in thought, as those close to him know the Ruler of the Free World to be a closet deist, a yuppie agnostic who attended church more to plug himself into the political pipeline when rallying for his senate run, than out of any sort of religious ardor. “Each of you who have been made aware of this message is to meet at coordinates which have been provided in a document accompanying the cipher of this transmission. You three-thousand humans will be spared and taken aboard our ship. Your immediate families will also be spared. If, however, you inform anyone not included on the manifest of either what is to happen to the Earth o he manifest of either what is to happen to the Earth or of the coordinates where the airlift is to take place, you will be incinerated along with all of your unfortunate Homo sapiens friends. End…” Static ripples, and the Vice President turns the volume down. The President looks over at the Press Secretary, who removes his bifocals and wipes the fogged glasses with the triangular end of his paisley tie. “Mr. President, a star was in fact incinerated a little bit more than two hours ago.” “Which star?” The president is grim, but still not panicking. The Press Secretary swivels in his seat, undoes the half-Windsor knot of his tie. “It was a star we hadn’t even located or named until its coordinates were provided in the encrypted signal.” The president is deep in thought, pondering the greatest crisis his nation, his planet, has ever faced. The irrepressible conflict between the North and South which claimed more American lives than any other war, the Cuban Missile Crisis whereby mutual destruction may have just been narrowly averted, the banking meltdown in which economies from Reykjavik, Iceland to Manhattan Island almost collapsed due to bad credit default swaps-all of it pales in comparison to the calamity he now has to face. Every one of the other people in the room is grateful that the decision rests with him. Never has the crown laid heavier upon the head, or the political chalice for which men competed seemed more poisonous a drink. The President of the United States of America thinks about his constituents, about his enemies, about the hardy souls who came out to shake his hand when he did his tours of the heartland damaged by tornadoes and floods. He thinks about his responsibility to them, and he is tempted to ask one of his generals if they might not be able to triangulate the source of that signal and perhaps fire upon the target. He knows that the languishing Star Wars program is a pipe dream, and that some Hail Mary fantasy of sending a nuclear payload aboard a satellite toward the hostile aliens would make a good yarn in a popcorn flick, but this is not a movie. The President stops thinking about his voters, his friends and enemies in Washington, the sycophantic press corps. He shifts in his seat, and the Presidential seal stitched into the leather headrest frames his head for a moment like a halo. He thinks about his wife, his children, his shaggy spotted Cocker Spaniel, and the choice becomes obvious. He glances at everyone in the room, and finally lets his eyes settle on his shiny loafers, because he is too ashamed to meet any gaze right now. “Have Air Force One readied, and give the pilot the coordinates listed in the cipher accompanying the signal from space.” An audible sigh goes up from those assembled in the War Room. There is the sound of papers shuffling, and then they all disperse. No one makes cellphone calls or sends emails, since those can easily be intercepted thanks to programs the president himself has signed off on via executive fiat. His decision has alienated him from his liberal base, and garners him no credit from his enemies who see him as too dovish, but he has done what he thought was right for the American people. It was easy, he muses as he walks through the halls of the White House, past the presidential portraitures, to be a protestor when one didn’t receive the kinds of briefings he got daily. But to stand on that carpet and hear about the terror cells, the loose uranium, the new surface-to-air shoulder fired rockets, day in and day out, and to keep those secrets to oneself, that made the decisions that much harder. It was his second term anyway. Better to alienate the base in order to protect them. All of it had been for nothing, though. He runs out to his helicopter and salutes the marine as he boards, a boards, a final wash of guilt making its way over him before it is drowned out in the roar of propellers as he takes off into the sky. The termites dance away. Another one of the little maggots makes communion with the others, sharing his secret with them, bearing tidings from aboard a vessel where the unseen until now Arbiters are assembled to speak. They wear the same metal shells as Mama, but Wichman, Mars, Kammisch and I can sense alien life pulsing beneath the scaled metal armor. One of them speaks, its voice oscillating through some kind of modulator: “Mercury we need only for the mining of calcium and magnesium.” This motion is seconded, and each of the steel-sheathed Arbiters vibrate as a harmonious accord flows across their ranks. A canister filled with the pseudocoelomate rotifer Nanobots recently jettisoned from Earth appears in their midst. One of the Arbiters cracks the glass case like a giant opening a walnut with his massive hands. A scattering of thermal termites, like floating tinsel, shows the Arbiters a scene of destruction which excites them, makes their slimy, pestiferous bodies writhe inside of the steel shells that make them seem so much stronger and more o much stronger and more formidable than they actually are. The Earth explodes, and something like a gestalt orgasm makes all of the extraterrestrial trolls applaud. The Earth is now a radiant sun, and through the observation window a fleet of ships drifts into view to form a colorless bulwark that blots out the stars. Their force fields deploy, tessellated striations of jagged lightning, a kinematic orchestration which pushes the Earth until it sits where the sun once was, shoving the sun into an adjacent galaxy. The ships groan and turn to face the other direction. Their ballistic waves of purple light press Mars until it moves where the Earth once was. The moon stays in place. From within this vision which has been brought to us thanks to our shattering of the little bank teller’s tube, I can hear Wichman laughing. “Clever, evil bastards.” “That was not Earth we just visited,” Mars says. “Captain Obvious,” Wichman shoots back. Kammisch is silent, as am I. We watch the Arbiters, sated on that main course of destruction, now treated to a desert which consists of a sadistic show well beyond man’s conception. The President has done as the Arbiters have commanded him. He has managed to beat Benjamin Franklin’s sage advice about men and secrets, and he has assembled an intergalactic Noah’s Ark, this collection of senators and their families, generals and aides-de-camp, speechwriters and their spouses. They wait patiently for their starship to come. It arrives, a facsimile of the drop ship where we now sit watching this scene unfold, only of course much larger. They board quietly, frightened, like obedient cattle, forming the shape of a new docile animal which is composed of all of their shuffling bodies, a pachyderm bound for God-knows-where. Once aboard, their vessel launches into space, and as quickly as a rifle tracking skeet, the Arbiters watch them through the display window of their own ship and one of the aliens presses a button which sends a ray out to intercept and obliterate the vessel filled with the only Earthlings besides us four men watching in terror, as a satanic orange and red mushroom cloud consumes itself and then dissolves into shards, fanning out into the vacuum of space. The Arbiters roil and slither inside their steel suits, pleased and hissing, tearing themselves into shapes which resemble uncoiling strands of especially pliant taffy or fiberglass insulation. They are not so much hideous as imbued with a primordial ugliness which should not know sentience. Each of us sees bits of them slithering around in their suits, thanks to the diligence of the thermal termites worming their way into cracks and joints, and though I haven’t spoken to the other men, I can feel their anger rising as just I can feel my own. Things that look like these Arbiters, formless ooze, should not rule over us, should not control who lives or dies or the manner in which we perish. Those politicians who fed off the blood of the people deserved to be booted from office, sure, and one could maybe make a Guy Fawkes argument that they even deserved death for the betrayal of their constituents, but killing their families, their wives, and children is beyond the ken of even Old Testament Yahweh in all but his most vindictive mood. I am, after all, something of an authority on God, as much as any man can be short of knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that He empirically exists. God did not, in that Gutenberg Bible I keep by my nightstand, tell the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah that they would live, only to kill them anyway. If Lot’s wife had not turned around and disobeyed him, if she had kept her eyes forward, then God would not have turned her into a pillar of salt merely to amuse himself. I dig my fingernails into the lifelines of my palms until they begin to bleed, cursing the slime bags for their formlessness, which leaves them no necks to even wring. I want to throttle them, too, to strangle one, but I have to keep my anger in check, because the silkworms are still spinning their web, showing me that I am in fact wrong in my assumption that we four aboard this drop ship are the only human beings left alive. The Arbiters in fact decided to keep a certain number of human beings alive for their own purposes, which were cruel, but not without a cold logic that I find hard to refute. Several hundred sport utility vehicles, like the ones I saw around the neighborhood where I had once lived with my mother by the lake, are arranged in a long line on the rusted tundra of the Martian basalt. “Stau,” Kammisch says. “Ja,” I reply. But how? How or why is there a traffic jam on the surface of Mars? One of the Nanobots, not hindered by atmospheric concerns, weaves its way across the rocks toward the line of SUVs. Each of the drivers, men and women shanghaied from Earth, marooned now on Mars, grip the steering wheel of their car. Each vehicle’s porous doors and sunroofs are sheathed in a cocooning membrane of elastomeric seals reinforced with a space age polymer, like the doors on our mother ship. Nothing can get in and nothing can get out, but these men and women who have been abducted from carpools or crosstown errands do not need more oxygen than they already have, because the thermal termites will provide that, just as they would continually rewire the digestive systems of the drivers so that hunger would never become a problem, either. Gas would certainly not be an issue, as I already know from experience. The termites are rerouting all of the atoms and molecules into a feedback loop, whereby any gas that is burned will in turn create more gas in a cycle of perpetual motion better than any sort of zero point energy theorized by Barry Mars in his most outlandish mood. The people drive in circles for days that turn into months, which become years that in turn morph into generations. They beg for death, but the termites keep their hands sealed to the wheels. The red clay of Mars looks so much like the brimstone of Hell, but nothing from Dante or Sisyphus could rival the punishment these commuters are forced to endure, as the worms in the engine blocks pump more and more fossil fuel into the Martian atmosphere. Co2 gases form a greenhouse shell over Mars, and the Arbiters observe and laugh, this multi-century project a diversion that lasts them in their infinite cruelty the equivalent of only a few hours. Their hideous voices, rasping and scarred, carry across the desolate Martian expanse. Over one-hundred Mbar of surface pressure is realized, the temperature rising degree by degree, until the Nanobots are forced to vacate and the drivers are finally released from their torment, melting to the liquefying hulls of their Denali and Expedition and Yukon utility vehicles. From an astral perch the Nanobots watch, nesting like lapdogs on the contours of the metal suits that the Arbiters wear. After the cars melt, the rocks begin to undergo thermal decomposition, and hissing C02 and H20 make noises eerily similar to the laughter of the monstrous aliens, gases coming in wavering steamy fingers from the ground where it cracks with molten volcanic life. Our hatred for the evil Gods melts in that moment. No matter how wicked we consider them to be, they are giving us something that had been the provenance of no man, no matter how holy and faithful to God he was, or devoted to science he might have been. We are seeing the beginnings of a new world, the new world in fact. A tundra region opens above the regolith, and life as small as the Nanobots appears, little pioneer biota that appeal to the part of each man that he keeps hidden, the part that wants to pet butterflies but fears how that might appear to other men. “Oh, shit,” I think I hear Wichman say, and he starts to cry. It is contagious. We hear each other’s voices, but see only the memories of the termites, each passing on a bit of knowledge to the next in case it prematurely senesces or is consumed in flames. The little butterflies with their purple and blue patterns are resistant to the ultraviolet rays which lash the cragged surface of this new Earth, and they excrete acids that further dissolve the rocks and flatten the mountains into low naked hills, and banded marble cliffs which form a rim around the first ocean. We can taste the nitrogen and oxygen as they are introduced, across the chasm of centuries and despite the limited sensory perception of the little wormy hosts sending back data one broken image at a time. The one ocean of New Earth breaks into two oceans, forming an aqua-frothed Pangaea wreathed in salt in the northern boreal area and a second sea in the southern hemispheric Hellas Planitia zone. Minor tweaking is performed by the bulwarked convoy of drifting sky fortresses, which casts a giant shadow over the Earth which has become the new sun, and Mars, which has become a home for the Arbiters. Giant louvered parasol sunshades emerge from the abysses inside of the great ships, and they adjust the orbital eccentricity of every planet until the Council of Arbiters achieves that revolting harmonious accord again. They writhe in their elemental suits, and rap their chainmail knuckles against the top of their table. The millions of aliens who have moved into the Milky Way are happy with this new living arrangement. We four remaining humans above this drop ship are less so.

"How Happy Are Recent College Graduates?" by Alpha Unit

I remember reading an article roughly 25 years ago about recent college graduates who had jobs as bike messengers and coffee shop baristas. The author, the late William Henry, was asking if too many people were going to college. People still want to know. Now questions about the employment prospects of recent college graduates are raised throughout the mainstream media continually, for good reason. There is a glut of college graduates but a shortage of jobs that college graduates want to take – or feel they deserve. More and more of them are taking jobs that don’t require a college degree, which pushes people without degrees out of those jobs. Alana Semuels, writing for the Los Angeles Times, compares past and present:

In 1970, only 2

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 48 Not surprisingly, a third of 4-year college graduates don’t feel that college prepared them well for employment, as a report by Robert Charette warns against emphasizing STEM at the expense of other disciplines. He says that without a good grounding in the arts, literature, and history, STEM students narrow both their worldview and their career options. He cites a 2011 op-ed piece by Norman Augustine, the former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, who said:

In my position as CEO of a firm employing over 80,000 engineers, I can testify that most were excellent engineers. But the factors that most distinguished those who advanced in the organization was the ability to think broadly and read and write clearly.

Charette’s view is that everyone needs a solid grounding in science, engineering, and math. In that sense, he says, there is a STEM knowledge shortage. To fill that shortage you don’t necessarily need a college or university degree in a STEM discipline, but you do need to learn those subjects, from childhood until you head off to college or get a job.

"Heavy Construction," by Alpha Unit

The Dockbuilders of New York and New Jersey traces its beginnings to the late nineteenth century, when a group of men got together to form the Independent Dockbuilders Union. The union worked on the New York City waterfront, building docks and piers and driving piles for marine foundations and structures. They were granted a charter by the American Federation of Labor in 1907. After a fire destroyed its records in 1910, the union reapplied for a charter. That was when the Dockbuilders Union became the object of a tug-of-war between two other unions, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and the Bridge and Structural Ironworkers Union. Both these unions claimed the dockbuilders as part of their jurisdiction. The AFL didn’t agree with either of them. It saw dockbuilding as a specialty trade and reissued the charter. So two dockbuilder locals were formed – the Independent Dockbuilders Union and the Municipal Dock Workers. The Carpenters Union wasn’t about to give up on the dockbuilders, though, and by 1914 was pressuring the dockbuilders to affiliate with them. The Independent Dockbuilders gave in to the pressure. The Municipal Dock Workers would not. Along came the Ironworkers Union, claiming Municipal as part of its jurisdiction. The AFL ruled that there should only be one dockbuilders union in New York City. So Municipal joined the already affiliated Independent Dockworkers as part of Dockbuilders Local 1456. Commercial divers who did welding and installed piling in and around New York City had formed the Marine Divers and Tenders Union in 1920. By 1973 the divers had affiliated with Dockbuilders Local 1456, too. Jurisdictional claims such as those in New York City are why piledrivers locals across the country are a part of the Carpenters Union. Pile drivers are described, in fact, as the elite of the carpentry trade. Pile drivers are the first work crew on a construction site. They’re the ones who do all the foundation work on piers, wharves, drydocks, bulkheads, bridges, highway overpasses, skyscrapers, and parking lots. Pile drivers install piling – structural columns of wood, steel, or concrete – on the ungraded site. Specifically, a pile driver lays out from blueprints the exact location of the piling and positions them correctly, then drives them into place. He (or she) then caps the piling after it’s been driven and prepares it to receive the superstructure. This type of work involves strenuous labor. There is a lot of lifting and rigging involved and a worker will at times have to climb a piledriving lead – the track upon which a driving hammer runs – to properly align a pile beneath the hammer. Some of the leads are well over 100 feet tall. Pile drivers get their work done with various types of heavy equipment like excavators, drilling rigs, and diesel and hydraulic hammers. They build but they also perform demolition work. Some of them are commercial divers who work in marine construction installing piling for offshore oil rigs and other projects. The divers weld, perform inspections, and handle salvage operations. As you can imagine, this is difficult, noisy, dangerous work. It takes about four years to become a journeyman pile driver. Whether you work inland or offshore you can expect to spend considerable time away from home. In addition to your regular work hours you’re likely to have extended periods of overtime on some projects. A pile driver has to travel, too, sometimes long distances. Pile drivers, or “pilebutts” as they sometimes call each other, take great pride in what they do. To them, the undeveloped earliest stage of construction is the hardest to work with. But it can be rewarding for anyone who’s good at it – and becoming really good at some aspects of this job can take years. An experienced union man’s kindly advice to brand new apprentices is Keep your mouth closed and your ears open. Go to work every day willing to learn and the senior guys will show you the ropes.

