Category Archives: Culture

Marilyn Hagerty and a peek into the America you’ve forgotten about

I first read the now-sensational Grand Forks, ND Olive Garden review by Marilyn Hagerty last night, and in response, I tweeted: “I should’ve written a review like that the day I learned Fat Tire—which I first had in May 2011—had entered Maryland last Oct.”

I really do not know what it was about the column that enamored me. Maybe it was the earnest tone with which she presented the fact that people lined up to eat at an Olive Garden in Grand Forks—GRAND FORKS!—North Dakota and it was written with so little self-consciousness about what the coastal communities from sea to shining sea would think about her and her city. Maybe it was the fact that she had given us a glimpse of communities outside our own—with our blazing fast Internet and “artisanal” dining and our hipster culture—communities that are just as American as ours, only with more heart and soul and yes, Virginia, for some communities in the Midwest, Red Lobster happens to be where you take your girlfriend to propose in front of a crowd and make her your fiancee.

Not a month ago, on Valentine’s Day, there was a tweet making the rounds about how men shouldn’t give their girlfriends mall jewelry store baubles and how you don’t take her out to Red Lobster on a date. To which I said that these people have no clue whatsoever about the backgrounds  of the people who are dining there. That young twentysomething guy with his girl? You don’t know how much he worked, to save up money for a dinner for him and his girl that would cost upwards of  forty dollars. You just don’t know. But sure, let’s sneer at them for their commercialized tastes and their plebian preferences? I’d rather not.

There was a lot of sneering directed at Marilyn Hagerty and the city of Grand Forks, North Dakota, whose citizens lined up outside a new Olive Garden, whose citizens used to drive an hour and a half to Fargo just to eat at one, who now  have to put up with judgment from Coastal elites who exclaim in sheer horror about their lack of local and organic, farm-to-table dining options in the city of Grand Forks—GRAND FORKS!—North Dakota and why would anyone even want to live there much less eat at an Olive Garden and much less line up for one?

My vocal admiration of Mme Hagerty landed me a phone interview with Ryan Bakken in which I just poured out my thoughts. Grand Forks is Grand Forks. There was a scene in Friday Night Lights where colleges were trying to convince the individual Dillon Panthers to go to their schools and what they have to offer in terms of football and an education and one, one coach even said “we just had a new Costco open up recently.” Friends, this is America. And it’s bigger than what  you’re used to, and there’s so much more out there than what you think you already know.

So why judge? Why sneer at them from your nose that sits higher than your brow? Why is this so weird for so many of you? Why is it so bizarre to you that on karaoke night in a regional chain when the DJ plays the Cupid shuffle for an intermission about three fourths of the people leave their seats and their booths and just dance?

In my phone interview I critiqued restaurant reviews for being highbrow and pretentious. I had mentioned the Internet’s addiction to irony and mean-spiritedness. That’s about as much fire and brimstone I can bring up. Tomorrow we’ll be mean to each other. But tonight, I’ll borrow a page from Mme Hagerty’s interview with the Village Voice and just tell all the haters to go get a life.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being American

I’ve lived in the United States for over ten years now, though my citizenship won’t be available for another three (long story; ask me sometime). I don’t stop to think about it too much; I know I’ll pass my naturalization exam with flying colors. What does come across my mind occasionally is the question: what does it mean to be American?

Certainly it doesn’t merely mean knowing the accidents of American history and existence. There are things you can ignore—fried butter, Harley-Davidson, Viet Nam era student protests—as white noise in the data, but there is still a there to being American. There’s a je ne sais quoi, some might say, but I disagree. The whole concept to being American is so simple, it’s frightening.

It’s about Liberty: the kind that allows you to do as your conscience tells you; the kind that makes you face the consequences of your actions; the kind that doesn’t protect you from your own mistakes.

There is, however, an even more powerful freedom that this Liberty offers all Americans, immigrants and natural-born alike. Here’s a clue, from Max Brooks’ World War Z in the words of a (thinly veiled) Howard Dean as he recounts his time as vice president under (an equally thinly veiled) Colin Powell:

I was pointing to them, shouting and gesturing with the passion I’m most famous for. “We need a stable government, fast!” I kept saying. “Elections are great in principle but this is no time for high ideals.”

