Wednesday, September 24, 2008


The Palestinians at my corner store are proclaiming the end of the American Empire. While I am a bit more agnostic about the state of the times, it is staggering to look back over the excesses, public and private, of the last decade.

A bailout is probably necessary to keep the financial system from freezing up and compounding economic freefall. Any Keynesian worth his salt knows we are best off running up deficits in the bad times. For that to work, however, the theory holds for running surpluses when the economy is good, else the deficits will fuck you. I'm not in this for the accounting, but i suspect if you tally up the domestic pork projects and the IOU's of recent foreign adventurism, you'll find yourself with a number well in excess of the 700 Billion hair of the dog solution to the ongoing financial meltdown.

Oh yeah, and because everyone wants ideas for exotic destinations when they are broke, check out my most recent article. Click Here to Read More..

Friday, September 19, 2008

Harper's Ferry

If you are ever stuck in Northern Virginia with an afternoon free and have any interest in American history, then I highly recommend a day trip to Harper's Ferry. The town is situated at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, about a 30 minute drive from Leesburg, VA. The town is sited on a bluff that affords impressive views down rivers and the flanking Appalachian foothills. The cobbled main street has been designated part of Harper's Ferry National Park there, and the recreated shop fronts are filled with living history actors. The actor/rangers I spoke with had a commanding knowledge of the history of the town beyond John Brown's raid in 1859. The conviction in his eyes still burns through the lithographs on the museum walls. Though he failed to provoke a slave uprising, the shop attendant/undergrad at the general store will tell anyone who cares to sit and chat awhile about how Brown effectively lit a powder keg under the fraying Differening political responses to the raid splintered the Democratic party of the time paving electoral possibility for Lincoln's united Republicans and hastening the south's preemptive withdrawal from the Union.

I hadn't realized that Harpers Ferry is now a part of West Virginia, the easternmost tip of the state. Long before West Virginia's formation in 1861, there had been a split between the states coastal population dominated by planter elites and the poorer upland dwellers to the west. Though the surrounding area was mostly lowland planter country aligned with the state's slave holding interests, Jefferson County voted to become a part of West Virginia at the 1861 convention. A dyspeptic mill owner did not break character as he explained how, on the day of the vote, federal troops had surrounded the county seat, thereby discouraging the slave holders from casting ballots against withdrawal from secessionist Virginia.

I walked a half mile of the Appalachian Trail from West Virginia across the bridge into Maryland. Might have ventured farther had I brought something other than my dress shoes. I encountered several hikers on my short walk, a couple of whom had come up from Georgia. I'd like to hike the AT one day, maybe like the folks I met who are hiking it in one or two state installments over the course of 8 summers.

Check out my latest travel writing here and here.

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Four Legs Good

A little over ten years ago, a high school friend took me canoeing on the Harpeth River. We borrowed the canoe from his uncle who has a farm with river frontage out in Williamson County. As we were walking towards the reeds along the shore, a screech came from the trees to the left of us.

Taylor put down the front of canoe. “Come check this out,” he said.

We pushed through the bushy trees and heather to the property of a prominent Nashville family. We reached a clearing with a row of chain link walled huts with A-framed corrugated roofs that I’m reminded of every time I see footage from Guantanamo. The path between the rows of coops gave this place the feel of a miniature village where a single resident perched in each hut. A few sported striking plumage, several with the South Carolina scarlet and black, one had a golden mane. Magnificent birds, sleek and powerful, no pedestrian farm animals these.

“Are they all roosters?” I asked.

“Yup, gamecocks.”

“Isn’t that illegal?”

“In Tennessee it is, they say M_____ and his kid got busted when the cops raided a fight.”

As of this month, cock fighting is illegal in all 50 states. Louisiana had been the last holdout, but the Legislature in Baton Rouge had come under severe pressure from animal rights activists and finally passed a prohibition that went into effect last week.

Given that over 80% of the Louisiana public was against legalized bird fights, the law makes some sense. But the reasons cited by animal rights advocates, that the sport is cruel, barbarous, and violence promoting, are less compelling. If laws are being written for the roosters, then the average American slaughterhouse or chicken factory better look out.

Of all the brutalities of factory farming with its downer cows and killing floors, the chicken factory ranks up there with the worst. The egg hens spend existence in tiny cages pumped full of speed and antibiotics so they’ll grow quicker and not die of horrible infections while stewing in pools of their own chicken shit. Doesn’t sound like much of a life.

The fighting birds I saw were raised in spacious accommodation. We’re not talking dog fighting. Dogs are social animals that must be bred and conditioned through torture to acquire the aggression to fight one another to the death. You don't have to teach roosters to hate each other, just put two of them together and watch what happens. The razor sharp gaffes attached to a gamecock’s legs are another thing, but the blades do make it quicker. Cruelty, sure, but it beats life on the chicken farm.

Not that I'm a supporter of blood sports, mind you. I’m actually a vegetarian. The closest I’ve been to a gaming pit was with Chicken George in Alex Haley’s Roots. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know how much Chicken George loved those birds.

I'm all for the regulation of factory farming if done for the people. The antibiotic consumption is pretty terrifying from a human health standpoint. Constantly dosed populations create fertile environments for the breeding of dangerous drug-resistant bacteria. I realize that low-yield organic farming cannot feed a world of 7 Billion, even if that world could afford to shop at Whole Paycheck, but there's just got to be a better way.

Animal rights pave a slippery slope to nonsense. Take Switzerland, for example, where parliament has enacted a whole raft of new animal protections. Swiss law now requires that your solitary goldfish now have a companion, they are social animals after all. If you own a fish, your aquarium must not be transparent on all sides, because that might be unsettling for them otherwise. And you must ensure them a natural day and night cycle. Don’t even think about flushing Goldie if he’s still alive, you must at least properly euthanize him first.

If you’re the kind of asshole that still enjoys hooking fish out of the lake, no more catch and release. Because that would hurt. And no more live bait, I'm guessing because it's bad for the bait. To get a fishing license, you’ll have to take a course in pesca-compassion. I made up the name; the class exists.

If you want to own a dog in Switzerland, you’ll also have to take a class. The coursework includes five theories on how to best walk it. They don’t want your dog to develop the anxieties that may make him bite someone next time you take him around the block.

It’s not just fish that must be owned in pairs. Any social animal, be it a horse, parrot, hamster, or guinea pig, must now have a companion of like species. Livestock must have “visual contact with their fellows.” It is now illegal to tether your horse or goat, and because your pigs and cows might have sensitive feet, concrete or stone floors are no longer acceptable for their primary dwellings. After rolling around in the mud, Swiss pigs now have the right to take a shower. Mandatory pig showers, now how could I make that up?

Oh yeah, and Swiss Animal Protection, the country’s leading animal rights group, does not believe the legislation goes far enough to protect their friends. They vow to continue the push for four-legged equality.

Doesn’t seem like we could possibly get to goldfish regulation in the United States, but then until recently I thought the Swiss were a reasonable people. So I ask you, faced with the choice of the pet-sitter state, or a few rednecks out in a town you've never heard of killing a few roosters... well?
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