Monday, September 29, 2008

Broke Beyond Belief

How much money is $700 billion dollars? 7,000,000,000. Didn't Obama just say we've already spent a trillion in Iraq the other night when he squared off with McSame down in Mississippi? $1,000,000,000,000.

That's only three-hundred billion more than this current emergency bail out plan is asking for as a temporary stop gap measure to the 'mortgage crisis'. Hard to know what to watch these days, who to listen to or what to read as none of it seems to make any sense.

Naomi Klein's scholarly and passionate recap of the last half of the 20th century's geo-economic and political reality - 'The Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism' - is a pretty damn good place to start.

Paul B. Farrell of the Dow Jones Business News sums up Namoi's monumental work best. "To more fully grasp this new economy, you must read what may be the most important book on economics in the twenty-first century... because it reveals in one place the confluence of cultural forces, the restructuring of a world economy as growing populations fight over depleting natural resources, and the drifting away of America from representative democracy to a government controlled by multiple, competing, well-financed, and shadowy special interests."

Without going into a full-blown, late-night diatribe on her analysis of Milton Friedman and his Chicago School of economics, starting in Chile in 1973 and leading up to Iraq in 2003, the most 'shocking' and shamelessly appalling aspect of her book this far, is the role that the United Sates has played in its perverted quest for 'global freedom and democracy' [read, expanding markets and increased profits] over the past 30 years.

"The brutal regimes that implemented Chicago School ideas in the seventies understood that, for their idealized new nations to be born in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, whole categories of people and their cultures would need to be pulled up 'from the root.'... But the Latin American juntas did not act alone: they were propped up before and after their coups by Washington, as has been amply documented. For instance, in 1976, the year of Argentina's coup, when thousands of young activists were snatched from their homes, the junta had full financial support from Washington. That year, Gerald Ford was president, Dick Cheney was his chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld was his sectary of defense, and Kissinger's executive assistant [Kissinger was Secretary of State] was an ambitious young man named Paul Bremer." [Bremer was Washington's 'top envoy' to Iraq in 2003].

Hey wait a minute... didn't McCain mention that he's been friends with Kissinger for some thirty-five years?! Talk about Crony Capitalism!!!

Argentina's economy still suffers to this day, but now is our turn for some major shock therapy, just like the doctor has been ordering for the rest of the world for the last thirty years. But who is actually gonna bare the brunt of this behemoth bailout? And who is really gonna pay for it? Stay tuned... Part Two coming on April 15, 2009.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Chacahua & The Oaks

Ironically, I find myself at The Oaks playing in the late-night 2-4 stud game across the way from my pad in Emeryville and I see this guy up on the rail who I've seen before, recently, who eventually introduces himself as Eddie, wearing this dark blue t-shirt and baby blue Hawaiian style truckers hat. I'd first spotted him a few days before playing in the new $100 spread limit Hold 'Em game. I broke from my table and saddled up next to him and asked about the dark blue shirt. Clearly printed across the back was 'Laguanas de Chacahua' and the image of a large Caymen or Crocodile, the fund-raising souvenir shirt for the small National Park and the crocodile preserve.

"You know Chacahua?" he answered, a bit surprised, slurring his words. "You'll have to excuse me, I'm a little drunk." he mumbled, swilling on his pint-sized cocktail.

You see, I had been watching this atypical Oaks card player (if one can actually define a 'typical' player in the house) from a far for a few days now. I saw him getting heckled out of the $100 spread limit game earlier in the week by two redneck 'radio talk show hosts' from some SF State on-line radio show. He had been purposely playing bad and reeling them into his world. "Show me your cards [just folded] and I'll give you $80, right now." he'd taunt, his over-bite showing with his giddy smile/laugh combination. "I'll buy those glasses you're wearing right now for $20 bucks," he clamored as the potato-head mirror-shade-wearing good 'ole boy immediately obliged. "That's a fine pair of shades you just bought there boy," he laughed. "I think I'll go down to AM/PM and get another pair for $5.99!" They both chortled at each other and gave a slammin' crank-fueled hi-five to each other across the table.