The president was cool, a lot cooler than me. Maybe it was all that military training … he said to me, “This is the only time for high ideals because those ideals are all that we have. We aren’t just fighting for our physical survival, but for the survival of our civilization. We don’t have the luxury of old-world pillars. We don’t have a common heritage, we don’t have a millennia of history. All we have are the dreams and promises that bind us together. All we have … [struggling to remember] all we have is what we want to be.

American existence is freedom from ethnographic baggage, if you choose to do so. As in immigrant, this is an exhilarating opportunity, and I am not alone. Listen to our stories, but most of all, listen to us when we start telling you about how we wouldn’t be anywhere close to the horizontal and vertical mobility we enjoy in this country.

If I had stayed in the Philippines with my biology degree, my mother would’ve broken her back trying to fund med school. Or, she could’ve dropped dead from the strain of working 60 hours a week here and living a life of self-denial, such that I wouldn’t have been able to finish and, well, who knows what I would’ve done. How many immigrants would tell you today: “I wouldn’t have gone anywhere back home.”

For an American born and raised in America, this freedom is an unbearable lightness. The story of natural born Americans is the search for identity. In this context, one can view the caricatural search for self-esteem and self-actualization in a fairer light. Europeans sneer at how Americans of Irish descent (and of not) celebrate St. Patrick’s day. Cultural celebrations of Old World customs reach comical proportions, and there is a reductive quality to the way natural born Americans pick and choose cultural aspects of their heritage. On its face it seems disrespectful. What does a natural born American of Irish descent know about the Irish’s struggle for survival during the great potato famine? Should he bear the weight of IRA’s terrorism?

Consider the Stuff White People Like blog in this light. It’s been called a damning critique of yuppie hipsterism, but more than that, it is the story of how Americans try to find or build their identity. I want to tell my American friends: by all means, go to the country of your lineage. Visit it. Take it in, whether it’s Warsaw or Prague, but remember: being American means you don’t have to worry about what it means to be Polish, or Czech.

Where beauty and truth are neither

Take the time to read my friend William Newton’s post on marketing, how action figures have changed over the years, and how he’s concerned about the self image of today’s youths. Once you’re done, come back here. We’re going to talk a little about Madison Avenue.

I was born and raised in the Philippines, as I am wont to remind everyone. Many Filipinos in central Luzon—especially in the great rice plains of Pampanga, the ranchlands of Bulacan and the Metro Manila megalopolis—are of mixed descent over many generations, but an equally large population have features that are more provincial (rural) in nature. This is not just a question of fair skin as inherited from our Castillian colonists or the Chinese, but a matter of bone structure, of facial features and body types.

Humans crave the exotic, and there are anthropological bases of beauty grounded in signals for good health and symmetry that transcend cultures, but the sheer assault of Western—not just American but European—aesthetics upon other lineages has gotten ridiculous. And it’s not just Asians, but African Americans with their history of living with their White masters that serve as cautionary tales of how worship of the different can—when taken to extremes—be detrimental to the psyche not just of an individual but to that of an entire people.

Hair straightening in black people is not a new phenomenon; their girls in the slave era have been observed as trying to straighten their hair with everything from kitchen grease to tar. All to wash the stink of difference, to achieve a sense of sameness that may lead to the respect that comes with being equals. Tough shit, though the Afro hairdos as popularized in the disco era, along with creative ways to deal with the unruliness of curls, are making headway into the popular culture.

But what of my people? Culturally we have always been a melting pot, so I am in no mood to indict those among us who like to adopt the mannerisms of rap artists or gangbangers nor exclusive school preps or whatever catches their fancy. However, what of our standards of beauty? The Filipino male, given the proper diet, will tend towards a barrel chest and a mild paunchiness of the belly despite being generally low in body fat. We are shaped differently, and yet the media we consume—Stateside or back home—fills us with imagery of statuesque Caucasian men and svelte women. Perhaps Zainudin Maidin, then Information Minister of Malaysia, had a good idea striking Brad Pitt from a car advertisement airing in his home country.

Some of the best male physiques in tv and movies—Teddy Sears, Alexander Skasgaard, Paul Walker, Peter Facinelli, Ryan Gosling, Cam Gigandet—to name a few (of my favorites) all have shapes that are unachievable by anyone who isn’t white. I see this at the gym every day. We have a lot of non-white lifters in varying degrees of fitness, but despite being low in body fat (and skin taught enough over their muscles and whatnot) they do not come close to the sillhouettes of white paragons of physique.

