Book Review

For the midterm, I turned in an analysis/review of three blogs that all shared an underlying theme of recalling some lost quality that our predecessors had.  One blog sought to reestablish the strongman tradition of the 1970s; one attempts to promote the private farming that was common before we became so city-centered; the last sought to restore the appreciation of firearms, which have become less popular with, again, urbanization.  This tendency to look back on the past and find a superior quality in the way Americans lived a century or a half of a century ago, is one that I share, at times.  Obviously, I do not deny that America in 1900 or 1950 was the site of gross injustices that very much contradicted the principles upon which the country was founded; and I will admit that some of this yearning for yesteryear is probably a symptom of the-grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side syndrome.  Still, it seems evident that we, as a nation, would benefit if we adopted some of the ways of living that were formerly prevalent.  In a nation that is obsessed with the newest and the latest, a nation that now changes itself out of habit rather than necessity, the idea that yesterday might have been better than today is not a popular one.  So imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a book that embodies much of this concept:  The Next Conservatism, by Paul Weyrich and William S. Lind.

            In this book, Weyrich and Lind claim the mantle of true conservatism, a., conservatism that much in common with the beliefs of Edmund Burke, and almost nothing in common with the politicians of the Republican Party, who they consider to be, essentially, usurpers of a proud tradition of conservatism.  The focus of the authors’ thoughts is a “culture war” within America.  Their supposition is that, while conservatives sat on their laurels during decades of political supremacy in Washington, D.C., liberals waged a cultural war outside the halls of power, an approach that ultimately was much more successful than the one taken by the conservatives.  According to Weyrich and Lind, liberals used “cultural Marxism” to chip away at traditional American values and institutions, with results like the deterioration of the nuclear family, the growing acceptance of drug abuse, and the increasing fixation on consumerism.  They trace cultural Marxism to the Frankfurt School of philosophers, who believed that the traditions of the West (Europe, America) would have to be destroyed before a Marxist vision of socialism could be achieved in those areas (5).  Weyrich and Lind envision a grim endpoint for the policies of cultural Marxism:  the so-called “Brave New World,” a concept taken from the book of the same name by Adlous Huxley, in which a totalitarian government secures control through the instant gratification of sensual pleasures, extreme materialism, and genetic engineering (40).

            The authors’ answer to cultural Marxism is “Retroculture,” a concept they believe to encompass true conservatism (47-48).  Retroculture would be an attempt to “rebuild our old culture from the bottom up,” without seeking to “exactly recreate the past,” but using the past as “a guide” (49; 48).  Some of the aims of Retroculture are environmental conservatism, an appreciation of agrarian life, a devaluing of materialism, an equal skepticism of big government and big business, a revitalization of urban and suburban areas, an effective public transportation system, and an acknowledgment of the danger technology poses to critical thought (50; 53; 55-56; 58; 61; 67; 70). 

            Above all, Weyrich and Lind stress the individual, local nature of Retroculture; their motto is “think locally, act locally,” a play on the “think globally, act locally” slogan of the political left, and also a certain evocation of the ideas of Edmund Burke (25).  My favorite quote from this book concerns this individual, non-coercive approach:  “the only safe form of power is the power of example,” (50).

         Like I said before, these are ideas I largely support, and I was impressed to find so many of them expressed in one place.  However, there are some that I find problematic.  For instance, the authors object to large-scale immigration out of fear that new immigrants will not “assimilate”.  I’m not sure just how far they expect newcomers to go in this regard.  I would think that as long as new immigrants embrace the principles laid out in the Constitution, and as long as new immigrants develop the skills to interact and move within the larger society, it is unnecessary to ask more of them.  Another point I differ from the authors on is the role of the military.  I see our military as being an incredible force for international good and stability; perhaps this is an inconsistency on my part, both in regards to the above quote on the power of example, and in regards to the isolationist attitude embraced by the writers of the Constitution.  However, I think we should not discount the precedent set by our military in helping to end the Second World War and the Holocaust.  If we were to remove the ability to project our military strength overseas, we would rapidly lose the ability to react in a meaningful way to similar situations.

       Overall, I enjoyed finding a cohesive and encompassing argument for many of the beliefs I hold.  It will be interesting to see if any of these ideas will catch; not that any of them are necessarily new ideas, but there is a tendency for third-party ideas to get lost in mix between the Democrat and the Republican establishments.

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Face to Face

Matt and I sat down outside the library cafe in the rain today.  I like how the glass behind us is reflecting what’s in front of us, making it look like we have some cool backdrop.  We recorded this with a basic, small digital camera; even the audio came out well, considering we were outside with the wind and with people walking by.  Definitely an argument in favor of backpack journalism, especially since the camera was propped up on books out of our backpacks.


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Little Ethiopia

I used to drive down Fairfax to get to Headline Records (many years ago) and every time I would wonder about this part of town.  I really had no idea what the neighborhood was like or what its history was when I went there this morning, and it was probably a little more exciting that way. 