Eddie was also drunk that night and a bit disheveled, making him an even easier target. "Yo bro, that jacket you're wearin' ain't even official 'members only' and it's got the stuffing coming out of the neck. Time to retire it, bro!" The fat rednecks laughed and high-fived each other over the table again. The Hong Kong poker ninja with the black Independent skate hat watched in calm silence as he continued to grow his chip stack.

"Yeah, I been to Chacahua," I replied. I briefly explained I had been down there years ago to shoot some photos for a story that ran in the SF Chron and that I really loved the place. "Yeah, its a pretty hippy-friendly spot," he adds. "I was just down there in July. I'm trying to set up some type of 'Eco Lodge' and studies show that when you put it next to a National Park [Lagunas de Chacahua] you have better luck." He continued to sip his drink as he got called over the the $200 spread limit game, sliding back on his mirror-shades in true post-modern fashion.

"I like those shades,"
I mentioned as he started to wobble away.

"Oh... I bought them in a game the other night," he said, smiling that toothy grin.

"Where's the powder blue jacket?" I continued.

"Oh yeah... it's, um... retired."


Monday, September 15, 2008

RIP - David Foster Wallace

In the middle of blogging the post below on Chuck Thompson's 'Smile When You're Lying' that I had started sometime on Friday evening, The Social Worker sends me this link in the SF Chronicle letting me know that David Foster Wallace was found by his wife hanging in his garage on Friday evening in an apparent suicide. Sigh...

DFW has been one of those writers, the ONE writer that has spoken to me in ways that no other recent writer has ever come close. It's hard to explain right now, or ever. You and your words, at times, have meant the absolute world to me. Thank you.

Thanks for your mind-bending wit, overly intelligent-at-times insight, literally laugh-out-loud words and all of those tiny footnotes. You were able to understand and
write things (Truths) that I've only scratched the surface of experiencing and then begin to understand but never knowing actually how to describe those feelings and observations.

For anyone that is not familiar with DFW's work, he has written the BEST travel piece on the Caribbean and cruising in the Caribbean ever. This from the LA Times travel section:

"For example, here’s the intro paragraph: “I have now seen sucrose beaches and water a very bright blue. I have seen an all-red leisure suit with flared lapels. I have smelled suntan lotion spread over 2,100 pounds of hot flesh. I have been addressed as “Mon” in three different nations. I have seen 500 upscale Americans dance the Electric Slide. I have seen sunsets that looked computer-enhanced. I have (very briefly) joined a conga line.”

This same essay was also re-published in one of my favorites by him, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again." But then I just came across this text, a commencement address to Kenyon College on May 5, 2005 which gives some real insight, not only into his mind and his own Truths of late by about all of us, our beliefs and our daily lives and the choices that we can make on an individual and daily basis. RIP DFW.

Travel - How It Itches, Burns, Stings and even KILLS

Barely appeased (at ease) with becoming a cube-bound, computer-staring, office chair-wearing traveler at best (for now), I hopped onto my local 57 westbound bus over to the conveniently located neighborhood Barnes & Noble bookstore and picked up Chuck Thompson's road weary words 'Smile When You're Lying - confessions of a rouge travel writer,' trying to quench my delirious thirst for that next curious adventure just beyond todays reach. (*)

I'd briefly read about the recent 'scandal' with (ex) Lonely Plant author Thomas Kohnstamm which then led me to Robert Reid's review and comments of Kohnstamm's new book, 'Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?' There, Reid touts Thompson as the true author of the book (Smile While You're Lying) that Kohnstamm was ultimately trying to write - an insiders scathing attack of the travel industry at large and of travel writing itself. LP insider TravelBurro says that while Thompson's book is a bit long at times, its 'pretty fucking funny' and that Kohnstamm is a great guy but it seems like his book was 'a little rushed'.

On the back flap, the SF Chronicle calls Thompson 'reminiscent of' my main man David Foster Wallace (or at least that writer that I love to praise but secretly might not like as much as I preach). (see post above)

Like this passage about when Thompson is teaching English in Japan - living large as an expat. "The school's star Ping-Pong player and I could barely communicate, but we battled after school on an ongoing basis. Despite forcing her into dozens of overtime thrillers, I never managed to beat her. She was a mystery to the Japanese as well as to me, a gawky, five-foot-ten, one-hundred-pound girl with a mouth that could go weeks without opening, limbs like a grasshopper's, hair as limp as boiled noodles, slightly bulging eyes (which I mean in a good way - I've never minded a touch of Grave's disease in my women), and the filthiest backspin serve east of Beijing." Besides our noon-time running club (killed it today with a monster 5-miler) the other saving grace in my current life-as-an-office-worker is the grand ping-pong table next to my office and the daily death matches with Foley and Fletcher.

