The Gradual Dismantling of Democracy

The first 50 days of President Il Douche have been somewhat of a relief – which is a bit strange to say, but there it is. My worst fears had been a sort of blitzkrieg against everything that our country stands for – using the National Guard against civilian targets, the setting up of internment camps, the rounding up of political enemies, and the seizing of assets based on religion, ethnicity, or politics. Yes, steps have been taken by the administration in all of these directions but the safeguards put in place by the founding fathers and later generations have proved to be a buffer, not an insurmountable buffer, but one that has prevented the instant consolidation of power and allows time for resistance to be organized. All of that being said – the American experiment in democracy is being dismantled albeit at a gradual rate. There has been no grand awakening of enlightenment among the new administration, no sudden revelation of truth, justice, and the American way. In many ways, it has proved itself to be worse than even the most pessimistic among us feared – but the slowdown has been such a relief. The appointments and nominations were not rubber stamped, the initial travel ban was challenged and shut down, the follow up ban continues to be challenged, protections for LGBT, children, and immigrants have been weakened but not wiped away- yet. In my worst fears, things would already be much worse than they are – but of course they are actually very very bad. The most powerful position in the world is occupied by a narcissistic liar who deflects legitimate concerns about the integrity of his person or his government with manufactured conspiracy theories – we have still not seen his taxes or income and probably never will, the ties between Russia and his administration (and himself personally) run deep – deep enough that it is not inconceivable that he is bought and paid for by Russian oil money, each potential scandal surrounding him seems to be met with a manufactured conspiracy from the Russian controlled wikileaks, or a made-up story taken directly from talk radio. It seems clear to me that while we are distracted by the absurd headline grabbing stories, the safeguards of democracy are being dismantled behind our backs. If you think about it, the US with it’s drone like workforce and population enslaved by debt is an income generating machine – if you were to think of it as a company (which the current administration certainly does) you would work at weakening unions and collective bargaining power, decreasing pay and benefits, and increasing output. If we were to look at the current administration as a hostile takeover by corporate raiders, the next step is asset stripping to pay back the debts incurred by the hostile takeover. I believe that we can expect to see legislation which enables the following – maximizing debt for corporate projects (i.e. huge infrastructure projects, increased military spending, privatization of government funded institutions), defunding of institutions designed to protect citizens from corporate greed, selling off of assets to administration-friendly corporations at a loss, and a softer position internationally against our own interest but in the favor of Russian interests. The wealth of those associated with the administration will soar, the chains of debt for the rest of us will be strengthened. I believe we will see credit requirements eased but exit strategies from that debt tightened. Bankruptcy, which has allowed the administration’s CEO to get to where he is, might be a thing that is no longer allowed below a certain level. Time will tell. In any event, I don’t think that things are looking good for anyone who is not already in the top 10%.

Fat Bacon Eater States of America – The 300 Million Little Biggies

I saw an article this morning that said fat Americans are giving up on trying to lose weight. Large numbers of them are simply getting rid of their bathroom scales, buying larger clothes through Amazon, and continuing to proudly wear their ‘BACON’ trucker hats and t-shirts – which, frankly, have a completely unintended irony when they are worn by human pigs. Is that fat shaming? I’m not sure – it seems to be true but none the less, probably does make an extremely overweight person who reads it feel a sense of shame – so yeah, I have to own that – it’s fat shaming. Another headline said that American biggies are eating too much bacon and not enough nuts – and yet another headline talks about how Americans are having far less sex than they were twenty years ago – all of this, is no surprise.

When we arrived in the US back in 2013 (my wife and daughter for the first time and me after having been away for five years), one of the first things I noticed was the bacon obsession that Americans were gripped by – when I left in 2008, bacon was still a breakfast food – albeit one that foodies had discovered and been singing the glories of for some time – frankly, I blame it all on Anthony Bourdain and Top Chef – Bourdain’s lyrical praise of smoked, fried, pork took bacon from a truck stop and wagon train staple to high cuisine and then, Top Chef with its pretentious focus on ingredients and the celebretization of good cooks merged with the ‘maker movements’ of the late 2000s to glorify foods that had always been good. I used to have to find a butcher and ask them to save the bacon ends for me – and they were cheap – but in 2013, I found them being sold at farmer’s market’s as premium product. The roommates we lived with for several months in Sacramento had a bacon fetish that bordered on being creepy – and which I later discovered was a mild form of it. So, the obesity thing and the overeating of bacon are not surprising…and as far as nuts – the prices for them are outrageous…and the cheap ones are low quality and high in salt and additives.

I have sympathy for the obese because I too have weight that I can’t get rid of. This despite exercising almost daily and generally eating healthy foods (my wife and daughter don’t eat pork so when I eat bacon, it is usually Turkey bacon) I’ve put on 20 pounds since getting to the USA that I can’t seem to shake – I’m sure a part of that is a slowing metabolism and certainly my sugar addiction plays a big role in it – which is something else that is killing us and which I’m struggling to gain control over in my life – but really it comes down to day to day living. We sit in front of computers, sit in front of televisions, sit in our cars, sit at our desks when we work, and all that sitting is only broken up as we move between places we sit and places we sleep.