And where did this contemporary standard come from anyway? Look no further than Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, a modern marvel of sports photography and cinematography. That’s right. That Leni Riefenstahl, whose art I have praised in this blog years before and still do so today for its technical merit, skill and craftsmanship. Despite that, we must recognize her role in reviving the popularity of Classical sillhouettes as the standard for beauty.

As for how Madison Avenue has messed up the self images of women, with the unrealistic goals of unhealthy emaciation, let us cite the insightful Nora Vincent, in her book Self Made Man:

[...] A lot of women have asked themselves why so many men are so fond of modern porn stars and centerfolds, women who aren’t real women, whose breasts are fake, whose hair is bleached into straw or perversely depilated, whose faces are painted thick, and whose bodies have ben otherwise altered by surgery or diet to conform with doll-like exactitude to something that isn’t found in nature. Why, I had so often wondered, didn’t men want real women? Was it misogyny, a kind of collective repressed homosexuality or perhaps pedophilia that really wanted a body type that more resembled a man’s or a child’s, fatless and smooth?

For some, this is no doubt true, or why would magazines like Barely Legal, full of pre- and parapubescent girls, sell so well? Why would the fashion industry, long dominated by gay men, demand that women starve themselves until their bodies, hipless and breastless, look like the bodies of adolescent boys?

I’m going to let the gay-as-a-pedophile stereotype pass for now. Not in the mood. But Madison Avenue—such a beautiful metonym for such a vicious industry—is not in the habit of creating beauty; it used to be, but now it’s been reduced to assaulting one’s self-image, convincing a person to hate himself enough to just want their product as in insufficient salve against the sense of deficiency that they inflict upon their customers. Advertising hasn’t always been like this. Advertising shouldn’t stay like this.

Conservatism and bad food

Based on the tweets I saw today, Rush Limbaugh launched into an extended diatribe against the dietary inadequacies of fruits and vegetables. He did this because our First Lady, Michelle Obama, has been spending much time touting the value of these foods as a means to combat obesity. Even if we stipulate that Rush is accurate, the body of human knowledge—the science, if you will—surrounding the benefits of more plant fiber (not Metamucil, mind you) is vast and undeniable. They have been a part of a healthy diet for a very long time.

Plants have evolved fruits to benefit themselves: they are seed-dispersal mechanisms with benefits to the animals that would aid them in their effort to perpetuate the species. Yes, the trace elements found in fruits and vegetables are miniscule in amount and easily supplemented. Yes, fruits are about 90% water and greens are about 70%. Yet, it is the dietary packaging of a whole fruit or a fresh vegetable that provides the best means to get the best benefit. Instead of trying to make a case for fruits and vegetables here, just look at the health profile of a person who lives without roughage. Find me a man who lives on grains and the flesh of animals alone and I will show you a very unhealthy man.

But because Mrs. Obama has chosen to promote fruits and vegetables, Rush has chosen to attack the low hanging fruit instead of going after the real prize. Sarah Palin is equally guilty of this by celebrating with baked goods in response to Mrs. Obama’s finger-wagging.

I have a personal rule. I prefer not to advise pundits and public figures on what they should say. Whenever I do, I imagine myself wearing their faces and bodies—pundit-drag if you will—just to resist the temptation. I can bear to do it this time tonight. Rush and Sarah are doing their adherents a disservice. Eating fruits and vegetables are an act of free will, of personal responsibility to one’s own health and long-term enjoyment of life. Just because Michelle Obama wants to beat us over the head and tell us we’re such horrible fatasses for not eating enough fruits and vegetables, doesn’t mean that we should go after the fruits and vegetables themselves.

If you still can’t separate the tyrant from her vegetal yoke, think of it this way. We like to say that guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Well, fruits and vegetables don’t oppress people; the mannish fishwife married to the President of the United States does.

Sweetest sixteen

Quite a few people were worried for Abby Sunderland when her sailboat that she was taking around the world issued a distress signal. The boat faced rough waters in the Indian Ocean, and she was incommunicado for about a day. She’s been found, though, and the discussion over the general competence of her parents continues.