Thompson's living abroad experiences mixed with his paid travel abroad writing gigs provide a compelling background for any aspiring traveler, writer, travel writer, photographer, travel photographer and the other 25% of US Citizens that even have a passport. But mainly the US passport owners that actually use them. He's also from Juneau, Alaska and has some heavy-hitting commentary that is most relevant today considering a woman who is trying to be one heartbeat away from the big red button in Washington. Mainly that Alaskans sold out to big business and oil back in the 1980's with government 'pay back' checks to each Alaskan starting at $1,000 per person for their part in the oil boom. Still happening to this day even.

Moments of brilliant clarity and insight, sometimes more about things here at home than abroad abound. To the teachers of America:

"American public school teachers have the world's best PR operation going. Whining every chance they get about how demanding their jobs are, how many "extra hours" they put in, how little they make, how much of their own money they have to spend just to do their jobs, how noble they are working this job that nobody ever asked them to do - welcome to the fucking world."

On that note, I'll end as I'm only half way through it...

* I'd really gone over to Barnes & Noble to get a copy of 'The Places In Between' by Rory Stewart which is one of my all-time favorite travel books for Marina as she prepares to head over to Azerbaijan to do her 2.4 year tour-de-peace in the Peace Corps. More on our beloved Corps, including a lovely little diddy by Chuck Thompson later. Thank y'all for reading.

** Overly reveling in Chuck Thompson's cute and at times 'funny enough' little smirk-at-the-travel-writing-world as I prepare to sleep before the 9-5 kicks in bright and early tomorrow morning, I am jolted upright after reading page 174 sub-titled - No Cabbie Quotes. By the end of the next page I damn Chuck to hell and find myself thinking out loud, "you're a fucking dead man." (Not dead as in really dead, but dead like he uses real in his own book.) He wraps up his little sub-section, "my list of directives for writers and editors" on why cabbies are the bane of society and why any respectable travel writer would NEVER quote a cabbie goes like this, "The only reason a writer quotes cabdrivers or other service-industry minions is to disguise the fact that he or she didn't want to deal with the hassle of drumming up any authoritative local sources (emphasis added). Think of all the cab-drivers you know. You don't know any. That's because in every major city in the world-London excepted- taxis are driven by impoverished foreigners who don't know SukhumvitRoad frojm Euclid Avenue, work insane hours, talk to their buddies on their cell phone all day, and fall asleep as soon as the off-duty sign lights up. Cabbies having their fingers on the pulse of a city is the biggest travel myth since 'Hey, we can stop and get reliable directions at the gas station.'"

Having been a former cabbie in San Francisco where MANY of my brother and sisters are excellent resources and ambassadors to the millions of travelers AND tourists that visit our beautiful city (yes, many of them are from foreign lands, still one of those melting-pot facts that make us unique around the world) AND knowing a handful of EXCELLENT cabbies in Buenos Aires, many of whom I consider deal friends, great family members, impassioned locals and EXCELLENT 'authoritative local sources', you are now on my official shit list and you and your publisher and your publicist and agent and yourself will be hearing from me soon, Mr. former founding editor of 'Travelocity Magazine'... sheesh (funny how a quick Google search of this aforementioned magazine shows a few brief mentions about its launch from 2000. Maybe it should have been called TRAVELOFFITY)! Cabbies of the world that usher your sorry-ass around unite - you will have a change of heart, when you're not out slumming it on some limo-driven press junket at the latest 5 star resort in the Dominican Republic.

*** Now I'm pissed at myself for flying off the handle at Mr. Thompson. I choose to buy his book and I'm choosing to read it. And sure, I've had my share of un-knowing and infuriating taxi cab drivers around the world. I think really though, I'm saddened and frightened by DWF and his recent suicide. With all his talent, accolades and brilliance and he still choose to check out at the not-so-tender age of 46. Farewell.