"Tattoos in the Workplace," by Alpha Unit

It’s the most excruciating pain you could ever experience in your life. Or not. It feels like being splattered with specks of burning hot grease – over and over. Or it’s like someone snapping a rubber band against your skin. It could be like rapid bee stings in succession. It all depends on who’s describing it. What they’re describing is laser tattoo removal. People who provide the treatments usually downplay how painful it is. And why wouldn’t they? Business has been good for them the last several years. More and more people have been seeking their services after deciding that getting a job might be easier if they get rid of their tattoos – now the vestiges of youthful or drunken indiscretion. The military also has restrictions regarding tattoos, so people seeking to enlist are undergoing laser treatments as well. Federal law prohibits employers from denying someone a job based on race, gender, religion, or disability – but there is no such protection regarding tattoos. While more companies have become lenient toward employees with tattoos, others still restrict tattoos in their dress codes, mainly because of customers who have negative perceptions of tattoos. If a company has a reasonable belief that tattoos will hurt its image or public relations, it’s within its legal rights to forbid tattoos. Where things can get tricky is if the tattoo is for religious purposes. The employee then has to be accommodated as long as it doesn’t cause undue hardship to the employer. Cloutier v. Costco might serve as a guide to employers confronted with the accommodation of religious “body art” in the workplace. Kimberly Cloutier had both piercings and tattoos when she started working at Costco. She subsequently got a facial piercing, never indicating that she did so in compliance with any religion. In March 2001 Costco revised its policies to prohibit all facial jewelry except earrings. Ms. Cloutier alleged that Costco failed to offer her a reasonable accommodation after she alerted the company to a conflict between the “no facial jewelry” provision of its dress code and her religious practice as a member of the Church of Body Modification. Costco had told her that if she covered the piercing she could keep her job. She didn’t want to cover it, citing her religion. The court expressed doubt that Ms. Cloutier’s claim was based on “bona fide religious practice,” noting that even assuming arguendo that the Church of Body Modification is a bona fide religion, it in no way required a display of facial piercings at all times. The court determined that requiring Costco to allow Ms. Cloutier to display her body modification because of the way she chose to interpret her religion would cause the company undue hardship in implementing its dress code. Many people out there just aren’t sympathetic to people who think employers shouldn’t care whether or not they have tattoos. One guy with tattoos says his tattoos don’t define who he is:

I am a hard worker and very friendly person to be around…Employers really should take the time to look at whether people are truly qualified or not and keep tattoos separate from that.

An employer responds:

I have hired literally hundreds of employees. I have a job app, and about 20 minutes of face-to-face interviewing to select someone for the next steps, which are a background check and drug screen before hire. Appearances count…Visible tattoos/piercings that cannot be covered up tells me that this person has little common sense and judgemental skills. They don’t think ahead.

After making a list of other behaviors that are a turn-off during an interview – and the snap judgements he makes about the offenders – his message to tattoo wearers ends this way:

Unfortunately I don’t have hours or days to “get to know you.”

"Mechanics On Call 24 Hours a Day," by Alpha Unit

When he got back from serving in Vietnam, Vick Kowell got a job as an apprentice working on elevators during construction of the Transamerica Building in San Francisco. He’s been an elevator mechanic for over 30 years now. He told Richard Bermack:

It was a privilege working with all the old timers who came up through the business. They were excellent mechanics, and I learned a lot from them. When it came to teaching, the old guys were horrible. They never let you look at the layouts and had you running. But it was for your betterment. When I look back on it, I appreciate it…Back then you learned hands on, and if you were good enough, you got promoted. With the apprenticeship program, the young guys are given more knowledge and opportunity. They let you look at the elevator print, where the old guys were afraid for their jobs and didn’t want to share. There were guys who had been helpers for 30 years and never got to be a mechanic. Now they are encouraged to become mechanics. I think it’s good for the business, and the mandatory schooling is excellent.

Elevator construction combines skills from a number of trades, which sets it apart from other skilled trades, according to one elevator mechanic who’s been on the job for 20 years. The mandatory schooling takes about four years. During your first couple of years as an apprentice you learn how to read the blueprints Vick Kowell referred to. You also learn materials handling, rigging and hoisting, installing a machine room, car and counterweight assembly, and basic welding. You proceed to learn basic electricity and how to install and maintain DC motors and generators. This is just the basics. During your third year you learn how to install the elevator cars – and how to install escalators and moving walks, too. For cabled elevators, workers install geared or gearless machines with a traction drive wheel that guides steel cables connected to the car and counterweight. The other type of elevators they install are those in which a car sits on a hydraulic plunger that’s driven by a pump; the plunger pushes the elevator car from underneath, like a lift in a service station. After constructing all components of an elevator, mechanics put in all the electrical wiring and install all the electrical components for each floor and at the main control panel in the machine room. It’s during the final year of apprenticeship that you typically learn the basics of solid state electronics and circuit tracing. Elevator installers called adjusters specialize in fine-tuning all the equipment after installation. Adjusters make sure the elevator works exactly to specifications. For this work you’ll need a thorough knowledge of electricity, electronics, and computers. As with many other types of labor you will need excellent stamina to do this work. The International Union of Elevator Constructors – which has represented these workers since 1901 – tells all potential apprentices that they’ll be walking or standing about 90 percent of the time. They’ll be lifting up to 100 pounds about 75 percent of the time. About 70 percent of the time they’ll be stooping, forward bending, or crouching. And they must be willing and able to travel almost all of the time. Any kids you know who are good at math or physics, interested in electricity, physically strong, and able to focus on high-concentration tasks could be ideally suited for this trade.

"Roger Modjeski Has a Question," by Alpha Unit

Until the transistor came along, electronic amplification was produced by vacuum tubes.

These tubes were in TV sets, radios, hi-fi sysytems, and guitar amplifiers, and were also vital components of military applications like radar. In almost all these devices tubes have been replaced by solid state technology – that is, semiconductors – except in some guitar amplifiers. And that’s because to a lot of guitarists, there’s no replacement for the sound produced by tubes.

A tube is just a vacuum-sealed glass bottle with an electrode that emits electrons when heated (cathode) and an electrode that attracts electrons (anode). It also contains a grid, which modulates the flow of electrons, and a filament, or heater.

Dave Hunter tells us that when a guitarist plucks a string on his guitar, the pickup sends a small voltage to the input of his amplifier, where it’s passed along to the grid of the first preamp tube. The grid creates an increase in voltage by causing electrons to “boil off” the cathode, making the sound bigger. This bigger signal is passed along to the output tube, which makes it even bigger. This is then carried to the speaker via the output transformer.

Some listeners can’t really tell the difference between a solid state amp – or transistor amp – and a tube amp. But for many guitarists, tube amps are the only way to do it. Danny says that a solid state amp produces a clean, crisp, accurate sound and that it’s quick and responsive to your playing. It requires less maintenance and can emulate many different amplifiers at the push of a button.

The downside of a solid state amp is that the sound lacks “warmth” – it’s usually cold and sterile. Distortion is too sharp sounding. There’s no individuality to the tone and all amps will sound the same with almost any player.

Tube amps, on the other hand, are best known for their warmth, he says. They are pleasing to the ear. Scientists can’t measure the warmth, which is probably why they haven’t been able to duplicate it in a solid state amp. Also, each tube amp sounds different, with its unique tone. No two guitarists will sound the same through the same tube amp, as the amp will respond to each individual’s playing technique in a different way. Tube amps sound fat and thick, and will sound even fatter as the volume is turned up, creating that famous wall of sound.

Tubes distort sound, compressing the sound in a most pleasing way. The transformer can’t handle the signal peaks and softly rounds them off, causing even more distortion (a good thing, he insists).

There are disadvantages to having a tube amp, though. Danny says that it doesn’t sound good at low volumes; it’s best to play it loud. Tube amps also cost more than solid state amps. And you need a guitar pedal to create different sounds. They’re also very heavy.

Some features of tube sound can be produced in a digital filter. Engineers have developed transistor amps that emulate the sound of a tube amp. Tom Scholz, rock musician and mechanical engineer, introduced the Rockman, which used bipolar transistors but created a distorted sound that some musicians like. Rockman technology was used exclusively for Def Leppard’s album Hysteria. You can also hear it on Eliminator by ZZ Top.

And yet for many guitarists, nothing sounds like tube amps. Many of these purists are great fans of Roger Modjeski, who’s been designing tube amplifiers for almost his entire life. He says that his design career began at 11, but he gained his first knowledge of tube amps at the age of 5, watching his father build a Heathkit Mono hi-fi system. Modjeski himself built a dozen hi-fi sets from Heath kits while growing up. And then:

Around 1964, my interest and the industry’s turned to the new “miracle” transistors. I, in my basement shop, and the giants of the industry all did our best to design good-sounding amplifiers with these new devices, and we all failed.

But Modjeski continued experimenting with transistor circuits and invented a few of his own. In 1969 he went to the University of Virginia to get his degree in electrical engineering, learning that he was the only one in his program who had built his own amplifiers. After graduating he got a job at IBM but he saw it as a dead end. He opened an audio repair shop in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia.

In 1975 he went to Stanford to get a Master’s degree, but after a year he gave up on it and returned to Virginia. He got to know Harold Beveridge mainly by being his dealer in Virginia, even though he had met Beveridge at Stanford. Harold Beveridge was an electrical engineer who had attended McGill University and then worked for Raytheon before designing amplifiers.

In 1978 Modjeski went to work for Beveridge as a consultant and later as Chief Engineer. He designed tube amps there but left after 3 years, and by 1981 he decided to start his own company, Music Reference. On his website you’ll read that MR products are known for their ease of use, reliability, and longevity. His company Ram Tube Works was established in 1982 and was the first company to offer premium tubes tested by computer. You’ll learn that several other companies have tried to take their market and failed.

Roger Modjeski has a separate concern, however. He is asking, “Where is the next generation of audio engineers?”

He says that for 20 years he has put out the call for young people to come and work for him. A few have come, he says, but as the years go by, they are fewer and fewer. He has run ads in Stereophile to get the attention of young people interested in science and inventing, and done the same in his comments and on his website. He’s gotten little reply, he says.

He was an apprentice under Harold Beveridge and he has served as a mentor himself. But not enough people are showing interest in the field. “If you truly love audio, what else are you doing that is so much more important?” he wonders.

The industry needs new talent.

"At Risk and Still on the Line," by Alpha Unit

Three years ago a lineman was electrocuted while working in an underground electrical vault in Benicia, California. He was employed by Pacific Gas & Electric Company. Two state investigations have held PG&E at fault for not having a supervisor monitor the work, and for other reasons. In spite of the hazards of being a lineman, this 26-year-old man loved his job, according to his girlfriend. Since his death and two subsequent deaths, PG&E has expanded its apprenticeship requirements and required all existing linemen to take one or two weeks of refresher training. The work is indeed dangerous, so many linemen prefer to be with a union. Two popular unions are the Utility Workers Union of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Linemen can spend up to five years in an apprenticeship program learning the skills of their trade. They have to know electrical theory, transformer theory, pole climbing and setting, rigging techniques, wire stringing techniques, and safety on the job. The time they put in to learn the trade includes training in handling electrical lines barehanded. “Barehanded?” people must wonder. “You can’t touch a live power line barehanded.” Yes. The term “barehanded” is sort of misleading. A lineman doing barehand work actually wears a suit consisting of a hooded jacket, bib-overall-style pants, socks, and gloves. The suit is made of 75 The Faraday Cage principle is that no electrical charge can be present on the interior of a charged cage. While the lineman is wearing the suit, the static electrical field connected to the suit redistributes the charge around the outside of the suit and not through the lineman. Barehand work minimizes disruption to customers while companies work on the lines, which is why demand for it has grown over the years. A 15-year veteran lineman, Karl Townie, enjoys the challenge of doing live-line work. He gets a kick out of some aspects of it, telling one writer that on the higher voltages, they can often hear the electricity arcing between their fingers. “One time when it got dark before we could get off the wire,” he said, “we could actually see the arcing between the fingers, too.” As with so many other things, the thrill and the danger go hand in hand. Karl Townie’s company requires a stringent certification process, after which a lineman is assigned to a working crew for 60 hours of close supervision. He has to do at least 25 hours of barehand work a year to stay certified. Barehand work is highly specialized. Generally, a lineman’s work is building and maintaining electrical power systems. They do it all: set towers and poles, maintain and repair overhead transmission lines, work in underground vaults and trenches, and install and maintain insulators and transformers. On occasion they’ll be working on city lighting or traffic signals. A lot of linemen love what they do and say that it isn’t for everyone. There are the obvious dangers of working with high voltage. And if you’re afraid of heights, forget it. The job might require a fair amount of travel, which could mean a lot of nights away from home. And you’ll be doing a lot of work in unfriendly weather conditions. After thunderstorms, hurricanes, fires, ice storms, and the like, people want the power back on – and it can’t be done soon enough.

"Sailors Wanted," by Alpha Unit

You mustn’t call a member of the United States Merchant Marine a marine. You call him (or her) a sailor, seaman, seafarer, or mariner – preferably a mariner. The Merchant Marine is the fleet of civilian-owned ships that moves cargo and passengers not only between countries but within the United States. The fleet is privately owned but can be nationalized during wartime, when it becomes an auxiliary of the US Navy. During some other type of national emergency, the President can commandeer or seize a merchant vessel. The Merchant Marine was always an excellent source of opportunity for men in this country regardless of their backgrounds. The US Maritime Service started training officers and crew members for the Merchant Marine in 1938. What’s remarkable is that the Maritime Service had a non-discrimination policy at a time when the US armed forces were segregated. Black men served in all positions in the Merchant Marine, from the lowest levels all the way up to captain, on integrated ships. A 16-year-old can go to sea. That’s the minimum age to get a US Merchant Marine Credential (MMC), issued by the US Coast Guard in accordance with international standards. You’ll need a parent’s permission as long as you’re under 18, but the MMC allows you to work on a merchant vessel, whether it’s a cargo ship, an oil tanker, a ferry, or a passenger ship. You’ll work in either the deck, engineering, or steward’s departments. The deck department oversees proper watchstanding and maintains the hull and cargo gear. Here you’ll find apprentices, Ordinary Seamen (OS). An OS doesn’t have to stand watch but he gets tested on his watchstanding and helmsman skills. He spends much of his time working on metal structures – removing rust, refinishing, and painting. He also secures cargo, does rigging, splices wire and rope, and launches and recovers lifeboats. It’s the OS who gets swabbing duty – keeping excess water and salt off deck to prevent slipping and rust accumulation. It’s one reason an OS looks forwards to to working his way up to Able Seaman (AB). An AB stands watch and acts as helmsman. He also performs general maintenance and repair and operates deck machinery and cargo gear. Some of his duties involve chipping, scraping, cleaning, and painting metal structures. The senior unlicensed man in the deck department is the Bo’s’n (Boatswain). This is typically a senior AB. He’s in charge of of the able seamen and ordinary seamen, in a position between them and the ship’s chief mate. The bo’s’n is responsible for everything concerning maintenance of deck equipment and cargo. He also secures the ship for sea and oversees the loading and unloading of cargo. A new seaman might instead find himself in the engine department. Seamen there handle the propulsion systems and support systems for the crew, cargo, and passengers. They maintain the electric power plant, lighting, water distillation, air conditioning, refrigeration, and such. The entry level position here is wiper. A wiper performs manual labor – cleaning, painting, and assisting with repairs. An oiler’s main job is equipment maintenance, including oiling the bearings of the main engine and auxiliaries. His general duties also include pumping bilges. A watertender tends fires and maintains proper water levels in boilers. A fireman operates oil-burning systems to generate steam in boilers. In addition to these crew members, the engine department might employ machinists, electricians, refrigeration engineers, or pumpmen – pumpmen are always found on oil tankers, operating the liquid cargo transfer system. The other assignment is the steward’s department. Here sailors operate and maintain the ship’s galley and the eating and living quarters for the officers and crew. An entry-level position here is that of messman, also called a steward’s assistant (SA). The messman sets tables, serves food, and waits tables. He also cleans the galley, eating areas, and officers’ saloon. He might also have general housekeeping duties like cleaning living quarters. The chief cook (or, cook) directs the preparation and serving of meals. The department is headed by the chief steward. The US fleet of merchant vessels has been diminishing since the 1950’s. The pool of qualified mariners has been shrinking along with it. There is intense competition for skilled mariners, if you ask the operators of offshore supply vessels. But some mariners say that part of the problem is that companies don’t want to take on inexperienced sailors, creating a Catch-22: companies need qualified people but the trainees can’t get the experience they need to become qualified. Because of international treaties, higher standards, and more required training and security rules, it can be hard to qualify for even entry-level jobs on a merchant vessel. The Sailors’ Union of the Pacific, which has represented mariners since 1891, has had programs to make sure new union members have the proper training to find work. I found, in fact, that the ongoing claims of a mariner shortage are controversial. Some mariners say that cost-cutting measures in the industry are leading to increases in workload and fatigue; others point to industry shifting to non-union labor. Some say the work schedule, where you spend more time at sea than at home, isn’t acceptable to men with families. Other mariners say the workforce is aging, with veteran mariners retiring and fewer young people interested in going to sea. One vice-president of the Seafarers International Union thinks the industry and government should do a better job of recruiting high school kids. “We’re a strong alternative to joining the armed services,” he told the press.

"Coal Miners and Company Scrip," by Alpha Unit

St. Peter, don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go; I owe my soul to the company store.