Some have questioned the responsibility and judgment of her parents: what kind of parent would encourage a child to circumnavigate by sail at such an age? Have their critics considered the commonsensical assumption her parents trained her in sailing, and that her circumnavigation is not the first long-distance sailing trip she’s done? I can’t be certain the assumption is true, but it’s very likely. Others wanted to debate whether her parents should be charged with negligence for “allowing” Abby to sail around the world. These same people, without the benefit of hindsight, wouldn’t even pass judgment on them if she completed her voyage safely. The question remains: how young is too young?

Legally, there are three age-related milestones: birth, adulthood, and retirement. There’s plenty worth discussing on these three topics, but important to understanding the Abby Sunderland issue is that adulthood is much fuzzier a concept than the other two. Children in Maryland can start working at age sixteen, and new adults can vote but still can’t buy alcohol. Young girls in some states can get an abortion without parental consent in some states.”Children” can now enjoy being on their parents’ insurance plans until the age of twenty-six.

Laws have adjusted the priveleges of adulthood beyond the legal, clear-cut definition mainly because some groups have gotten burned due to tragedy and would like to make adjustments for everyone else as a result. Abby Sunderland could have been yet another case that could have added yet another adjustment to the definition of adulthood.

What a lot of people miss is that people like Abby Sunderland, and the other children who’ve done this, are intrepid people. Not only do they have the potential to do great things, they are already on their way to realizing it. Let’s not let Abby Sunderland’s near-unfortunate outcome be another excuse for overbearing parenting. There’s plenty of that to go around as it is.

Art and the artists who make them

For a few moments, appreciate the paintings below.

City 1 City 2 Landscape 1 Landscape 2

Composition and technique really aren’t all that exemplary, but they show practice. They capture what seems to be the intended qualities in each scene: the bustle of city life, the majesty of a palace, the tranquility of a lake. If one were to use the work alone as a means to look into the mind of this heretofore unidentified artist, what insights might we gain when studying this work? Continue reading

Christmas For Non-Believers

It’s Christmas again, and year after year, atheists around the nation do nothing but sneer at all of us who so insensitively celebrate a religious holiday at the expense of every un- and non-believer out there. Why all the humbugging from these folks, anyway? I’ll be exploring Atheism as a belief system in the days to come, but for now, a few thoughts on Christmas. First, from David Harsyani:

If I were a believer, I would have commemorated the Jewish revolt against the Greek religious imperialism of the second century B.C. this month. Fun.

You, on the other hand, are far more likely preparing to celebrate the birthday of the one true messiah, the son of God, the King of Kings, he who died for all our sins and brings peace to all mankind.

I grew up Catholic and though my lifestyle doesn’t reflect my upbringing—to be caricatural, I do not fast, nor eat merely fish on Fridays—I still celebrate the holiest of days by dropping by for Mass. I also greet people “Merry Christmas,” even when I receive a “Happy Holidays.” I hate a lot of this political correctness crap. So, what does Christmas mean to a non-Christian in the United States?

It’s a day of rest, for one. Since the country is densely populated with people who actually celebrate Christmas, they have little incentive to work. Many places offer holiday pay, which means they don’t have to work for the day, too.

It’s a day to be with family. Since they know they’re getting paid, they get to hang out with family. Some people travel across the country to do this. If for any reason, people can’t be with their families, they reach out to their friends and spend the day together.

It’s a great time for business, and the better non-Christian businessmen don’t mind greeting people “Merry Christmas,” except the obviously non-Christian clientele, of course.

It’s a time for good will. I mean, ferChrissake, a large majority of the world is celebrating the birth of our Christ and Savior on this day that our Church agreed to do so. It’s a time for people to be nice to each other, or at least, nicer than they usually are.

If you’re Jewish, Muslim, or whatever non-Christian believer, the option is there on this day to do with it as you please. This invitation applies to atheists, too, but too many of them are in this terrible funk that just makes you want to punch them in the mouth.

I mean, what do militant atheists want? They want people to reject religion for reason. Sure. By logical extension, they want people to not celebrate Christmas, which removes the reason to take off work in droves on that date. They want people to work on December 25. They want people to not go meet their families on this day. They want people to stop being nice to each other on this day. They want people to reject this holiday because it offends their sensiblities and to them, the irrational behavior surrounding this day would be imprisoning. No wonder that (from same article, emphasis Harsanyi’s):

USA Today also relayed that a University of Minnesota study taken that year found that Americans rank atheists as the most disliked minority group in the entire country, topping other groups who richly deserve such honors, like journalists, for instance.