One of the first that struck me about the neighborhood was its mixed nature.  For instance, I came across the Western Church of Los Angeles, which has a Korean congregation.  I noticed a small plaque near the foundation, out-of-the-way, marking it as a former synagogue.  One of the first shops you’ll see on the right hand side (if you’re coming from the south) is an Indian spices shop.  As I had a preconceived notion that Little Ethiopia would be a solidly Ethiopian neighborhood, this was a little surprising.

First a note on timing: I got to the neighborhood in the morning, around 10:30.  Most of the shops weren’t open yet, and it was a little hard finding people, actually.  So I waited around for a while and watched traffic squeeze through on the two-lane street.  For anyone interested, I’m told that the evening is the happening time to go.

One thing that struck is how people working in the businesses here seem to know each other quite well.  The first person I talked to was Tony, who I met while he was squeegee-ing down the windows to a furniture store.  Tony, who had been there for twenty years, spoke highly of the Ethiopians that worked and owned businesses in the area:  “they’re good people,” he said.  Almost immediately, he took me a couple of doors down to a hair salon, where a lady was sweeping down the sidewalk.  This was Aster, who had been in Little Ethiopia for eleven years.  According to her, Fekre was the guy I was looking for; he owned a restaurant called Rosalind’s, and had been there longer than anyone else.  So I went searching for Fekre.


Unfortunately, I never found him, but I was able to speak to Pat at Hansen’s, a big bakery right across the street.  Pat has quite a history in Little Ethiopia – he’s been working in the same place for thirty years, and his family has had a business presence on the block since the 1890s.  Like Tony, he had very positive things to say the Ethiopian immigrants who opened businesses in that neighborhood.  Their presence changed a dangerous neighborhood into one where people came from across the city to eat, to shop, and to hang out.  He gestured to the bakery around him and said “this is possible because of them,” because they had changed the neighborhood in such a way that a retail business could succeed.  Pat also had a very deep knowledge of the area’s history.  He informed me that the area used to known as “Kosher Canyon,” due to the large Jewish community, but that many of the Jewish businesses left as crime got increasingly bad.  Still, there were remnants of the old community; a thrift shop flying a large Israeli flag; a Jewish health care center; and at Olympic and Fairfax, a large Jewish school.

Of course, the area is known for its Ethiopian restaurants.  At the restaurant Niyala, Emanuel and Rahel pointed out that it was common for the Ethiopian business owners to own multiple businesses: restaurants, auto body shops, bakeries, markets, and so on. 

I also learned a good lesson, as far as being a journalist goes, and its about how I ask questions.  I started off most of my conversations by saying “can I ask you a few questions about the neighborhood?”  I got quite a few shrugs from most of the Ethiopian immigrants I talked to.  At first I assumed this was because there is a tendency among immigrants to lay low, stay off the radar, minimize exposure (and I don’t mean that in a condescending way; I see the same tendency in my own father.  For better or for worse, I think it’s a trait shared across all immigrant groups; its part of the survival mode we go into when we are put in unfamiliar circumstances).  However, as I was talking to Emanuel and Rahel, it finally dawned on me that the majority of the Ethiopian immigrants that work in the Ethiopian restaurants don’t live in the neighborhood; they live deeper in L.A., or on the Westside, or to the south… Here I was, expecting that the reason that so many Ethiopian businesses existed on the same couple blocks was because the surrounding residential area was Ethiopian.  The point being, because I didn’t do any kind of research before I went, I was asking everyone a stupid question; of course they’re not going to be able to tell me anything about the neighborhood – they don’t live in the area, they just work there during the day.  So, I learned a valuable lesson:  be sure to be asking the right questions. 

In fact, the reason they are there is because one man, Fekre, had success in the area, and others followed and established businesses where there was an increasing flow of Ethiopian traffic.  And from the looks of it, they have done quite well and established a well-known niche in the city.

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Maybe In the Last Frame

So over spring break I noticed a new billboard while driving down PCH.  It was an advertisement for Natural Ice beer, and the background was a beer can in some sort of action shot.  The foreground was an acronym, “N.I.L.F.,” and under that, in parentheses, “Natty I’d Like to Finish.”  What struck me about this ad, besides the awkward wording of the phrase, is how much knowledge on the part of the consumer is presupposed by whoever (whomever? Damn it!) made this ad, and in general, whoever makes the deluge of ads we see everyday.  This particular advertisement is based, of course, on the consumers’ knowledge of the acronym “M.I.L.F.,” the knowledge of which I am also presuming the reader has.  It depends on a certain literacy of common, if inappropriate, jokes.  Of course, some basic level of knowledge is necessary to process any advertisement; like being able to read words for example, although I’m sure a strong argument could be made that knowledge of the images that we share, collectively, as a group/city/region/nation/ethnicity/culture/religion, is just as important as being able to read words.  However, to get this billboard, one has to possess more than just basic literacy; one must have an intimate cultural knowledge (for instance, someone coming from a country that was not inundated with American TV/movies probably wouldn’t know what the billboard meant).  But what really struck me about this particular billboard was the how it was played off of something that would be completely inappropriate when uttered in public, and took that and made it into something that is not inappropriate.  What’s amazing is how it makes the consumer, in the act of processing the billboard, acknowledge something not publicly appropriate (in so far that you wouldn’t say “Milf” in front of your mom, girlfriend, boss, kids and so on), in order to understand this very public message.  Put simply, the dirty joke plays out in our minds, while the billboard gets away completely free of smut; and yet it is the billboard that called the dirty joke to mind in the first place.