Nobody’s sure who wrote “Sixteen Tons.” People usually attribute the song to Merle Travis, who recorded it in 1946. A singer-songwriter named George S. Davis claimed he wrote it during the Depression. I don’t know if there’s any way to settle that question. But the couplet above sums up what it felt like sometimes to be a coal miner in nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century America. Before labor reforms were enacted and enforced, the life of a coal miner, like that of sharecroppers and other laborers, was often just one step above slavery. Coal mining was vital for the widespread industrialization that got underway in the nineteenth century. Before then, there were two types of coal mines: drift mines and bell pits. They were small-scale operations that yielded coal for homes and local industry. But the growing demand for coal due to industrialization made coal mines deeper and mining more dangerous. And there was a lot of money in consideration. Mining operations were in remote, rugged areas, naturally, so mine owners had to provide housing for their workers. In fact they provided just about everything for their workers, typically. This was because paying the miners posed a problem. You have to remember that this was before there was a national currency in the United States. Neither was there a sufficient supply of coins. Mining operations were far from banks and stores. Mining companies saw great advantage in the closed economy that resulted from creating the company store and paying in scrip. Whatever a miner needed he could buy – and often had to buy – at the company store. The tools of his trade he bought there, along with whatever other goods he and his family needed. If the company store didn’t have it in stock, he had to do without it. The company store could charge whatever the mine owner wanted. If wages were increased, the company store could increase prices to make up for it. Some companies paid exclusively in scrip. Others used scrip as a form of credit that miners could use between paydays. In this case, the scrip amount would be charged against the miner’s payroll account and deducted from his next pay. Some companies let their workers trade scrip for cash, but not always at full value. Some paid as little as 50 cents on the dollar; others paid as much as 85 cents per dollar. Not only were the supplies for the miner and his family deducted from his pay, but so were his rent for company housing, utilities, fuel coal, and doctor’s fees. Mining companies were creative in withholding as much money as they could from workers. One practice they engaged in was cribbing. A coal miner was paid per ton of coal that he brought up. Each car brought from the mines was supposed to hold a specific amount of coal – 2,000 pounds, for instance. But companies would alter cars to hold more coal than the specified amount, so a miner could be paid for 2,000 pounds when he might have actually brought up 2,500. Workers were also docked pay for slate and rock mixed in with coal. How much to dock was left at the discretion of the checkweighman – a company man, of course. On payday, a miner was given a pay envelope with all the check-off deductions listed and any balance due him inside. Often the envelope contained a few pennies, or nothing at all. The United Mine Workers, a merger of two older labor groups, was founded in 1890. This organization – whose first convention barred discrimination based on race, religion, or national origin – set about to make mining safer, to gain miners’ independence from the company store, and to secure collective bargaining rights. Among its specific goals:

  • a salary commensurate with dangerous work conditions
  • an 8-hour workday
  • payment in legal tender, not company scrip
  • properly working scales: improper or outright dishonest weighing was a big concern for miners
  • enforcement of safety laws and better ventilation and drainage in mines
  • an end to child labor: “breaker boys” as young as 8 would remove impurities from coal by hand – hazardous work that led to accidental amputations and sometimes death
  • an unbiased police force: mine operators owned all the houses in a company town and controlled the police force, which would evict miners or arrest them without proper cause
  • the right to strike

The UMW was able to secure an 8-hour workday for coal miners in 1898. During its first ten years the UMW successfully organized coal miners in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. It finally achieved some recognition in West Virginia in 1902. It spent the next several decades organizing strikes – some of which ended up being deadly – and getting involved, controversially, in politics to further its goals. Labor contracts and legislation eventually outlawed the use of company scrip. World War II marked a turning point for scrip, and by the end of the 1950’s almost all coal mining operations were paying their workers in legal tender. What a long haul.

"Counterfeit Cash," by Alpha Unit

In Memphis, Tennessee, two early morning Black Friday shoppers were arrested for passing counterfeit bills. Police confiscated a total of about $1,600 in fake bills, computer equipment to make fake bills, and methamphetamine. The circumstances are similar to earlier cases, such as the case in Oklahoma City in which two people were arrested after a raid at their home. Police found large amounts of marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine, along with several sheets of counterfeit 20-dollar bills. Materials and equipment for making fake currency were found in a home in Santa Rosa, California, during a raid. In addition to counterfeit bills the police found drug paraphernalia and methamphetamine. Not that long ago counterfeiting was a difficult and expensive operation. The best counterfeiters were skilled printers who used heavy offset presses to turn out pretty convincing 20s, 50s, and 100s. Doing so required the ability to cut intricate designs by hand into metal plates. Not anymore. A lot of teenagers in this country can tell you that all you need to make fake money nowadays are a PC, a scanner, and color inkjet printer. (Of course, those teenagers are usually caught in no time, since it’s not easy to produce truly authentic-looking bills.) In case after case of counterfeiting you will see drug use implicated – particularly methamphetamine. Meth addicts often steal mail and commit other property crimes to get their hands on the money they need for their habit. They can stay awake and focused on repetitive tasks for days, making them good at such crimes as forgery, identity theft, altering checks, and trying to perfect counterfeit currency. Millions of dollars worth of counterfeit cash is supposed to be in circulation in the United States, and there’s usually an uptick in detection during the holidays. Counterfeiters see this as the ideal time to try to pass fake bills; that’s when they think they’re more likely to get away with it. A business that ends up with counterfeit bills doesn’t get compensated for the loss and usually raises prices to make up for it. If you end up with a counterfeit bill, the US Secret Service wants you to tell them. They say to notify your local police department or the nearest Secret Service field office. There’s no financial compensation for turning it in, though. Central banks say that to do so would subsidize counterfeiting, providing a financial reward for counterfeiters’ criminal behavior. Turning it in is just another civic duty.

"Oil Patch Blues," by Alpha Unit

The Williston Basin lies beneath parts of Montana, North Dakota, and Saskatchewan. A rock unit called the Bakken formation occupies about 200,000 square miles of it. Originally described in 1953, it’s named after Henry Bakken, a farmer in Williston, North Dakota. He owned the land where the first drilling rig revealed the rock layers in 1951. As you may have heard, there are significant oil reserves in the Bakken. The US Geological Survey has estimated that there are about 3.65 billion barrels of oil in the Bakken. More recent estimates suggest there could be up to 18 billion barrels. The oil is wrapped in layers of shale, which initially frustrated extraction attempts. But petroleum engineers devised a fracturing method that overcame this problem. What they do is drill down and then horizontally into the rock, then pump water, sand, and chemicals into the hole to crack the shale and allow the oil to flow up. It was first used in 2007, quite successfully. The result has been a population boom as people from neighboring areas, other parts of the country, and even overseas have rushed into North Dakota and Montana in pursuit of oil field jobs. John McChesney paints a picture of how life has changed for some residents of North Dakota.

Imagine you live in a small rural town worried for years about depopulation, and suddenly, overnight, the population doubles, and the newcomers are thousands of young men without families. Imagine that you live in a tiny town with one main street that doubles as a state highway. That’s the situation in New Town, N.D., population 1,500 – at least, it was a couple of years ago. Today it’s anybody’s guess how many people live here, and no one knows how many 18-wheelers roll through every day, either. They just know it never stops.

McChesney says that for the people of New Town, it seems that every big tank truck in America is on the road here, making tens of thousands of trips a day hauling water, fracking fluid, wastewater and crude oil – and tearing up the roads. It’s been described by one county official as the complete industrialization of western North Dakota. And it’s placing an incredible strain on the community there. Dan Kalil, chairman of the Williams County Commission, told McChesney:

They’re consuming all our resources. They’re consuming all our people looking for jobs. All the employee base is used up. Our roads system is being used up. All our water is being used up. All our sewage systems are being used up. They’re overwhelmed. All of our leadership time as local public officials is consumed with this.

And for the newcomers, life in the Bakken isn’t exactly what they had in mind, either. They often arrive with no money and nowhere to live. There’s not enough housing for them. Homeless shelters and churches are taking in some of the job-seekers but the need is overwhelming. Some of the men are sleeping in their cars. Some have sleeping bags they roll out in the woods or in abandoned buildings. There are camps where people park RV’s they’re living in. But the water pipes and waste tanks on standard RV’s can’t handle the freezing temperatures. Super-insulated campers and trailers are just as hard to find as actual housing. And let’s not forget: this is North Dakota, after all. One taste of winter in the Bakken sends some job-seekers back to where they came from. In the meantime, housing prices are higher than they’ve ever been. Some of the local residents can’t afford to pay rent anymore. And crime used to be nearly nonexistent. Now crime rates have spiked across western North Dakota and eastern Montana, with an increase in vagrancy, “drunken and disorderly” charges, burglary, assault, property crimes, and prostitution. “Men need servicing just as much as their machines,” one oil patch worker told Adam Luebke. There have even been a couple of violent crimes that have made headlines in the area. A hitchhiker was wounded in a drive-by shooting while on US Highway 2, a major route in and out of the oil patch. A teacher from the oil patch town of Sidney, Montana, was allegedly kidnapped and murdered by two Colorado men on their way to the Bakken. The oil industry is aware of what locals are going through and is making some PR efforts to keep people on their side, but their efforts aren’t as successful as they’d like. As John McChesney explained:

Back in New Town at a gathering of a few local residents, we met rancher Donnie Nelson, who had just paid $7 for a gallon of milk, one example of a price inflation here. He says patience here is wearing thin. “Just about anybody I talk to that’s a neighbor – and some of them are getting wealthy – are sick of it. It’s never going to be the same in this country, and they’re starting to realize that we had it kind of good, even though we weren’t No. 1 in oil and we weren’t the No. 1 state economically,” Nelson says. “We had a good life up here.”

"Praise and Criticism for National Tradesmen Day," by Alpha Unit

Originally published September 20, 2012. September 21 is National Tradesmen Day, a holiday most people have probably never heard of. It’s kind of new. It started last year and is set to be celebrated the third Friday in September every year. It’s not a government holiday. It was created by Irwin Tools, a subsidiary of Newell Rubbermaid. National Tradesmen Day is set aside to honor the skilled tradesmen in the country who do all the manual labor that many of us can’t do for ourselves. People like auto mechanics, plumbers, roofers, carpenters, drywall installers, electricians, HVAC technicians, and welders. There’s a shortage of such skilled workers, and “skilled trades” is the number one category of the hardest jobs to fill in the country. Some blame the decline of vocational and technical education on the steady focus we’ve had on 4-year university education. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that over a third of skilled tradesmen are over 50. For every three tradesmen who retire, there’s only one person with the skills to do their kind of work. So a day set aside to recognize their talents and hard work sounds like something a lot of us could get behind. But not all of us. Here’s a sample of comments left on a forum in which people weighed in on the first National Tradesmen Day:

“Too bad they sold out American workers.” “I wonder how ‘Tradesmen Day’ is said in Mandarin.” “Oh man I feel for all the laid off workers who are out of a job and have to watch their old company do this shit pathetic.” “How about a ‘sellout day’ for companies like Irwin?”

In 2008 Irwin closed its plant in DeWitt, Nebraska. Vise-Grip locking pliers and other tools had been made there for 80 years. Employees were told that the parent company had to move production to China “to keep the Vise-Grip name competitive.” About 300 people lost their jobs at the plant that “anchored” DeWitt. One employee who had worked there for nearly 20 years told the media, “It’s a kick in the head.” Irwin Tools has been successful, though, at marketing National Tradesmen Day, with media outlets and small businesses all on board. Irwin wants more students to consider careers in the skilled trades and is urging each of us to go out of our way to thank the skilled tradesmen we know and hire. But in addition to the cynics, there are the doubters. One commenter on a forum posed the question: “Isn’t that what Labor Day is for?”

"You Can Do It in 23 States," by Alpha Unit

How would you like to spend some time with a Backwoods Bastard? Or a Dirty Bastard? The Backwoods Bastard doesn’t sound so bad:

Expect lovely, warm smells of simple malt scotch, oaky bourbon barrels, smoke, sweet caramel and roasted malts, a bit of earthy spice, and a scintilla of dark fruit. It’s a kick-back sipper made to excite the palate.

And the Dirty Bastard sounds pretty good:

So good it’s almost wrong. Dark ruby in color and brewed with seven varieties of imported malts. Complex in finish, with hints of smoke and peat, paired with a malty richness and a right hook of hop power to give it the bad attitude that a beer named Dirty Bastard has to live up to. Ain’t for the wee lads.

Backwoods Bastard and Dirty Bastard are made by Founders Brewing Company, a craft brewery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Brewers Association defines a craft brewer as:

  • small – annual production of 6 million barrels or less
  • independent – less than 25
  • traditional – either an all malt flagship or has at least 50

People also call craft breweries microbreweries. The term originated in the UK in the 1970s to describe a group of small breweries that were focused on making traditional cask ale. “Microbrewing” initially referred to the size of the breweries but came to reflect a different attitude and approach to brewing, summed up by Founders Brewing as “We brew beer for people like us” – passionate beer enthusiasts. By the 1980s the microbrewing trend had caught on in the US. This article touches on what had preceded it:

In the early 20th century, Prohibition drove many breweries in the US into bankruptcy because they could not all rely on selling near beer or “sacramental wine” as wineries of that era did. After several decades of consolidation of breweries, most American commercial beer was produced by a few large corporations, resulting in a very uniform, mild-tasting lager of which Budweiser and Miller are well-known examples. Consequently, some beer drinkers craving variety turned to homebrewing and eventually a few started doing so on a slightly larger scale. For inspiration, they turned to Britain, Germany, and Belgium, where a centuries-old tradition of artisan beer and cask ale production had never died out.

Some of these breweries were so successful that a new category had to be created for their product – craft beer. The largest of the craft beer brewers in America is the Boston Beer Company. They make Samuel Adams. Founders Brewing Company began in 1997 and has become one of the highest recognized breweries in the US, they tell us. They’re an award-winning company that has been ranked the second-best brewery in the world since 2011. The company made news earlier this summer when the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board lifted a ban on Backwoods Bastard and Dirty Bastard. The board’s licensing director rejected the names last spring because of a state law that says no ad for alcoholic beverages can show a person “posed in an immodest or sensuous manner” and that they can’t have any profanity or offensive language. In Alabama, grocery stores and convenience stores sell beer and wine where anyone can see them. Dirty Bastard beer got rejected over a concern that parents wouldn’t want their kids to see rough language on the shelves. Founders Brewing and craft beer lovers in Alabama raised a fuss over this decision. A committee that was set up to review the decision approved Dirty Bastard and Backwoods Bastard at the first meeting. A major reason? If they were going to deny Dirty Bastard and Backwoods Bastard, they’d have to reconsider a board decision years earlier to allow the sale of Fat Bastard. Fat Bastard is a French wine that had been sold in Alabama for years. No one wanted to pull it off the shelves. You can sit down with a Dirty Bastard or a Backwoods Bastard in 23 states now.

"Canada At Ground Level: Observations of a US Refugee," by Odin Crow

Warning: Long, runs to 51 pages. This is a fine piece by US expat Odin Crow. Relax and enjoy it.

Canada At Ground Level: Observations of a US Refugee

By Odin Crow

I am an American citizen living in Canada. I am not a sociologist, anthropologist, economist, linguist or any other ist. What I am is a middle class, late 40s working-guy who wishes to share with you what he’s learned about his adopted country from his own personal experiences and hopefully dispel a few misconceptions at the same time. But first, my take on the differences in basic character of these two countries and how they came about.

A Tale Of Two Siblings

If Canada and the US were brothers, the US was the one who said “fuck you” to the parents and left home as a teen. Granted, mom and dad were treating him like shit; he was a breadwinner, the loud, risk-taking one with big plans and ambitions and, to be honest, mom and dad were oinking up the fruits of his labors without giving him any say in how the household was run. Sure, mom and dad got him started, set him up with everything he needed to be successful, but the dynamic didn’t seem fair to Elder Brother, who went indy. Canada, on the other hand was the brother who just wanted to live his life and be left alone. He didn’t ask for much from mom and dad; they gave him very little to work with and neglected him for the most part. But Younger Brother never complained and did receive the benefit of some guidance and wisdom from time to time as he grew up as well as help when he really needed it. So Younger Brother kept his nose to the grindstone, worked hard, minded his own business and slowly built a nice sane, stable life for himself. Meanwhile, after a nasty spat with the folks, who started it out of sheer vindictiveness (and whose side was taken by Younger Brother, since Elder Brother lashed out at him and, to be honest, Younger Brother was still basically an extension of Mom and Dad) Elder Brother built a dizzyingly dramatic, risk-taking, get-the-fuck-outta-my-way life for himself, with stellar highs and deep, abysmal lows, being sometimes unbelievably heroic and idealistic and sometimes bewilderingly selfish, paranoid and self-righteous. Over time, though, both siblings and parents’ relationship evolved into one of general support and respect, coming to each other’s aid, engaging in great endeavors and providing moral support to one another, even though one or more of them may not always have clearly been on the side of right. So if the US is the “loud” one, the flashy, big-talking Type A, the stunning over-achiever who makes everyone else in the room feel inadequate (or at least tries to), the one who’s been out in the world reaping fame and glory, constantly striving always to grow his own wealth, power and influence, Canada’s the one that dresses down, doesn’t dominate the conversation at the dinner table, has his mortgage paid off and worries more about just being a good neighbor and minding his own business. He’s the one who, through patience and consistency, has built himself a very comfortable, stable, relaxed life, and people generally find his company enjoyable. Others generally have mixed feelings towards Older Brother, being sometimes jealous of him, sometimes afraid and very often both. Older Brother wants everyone to be like him and feels the need to justify his choices constantly; Younger Brother’s the one who goes, “No thanks, I’m good, but whatever works for you.”