Any other day, I would tell the militant atheists to get the fuck out of our lives and pull that stick out of their asses. But today, well, at least tomorrow, it’d be great to rub salt in their woods and greet them a “Merry Christmas.”

A view of the patriarchy through social anthropology

Last night on Twitter, Justin Kownacki said: “God’s rightful role for families is a patriarchy in which women submit to men? Thank god; I’m a shitty listener.” Now, I follow a number of people with whom I disagree, and I have said things that I’m sure are grating to them, so I tend to let things slide unless I have something greater to say. It was a short discussion, as the medium tends to promote, so now I’m blogging about it. Continue reading

Veteran’s Day thoughts

This is the day in which we celebrate those who have served and live among us. All I can say is “thank you,” to everyone who has served in the military. I do not know of anyone who doesn’t know a serviceman, and I hope you have spent a few seconds to thank this person for their service. This collection of videos of soldiers coming home to their dogs made me cry. And while I’m sure our servicemen would rather we don’t thank them vocally every darn day we see them, @cshaero strikes a great note with this:

Hope everyone's not just honoring Veterans today. Let's honor Veterans EVEN MORE TODAY than we do EVERY OTHER DAY OF THE YEAR.

While @JonHenke takes a turn for the disappointing:

If you're thanking veterans on Twitter, you're just doing it so people can see you.

How dare he deign to ascribe one intention on all of us? There were kids like these in high school, who’d speak “on behalf of the room” after being reprimanded by their teacher. Jim Treacher (@JTlol) perhaps issued the best response:

If you're calling out people for thanking veterans on Twitter, you're just doing it so people can see you.

This is one of those patriotic holidays where even Google makes a custom logo, despite their ignoring Memorial Day, of all days. It’s the kind of day that only the most hardened of anti-American Americans don’t honor. Sourpussery, while certainly within one’s right to exercise, is within my right to ridicule.

Jeff at onQSM has similar thoughts.

On the matter of taking offense

Christian Lander already listed it as one of those things Stuff White People Like. Of course SWPL is a tongue-in-cheek critique not of white people but of a certain cultural aesthetic, and Lander does it well.

Twitter Screenshot

I may never understand why someone has to jump up and take offense at something being directly quoted. Too many people read into the idea of a retweet. Jake Tapper, journalist for ABC, had to clarify that before, too, when people would give him hell for retweeting something they disagree with. There’s a reflexive nature to the response in the screenshot, too. It’s psychologically intriguing to speculate about why this person would be so quick as to publish their “disgusted” feeling.

I write about this because I need to let everyone know: my silence on a matter is not endorsement. If I had to bloviate about everything that offended me, I’d never get anything done in my life. I don’t need to express offense in order to feel that I have not endorsed that which has offended me. I have my own ways of coping. One can only hope that the perpetually offended can do so, as well.

Juxtaposing Naomi Natale’s and Sonja Sohn’s speeches at TEDx MidAtlantic

Notes from the first session of TEDx Midatlantic Notes from Sonja Sohns talk at TEDx Midatlantic

When I went to TEDx MidAtlantic last Thursday, I knew that I would have to keep an open mind to views that are different from my own. In the days that followed the conference, I have been vocal about my experience on Twitter as well as here. I have always said that I liked “almost all of them,” even the ones that I disagree with. Here and now, I share the speech that made me the most uncomfortable, and I set at alongside one of my favorites.

Naomi Natale was introduced as an installation artist and TED fellow. Since I tend to stick to the Classics, I have never heard of her before. As she walked unto the stage, without skipping a beat she started introduced her Cradle Project, which calls attention to the lost potential of millions of orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. It was at this point that I started rolling my eyes at the presentation. Continue reading

Experiencing TEDx MidAtlantic: an event review

Yesterday’s TEDx was my first event of the genre. I have looked at the TED site itself before to get an idea of what kind of people attend these events, and moreso, who speaks at them. This Conservative bomb-thrower didn’t feel all that hot about the fact that the actual TED event has been “graced” by such “luminaries” as Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and U2′s Bono. I thought to myself, am I about to walk into a Liberal snakepit?