And then there is the acceptance of the biggies – even if you haven’t consciously said to yourself ‘It’s okay for people to be overweight, obese, fat, large, extra large, etc” that message has been bouncing around in your head for a while now. Remember when there was no such thing as a plus size model? Here’s a thing to think about – back when I was in kindergarten – there was one boy that was overweight. All the way through grade school, I can only remember a handful of fat kids – I remember them because they were the oddities, it was strange to be overweight. Currently, one out of three kids in the USA are considered overweight! And when I see the overweight kids in my daughter’s elementary school, they are far bigger than the ‘fat kids’ I remember from my school days – in fact, the kids that look as big as the ‘fat kids’ of my time, aren’t even considered fat anymore – they are considered average!

We all know it’s a problem. The obese folks that are giving up, they know it’s a problem. The airline people that are having to make seats bigger, they know it is a problem, everyone is aware of it. What can we do about it? Nothing.

That’s right. I just said that there is nothing we can do about it. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

It’s a symptom of a larger problem, of a sick society that cannot be fixed. We have shown that as a people, as a nation, as – to some extent – a world , that we are not willing to address the real systemic problems we are faced with – we are not willing to address the sick values of capitalism gone bad, we are not willing to reset our fucked up priorities – which can be summed up with profits over people but which run far deeper and far more ugly – and if we do not address the system which created the conditions that allowed for a culture of bacon fetishism and glamourized foodies who probably have secret millionaire parties where they eat long pork (aka human flesh) and delight in the flavor and texture of their guest of honor/main course – than we cannot address the symptoms – one of which is a sharp increase in obesity and an acceptance of obesity and as follows a decrease in sex drive.

So go on you 300 million little biggies – fry up some more bacon and get yourself ready to be slaughtered because somebody out there is going to eat you and there is nothing you can do about it until you recognize that the system has already consumed you.

The Science of Change in the Antiques and Collectibles Business

It’s no secret that what is collectible and valuable today, may well be worthless and unwanted tomorrow – but it is the other side of that coin which makes or breaks an antique dealer. I’ve written it before but it bears saying again – you don’t make money selling, you make money buying. Or, you lose money buying – which is more often the case for most people. We conducted an estate sale this weekend where that was very apparent – the lady had amassed a sizable collection of milk-glass and while I don’t know how much she paid for it, I know what the public was willing to pay for it – nothing. A few pieces sold when we dropped the prices by 75%, but most of it was boxed up and given to charity. Just a few years ago milk glass was red hot – any piece would sell for $5-$20, but now, if it isn’t a complete set or a figural piece – you are lucky to get anything for it. And I see it in antique shops all the time – the dealers are holding on, waiting for it to come back, taking it to auctions or flea markets and displaying it hopefully – and then packing it up again. Not me – that ship has sailed and I don’t expect it to return any time soon.

The business is in a funny place right now – everyone knows it. The elders had more disposable income than any generation before or since and they did what you do when you have extra money – they bought bigger houses and filled them with all kinds of things. Now they are dying and their kids, the baby boomers, are inheriting their collections and combining them with their own in their own big houses filled with nostalgic collections that always include some Kennedy newspapers, a bunch of ‘collectible’ Harley Davidson or Budweiser or Coke crap and then realizing they are getting too old to enjoy five acres of lawn or a three story house – and so they are telling themselves that they are downsizing as they put everything in storage, try to foist their crap on their Gen X or Millennial kids, and then move into an RV or cottage – it’s a great time to be in the storage business. The baby boomer stuff is among the most worthless – a generation that saved things showing how important their generation was but didn’t save anything that was actually worth a damn. They all have grandma’s steamer trunk or treadle sewing machines or grandpa’s huge radio which they think are priceless but which are actually hardly worth the weight of moving them. They generally have thrown out the valuable stuff – the old motorcycle odometers, the Rookwood pottery they thought was ugly, the folk paintings by outsider artists, grandpa’s levis, or the ultra-rare buttons that were in grandma’s sewing machine but seemed worthless. Oh, but they saved those Bob Dylan albums, they saved Elvis records by the tons, and they saved those Kennedy death books, and they saved the most worthless parts of their parent’s collections too. And the younger generations – not interested in that crap. My wife and my generations (Gen X and Millennial) like the stuff that went in the garbage – or, prefer to have nothing at all.

It’s a hard time to be an antique dealer – but a very good time to be an estate liquidator, storage provider, or professional declutterer. Of course, at some point, today’s trash is going to be tomorrow’s treasure – the hard part is that there has never been so much shit to sieve. What is going to be the most valuable thing selling in a year? It’s probably going to be whatever has been thrown away as garbage the most, what has current cultural context (for example, what shows and movies are popular), and manages to evoke feelings of hope and happiness to the generation with the most disposable income. Dora the Explorer and Spongebob Squarepants are looking pretty good – what do you think is going to turn into gold?