How I Got Here

I married a Canadian woman, it didn’t work out, and I stayed. I had applied for permanent residence with my wife as my sponsor, which involved paying around $900, submitting a criminal background check and medical examination, filling out a form and waiting seven months. During the interim, I was not allowed to work legally or receive any public services. Once my application passed, I received my “landing papers”, a SIN (Social Insurance Number or Canadian SSN) and was then eligible to live permanently, work and receive health care. My status lasts 5 years between renewals, during which I must spend a minimum of 2 years on Canadian soil or abroad as an employee for a Canadian company. I cannot vote or serve in the military. If I had applied for public assistance (welfare, etc) during my first 3 years, my sponsor (ex-wife) would have been responsible for paying it back to the government. I can and have received unemployment insurance.

What It’s Like To Be a Working Guy in Canada

I have no college degree and am actually a high-school dropout, though I’ve always lied about it, and it’s never been questioned (fortunately, they didn’t check on that in my residency application). I live in Alberta now, so I don’t pay provincial income tax. Regardless, when I was in Nova Scotia, I still took home more of my wages than I did in California, despite paying both federal and provincial income tax. Canadian tax rates are lower for lower incomes, higher for higher incomes. If I were to make 100 grand a year, yes, I’d pay a higher tax rate, but I don’t. The Canadian and US Dollars hover around parity for the most part, so for all intents and purposes, a buck is a buck. My cost of living is about the same as in the US. Rents are comparable and so are utilities. Food can be more expensive, and smokes are over 10 bucks a pack for most brands in Alberta and more in some other places; the more liberal, the more expensive – same with booze. Gas is currently about $CN 1.12/liter., ($4.20/gallon.) in Alberta, which has the lowest gas prices in the country, naturally. It’s as much as $CN .50 more a liter in other places. Canada has a federal sales tax of 5 Nova Scotia, being a notoriously liberal and socially-conscious province with higher unemployment than the national average, has a HST of 15 Alberta, which is shoveling in oil revenues like there’s no tomorrow and has a thriving agricultural industry (grain and cattle) is probably the least socially-conscious of all the provinces, being somewhat the Canadian version of Texas. It has no HST, only the 5 So, in short, I’ve sort of made a deal with the devil by coming out here for work after having been laid off in Nova Scotia; I enjoy the economic benefits, but am slightly at odds with the social climate which is, to be fair, still more liberal than that of the US as a whole. Here’s an example of the difference between the IRS and Revenue Canada: I get a check every 3 months for $CN 100 as a GST rebate because I make below a certain income level (I gross between  $CN 38k-45k/year). When was the last time you ever got anything from the IRS aside from something terrifying telling you you’re fucked? Summary: Being an average, middle-class working person in Canada means you can actually have a good, comfortable life.

Health Care

If you live here, either as a citizen, on a visa or as a permanent resident, like myself, you get health care. Each province administers its own system, and it comes out of the tax base; there is no premium deduction from your pay, no check box on your tax return form. I hear Alberta (surprise, surprise) used to have a mandatory premium deducted from your tax return each year, but not any more. Your provincial health card will get you care no matter where in the country you are. Emergency room, ambulances – no charge to the insured. Neither dental nor optometry are covered, and seeing a specialist requires a referral. My employers provide me with health insurance for things like optometry, dental, chiro, prescription plan, etc, as does everyone else’s, to my knowledge. But if you’re a small business, one less burden of responsibility and concern has been removed. Even if you’re a cheap, mean bastard who cuts corners every chance he gets, you and your employees are still covered. Here’s how my Canadian doctor visits have gone: Scenario 1 Receptionist: Hello, dear, have you been here before? Me: No. Receptionist: Can I see your card, dear? (I hand her the card). Is this your current address? Me: Yes. Receptionist: OK, here’s your card back, have a seat and someone will call your name in a couple minutes. 10 minutes later: Mr. **********? Scenario 2 Receptionist: Hello, dear, have you been here before? Me: Yes. Receptionist: Your name? Me: ********** Receptionist: Is this your current address? Me: Yes. Receptionist: OK, have a seat and someone will call your name in a couple minutes. 10 minutes later: Mr. **********? This is not a fantasy; I am not exaggerating. No co-pay, no multi-page forms to fill out, no pissed off, fat, black bitch in teddy-bear scrubs studiously ignoring me as I wait for her attention, all-but-daring me to interrupt her personal phone call by meekly saying “Excuse me”, no interminable wait, nothing. Now, I’m sure a clinic in a huge city like Toronto or Vancouver would probably be much busier (though nothing like the Cinco de Mayo fiestas of Southern California, I’m sure) and its staff more unpleasant (my experiences are limited to Halifax and my small Southern Alberta town of 2,000), but seriously, anyone who can compare this with an HMO experience in the US and see no difference is an abject boob. My ex-wife was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was 20. She had surgery, was treated, recovered fully and takes thyroid medication. Aside from the cost of the prescription, which was about 12 bucks a refill, her cost was zero. She had merely to show her Nova Scotia Health Card and her life was saved without any worries that she would face any complications when it came to receiving care or paying for it afterwards. Summary: It is not a myth – the Canadian health care system works and it works very well. For everyone.


Quick primer on the parliamentary system: Political parties elect a leader. General elections are for MP’s (Members of Parliament), the equivalent of House representatives in the US. Whoever gets the most MP’s in Parliament is the Majority – their leader becomes Prime Minister. You do not elect a Prime Minister, you elect a Party with whom you agree. As long as that party is in the majority, their leader is Prime Minister. There is a Canadian Senate as well, but Senators are appointed by the Prime Minister – not elected – so they are all, inevitably, of the same party as the Majority (I’m sure there are a couple exceptions, but for the most part, who’s going to pick a guy from the Opposition?). I’m not clear what the Senate does, but I know that the lawmaking process is not bicameral. The Majority party is the Progressive Conservatives (PC), colloquially known by the traditional English term “Tories”. The Opposition are the Liberal Party (which held power for quite some time but has diminished in recent years due to lack of leadership), the New Democrats (which are the largest minority and surged suddenly in ranks at the last general election), the Green Party (a handful) and I think Bloc Quebecois still has a couple MP’s. Bloc Quebecois is essentially an ethnocentric provincial party whose only real platform has been the secession of Quebec, and their place in national politics has been the subject of some contention; they have been, however, utterly decimated, many of their seats lost to the burgeoning ND Party in the last election. There may be some stragglers from all-but-defunct other parties with a seat here or there, but I’m not sure and nor would be your average Canadian. A Canadian Conservative is a lot closer to a US Democrat than it is to a US Republican. They are not trying to repeal universal health care, abortion rights, gay marriage or any of the other causes celebres of their Bizarro-World US counterparts. They object to things like making trans-gender public restrooms mandatory and legalizing pot and support things like privatizing government entities and easing up on business regulation, etc., for the most part. Yes, PM Harper and his crew are trying to emulate some US Republican fashion trends, for example a “3-strikes, tough-on-crime” bill and building more prisons, but everybody’s response to that is generally, “Why? The crime rate is actually dropping.” Thanks to the Canadian Parliamentary system though, the MP’s are really not much more than what they should be, which is bureaucrats put in charge of keeping shit running smoothly, sanely and reliably. Canadian politicians are also by-and-large not millionaires and lawyers as they are in the US. They come from a pretty wide demographic (a recently-elected ND MP from Quebec is actually a female bartender). At the provincial level, Canada has Premiers instead of Governors (It always reminds me of some Communist Eastern European country when I hear that term – still doesn’t sound right to me). They attain office the same way as national PM’s: Parties field candidates as reps for the various provincial “ridings“, and the Party with the majority’s leader becomes Premier. In Alberta, the Tories have maintained a hegemony over provincial politics for the last 40 years (PM Stephen Harper is an Albertan). The current Premier, Allison Redford, was a constitutional attorney, a field of expertise rather uncommon amongst US Republican politicians, but not among Democratic Presidents it would seem. Provinces sometimes have provincial political parties, limited to provincial politics, though Quebec’s Bloc Quebecois made its way into Parliament, concerned as they are with Quebec’s secession, though their position and influence in federal politics is marginal to say the least. Alberta‘s further-right party, the Wild Rose Party, went balls-out during the last provincial election, and their gaffes were many and hilarious; one of their candidates mentioned in a mass emailing something about gays being “condemned to a lake of fire,” and another quipped that he would win his riding easily as he was the “only white guy“ on the ballot. In true neocon fashion, the party responded not by asking either of the doddering farts to step down, but by making the statement that “there are many differing views within the Wild Rose Party, and all are tolerated.” Needless to say, they got their asses handed to them instead of winning a majority. In Alberta, the Tories have been making noises about privatizing Alberta Health, giving the usual bullshit arguments about how the “private sector can deliver services more efficiently and cost-effectively than the provincial government can,” etc., but it’s not a position that seems to be gaining much traction with the electorate….. To put it simply, Canadians are generally not stupid; they see what works with their own eyes, thus they are far less susceptible to specious arguments, panic-mongering and outright bullshit than their US counterparts. They know when something is working and aren’t obsessed with change for its own sake, not even Albertans. Summary: Politics in Canada actually has more to do with working for the people than it does furthering ideological agendas or political careers.

Immigration and Race

Per the most recent census statistics, Canada is comprised of 80 One of the things I truly love about Canada is that there aren’t Mexicans all over the place. There are no undocumented aliens per se, since not only is Canada not conveniently within walking distance of Mexico, but an illegal alien isn’t able to get work or free medical care here. There are no mobs of day laborers in the Home Depot parking lot, nor have I seen massive, ethnically-homogenous ghettos in which an illegal can live and receive community support with impunity. This may not be the case in the bigger cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, but the numbers of illegals must be so low as not to have much effect as a socioeconomic issue. Illegals aside, I don’t see Canada suffering the negative social and cultural impact of being overwhelmed by immigrants from one particular culture. Canada has a policy of basing immigration approval upon needed skills. Since Canada is not suffering from a shortage of gardeners, pool cleaners or sidewalk ice-cream vendors, that would pretty much exclude the bulk of the Mexicans wanting to come in. Canada has a foreign temporary worker program just like the US used to since there’s more work here than there are people who want to do it. A Newfoundland seafood processing plant that had shut down for awhile opened back up when the catches improved and couldn’t find enough locals for the jobs, so they imported a bunch of Thais along with an interpreter. However, in most other circumstances, immigrants have to prove a functioning grasp of either English or French depending where they‘re going to be working and living. Children who cannot speak English are sent home by public schools, and the parents are informed that the school will be happy to teach their child once the parents have taught the child English. Recently, the English requirement for citizenship was actually increased. Canada seems to feel, oddly enough, that two of the keys to properly managing immigration are ensuring that an individual not only can speak one of the official languages but that they can somehow contribute to the economy and society as a whole. Absent giant ethnically-homogenous communities of immigrants, Canadian immigrants seem to assimilate much more quickly and willingly than in the US. Every first-generation-born Canadian I’ve met has no foreign accent; they say “eh”, and they seem to hang out with just about anybody. I never get the vibe that foreigners and their kids here hate Canadians while enjoying the benefits of being Canadian. The mayor of Calgary, the biggest city in the most conservative province, is a Muslim – Naheed Nenshi – and you’d never know by hearing him speak on the radio. You see “people of color” scattered throughout the media and government, and they all seem to retain ethnic names, despite sounding and acting like Canadians. Blacks in Canada are not ubiquitous. In Calgary, the Blacks I meet are invariably immigrants; there is no “Black” part of town. In Halifax, which was, among other things, at the other end of the Underground Railroad, the Black population is mostly descended from former American slaves and is proportionally larger than in many other areas of the country. This population in Halifax began in earnest following the War of 1812 during which “Black loyalists” (slaves willing to fight their masters in exchange for freedom) were deeded land on the outskirts of Halifax as reward for helping the Crown, which was named Africville. Africville has a tragic and disappointing history which I’m going to expand upon in a separate piece, but suffice it to say that Blacks in Nova Scotia suffer from many of the same socioeconomic problems as do their counterparts in the US, though certainly not to the same degree. I understand that there are Black communities in and around Toronto which are primarily Caribbean in origin, that there is public housing inhabited mostly by Blacks and that crime rates are higher in these areas, but I’m not aware of specifics. I have never heard a Canadian say “nigger”. Oh, I’ve had friends say “What up, my nigga,” plenty of times, but as far as it being used as a pejorative, never. Much of what many Canadians believe about Blacks, since many of them have never spent much time around or lived around them, they get from US TV shows, so many of them are understandably scared shitless. In Nova Scotia, where there is a Black population descended from American slaves and not immigrants, I often heard the general stereotypes bandied about by Whites: They don’t like to work, but they do like to commit crimes, do drugs, get bitches pregnant and split, etc. My ex-wife was utterly petrified of them. She saw a Black kid walk down our street once and, since no Black people lived on our street, wanted to call the police, I shit you not. She did not, though, and the ensuing argument lasted about two hours. Canadians are, however, very quick to characterize Americans as racists, despite the fact that Canada had Jim Crow “Whites only” bylaws in rural areas just like the US did. But, in fairness, the institution of slavery did not exist here, and that counts for rather a bit. Aboriginals, still commonly referred to as Indians, seem to take the place, in many ways, that Blacks do in US society. They are disproportionately plagued by crime, poverty, alcoholism, drug addiction and prejudice and are distributed across Canada. They receive government assistance and are spoken of by most of the Whites I know as a “problem” and with little compassion. A disproportionate number of their males are in the prison system. They are, in effect, the Blacks of Canada, and the origins of their problems are as convoluted and difficult to figure out as are those of US Blacks. However, to be real, they were doing OK before Whitey showed up.

The French

As you may or may not know, the English defeated the French in the battle for supremacy in Canada but allowed the French to stay and maintain their own culture. Like any defeated people, despite the magnanimity of the victors, a lot of them are still sore about it. As I’ve mentioned before, there are elements within Quebecois society who believe that Quebec should exist as its own separate country. Anglo Canadians love to point out that the federal government paid for and built their infrastructure, so if they want to pay back all of that, fine, go ahead; many Anglos are constantly irritated and annoyed by the French. Despite this, however, Quebec and its French culture are clearly things that make Canada, well, Canadian and add an extremely cool flavor to the whole mix here. In 1980, Quebec held a referendum about whether it should secede from the Canadian federal government or stay. Literally thousands of people from all over Canada came to Quebec to plead with the citizens to remain part of Canada. I’ve heard the old radio news reports from that time, and people were actually crying, “Please don’t leave.” Many Quebecois were also crying, saying, “How can we consider this? What does it say to the rest of the world?”. Fortunately, the results were 60-40 against. I can’t help but imagine that if Texas tried to do the same thing, millions of Americans would show up saying, “Please! Do it! Leave and good riddance!” OK I was being a smart-ass with that one, but I think you’ll understand my point. Canadians seem to like other Canadians more than most Americans like other Americans, even when they’re French. Summary: Canada is very White, its culture is Western European, and the people who emigrate to it seem to acknowledge and appreciate that, as such, it is a much better place to live than wherever they came from. Canada is a clear example of the superiority of Western Culture and the benefits of White Rule.


Yes, we have it here. I see churches all over the place, especially in Alberta, which I believe boasts more churches per capita than any other province (once again, proof that Alberta secretly wishes it was the 51st State of the US). However, there is much less “religion” here. It is not part of the political conversation and seems rarely, if ever, to be part of polite conversation. Alberta is the province which boasts the most Evangelicals, and it’s the only one where I’ve seen occasional billboards in rural areas featuring Right-To-Life slogans. However, when I tried to call the 800 number on one to tell them to suck my dick, the number was disconnected, and the website on the sign no longer existed; that’s the degree of religious fervor out here. In Nova Scotia, I did see an anti-abortion protest outside of a hospital: Two old ladies in camp chairs watching a portable TV on an ice chest, their picket signs leaning against the fence behind them as people walked by in both directions. Summary: In Canada, religion is essentially no one’s business but their own, so shut the fuck up, and please don’t block the sidewalk.