There’s no denying that the Baltimore-Annapolis-Washington triangle is a hotbed for Progressivism, but I also keep an open mind and engage my Progressive friends on the merits of their arguments and try not to make it personal. (Of course if all I get is “your belief in this makes you a bad person,” I just agree to disagree and just keep at being the Spawn Of Satan they so fear me to be.) So I decided to go through the application process and see if there’s anything I can take away from the talks. Besides, the organizers have made it a point to avoid pushing a specific religious or political agenda. Continue reading

On Twitter lists and spheres of influence

Justin Kownacki has some choice commentary on a schoolyard fight between Robert Scoble and Chris Brogan over Twitter’s newest feature: Lists. In the few days since it’s been out, I’ve seen people use lists to bolster others’ egos. Others use them as weapons of mass agitation (@technosailor blocked someone who listed him under “Granny Bangers,” for example). Justin makes a great point in that these “thought leaders” miss the mark about social media itself.

I’ve been blogging since 2002, although my archives only stretch to 2003. In that time I have seen blogs rise and fall. I’ve seen companies spun out of cloth and burn in the light of the day. I am here because I choose it. I am in a unique situation in that I have nothing to gain nor lose from blogging per se. This has been my online identity, and I have built a reputation for web design work, Conservative opinion, and photography, but my professional and financial future do not hinge on this.

Looking from the perspective of a relative elder in a room full of kids, today’s thought leaders serve very, very little beyond platitudes and recycled sports metaphors. Chris Brogan’s rant against lists is nothing more than a dopey way of standing in front of his congregation and saying “you are all beloved. People who categorize others are nasty.” Scoble makes a great point in that people will need to classify information. In the world of Twitter, people are information.

It doesn’t matter what medium you’re writing about. In any one of them where participation is democratized, the distribution of power always follows a long-tail curve. A lot of people dislike the idea that power consolidates upon itself, but that’s what always happens. There is always a center. Justin concludes:

We may not all be equal, but we’re all individuals. And that realization will carry us much farther as a whole than any insistence that we all be invited to the same party.

There are leaders, and there are followers, but leaders do not make more of themselves. It’s when a person decides he won’t be lost in the crowd anymore, that he won’t wait to be recognized by the man in the center of an ever-expanding, increasingly crowded sphere, that he grows into a new leader, too. Fishbowls get crowded, but there’s not just one. The ones who can’t bear to be in one decide to make their own. It’s been the story of this medium, and will be so for a long, long time.

To a large extent, your survival is your responsibility.

The Maryland Daily Record has a report on one Yvonne Boughter, widow and former mother of two (now one). She has moved on from having settled her lawsuit with the Days Inn Hotel in Ocean City to suing the city’s fire department, and by extension, the city itself, to the tune of twenty million dollars.

The facts I gather from the report are disturbing, not so much in what she alleged to be negligent behavior on the part of Days Inn or that of the agents of the city, but she seems to act like she has no responsibility in the incident whatsoever. After spending the night in the room where she and her family fell ill, experiencing respiratory illness, she called the department at 9:43AM. She then called at 2:00PM to follow up. What happened in those four hours? Why did she not move her family out of the room? Why did she not elicit the help of the hotel staff, or strangers? After her 2:00PM phone call, her suite alleges she “lapsed back into unconsciousness.”

These, I’m certain, are questions that should be raised should this suit come to court. I still can’t get the idea that she, her husband, nor her two children had the conventional wisdom of leaving the hotel room and not coming back. I can’t imagine why she, in the absence of an EMS, did not try to hail a cab. I can’t imagine what kind of conversations went on in that hotel room. I hope for Ms. Boughter’s sake that it was not her words and deeds that kept her family away from a hospital that day.

911 calls, for all that they’re made out to be, should not be the only thing that a person in danger needs to be responsible for. If your house were on fire, after you call 911, do you just stand there and wait? Or do you crawl to the nearest exit? Miss Boughter’s story is a cautionary tale of over-reliance on public service.

Cross-posted on ICC.