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Gather round the fire…

Eastern Afghanistan, 2003, just a couple thousand meters away from the Pakistani border.

My platoon was occupying a firebase in a narrow valley with a river, surrounded by steep mountains.  A small farming village sat on the edge of the river, maybe a half a mile or a mile to the north.  We were operating several permanent observation posts on the mountain directly adjacent to the firebase, to keep an eye on the valley.  In addition to the permanent OPs, we would sometimes climb the outlying mountains and establish temporary, overnight observation posts, just to see if we could disrupt the Taliban, who we knew had a strong local presence.  Despite their strong presence, however, they had been avoiding us, besides an IED attack, a couple of rocket  attacks, and an ambush.

My squad and another were tasked to run an overnight OP  on a mountain a little to the south.  We started climbing before the sun came up, and we didn’t get to where we were going, a prominent outcropping that had a good view, until it was getting dark that evening.  Somewhere along the way, our Afghani interpreter had popped a red smoke grenade that he had been hiding under his clothes.  Not good, obviously.

So we cuffed the interpreter and called it in to the firebase.  Night fell, and we started a guard roster for watching the surrounding area.  Sometime in the night (2a.m.? 3a.m.?), I was just falling asleep after my watch, and a machine gun started shooting in the distance.  A message came over the radio; one of the permanent OPs above the firebase was surrounded and under attack, and they needed all the help we could get.  We got roused out of our sleepy states, made sure we had everything, and started climbing down the mountain we had just finished climbing up a couple of hours previously.  The whole time, we could hear the firefight, rising, then ebbing, then exploding again; this went on for hours.  A pair of Air Force jets were circling over, making runs on the mountain; one would lead the way and drop flares to light up the mountainside, the one following would open up with its cannon.  The mortars at the firebase were lobbing rounds onto the mountain too; we could hear the thump, thump, thump.

The sun was coming up when we hit the bottom of our mountain; the firefight died away, the enemy slunk back into the mountains; but of course we were still rushing to get there, not sure if the enemy was gone for good or just taking a break.  We loaded up into trucks and as soon as we got back to the base, reloaded our canteens and started hiking up the mountain with the observation post on top.  We met our friends at the top; they looked tired, dazed, and pissed.  There were five of them, and they got through it all without any wounds; the enemy had been at least five times in number.  They had used the steep sides of the mountain to escape detection and got close enough to clip the wires to the claymore mines.  We didn’t find any bodies on the mountainside; the people from the village said twelve Taliban were killed, and dragged off the mountain by their fellow Taliban.

Our Afghani interpreter had popped the smoke grenade to warn the Taliban element to steer clear of us that night, so they could hit the other OP with surprise.  It turns out the interpreter was working for Al Qaeda, or so I was told; either way, he definitely wasn’t working for us.  He was handed over to government officers as soon as we got back to base that morning.  That was the last I saw of him.


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Sumer And the Holy Trinity

The book I’m reading right now is Pagan Trinity-Holy Trinity by Alan Dickin.  The basic argument of this book is that the Holy Trinity of Christianity has its roots in a trinity of gods of the pagan religion of the ancient Sumerians.  Interesting, considering that the Sumerians existed in the region of 6000-3000 B.C. if I remember what the book says.  I should just pick it up and look it up, it’s literally 10 inches away from me right now, but it’s not like this is a research paper, and I enjoy that fact.  Anyway, Dickin traces the whittling of the Sumerian pantheon of gods down to four, and then three, major gods.  Hence the trinity.  Interesting also is that fourth god was a goddess representing Mother Earth – the Virgin Mary, perhaps?  Dickin also provides an alternative origin for the Flood story, which at the moment most people place in the rising of the Black Sea; according to him, it came from a flood on the Mesopotamia plain, and his evidence is pretty convincing, at least for someone who knows nothing about that particular field of study.

Pagan Trinity-Holy Trinity is a good and quick read for anyone interested in ancient history.

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MOOOving On To Wendler’s 5/3/1

Last week I tested my squat, deadlift, and overhead press for 1-rep maxes.  I feel like I’ve gotten the most out of linear progression barring further weight gain.  I would love to gain more weight but that’s probably not a good idea right now, for several reasons.  Anyway, time to move onto a new program, and I need to know my 1 rep maxes, so here they are:

squat: 355

deadlift: 395

overhead press: 160

Not the best numbers, considering that others have taken linear progression much further; but like I said, the weight gain necessary for that progress isn’t a good idea at the moment.  Some day, though, some day soon.

I’ll be testing my bench press this week, if I can find a competent spotter.

I’m going to be using Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program now.  I started it last night with the overhead press and I like it already.  The coming months will let us know if it works for me.

Oh, and the reason the title says “MOOOving” is because I drink a lot of milk. Gallon a day.


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