Guns, Crime and Violence

Guns are not banned in Canada; they are regulated and controlled. Allow me to slack off for a second and quote a Wikipedia article for a brief historical background:

Registration of firearms in Canada has been an issue since the 1930s when the registration of handguns became mandatory. Over the past few decades, legislation had become increasingly restrictive for firearm owners and from 1995 until 2012, all firearms were required to be registered. As of April 6, 2012 the registration of non-restricted firearms is no longer required in any province or territory, except for Quebec, pending litigation. Systematic auditing and criminalization of firearm owners and sports is implemented and enforced in most of Central Canada, and to a lesser extent, in Western Canada (in most cases firearm ownership regulations vary slightly in different provinces and territories, where some provinces have decided to mandate their own laws, such as the Quebec Law 9 course, which is mandatory for all owners of restricted firearms). The Criminal Code of Canada provides recognition of self-defense with a firearm; The Firearms Act provides a legal framework wherein an individual may, acquire/possess and carry, a restricted or (a specific class of) prohibited firearm for protection from other individuals when police protection is deemed insufficient. This situation is extremely rare, as evidenced by the fact that the (publicly available version of the) RCMP Authorization To Carry application refers only to protection of life during employment that involves handling of valuable goods or dangerous wildlife.

In short, you can have a gun if you have a good reason for it. “Personal protection” and just being afraid the government is going to show up and shove you in a FEMA trailer for re-education are not considered valid reasons. It is a matter of record that Canada’s rates of homicides and suicides using guns have further decreased as more and more restrictions have been put into place. This has not eliminated crime, but it has clearly mitigated it. I’d rather have a guy come at me with a knife than a gun even if I’m similarly armed any day – I don’t know about you. To anyone in the US who maintains that lower violent crime can be achieved through an “armed society”, you need only look to Canada to see how absolutely shit-brained-stupid that is. Canada has crime though. People get their cars stolen, there are rapes, there is drunk driving – all the usual. Canada even boasts some celebrated serial killers as well. Most Canadians do lock their doors when they leave for work and when they go to bed, despite what Michael Moore might want you to believe. The difference between Canada and the US in this regard is the crime per capita. In a city as big as Calgary (approximately 1.4 million), which is about 30 minutes from me, the amount of crime compared to a similar-sized US city is ridiculously lower. There isn’t even as much trash on the ground. I’m not kidding – same goes for the rest of what I’ve seen of Canada. What doesn’t exist are gangs to any great degree. In Vancouver you have some Asian gang stuff, some minor shit with Russians and some others in Toronto and Quebec, but nothing even close to what you have in the US. Another thing I’ve noticed is the role of the “career criminal”. In the US, being a criminal is an actual occupation for many, one which they pursue with great professionalism and acumen. In Canada, most of the criminals I’ve seen and read about are basically stupid assholes. They steal some shit, maybe sell some drugs, and they get caught. This one idiot drug dealer in Halifax lived in a trailer park, yet bought a bright yellow Hummer and parked it out front. After a few stray bullets zipped through his neighbors‘ homes courtesy of a rival “drug kingpin “ (yes, this is how the local news referred to him), the cops pretty much figured out that if they nabbed the guy in the yellow Hummer at the bridge toll-plaza, they’d get some answers. Random acts of violence occur. Guys get dumped and kill their ex and her new boyfriend; a middle-aged loser who’s sponging off his grandmother’s pension checks decides he can smother her with a pillow and pretend she’s still alive; some guy hears Satan tell him he can fuck Avril Lavigne if he kills his whole family in their sleep, and so on. But to be honest, most random, violent crimes I hear about around my neck of the woods, few as they are, involve immigrants. You can take the boy out of Viet Nam, but if you smile at his girlfriend during lunch time at the meat processing plant, he just might shove a fork in your neck. The cops here are actually nice, at least the ones I’ve met. You’ve got your Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP’s), which function as the equivalent of the FBI and State police in provinces without a provincial police force (unlike Ontario or Newfoundland), the city police forces and the “peace officers” who enforce by-laws and do not carry weapons. The only times I’ve dealt with cops, whether local or RCMP, they have said, “Hey, how’s it going,” introduced themselves and shook my hand, then calmly figured out what was going on. No twitchy hyper-vigilance, no hand on the gun as they approached. I’m guessing they may be a little different in the metropolii, but still, you don’t get Rodney King situations here. If called to a bar in response to a complaint of a disturbance, a Canadian cop is more likely to say, “Hey, I think your friend’s a little drunk, why don’t you take him home?” as opposed to calling in six cars for backup and making the entire place lie face down with their hands behind their heads. There are occasional stories of abuse, and there was a spate of deaths caused by tasering, but generally, since everyone doesn’t automatically hate them and want them dead, I think the cops are a bit more relaxed and less concerned with being intimidating. They are, after all, just guys trying to do their jobs, and I get that most Canadians understand and appreciate that. Despite the fact that they seem less violent as a culture, do not make the mistake of thinking Canadians are pussies. Canadians drink, and they also fight. Hockey, the world’s most violent sport is, after all, a Canadian invention. The difference, though, is the absence of ubiquitous and constant belligerence. If I go to a crowded concert or sporting event in the US, it’s a safe bet there will be more than one fight. My ex-roommate’s best friend from Northern California was jumped and had his brains beaten after a Dodgers-Giants game in LA; it put him in a coma, and he’s barely escaped being a vegetable. It would be impossible to me to conceive of that happening here and actually is impossible to any Canadians I’ve spoken with about it. Can Canadians hold their liquor better, or are they just generally less angry, violent and belligerent? Maybe a little of the former and a lot of the latter. Summary: Less guns, garbage, crime and violence, nicer cops, fewer incarcerated citizens and far less anxiety as a whole.


I smoke a lot of weed. I have been doing so for over 35 years. In Canada, medical marijuana is federally legal, but I can’t just go to a podiatrist and tell him I’ve been having trouble sleeping to get a license like in California. It requires multiple signed applications by several doctors and, like the gun licensing, the determining criterion is, “Why do you need it?”. Unfortunately, mild insomnia isn’t considered a valid reason. Things like rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and serious medical conditions which require pain management are generally what are required. Once licensed, it means you can go anywhere in the country without getting hassled; you can even walk through an airport with a sack in your pocket, provided you have your license on you. You cannot, of course, burn one in public (legally). You can also grow some. Despite the fact that I must, then, smoke weed illegally, there are a couple of benefits to doing so in Canada. First and foremost is that I can get a half ounce of good smoke for 120 bucks. Second is that the general attitude towards marijuana law enforcement is pretty relaxed. In most metropolitan areas, it is considered of “lowest priority,” officially, when it comes to enforcing pot laws. In Vancouver, there are Amsterdam-style cafes where everyone’s smoking weed, and the cops leave them alone. In the case of illegal grow-ops, though, or significant trafficking, the cops, understandably, do not look the other way. But as far as normal people getting high and not causing any problems, the worst they usually do is take it away from you, tell you to “watch it”, and maybe smoke it themselves after work. For the record though, Harper and the Tories have stated unequivocally that marijuana will not become legal as long as they are the majority. Fuck the Tories. Summary: Canada’s a cool place if you smoke weed; just remember it’s still illegal (technically).

Civil Liberties

Gays can marry here – it’s been legal for quite some time – and, despite that fact, they are not running around having anal sex in the streets. Pre-employment and random drug screenings are forbidden as unconstitutional, yet people aren’t snorting coke at work or showing up baked to the gills. Women can get abortions, and their health care covers it, yet there is not an epidemic of female promiscuity (much as I wish there were). Prostitution is, by certain definitions in certain areas, basically legal, or at least not criminal. Even the age of consent is much lower in some provinces, yet teenaged girls are not being incessantly fucked to death and discarded by middle-aged men. The guiding principle behind Canada’s attitude towards civil liberties seems to be, “If they’re not hurting anyone or causing a fuss, leave them the fuck alone, it’s none of your business.” Pierre Trudeau wisely stated that the government has “no place in our bedrooms, period,” and he was agreed with by even the most right-wing politicians at the time, eventually. I laugh my ass off every time I hear some Republican or Libertarian troll threaten to “move to Canada” if Obama gets re-elected. Not only would they not be issued a visa for such reasons, if they were, they would be forced to live in a place where fags can teach their kids, sluts can get abortions, niggers can get decent jobs, hippies can smoke weed and people claiming God speaks to them are not only banned from public office but they’re quite often placed under psychiatric observation. Summary: I think my freedoms are more well-protected here than in the US.


Canadians do not say aboot. Most commonly, the ow diphthong, which is broken down into the phonemes a (like cat) + oo in US English (and every English dictionary), is very often pronounced eh-oo in Canada, similar to how the Irish pronounce it. In Atlantic Canada, it is common to hear the diphthong pronounced oh (I had a boss who actually spelled couch as coach because that’s how he pronounced it). They also usually pronounce sorry as soar-ee, been as bean, produce (n.) as prah-duce, project as proh-ject, process as proh-cess, schedule as shed-jule, missile as miss-isle and a slew of other British pronunciations. What drives me nuts though is their insistence on pronouncing virtually any a they see as the short a in cat. It’s difficult for me to represent graphically, but go ahead and say to yourself the following words with that short a and see how lame it sounds: pAsta, tsunAmi, drAma, mAzda. Ugh. Sonically, it makes me fucking cringe. And I know it’s a matter of taste, but to me, mispronouncing names and proper nouns from other languages in that fashion just seems ignorant. I guess that’s a vestige of the famous British contempt for other cultures giving a last, dying twitch. I have adopted the Canadian forms of spelling; I think it’s cool. They use the British forms here almost exclusively: colour, centre, defence, and so on. They do not use the spelling aluminium. They do, however, use the silent h in herb. But while Canadian spelling I may have adopted, most of Canadian pronunciation I have not. The exception is when I play “I’m pretending to be Canadian.” I have at various times when doing this been pegged as a Maritimer (someone from Atlantic Canada), since I have a good grasp of the accent and “isms“ I absorbed while in Nova Scotia. Though I am functional in French, I rarely have occasion to use it. Canadian French, though, is far more dissimilar to its parent than Canadian English, and volumes could be written about Francophone (French-speaking) culture in Canada, and I haven’t enough experience to do so with any credibility or thoroughness. Summary: Someone could drop you in the middle of any major Canadian city outside of Quebec in your sleep, and it’d take you a bit to realize, just hearing people speak, that you weren’t in the US.


This is, to me, the single most important difference between Americans and Canadians, and I believe this trait informs all the positive ones I’ve previously outlined. Canadians are civil. They are brought up holding doors for other people, apologizing if they think they’ve offended or been a nuisance and just in general trying to be kind and decent to everyone else, even if they don’t like them. The concept that your negative personal feelings towards others should not inform your actions towards them, that it’s right and beneficial to society to be polite to everyone regardless of whether you hate their guts or not is so obvious to them that it doesn’t bear mentioning. Canadians’ default mode is “nice”. When in doubt, just be nice. Don’t understand something? Be nice and ask what someone meant, don’t just immediately go “Oh, yeah? FUCK YOU!” and start swinging if you aren’t sure whether you’ve been insulted or not. Canadians don’t automatically assume the worst motive for the actions of others. If a guy’s going off and making a fuss about something, the first thought is usually, “Wow, he must really be having a bad day.” One of the keys to civility is cutting each other some slack, being easy on each other, at least the first couple times. Canadians seem much better at this “a mile in my neighbor’s moccasins” philosophy than most Americans. They’ve been inculcated with good behavior through example; they don’t even think about it. As a result, even the immigrants get in on it within a generation. Of course, there are those who recognize this tendency towards civility and understanding and try to subvert it for their own purposes. These types will invariably either adopt a disingenuously oblivious mien (“Oh, did I cut in front of you? Gee, didn’t see the end of the line.”) or will behave blatantly aggressively in the hopes of causing others to back down and avoid any type of confrontation, something that seems bred into most Canadians from birth. I am at times frustrated by what I sometimes perceive as a pathological need to avoid confrontation of any kind. I see people allow others to take advantage of and inconvenience them without saying anything, and it pisses me off. Some ass-wipe the other day at a movie theater, in which one joins a single line while waiting for the next available cashier, was standing near a particular window which looked as if it would free-up next, clearly intending to head straight for it while avoiding the line. I, of course, ever-vigilant to such things and being a self-appointed Guardian of Civilization and Warrior against the Americanization of Canada, moved forward immediately when the register became available, shoving in front of the asshole and saying, “I was here first. The line’s over there.” He muttered something under his breath as he walked to the line. Coincidentally, he was quite swarthy and spoke with a thick Middle-Eastern accent. Fuckers who style themselves “wolves among sheep” in this country fill me with cold rage. Despite the fact that your average Canadian finds my attitude and actions inappropriate, I will gladly suffer their disapproval, kinda like Batman has to. Canadians are also far more respectful, in general, of people’s privacy. I hear less gossip and less mean shit behind people’s backs than I did in the States. People don’t pry as much, they aren’t as obsessed with going through your laundry, and are far less likely to share something private they may have learned about you. For example, I was a porn actor in the US for a time; I got some press, and my stuff shows up on cable every now and then (gotta love Canadian cable; when they show porn, they leave in the penetration), so I am infrequently recognized. A guy I worked with, when I confessed about my former occupation after having known him a few months, told me he already knew. When I asked why he didn’t tell me he knew his response was that if I’d wanted him to know, I would have told him, and it was none of his business. In a similar situation in the US, a guy I worked with was so excited to know that he told everybody I worked with, including my bosses, and from then on, every time I spoke with them, though they never let on they knew, there was this weird awkwardness, like they couldn’t look at me without seeing me naked. On the flipside, an Iranian immigrant kid I was in training with at this call center in Halifax sat down next to me one day, grinning. “Hey, hey, do you have tattoo? Show me”. I lifted my sleeve and showed him, and he all-but shouted “Ha! I knew it! I see you, I see you on TV!” I convinced him to keep his mouth shut, but I’d catch the weird little fucker staring and grinning at me from across the room fairly often, and he’d give me the thumbs-up if I looked up at him. Summary: The more civil you are, the better everyone gets along and the better your civilization.

In Closing

A banking system under control, sane gun laws, lower crime, universal health care, a thriving middle class, no illegal immigration problem, cheap weed, way less garbage all over the place, fewer assholes per capita, a strong federal government with excellent social programs…isn’t this sorta what Obama’s America would look like?

Libertarians in the US: Why Are They So Concerned with "Free Association?," by OdinCrow

Here is a short new guest piece by OdinCrow, a guest writer. He takes on, logically, the Libertarian obsession with free association, which can only logically be based on racism and nothing else. In fact, this free association nonsense is one of the principal reasons so many US White Nationalists have jumped on board the Libertarian train to ruin. There is scarcely a prominent White nationalist out there who is not some sort of a “Libertarian.” And Libertarianism of course is epidemic in the race realist/HBD community, the vast majority of whom are just thinly disguised racists. In addition, Libertarianism is rife throughout the Manosphere, but I am not sure what the reasons are for that. There is also a similar obsession with Ayn Rand. Apparently men are producers and females are the leeches if not useless eaters. A dominant theme in the Manosphere is, “Why should productive men via taxation support unproductive female leeches who hates us anyway?” I guess the answer to that question would be, “Because they are our grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts and cousins?” Right? The US Libertarian concept of freedom of association is typically defined thus:

Freedom of association is a term popular in libertarian literature. It is used to describe the concept of absolute freedom to live in a community or be part of an organization whose values or culture are closely related to one’s preferences; or, on a more basic level, to associate with any individual one chooses. The libertarian concept of freedom of association is often rebuked from a moral/ethical context. Under laws in such a system, business owners could refuse service to anyone for whatever reason. Opponents argue that such practices are regressive and would lead to greater prejudice within society. Right-libertarians sympathetic to freedom of association, such as Richard Epstein, respond that in a case of refusing service (which thus is a case of the freedom of contract) unjustified discrimination incurs a cost and therefore a competitive disadvantage. Left-libertarians argue that such refusal would place those businesses at an economic disadvantage to those that provide services to all, making them less profitable and eventually leading them to close down. Libertarians also argue that freedom of association, in a political context, is merely the extension of the right to determine with whom to associate in one’s personal life. For example, somebody who valued good manners or etiquette may not relish associating with someone who was not decent or was uncouth. Or those opposed to homosexuality probably would not enjoy associating with gay people. In both instances, a person is voluntarily deciding with whom to associate, based on his/her own volition. Libertarians believe that freedom of association, in the political sphere, is not such a fanciful or unrealistic notion, since individual human beings already choose with whom they would like to associate based on a variety of reasons.

Since this right is not threatened with suppression nor has it ever been suppressed in the US (except maybe for Communists during the 40s and 50s), I strongly suspect that the true expression of US libertarians’ view of freedom of association today embodies its converse meaning, which is that a group or community of like-minded individuals have the right to exclude those they find undesirable from their communities. In short, they don’t want to be “forced” by the government to live around, go to school with, hire or work with niggers, wetbacks, faggots, kikes, immigrants, Amway salesmen, etc. Considering the largest demographic within their ranks (Whites), I don’t find that suspicion to be a irrational.