Parcbench has launched

I’ve been anticipating the release of Parcbench since it was a gathering buzz on Facebook, and today, they have launched the site. It’s basically a daily e-zine. From the email release announcement:

Parcbench will appeal to an upcoming generation of contributors and activists and will cover everything from movie reviews and celebrity gossip to the latest developments in the military and the most fashionable members of Congress. And we will cover every corner of culture without the Left-wing spin found in many other publications.

I’ll be an occasional contributor to the Health+Food section.

Verboten?

You know what they say about discussing politics and religion? Well, here’s a reason why I don’t discuss religion: 3 Ways Christianity Prolongs Immaturity. Found from a WordPress hot post as seen when I was checking my stats. A twisted person like myself would probably find the comments section full of funnies, on both sides of the “debate.”

I still don’t have a reason why I don’t discuss politics.

You know it’s a recession when…

Starbucks starts selling instant coffee (link found from the always awesome SondraK): Called Via, the water-soluble product sells in packets of three for $2.95 or 12 for $9.95 – $1 or less per cup. Just Columbia and Italian Roast varieties will be available at first, but the company will add others later.

I call it a sign of recession not for what seems to be the obvious, but because, as if in a panic, Starbucks has thrown its brains out the window and made a stupid decision. Instant coffee serves two purposes: to meet the caffeine needs of those who perceive ground coffee beans to be too expensive, and to have coffee where one can not logistically make coffee from grounds.

Starbucks’ retail operation may be built on the sale of hyper-expensive prepared coffee drinks, but the permeation of coffee culture into daily life had increased the market for home-based coffee makers, French presses, and manual and automatic espresso machines. Selling their beans has made Starbucks a visible participant in this market beyond their cafe operations. The gourmet coffee market had also birthed such luxurious monstrosities like Tassimo and other capsule coffee products: the hallmark of conspicuous consumption, environmental largesse, and just plain ol’ home-ec stupidity.

Fat years place a premium on time; lean years place a premium on cash. Unless we are plunged into such great depths of poverty that we have no power to run our coffee makers, we’re not throwing them away. Starbucks’ participation in this market, at “less than a $1 per cup,” sets unrealistic expectations. The most cruel symptom of CEO Schultz’ disconnect from reality? The dig at their instant coffee not being “our mother’s” instant coffee. Our mothers had drip coffee. Our grandmothers had drip coffee. Our great-grandmothers roasted their own coffee. Instant coffee was a luxury back in the day, and today, it just isn’t really that much of a choice.

Michael Phelps is my hero.

Primarily because he never marketed himself as some kind of perfect person. He got drunk back in ’04, and toked this year. Fine by me. The funny is his record of advocating against drug use. Opinion from Hillbuzz:

Phelps has made numerous appearances channeling Nancy Reagan at the behest of his corporate patrons, telling kids to just say no to drugs, all the while smoking marijuana from bongs like a pro. Phelps is a 14-time Olympic medalist, and a confirmed and proven hypocrite.

Hungry, hungry hypocrite, as some would call him. Isn’t that the trap that people we lionize fall into? Isn’t that the price of being admired by so many? More HillBuzz:

This is why human beings shouldn’t be installed on pedestals. We’re not a species of saints. Nobody’s perfect. And everyone eventually gets caught, especially when they tell other people not to do things they, themselves, do with great pleasure (like Phelps speaking out against drugs from a podium, then partaking in them anyway).

At one point in a famous person’s life, he is faced with a choice: will you bear the standard for a way of life that you seem to represent? This was the same crisis that Rush Limbaugh faced, with a few differences in minor details. What’s really awesome is that Phelps probably did it for the money! “Promote a clean lifestyle and we’ll give you corporate sponsorship.” Lovely choice he was faced, ya? All that money, or to walk away living an honest life. Too bad, these days transparency is usually foisted upon all of us and is no longer a matter of personal choice.

Of course Radley Balko has the fictitious letter that we would all want to see, but what are the chances of that, ya?

The truth is, Michael Phelps is now my hero because he has become the kind of celebrity that Americans just love tearing down. I think it’s a large cultural problem that we have. The schadenfreude at seeing someone fall is so tempting that we have created an industry that revolves around building someone up enough to see them get torn down.

I think this mini-scandal would end with Phelps getting a slap on the wrist. This could then at least help us re-examine current attitudes towards marijuana and maybe relax the rules for everyone.