My Thoughts on Immigration

Border walls don’t make a country – a country is defined by people who share a common ideal, a common purpose, a shared sense of identity and a dependency upon one another for a better future. We do not have countries – we have prisons. I do not believe movement should be restricted in any way regardless of national borders. Humans should be allowed to migrate at will with virtually no paperwork, no bureaucracy, and no regulation. Once they arrive on the soil of a nation, they should be subject to the laws of that nation but allowed to freely exist regardless of past behavior, past nationality, or past anything else.

“Hello Mr. Jones. Welcome to America. As an American, you will be subject to American laws and taxation. You will need to get an identity card and establish a permanent residence if you wish to stay. We are going to search your baggage now because certain items are illegal or controlled in these united states and you can not bring them with you. In addition, if this is your first time coming into this country, you will need to watch our orientation film which details the most important of our laws, rights, and responsibilities including the protection of children, equality of men and women, our bill of rights, and your responsibilities while you are here. We hope that you choose to stay in this country and contribute to it’s greatness. If you choose to damage our country through ignoring our rules, you will be subject to deportation, imprisonment, and being barred from entry for life. Let us know if we can help you get settled in – if you are only visiting, we hope that you will consider staying. Have a nice day.”

That’s the immigration officer’s speech in the country I want to live in. I’ll write more about the country I’d like to call home in future posts.

What Exactly Are We All Working For?

I’m still the same guy that wrote that book about how silly it is that we are all working, all the time, to get what we want – out of life. Now seems like a pretty good time to ask? What exactly is it that we want again? A Tesla model S? The latest iPhone? Owning (and still paying taxes, insurance, and other annual fees on) real estate?
Better shoes? To get laid? To lose weight? To pay more taxes and have a higher credit rating?

I’m still confused why we are doing this. Are we working so we can pay for the stress and lifestyle related diseases that come from working? Or so we can have insurance to cover those conditions? Are we working so we can enjoy our days off? Are we working for paid vacation? Are we working so we can go to a restaurant and eat a home cooked meal with fresh ingredients? Because I’m going to be honest here – none of that makes sense at all.

Are we working so that we don’t have to work later and can afford to not work later? Because that seems to be something that doesn’t happen much anymore – so we might as well stop working and enjoy the moment.

I can’t say I work for any of those reasons, but I’ve certainly worked for all of them. I think (and I’m not positive about this) that I work because I am conditioned to work and conditioned to enjoy the gratification that comes with earning money – actually, I think that is why we all work. I think that the problem then becomes what to do with the money so that we will feel compelled to work more and get more money. And as humans, we’ve become so good at finding money sinks and creating money sinks that we are all in a sort of awful downward spiral as we work our species (and many others) into extinction. It’s a type of neurosis – and, I want you to know, it’s hard as hell for me to describe it or be the clinician diagnosing the disease because I too am caught in it.

I remember reading about the destruction of human civilization on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) – they got obsessed with building these bigger and bigger Moai (head statues) and in the process stripped their island bare and wiped out their means of survival – but they built some fabulous heads that have lasted to this day – but their culture, their population, their descendants – no such thing – extinct, gone, wiped out by human obsession. So, here we are. Ignoring what really matters but making some big fucking heads – here’s the funny thing – the rich guys that built those heads – they had their moment of pride, I’m sure, they were like “Hey, look at this, the biggest fucking head ever. I’ve made Rapa Nui great again.” and all the workers that did the back breaking labor of carving, feeding the workers, growing the food to feed the workers, cutting the trees to make rollers, and everything else – maybe they were proud too – but today? Nobody knows who any of them were and except for a handful of archaeologists and historians, no one even cares. They all were a part of the process that fucked themselves into extinction.

Yes, by all means. Let’s work. And this is a good point to tell my new favorite joke – Three dealers were trapped on a deserted island that had nothing but coconuts on it and one asked another “How’s business?” “It’s never been better!” the other enthusiastically replied and they went back to selling each other coconuts again.

Indeed. Business has never been better.

Il Douche Under Seige – I Don’t Believe It

The headlines read like the end of Il Douche’s presidency is imminent – I don’t buy it for a second. Yes, there are obviously problems and they are big ones, but here’s the thing – if I were in his position, these are exactly the types of headlines I would want to be seeing as I worked on pushing through my agenda in the back room where no one would be paying attention. Maybe I’m giving him and Bannon too much credit – but I don’t believe it was luck that landed them in the White House – it was thinking like no one expected them to think.

If you are being attacked from all sides – projecting weakness causes your enemies to underestimate your defenses which can turn the tide of battle. The travel ban and the confirmation hearings have looked like false flags to me from the beginning – all the executive orders have been trial balloons. And now this bizarre news conference and more. Actually, maybe it is the beginning of the end…but I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.