Postcard from India

A nice little postcard from a Western traveler to India appeared in the comments the other day. Here it is: I spent a couple weeks in India 4 years ago and I completely agree with this post. The day I arrived I caught something (Delhi Belly) after drinking a fruit & ice blended drink and I was sick for a month. Guess why? Because there’s shit in the water they make ice out of. The cities smelled like shit, especially the areas where the fishermen lived. I nicknamed the harbor in Mumbai, which is called the Queen’s Necklace by locals, the Queen’s Toilet. The water was brown because it’s probably full of shit. Many buildings were literally crumbling with holes in the floor, but it was all normal to them. Whenever I meet an Indian hyping up the country and how it’s going to be the next China, I either point out that it’ll take a long long LONG time to make progress in that country, or I just politely agree because there’s no use arguing with someone who’s delusional and going to take your comments personally. My opinion as an educated man with many friends in the class of top 1 1. Seriously fights & punishes corruption and bribery (many friends’ families use government connections to gain advantages over business rivals and especially foreign investors/businesses, the rich also tout their position, net worth, and bureaucratic friends to threaten cops or other officials who would dare punish them for violating laws). 2. Invests in infrastructure – build sewers, clean the water, increases the building safety code and regulations. 3. Increases public education (many people lack analytical skills, the lower class basically has a slave mentality). 4. Put some of the many homeless to work cleaning up the streets – there’s too much garbage everywhere.

"It Ended With a '53 Buick," by Alpha Unit

My husband almost bought a Woodie. It was about 25 years ago. He had a neighbor who had one in storage, and she wanted to get rid of it. All he can recall about it is that it was a 1940-something Dodge and that the wood was badly warped. Even though she was going to give him a great deal on it, he passed. Way too much hassle, he decided. The hassle of maintaining these cars is one reason people stopped wanting them. They look beautiful, but they can be high-maintenance divas.

A Nash Suburban “woodie.”
Woodies weren’t “Woodies” until some time in the 1950s, I found out. Before then they were just station wagons. Station wagons were a way of transporting people and their luggage from train stations to their final destinations. They were directly descended from horse-drawn express wagons. Before the 1930s the passenger compartment of a vehicle was normally made of hardwood. A station wagon had the typical wooden body – built by a local carpenter, probably – and was used in a privately-run shuttle service. The 1923 Star was the first wooden paneled station wagon sold commercially (made by Durant Motors). But the Ford Motor Company sold more wood-bodied cars than any other manufacturer, according to Art Daily, building its own bodies in a plant in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Ford Motor Company was vertically integrated; the wood – kiln-dried maple and ash framing, with mahogany panels – was harvested from the company’s expansive Iron Mountain first-growth timber tracts. It was harvested, kiln-dried, and aged, all in one facility. Skilled craftsmen hand-built, assembled, and trimmed each car’s wooden body as they would fine furniture. Then it was shipped to a local Ford assembly plant to be mated to its engine and chassis.

General Motors didn’t sell as many wood-bodied wagons as Ford. Since it wouldn’t have been efficient for GM to produce the cars in small numbers, says Art Daily, a few respected suppliers hand-crafted Chevrolet, Olds, Pontiac, and Buick woodies. Packard, De Soto, and Nash also offered wood-bodied wagons. Chrysler came out with its Town & Country wood-bodied wagon in 1941 and eventually began making wood-bodied 4-door sedans and convertibles. The Town & Country, with an all-steel roof and a white ash and mahogany body, is designated a Classic. People really want to see them. And get their hands on them. Wood-bodied cars were undoubtedly complex and expensive to build and required special care.

Many pieces were made of rare bird’s-eye maple, resplendent with natural whorls and unique flowing patterns. Woodies were beautiful, but they were weather-sensitive and subject to an early demise. Manufacturers issued instructions with each wood-bodied car that instructed owners how to sand and re-varnish the body every year. No one would tolerate that frequency of maintenance today, but it was a different era. And Woodies were fragile. A fender-bender that’d simply dent a metal car body could reduce a hapless Woodie to matchsticks. Brutal Northeast winters meant that these were essentially three-season cars, at best.

People who restore Woodies say that most of the ones they see are in bad condition. They commonly see both dry rot and termites. Eric Johnson, who rebuilds these cars, spoke to John Katz of Hot Rod and Restoration about the difficulty of restoring original wood.

I’d love to have a car with original wood. I’d love to keep it all original. But when you start taking an old wooden body apart, it’s like opening a can of worms. You may have seen only a few rotted areas when it was all together. But when you take it apart you’ll find tenons that are rotted out from where water got into it.

He says that sometimes you have to build a whole new reproduction body – something Rick Mack specializes in. He estimates that less than 1 percent of Woodies have good, original wood. He builds about a dozen woodsets a year and ships them all over North America. As Jeff Layton describes it:

The process is meticulous and time-consuming. There can be upwards of 64 wood pieces on a vehicle. Very few are straight or square; most bend in two directions, and some have a twist. Mack uses a hand-crank press to laminate and shape replacement wood. He then uses jigs, patterns, and templates to dictate where to drill holes, round corners, and router interlocking pieces.

Pieces are accurate to the originals within 1/64th of an inch, he says. (Once varnished and installed, even judges at car shows can’t tell if the wood is original.) Because many woodies were kept in storage during winter months, some of them can be found in pretty good condition. But to a lot of owners, proper maintenance was not a priority. Manufacturers understood this. Some people say that the last great year for the Woodie was 1949. Postwar auto production made handcrafting complicated and maintenance-intensive wood frames and panels hard to justify, according to David Traver Adolphus. During the 1950s, car design, along with the tastes of people who drove cars, underwent radical changes, he says, and woodies fell from favor. The Chrysler Town & Country was discontinued in 1951. The 1953 Buick wagons were the last of the real woodies from a major American manufacturer. Rick Mack drives a 1950 Ford Woodie wagon, even though it’s not a great idea in the Pacific Northwest. “Driving in the rain can make the wood swell,” he confesses to Layton. But he drives it anyway. He loves Woodie wagons.

“Why Growing Up in India Makes You a Nasty, Cruel, Desensitized Faux-nationalistic Gold-digger,” by Novusipsum

This is a great piece by an Indian blogger that he left on my blog as a comment. The original is here. It’s very good, and it’s actually quite well written. He takes on his country in a way that is not often seen in Indian writers.

I particularly enjoyed the bit about Kashmir because it rings so true. Almost every Indian I know goes nuts when I mention Kashmir. They raise their voice and start pounding on the table as their faces gets red. They tell me that the problem is 100

However, when I tell them that most Kashmiris hate India and that many Kashmiris have taken up arms against India, they insist that I am wrong. Most every Indian I met was exactly like this. They are like drones, utterly indoctrinated by some Borg. They are brainwashed on this subject as bad as a North Korean.

Most of these folks are what you might call middle class or upper middle class educated people. A number of them had university degrees and were quite intelligent. One man used to be a university professor.

Why Growing Up in India Makes You a Nasty, Cruel, Desensitized, Faux-nationalistic Gold-digger

1. School

While people remark on shortage of functional schools in India, I say the kids who don’t go to school have it good. The national curriculum is odious and objectionable, seeing as it is designed for kids who bow down before all authority and the various empty suits regardless of whether they make any sense at all. You cannot contest your teacher. At all. Ever. Such behavior is simply unacceptable. Put another way, the system is a hundred percent authoritarian.

School kills all your creativity. Creativity, especially of the extroverted kind, is not encouraged. There are tried and tested methods to break the will of those who are too free. The system is based on rote-memorization. You must bend your mind a certain way to do that: it means all the rules are already laid out and decided for you. You do not need to think. Your brain must function in a certain way. Any challenge to the established order will make you a pariah.

Kids learn how to secretly and openly hate each other over the grades they are given for breaking their own will and doing pointless mind-numbing work that will be of no use to them at any point in their later life. The focus is on merit – on who is better at following rules. No wonder India has not produced a single India-based world-class scientist, technician, engineer. Science, technology, and engineering after all,re fields where your ability to think is highly valuable.

Barack Obama does not need to worry about Indian kids out-smarting American kids. If they do, it will be by doing hours of grinding and rioting, and when they do, the rest of the world need to start worrying.

This system is evil!

2. Parents, Teachers, Peers

All these people are the product of evil Indian schools and other cramming establishments and will force you to succeed in a way that they deem appropriate. You must resist this but you can’t. They are everywhere.

Your peers will pressure you to bow down, submit, and ‘teach you the value of money’. In other words, how to be a vicious gold-digger. Money is nice but being a nasty, evil, little scummy gold-digger is a degeneration of your soul that even Indian’s ascetic scat-munchers do not attain.

Indian people are therefore nasty and selfish to the extreme. It is of no surprise, seeing their upbringing and their environment.

3. The environment

Your average Indian city, town, village is a primitive clusterfuck without running water or proper sewage disposal. Casteism is rampant; stupid people need little motivation to be proud of what is after all a genetic accident. They think their bloodline is ‘pure’ and grind the ‘lower’ caste people down into the dirt. Respect for human life and dignity in India has to be the lowest in human civilization.

The streets are narrow and dirty, usually overflowing with broken sewage and water lines (which frequently mix), and the garbage the average Indian household does not feel ashamed of throwing on the streets. Any kind of social grace is completely absent, people shove and push each other, vehicles honk incessantly and without reason, and the local temple’s loudspeakers blare out shitty religious hymns.

Living and growing up here, you will learn little by little to let go of your humanity. You will get desensitized to the beggars and lepers in the street: emancipated, poor and trodden down. You will see old men and women driven out of their homes by their sons, eyes pleading for mercy and trying to make sense of the plethora of people around them who ignore their plight and pass right by.

Your average Indian will not even notice the squalor on the street or the helpless human beings on the street. He will simply accept these things as a part of life, which is why things never improve. He is the selfish product of a callous, heartless, and evil system. He will never change, and western democracies should not allow such people into their homelands. Not even for a ‘visit’.

4. The Media

Catering to a large middle class that pretends to be educated, some people have taken the initiative to bring them these people latest news of the world. These people are funded by rich business interests with their own agenda as well as Hindu nationalists. They make the usual salutary noises about bad governance and bloated bureaucracy, things that are so odious that it even permeates the thick bourgeois skull. This is why the middle class types buy newspapers and watch news—they can relate to it.

But the most vicious thing the media does is to fill the average Indian with a sense of pride and nationalism, something that certainly goes against all basic logic and sanity. What people would be proud of a country like this? Only brain-washed, selfish jerks that the education system produces and the media maintains.

The average Indian is full to the brim with national pride that he has no logical reason to feel. His ideas on casteism and the workings of the society are reinforced by editors of the national dailies and the news channels.

His stance on Kashmir, a truly beautiful place inhabited by beautiful people, has been drilled into him incessantly. The parable of Pakistan exporting its terrorists (not that it doesn’t – and it turns out the Americans knew about it all along) to India and that the Kashmiris love India (Huh?) has been in print for thirty years now. Of course, India is always the poor, helpless victim.

5. College

Most people in India never even graduate from their high schools, let alone college. And I say good for them. Because the system feels the need to grind out all kind of potential competition it may get from any future thinkers.

If school doesn’t manage to turn you into a humanoid selfish fuck, your college certainly will. India’s unemployment problem is vast. Of the colleges that ‘guarantee’ any jobs such as professional degree mills like IIT, NIT, AIIM, etc., it is interesting to note that only Indians think these places are good. An independent peer review ranked the ‘best’ IIT at around 350th at world level. Yet the middle-class scramble for securing a seat there so intense it simply has to be seen to be believed.

Millions (you heard that right, millions) of middle-class Indians right now are rioting, grinding, and chewing equations, formulas, and facts for entrance exams that maybe a hundred of them really understand. These people aspire to be ‘engineers’ and ‘doctors’.

The workload is so immense that you can’t find time at age 16 and 17 to ogle girls (or boys), party, learn how to drink beer without making a face, or hang out with your friends. But what am I saying? Hell, most Indian people don’t find time to do that ever in their lives anyway.

College itself is a turdfest -professors with massive egos, an anal-retentive and callous administration, and overall awkward social interaction between the sexes. Girls hanging out with boys are labeled ‘hookers’ and ‘sluts’. Massive sexual repression is the hallmark of this point in your life, and given the pressure to rote more equations and secure a job, you’d be lucky escaping the place without a drug habit or a drinking problem.

Is there anything good about India at all? With fertile plains to the north, large iron ore deposits to the south, the biggest aluminum stores in the world and 30

The only thing wrong with India is Indians.

Tulio on Black Crime and Feminism and What to Do About Them

Tulio, a Black man in his 30’s, is a regular commenter on the site. It was nice to see him move out defensive mode on the subject and write a deep and heartfelt post about these matters which are so painfully dear to his heart. He said that he thinks about this stuff constantly, as he is a young Black man. That’s sad, but if you care, it’s understandable. Tulio notes that the problem is now so entrenched that it seems to be intractable. He also notes the corrosive effect of a lot of the new Black music. Even White prison gang members have remarked on how detrimental they feel this music has been to White youth in recent years. They say young White man come to prison after listening to hip hop for years and think they are tough badass gangsters going to live it up in paradise in a maximum security prison. And boy do they have another thing coming! I would like to thank Tulio for this post. Even if these problems seem intractable, we should at least be discussing them, as the human and societal damage is of epic proportions.

Black Crime

As for Black crime, it’s a confluence of a lot of different things and not an easy problem to solve. Single motherhood. You have a lot of fatherless homes and single mothers. While not all single mothers raise bad sons (I personally know great guys raised by single moms), most guys in prison never had a strong father in their life. Women’s role is nurture; men’s role is discipline. Boys aren’t afraid of their moms. They’re afraid of their dads. Boys need fathers first and foremost. I don’t know what the high cause of single motherhood is in the Black underclass. I truly have no idea, and I think about this stuff all the time since I’m a Black man. It wasn’t always like this. There was a time that Blacks were known for having strong families. The explosion seems to have happened in the 60s. I don’t think there’s anything genetic about it. This doesn’t seem to be the case in Africa, especially traditional African society. It seems to be something unique to Black Americans. I don’t know what it looks like amongst Black Latins or Caribbeans. But family in Africa seems pretty strong, so I know it’s not genetic. Dead zones. Secondly you have a large cultural vacuum in certain parts of the country. Do you ever read about how there are dead zones in the ocean? Certain areas where there is not enough oxygen and that part of the ocean is devoid of life? The inner cities of America are dead zones. They are islands of misery, hopelessness, broken schools, high unemployment, drugs, urban decay. There’s very little there to give people inspiration and hope. The church is often the only thing. The people living there have just enough so as not to revolt, yet not enough for them to be functional players in the economy. The origin of such ghettos can be traced back to segregation. Some of these communities thrived at a time and were fairly self-sufficient. The Black middle class fled these places. And all that was left behind were the poor and a crumbling society. The middle class Blacks might have served as role models to those less fortunate. The Whites didn’t care about them either. Everyone that could afford to get out, got out. So what can be done about it? I don’t know. The problem seems almost intractable. So I guess the only real solution here would be some sort of gentrification. Concentrated poverty is a very dangerous thing. As I’ve shown before, it can turn White people violent as well like it did in NYC tenements or as it currently does in Glasgow. Spreading the poor out a bit should help. And it should also make their behavior better through cultural osmosis. I can imagine no worse situation than being a Black kid raised by a poor single mother where the only male role models are thuggish rappers and drug dealers. They need to see other things and get out of that box. They need something positive to aspire to. High unemployment. When unemployment is high, it makes working in the dark side of the economy more seductive. I’m sure many of these kids coming up would like to be able to make a decent living and not have to worry about ending up in jail or getting gunned down. But the fewer jobs there are, the more it makes the risk of selling drugs seem worth it. Even fairly decent people will start acting shady if that’s the only way they have to survive. Well one major problem is that many blue collar jobs that Blacks used to do for a living wage either went to China or went to illegal aliens. It wasn’t uncommon to see Black carpenters, drywallers, construction workers, meatpackers, etc. Now these jobs are almost all entirely done by Mexicans illegally in the country. This was a huge issue in the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina. There were a lot of Blacks out of work that wanted those construction jobs, and they were livid that they were going to Mexicans who aren’t even citizens and don’t even have any roots in the city. How can anyone not feel their pain? The gutting of solid blue collar work has had a huge effect on Rust Belt White America but it has been an utter disaster for Black America. I see no easy solution here either. Music. I also thing the music is a problem. Now maybe it’s an issue of art imitating life, or it’s the other way around, I don’t know. But I do think it has something of a feedback loop effect. A lot or rap music, even if not explicitly advocating violence, tends to reinforce a lot of selfish attitudes, hyper-materialism, fast money, fast women, party hard, a lot of Machiavellianism. It’s pervasive, even in the more lukewarm hiphop music. Sometimes it’s just the attitude. The anger. One rarely sees rappers smiling or seeming happy unless surrounded by money, bling and sexy women. This stuff has to stop, and if I had a kid, I’d be very careful about what they listen to. That said, not all rap music is like that, a lot of it is positive and life affirming. Some of it is great to dance too or just enjoy in the background if you have the smarts to not get caught up in the Machiavellian stuff. It should also be noted that not all “Black music” is like this. The majority of Black music is not rap and does not contain violent lyrics. Unfortunately though, most of the music young Black males of the inner city listen to will be rap and often with terrible messages. What can anyone do about this? Not much, as long as there’s a first amendment, rappers can pretty much talk about whatever they want sell their music to whomever they want, most of which is bought by Whites anyway. Sorry I don’t have any easy solutions, but these are just a few things that contribute to the issue.


As for feminism, and I assume we’re talking about feminism of the more militant variety, the Pandora’s Box is open on that one. I wish things had stayed with equity feminism, and we could’ve left it there. But it then evolved into an assault on gender roles and gender as some sort of social construct rather than biological reality. That’s what happens when people with PhD’s take over the movement. I know it’s not realistic for every American man to find a foreign woman, but for those that can, I think that’s the best solution. Foreign women are much more enjoyable to be around.

"Hindu Ethics and the West," by Dota

An excellent essay by Dota on Hindu ethics and how they are incomprehensible to the Westerner.

Hindu Ethics and the West

By Dota

Dedication: This essay is dedicated to all the valiant peoples of European ancestry who stand against the modern currents of our time in defense of Western Civilization. You are not alone. Before we jump right into the thick of things, I’d like to explicitly state that I am not an expert in Hinduism or Philosophy. I have no doubt that after reading this essay some of you are going to challenge the arguments presented here, and I encourage you to do so. Some of you might have questions, and I might not have answers to them all. I do however encourage all of you to research this fascinating subject and formulate your own opinions. The purpose of this essay is to introduce you to the basics of Hindu ethical thought in light of Arthur Danto’s argument of why they are not compatible with Western ethics. This essay will first introduce the reader to Danto’s argument followed by an application of Hindu ethics in the context of certain stories from the Mahabharat and Ramayan; stories I grew up reading in Hindi class as a child. I will then attempt to draw a comparison between western morality and Dharma. The scope of this essay is purely introductory and despite the mind-boggling diversity of the Hindu tradition, I will try and focus on mainstream Hindu practices and beliefs. In his monumental book Mysticism and Morality (1972), Arthur Coleman Danto argues that the Indian ethical systems present within the Hindu and Buddhist traditions are not accessible to most Westerners. I would like to confess that I have not personally read Mysticism and Morality since I have not been able to find a copy of the book in Saskatoon. It is available in the University Library which I unfortunately have no access to. For the purpose of this essay, we shall focus exclusively on the Hindu tradition and leave Buddhism out.  An excellent breakdown of the contents of this book can be accessed at Ralf Dumain’s blog here. Danto’s major overarching argument is that the factual beliefs upon which Hindu ethics are constructed are not accessible to westerners, and hence the ethical systems themselves are of little value in the west. What are some of these factual beliefs? Many Hindu apologists will attempt to render Hinduism immune to critique by insisting that Hinduism has no doctrines or central creed. That Hindu beliefs cannot be homogenized. However said apologists will also do everything in their power to link any Indian influences on outside cultures to the great monolithic Hinduism. I refer to this tactic as the shape-shifting apology. Thus Hinduism is rendered a monolith or a phantom depending on the apologist’s agenda. However as Meera Nanda points out, Hinduism certainly possesses beliefs that are core and non negotiable (caste, Karma, Dharma) which we shall examine. In Hindu tradition, one’s caste is a function of one’s Karma, which in turn is a function of one’s Dharma. If a person’s karma (actions) fulfills his dharma (obligations/duties), he is rewarded in the next life and may find himself born in a higher caste. Let us assume that a Brahmin sins by committing murder and is reincarnated as a Dalit in his next life. He is barred from accessing the village well and is forcefully segregated with a host of untouchability laws. On the face of it, it seems that justice has been served. However all of this depends on the existence of the interlocking forces of Karma and Dharma. To my knowledge, the Hindu texts do not attempt to prove their existence, but simply assume that their existence is a fact. If one were to encounter a Dalit enduring social oppression, would it be moral to assist him/her? If Karma exists, then the answer is no, as that Dalit is reaping what was sowed in a previous lifetime. If Karma does not exist, then ignoring the plight of a suffering soul would be rightly regarded as callous indifference in Western ethical thought. Danto points out:

“…that if the factual beliefs of India to which I refer are false, there is very little point in Indian philosophy, and very little room for serious application of Indian moral beliefs. . .” (21)

In the context of caste, Ralph Dumain summarizes Danto’s position as thus:

 “Danto argues, as did Max Weber, that the caste system of Hinduism resists universality, as members of different castes are regarded as members of different species. This leads to a peculiar kind of toleration, just as we tolerate animals because they can’t be like us. Hindus will tolerate the actions of others so long as their behavior is defined as licit for their caste. Therefore, the morality operant in this scenario stands or falls on the presupposed factual beliefs about caste.” (34-5)“

When one studies the Mahabharat, one is immediately struck by two things: The enormous literary value of this monumental epic and the shocking conduct of the amoral trickster god Krishna. In his paper Maximizing Dharma: Krsna’s Consequentialism in the Mahabharata, Joseph Dowd points out:

“For example, consider Krsna’s treatment of Bhisma, a warrior for the Kauravas. Bhisma knows that Sikhandi, a warrior for the Pandavas, was a woman in his previous life. Krsna tells the Pandavas to set Sikhandi on Bhisma. Bhisma refuses to fight Sikhandi, who deals Bhisma a mortal wound. Another example concerns Karna, another warrior for the Kauravas. When Arjuna fights Karna, Karna’s chariot wheel gets stuck. Karna asks Arjuna to let him get his chariot unstuck before continuing with the battle. But Krsna reminds Arjuna of Karna’s misdeeds and tells him to kill Karna immediately. During a mace fight between Bhima and Duryodhana, Krsna tells Bhima to violate the warrior code by using a low blow.”

Joseph Dowd argues that Dharma (now referring to the Cosmic order) needs to be maintained and can only be done so if the Pandava faction triumphs over the evil Kaurava faction in the war. Krishna himself justifies his shocking actions as thus:

“Ye could never have slain them in battle by fighting fairly! King Duryodhana also could never be slain in a fair encounter! The same is the case with all those mighty car-warriors headed by [Bhisma]! From desire of doing good to you, I repeatedly applied my powers of illusion and caused them to be slain by diverse means in battle. If I had not adopted such deceitful ways in battle, victory would never have been yours […] You should not take it to heart that this foe of yours hath been slain deceitfully.”

Let us once again apply Arthur Danto’s principle in determining the moral validity of Krishna’s actions. It would seem that the morality of Krishna’s actions rest heavily on the existence of Dharma. If Dharma exists, and if its existence is threatened, then agents must do everything in their power to prevent this catastrophe. It would seem that Krishna’s actions would then be moral. However if Dharma does not exist, Krishna’s actions are clearly opportunistic. Let us now examine another feature of Hindu morality: The lack of intent. Ralph again explains Danto’s point of view:

“The infamous story of Arjuna is the key, the sophistical argument that Arjuna fight and kill with detachment. (88) One must perform one’s actions according to one’s calling, to be true to it without extraneous motivation. (91) This attitude is enabled by the detachment of self from body, so that one does not identify with the necessary actions of one’s body. Danto finds this to be bone-chilling, Nietzschean and inhuman. The factual beliefs postulated are radically at odds with morality. (94-5) Danto ponders possible points of comparison of this notion of detachment with Kant, but insists that morality has no meaning without systems of rules. (96) Intention is decisive; it ties the agent to the action. The Gita robs actions of their moral qualities by detaching them from their agents. (98) This has some resemblance to Nietzsche’s position. (99)”

A look at the Ramayan story of Shravan Kumar should illustrate this point clearly. I had read this story in Hindi class when I was in grade 5 and the chapter was aptly named: आज्ञाकारी पुत्र (The Obedient Son). The protagonist Shravan Kumar embarks upon a pilgrimage with his blind aged parents who are unable to make the journey alone. En route they grow weary from thirst and request a drink of water from their son. Shravan wanders over to a nearby stream and begins to draw water. Unfortunately, King Dashratha (Ram’s father) happens to be hunting nearby, mistakes Shravan for a deer, and fires. A wounded Shravan requests that the horrified king complete Sharavan’s task and bring water to the blind parents. The king complies but is recognized by the blind parents as an impostor; whereupon the king sadly confesses his accidental misdeed. Distraught beyond measure, the parents curse the king that he too would die a lonely death pining for his son. The parents then perish. The curse comes to pass as the king lies on his deathbed longing for his son who is in exile. Thus the king is punished for his action (karma) without his intention even being considered. The moral maxim of letting the punishment fit the crime cannot be applied if intention is divorced from action. In Western morality, intention is a key variable and the Bible confirms this in numerous places:

“Then the Lord said to Joshua: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood.” Joshua 20:1-3

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus adds an additional dimension of intent when proclaiming:

“But I say to you, That whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Matthew 5:28

Also consider the following story from the Mahabharat which is included in Dowd’s paper:

“In one passage, the Pandavas trick Drona, a warrior for the Kauravas, into thinking that his son Asvatthaman is dead. At Krsna’s suggestion, they kill an elephant named Asvatthaman and then tell Drona, “Aswatthaman hath been slain” (Ganguli, 1883-1896a). As a result, Drona withdraws from the war to grieve. Now, whether or not the Pandavas had killed the elephant, the outcome would have been the same: Drona would have been tricked into thinking that Asvatthaman was dead. However, truthfulness is a supreme norm in Hindu thought (Buitenen, 1975, p. 177; Goldman, 1997, p. 189; Khan, 1965, p. 204). By killing the elephant, the Pandavas ensure that they are technically speaking the truth when they say, “Aswatthaman hath been slain.”

From a Hindu perspective, the actions of the Pandavas are moral, however from a western point of view, this still amounts to lying as the intent was to deceive.

Morals Versus Dharma

In his brilliant and succinct article Anatomy of an Indian, Aakar Patel states:

“Is Shri Ram’s murder of Vali and his treatment of Sita moral? Is Shri Krishna’s advice to Arjun on Karna moral? Is his action on Jayadrath moral? Is Acharya Drona’s behavior with Eklavya moral? Our texts say: “Yes.” They are right according to dharma (if the question is asked in an Indian language). But they are wrong morally. Dharma is opportunistic, while morals are not.”

Lets expand upon this point with the Ramayan story of Ram’s murder of Vali. At the behest of Vali’s younger brother Sugriva, Ram agrees to murder the latter’s older brother Vali, who has threatened the younger brother’s life. Ram executes a ruse where Sugriva issues a challenge to Vali, whereupon Vali accepts and emerges forward to participate in the duel. Ram ambushes Vali from behind and kills him with an arrow. A dying Vali questions Ram’s morality, and the latter responds that Vali failed in his obligation of forgiving his younger brother’s past transgressions. This was evil, and Ram was tasked with eradicating evil. Clearly Vali did violate his dharma as an older brother by not making amends with Sugriva, and the significance of brotherly duties are clearly illustrated in the Mahabharat story of Arjun’s wow and Yuddistira. So dharma was satisfied, but what about morality? Indeed, from a western point of view this murder was indeed cowardly and immoral; and what further compounds Ram’s duplicity is that he had committed this deed in exchange for Sugriva’s troops which were needed for the siege of Lanka. Dharma is concerned with duty and not morality where the emphasis is on fulfilling obligations or risking misfortune. Dharma is radically at odds with Western morality.


The purpose of this essay was not to prove the inherent superiority of the western moral system over the Indian one, but to alert Westerners of the folly of imitating a foreign set of beliefs without understanding them. Western morality is a highly developed and universal code which is adaptable, humane and has evolved beyond the Bible from which it originates. Upon it the modern world stands, and it cannot be replaced by any code of the Orient. For the purpose of fair discourse I would also like to recommend Hindu Ethics: A Philosophical Study by Roy Perret, who challenges many of Danto’s interpretations and his central argument.

"Don't Look at Me – Unless I Want You To," by Alpha Unit

In France, you could end up in trouble with the law if you look a woman up and down and she’s offended by it. “Looking someone up and down” is included in a list of behaviors that could be seen as sexual harassment in France. This list is in a preliminary report issued by the French Parliament back on July 18 – a report that will serve as a guide in implementing France’s brand new law against sexual harassment. Under the old law, the notion of sexual harassment was restricted to “obtaining favors of a sexual nature” and was punishable by a year in jail and a fine of approximately $18,000. The new law is more specific about defining sexual harassment, which is:

imposing on someone, in a repeated way, words or actions that have a sexual connotation and either affecting the person’s dignity because of their degrading or humiliating nature or putting him or her in an intimidating, hostile or offensive situation.

A perpetrator could serve 2 years in jail and be fined about $37,000. If the person you harass is under 15, under your authority, or disabled, you could be fined about $53,000 and serve up to 3 years in prison. Unacceptable behaviors in addition to reckless eyeballing might include:

  • blackmail
  • sexual jokes
  • neck massages
  • leaving a pornographic magazine on someone’s desk

The new law will cover interactions in the workplace, universities, housing, and job interviews.

"No Longer in Service," by Alpha Unit

When I was a kid I loved it when we were riding in the car and had to stop to let freight trains pass. We would lean across the front seat to watch the rail cars go by, chattering about them or just watching and getting that weird sensation that our car was moving…instead of the train. (I kind of liked that.) I still remember some of the names painted on the sides of the rail cars. COTTON BELT – the St. Louis Southwestern Railway, that is. SOUTHERN. That was the Southern Railway (“Serves the South”). FRISCO. Also known as the St. Louis – San Francisco Railway. But we were also waiting to see the caboose – that gave us something to look forward to, even though I was kind of sad to see it. That meant the show was over! The caboose is a thing of the past. Cabooses were once used on nearly all freight trains, by law. But advances in technology made the caboose unnecessary and undesirable, according to the railroads. The caboose was originally just a makeshift shack built over an empty flat car, assigned to the conductor for his exclusive use – a kind of home away from home. Over time it became the quarters for the train crew and took on a utilitarian role. Railroads found that the caboose offered a good vantage point to keep an eye on trains as they got longer; to improve the view they added a cupola, a lookout post on top of the car. For most of the 19th century and early 20th century, most cabooses carried a conductor, brakeman and a flagman. A second brakeman accompanied the engineer. (The conductor oversaw the safe operation of the train; the engineer oversaw operation of the locomotive.) Before the era of automatic air brakes, the engineer signaled by whistle when he needed to slow down or stop. This was when the rear-end and head-end brakemen went to work. Each car had its own brake wheel, and the two brakemen, having climbed on top of this moving train, would move from car to car, from opposite ends, applying hand brakes until the train stopped. Once the train stopped, the flagman would get off the train and walk back a prescribed distance to signal approaching trains that a stopped train was ahead. Once underway again, the caboose crew would sit in the cupola and watch for smoke from overheated axle bearings (this situation was called a hot box and was a serious fire and derailment hazard), smoke from stuck brakes, or other signs of trouble. In the 1880s the automatic air brake system invented by George Westinghouse eliminated the need for brakemen to set brakes manually. Eventually electric track circuits were implemented to activate signals, eliminating the need for flagmen. Friction bearings were replaced by roller bearings, reducing the likelihood of a hot box. Today the ends of freight trains are monitored by remote radio devices called End of Train devices, or EOTs. The EOT fits over the rear coupler and is also coupled into the air brake line. The EOT radios information to the engineer regarding the brake pressure at the rear of the train, whether or not the last car is moving and whether or not the flashing red light on the car is working. The EOT also allows the engineer to set the air brakes from the rear of the train in the event the train breaks in two. In such an emergency the engineer could set the brakes on both halves of the train. With the introduction of these devices, the conductor moved to the front of the train with the engineer. A lot of the cabooses were sold for their scrap value. But you can still see them in use in and around railyards sometimes. They are brought out for special events, too, such as historical tours. You’ll also find them in railroad museums across the country and in private use by individual owners. The United Transportation Union is the largest railroad operating union in North America, representing workers on every Class I railroad and many of the workers on regional and shortline railroads. The union initially protested the phasing out of cabooses. It pushed for legislation to require that trains have cabooses if they exceeded a certain length or if they were carrying hazardous materials. Several states did pass such laws, but as the railroads argued, the federal government no longer requires cabooses on trains. The caboose was obsolete as far as they were concerned. In 1982 the union signed an agreement with the rail carriers that permitted the elimination of the caboose. A freight train just isn’t what a freight train used to be.


Phillips, J. A. October 1998. A Caboose of Our Own. White River Journal. TrainWeb. The History of the Caboose.

"The Golden Gate Bridge: Beautiful Under All Light Conditions," by Alpha Unit

This year is the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, the technical and artistic marvel that is one of this country’s most famous landmarks. It’s been declared one of the modern Wonders of the World by the American Society of Civil Engineers – and seen by some as possibly the most beautiful bridge in the world. Before the bridge was built, the only practical way to get from San Francisco to Marin County was by ferry. This began in the 1800s. Southern Pacific Railroad came to operate the ferries – a profitable and vital operation for the regional economy. People had long considered building a bridge to connect San Francisco and Marin County. The first proposal to really take hold was made in 1916. An engineer named Joseph Strauss made a pitch to local authorities, designs and all. A suspension-bridge design was considered most practical. Strauss actually spent over 10 years trying to gain support for a bridge. The Department of War was afraid it would interfere with ship traffic. Southern Pacific Railroad didn’t want any competition for its ferry fleet and filed a lawsuit. But among allies was the automobile industry, which supported the development of roads and bridges for clear reasons. The state legislature passed the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District Act in 1923. Construction began in January of 1933, with Strauss as chief engineer. The contractor was the McClintic-Marshall Construction Company, a subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel. The call went out for workers. Since the Great Depression was well underway by then, there was no shortage of men seeking work on the bridge. All hiring had to be done through the Ironworkers Union Local 377 in San Francisco. There weren’t enough ironworkers in the city, so men were recruited from all over. But before any construction could actually begin on the bridge, they needed divers to begin the crucial underwater construction process. This would be especially difficult. As one author described it:

The narrow strait between Marin County and San Francisco is one of the world’s most tumultuous bodies of water. Up to 335 feet deep and only a mile and a quarter wide, the Golden Gate is the largest California coastal opening – a portal into which the Pacific Ocean surges. Powerful currents also flow in the opposite direction as water from many of Northern California’s freshwater rivers and streams rushes into San Francisco Bay. The freshwater flow collides with the incoming Pacific, creating complex and violent currents.

Workers would have to erect a pier more than 1,000 feet out in the middle of the Gate – the first bridge support ever constructed in the open ocean. Divers had to begin by blasting away rock for the south tower’s supports. This involved placing blasting tubes into position and securing them while trying not to be swept away in the current. They had to go as deep as 90 feet below the surface to remove detonation debris using underwater hoses that exerted 500 pounds of hydraulic pressure.

The Gate’s changing currents afforded workers only a narrow window of dive time. The men were restricted to submerging for four 20-minute periods per day. With the construction team’s tight schedule, divers were often forced to surface before having sufficient time to decompress, increasing the likelihood that they would develop caisson disease… also known as “the bends.”

The divers guided beams, panels, and 40-ton steel forms into position, often having to feel their way due to murky water and fast-changing currents, and while wearing bulky diving suits. Yet the danger didn’t deter men from this underwater work. It was a steady, well-paying job – not easy to come by during the Depression. When construction started on the bridge itself, the first workers excavated three and a quarter million cubic feet of dirt and poured enormous amounts of concrete for the bridge’s two anchorages. The 12-story high anchorages were designed to secure 63 million pounds – twice the pull of the bridge’s main cables, we are told. In November of 1933 the first tower began to go up. Prefabricated sections were fit into place and riveted together by 4-man rivet gangs. After both towers were complete in June of 1935, workers built catwalks and started spinning the cables for the bridge. The engineering company John Roebling and Sons oversaw cable construction. This firm had built many of the world’s longest bridges, including the Brooklyn Bridge 52 years earlier. It had developed a technique of spinning cables on site.

To spin the cables, 80,000 miles of steel wire…were bound in 1,600-pound spools and attached to the bridge’s anchorage. A fixture within the anchorage called a strand shoe was used to secure a “dead wire” while a spinning wheel, or sheave, pulled a “live wire” across the bridge. Once it reached the opposite shore of the Gate, the live wire was secured onto the strand shoe, and the wheel returned with another loop of wire to begin the process again.

Hundreds of wires, each roughly the diameter of a pencil, were bound together into strands. Hydraulic jacks then bundled and compressed 61 strands to make a cable. Each of the main cables is just over 3 feet in diameter. The work was laborious and had to be done to ensure the correct tension and balance in the cables. As for the deck, or roadway, of the bridge, traveling cranes working from each tower laid down the steel decking that would undergird the roadway. The first concrete was poured for the roadway in January of 1937. Opening day for the Golden Gate Bridge was May 27, 1937. An estimated 200,000 people came for the celebration. As one of them later recalled:

The weather at the Golden Gate was typical for San Francisco in May: foggy, windy, and cold, but that didn’t bother anyone. They would always remember they had walked across the Golden Gate Bridge on opening day. You were encouraged to wear a costume or the Official Hat with its tassels. But it was the Depression. If you couldn’t afford the hat, a bandana would do just fine.

The workers who constructed the bridge were executing the design of what The San Francisco Chronicle calls an engineering dream team. Although Joseph Strauss was chief engineer, he had little understanding or experience with cable-suspension designs, so other experts were given responsibility for much of the engineering and architecture. Charles Alton Ellis was the structural engineer and mathematician responsible for the structural design of the bridge. He did all the mathematical calculations that made the bridge possible. Leon Moisseiff was a leading suspension bridge engineer in the 1920s and 1930s. He was known for his work on deflection theory, which held that the longer bridges were, the more flexible they could be. Ellis applied Moisseiff’s theories in the design of the bridge. Othmar Ammann was a structural engineer who had designed the George Washington Bridge in New York City. He served on the board of engineers for the Golden Gate Bridge. Charles Derleth was the dean of the college of engineering at UC Berkeley. He served on the advisory board with Moisseiff and Ammann. Andrew Lawson was a professor of geology at UC Berkeley. He was the first person to identify and name the San Andreas Fault. He was a consulting geologist and seismic expert for the construction of the bridge. Irving Morrow was the consulting architect for the bridge. Morrow graduated from the newly founded UC Berkeley architectural program in 1906. Joseph Strauss hired him to design the architectural treatment of the bridge. He was influenced by Art Deco design, but his most famous contribution to the Golden Gate Bridge is its distinctive burnt red-orange hue called International Orange. “The tone is beautiful under all light conditions,” one observer admitted.

"Obedience, Drunkenness, and Rape at West Point and Annapolis," by Alpha Unit

Last Friday, Karley Marquet and Anne Kendzior filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that the US Military Academy in West Point, New York, and the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, ignored rampant sexual harassment and rapes at the academies. Named as defendants are former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former superintendents of the two academies, and the current Secretaries of the Army and Navy. The lawsuit states:

Although Defendants and other military leadership repeatedly claim they have “zero tolerance” for such misconduct, the evidence shows otherwise: they have a high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks, and “zero tolerance” for those who report rape, sexual assault and harassment.

There are three rapes discussed in the lawsuit; one of the women was raped twice. Karley Marquet is 20. She began attending West Point boot camp in June of 2010. Before describing the events in question, she says that she was taught to follow all directions given by upperclassmen – shining shoes, making beds, emptying trash, and otherwise doing whatever they told her to do. During the second semester of her freshman year, she stayed on campus over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend; her roommate didn’t. A female friend visited her on the evening in question but left by curfew. Shortly after, her roommate’s boyfriend, an upperclassman, stopped by to visit. According to the lawsuit:

The male upperclassman stayed for quite some time, and then gave Ms. Marquet a sports drink that had alcohol in it. Peer pressure by upperclassmen to consume alcohol is pervasive at West Point. Ms. Marquet drank about one-fourth of the liquid in the bottle, and soon became intoxicated. Disoriented, Ms. Marquet was convinced by the upperclassman to go to his room, where he raped her.

So you have peer pressure, alcohol, and a disoriented freshman. It all sounds familiar. Ms. Marquet told her sister and a friend what happened. They told her to go to the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (“SARC”). But she was hesitant. The perpetrator stopped by her room several times, she says, pressuring her not to report the rape. In addition, she was well aware that women who did report rapes were called “sluts” and were accused of having “asked for it.” But she decided to report it, not that it did her any good. West Point didn’t provide her with what she calls adequate assistance. She was forced to remain in contact with the guy, and West Point didn’t alter her duties, which meant she had to empty his trash every day. As a result of the rape and the hostile environment, she became depressed and suicidal. The final straw was being forced to do “walking hours” with this guy as punishment for a minor infraction. She resigned from West Point. The guy still hasn’t been brought to justice. In the case of Anne Kendzior, both perpetrators went on to graduate and become Naval officers. Ms. Kendzior is 22, and joined the Naval Academy in the summer of 2008. She, too, was taught to follow all directions given by upperclassmen. That fall she went to a party given at “Lacrosse House,” attended mainly by Naval Academy students. There was a lot of alcohol. They played some drinking games and had lots of fun getting drunk. Ms. Kendzior went to one of the back bedrooms to sleep it off. Everybody can guess what happened next: she woke up to find a male student on top of her doing the deed. She says he then rolled over and went to sleep. She didn’t tell anyone what had happened except her roommate. Nothing was made of the whole incident. A few months went by. Ms. Kendzior and two male students were granted Saturday liberty. They bought some alcohol and went to a hotel room to drink it. She passed out drunk. She woke up to find herself being raped by one of the guys. She told her roommates, but no one else. Eventually – the lawsuit doesn’t specify exactly when – she reported both rapes to her Academy counselor, but the counselor didn’t encourage her to report them to either civilian or military police. She says she spiraled downhill, becoming suicidal. She finally did report the rapes to the Naval Academy. But the lawsuit states:

Although Ms. Kendzior was only one year from completing her degree, the Naval Academy decided that Ms. Kendzior’s mental health issues caused by the rapes precluded her from becoming a commissioned officer. Only the intervention of Ms. Kendzior’s parents and Congressman prevented the Academy from wrongly incarcerating her at a mental health facility.

She was forced to leave the Academy without being permitted to graduate. The lawsuit maintains that Robert Gates and his co-defendants are directly responsible for the atmosphere in the US military and at the academies that allows these assaults and rapes to flourish and go unpunished. You know what I wonder, though? Why didn’t these two fairly intelligent, capable women understand that they were putting themselves at risk of being raped? It’s not okay to rape people. Furthermore, you can’t make anyone rape you. Rapists are responsible for the crimes they commit. But assuming you can take them at their word, why the Hell do so many women walk blindly into these rape scenarios? Nobody has a right to rape you. But you are responsible for your own safety and well-being. Not the Secretary of Defense. Not the head of the military academy. Not your Academy counselor. You are. If you can’t tell when you’re being set up for a possible sexual assault, then maybe there are certain environments you don’t need to be in, period.

"How Martin Guitars Changed Music," by Alpha Unit

Buddy Guy and Keb’ Mo’ play Martin guitars. So did Lester Flatt, Brownie McGhee, and Kurt Cobain. Lindsey Buckingham, Shawn Colvin, and Beck play them. What guitar player hasn’t? The Martin Guitar Company has been making acoustic guitars for over 150 years. Some consider them the finest in the world.

Christian Frederick Martin is the man who brought Martin guitars to America in 1833. He came from a family of German cabinetmakers, and not long after establishing his own business in Markneukirchen, he got caught up in a dispute between the Cabinetmakers Guild and the Violin Makers Guild.

The Violin Guild didn’t want cabinetmakers making musical instruments. The Cabinetmakers said that violin makers had no vested right in making guitars, and that Martin’s guitars marked him as every bit the craftsman as any violin maker.

The Cabinetmakers prevailed in this legal dispute, but C. F. Martin had had enough. He left Germany for New York City. In 1838 he sold his retail store to another music dealer and bought 8 acres outside Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where he produced totally hand-crafted guitars made on a one-by-one basis. However:

There were a few features commonly incorporated in most of C. F. Martin’s instruments. Until the mid-1840s, Martin guitars were characterized by a headstock that had all the tuning keys on one side. Martin acquired this design from his teacher in Vienna, Johann Stauffer.

The headstock design with all the tuning keys on one side was discontinued by Martin and went unused until Leo Fender resurrected the design in 1948 with his Telecaster guitar.

During the 1850s, Martin made a major innovation to guitar design – the “X” bracing system for the guitar top. Guitar bracing, I learned, refers to the system of wooden struts that support and reinforce the soundboard and back of the guitar. According to Rich Simmons and Jeff Griffy:

Guitar bracing performs two wildly different functions: strengthen the top of the guitar while allowing it to sufficiently vibrate to produce a warm and resonant tone. In a standard scale guitar with medium gauge strings, the guitar’s top withstands approximately 185 lbs. of constant tension.

A thin top without bracing would buckle or warp in very little time. A top thick enough to withstand the pressure could not sufficiently vibrate and would result in a thin tone with little volume. Bracing a thin top then finds the best of both worlds.

The “X” pattern developed by Martin features the two main braces running in an “X” from the upper bouts – where the body widens out from the “waist” of the guitar – to the lower bouts. The “X” crosses between the soundhole and the bridge, with several auxiliary braces. This pattern creates the strength and well-balanced tones that most builders find ideal.

Martin innovations didn’t end with “X” bracing. During the Great Depression, Martin, like thousands of other businesses, suffered seriously depressed sales. The company explored all kinds of features with the hope of finding something that would bolster sales. They came up with the 14-fret neck.

Before this era, guitars were typically equipped with a 12-fret neck. The story Martin tells is that a renowned banjo player, Perry Bechtel, suggested to F. H. Martin – grandson of C. F. Martin – that he make a guitar with a 14-fret neck; the longer neck would increase the guitar’s range and make it more versatile.

Martin took Bechtel’s advice and introduced a guitar with the longer neck. It was so popular that Martin made it a feature on all its models. It became the standard design for the industry in America.

Another innovation was the Dreadnought guitar, which has become a Martin trademark. The original Dreadnought – named after a type of World War I British battleship – was designed by F. H. Martin and Harry Hunt. Hunt figured that a Dreadnought guitar, with its large body and booming bass, would be ideal for accompanying vocals. It was introduced in 1916 but wasn’t well-received because there weren’t that many singers using guitars; solo players considered the bass overbearing.

But as folk singing became more and more popular, so did the Dreadnought. In 1931 Martin incorporated the Dreadnought into its line. It dominates the Martin line today, and almost all acoustic guitar makers are said to have their own versions of it.

Of course, as with other manufacturers, you can have a Martin guitar made to order. Each size and shape produces a unique tone. The wood you choose has a distinct influence on sound, too. You determine the right “playability” as well. According to Martin:

You need to choose the most comfortable neck that is easy to play in terms of action (height of the string above the fret), string tension, and neck width. If you’re accustomed to playing electric, you’ll probably want low action on an acoustic. Acoustic rhythm players or slide players generally want higher action.

Flatpickers and rhythm players prefer narrow necks. Fingerpickers, with their need for greater string spacing, prefer wide necks.

It may seem obvious, but the fit of the neck of a guitar has to be close to perfect.

As anyone who has built a guitar can tell you, the fit of the neck can be one of the most crucial and challenging parts of a guitar build – particularly if the guitar sports a dovetail neck joint. It involves a long process of carefully carving off excess wood, fitting, refitting, and sheer strength to ensure that the fit is absolutely flawless. Otherwise, a guitar can end up with tuning issues, problems with the action.

Diane, who works as a neck fitter for Martin, says that her job not only requires physical strength but mental agility, “because each and every neck is different.” This means no two sets of problems to solve are alike – just as no two Martin guitars are alike.

"Where Have All the Blacksmiths and Boilermakers Gone?" by Alpha Unit

Here is some self-evident truth: the steam engine was critical to the Industrial Revolution. So were the men called boilermakers. Steam engines ran factory machines, trains, and ships; none of them would have run without a boiler. The men who constructed and maintained those boilers were a kind of engine themselves for commerce and manufacturing. There are still boilermakers, of course, doing essential work all over the world, although they sometimes go by other names these days. Historically these tradesmen (they are still overwhelmingly male) were known as “boilersmiths.” Their trade is actually an extension of blacksmithing, and came about largely due to the advent of iron as a primary construction material. Boilermakers would be in the shipyards making the iron boilers for steamships, and employers found it easier and cheaper to use boilermakers to build the ships, too. Because of their skills as general metalworkers – rolling, shearing, welding, and riveting – boilermakers built trains and metal bridges in addition to steel ships. And just about everything operated by steam was in their purview. Boilermakers are still out there working in industrial construction, shipbuilding, railroads, and mining. When companies need metal structures like process towers and smokestacks fabricated and installed, it’s boilermakers that get it done. They also do rigging, signaling, and hoisting of materials and equipment. Fossil and nuclear power plants are practically run by boilermakers. Boilers supply steam to drive the turbines that generate electricity in these power plants. Because these places often operate at very high steam pressure, boilermaking, welding, and tube-fitting are an ongoing project for them. And what of blacksmithing, the mother of boilermaking? There are still working blacksmiths doing what blacksmiths of long ago did – heating pieces of wrought iron or steel until they’re soft enough to be shaped. Back then, a blacksmith out in the country was mostly sought after for horseshoes, plowshares, and farming tools. In towns they would make such things as parts for carriage wheels and canal barges. Once the Industrial Revolution got underway, you’d find blacksmiths making railway axles and other parts for trains. They also worked in shipbuilding and in the engineering and textile industries, building and repairing machines. Nowadays blacksmiths sometimes work with computer programs and specialized cutters that use lasers or water jets to cut the metal they’ll be forging. But you can still find blacksmiths working in some of the same industries they have traditionally, such as the railroad industry, where they build and repair the metal components and parts on equipment. One thing blacksmiths will sometimes tell you is that architects, in particular, keep them in business. Blacksmiths get commissioned to create gates, ornate fences and furniture, and balustrades for staircases and balconies. Because there is so much overlap in the different metalworking trades, these workers have organized together throughout the years. The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers says that anyone who works in any of these trades may call himself or herself a Boilermaker. As to why whiskey with a beer chaser is called a boilermaker, they say, nobody knows. At least nobody they can find.


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