Spring Break in P-Town

Year after year of just working, paying bills, and doing the same old shit day-to-day has a way of taking the life out of things like Spring Break. A year ago this simple week was just another week, but after a year of school a quiet week is a fucking God-send. I got a case of the mid-winter fuck-its, and gave my bong more attention than my homework, but I kept my name on the President’s List.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz has decided to run for president, and it’s been a nonstop riot for those of us who thoroughly enjoy watching out-of-touch sociopathic politicians make asses out of themselves. Unfortunately, and much closer to home, my store director is a Cruz level leader, so my store has gone to shit: He tried to get Peet’s to open and serve despite all the equipment and cups being covered in dust from construction work (he changed his mind after someone mentioned OSHA). Two people went to the hospital for formaldehyde poisoning under his leadership, and all our hours reduced to the minimum allowed. I have to have full-time availability to be guaranteed 20 hours of work per week–and that’s all I get.  

I’m a paying union member, and you’d think $40 a month in dues would make for a better workplace. But not when power and money have compromised the union president. You might be thinking, that’s a lofty allegation. But when the guy who’s in charge of everything “lays off” his best (and most outspoken) union representatives because of a supposed “bloated” union–three weeks before Christmas. Then replaces them a few weeks later with low-wage lackeys who can in no way help us with work related problems, but can collect our money to fund more bullshit political favors. All the while trying to shove contracts of “non-disclosure” with several weeks pay down the ex-union reps throat’s. And this is all after he’d lost years worth of bargaining by stripping our contracts of things like time-and-a-half pay on holidays (which is the only thing that makes them worth working). What would you think?

In light of all these complications, a new organization is taking root of which I have the good fortune to take part, and help with communications. We are Retail Workers for a Democratic Union. We have come together out of the growing need for balance against leadership which no longer shares its members’ core interests. Keep your fingers crossed for me. If this campaign is a success, it means a lot of good changes are coming for grocery workers in SW Washington and Oregon. And, I won’t lie, it’s going to look pretty good on my résumé too.

As always, thank you all so much for reading. Thank you for your feedback. Please, if you’re interested in what’s happening in Oregon’s local labor movement, check out our new blog. And have a great Spring Break.

I’ve heard that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting to get a different result. So, why bother trying to explain evolution, climate change, racism, economics, or anything else to the ignorant shitheads in office or anywhere else? It’s the same thing–and just as insane. Move on to someone with brains enough to listen. We don’t need every single person on the cutting edge of information, just enough to keep dragging the same idiots to the future.

Three Memories

Late one night in spring, a decade ago, my then best friend Rex (we shared the same name), and our mutual friend sat in the caramelized smoking section of IHOP. We sat restlessly, drinking cup after cup of coffee in the plume of our nicotine cloud.

I had recently returned from a trip to Las Vegas. Typically a city for party lovers, and materialists—I was there for missionary work. After three months training, we spent one month in Myanmar, and one in Thailand. The idea was to spread the gospel, but that was a joke (one we didn’t share with our income providers). The truth is that we just visited churches, saw that there was another way of living besides the American way, and ate mind-blowing food—it was an adventure. I had to go back. I was young, and I had nothing to lose.

The problem for us sitting there at IHOP was that I was going to move to Las Vegas for a more permanent stay in about eight hours, and we didn’t want to end on pancakes and coffee. So we came up with a plan. Our mutual friend drove us back to Rex’s house in his old, dented, off-white, hollowed out 9 passenger van (the kind you find kidnapped kids in). I confiscated a half full liter of Coca-cola from his mom’s fridge, went to his garage, emptied the bottle and filled it with Kerosene.

I remember the nervous energy as we talked between long silences while we drove to the park. We assumed the parking lot would be empty that late at night but there were at least three other cars. I tucked the bottle under my pea-coat, walked down the sidewalk, and stepped into the unoccupied, jumbo-sized port-a-potty. I took a quick leak, opened the bottle, and soaked every angle. My Bic then ignited a toxic fireball that shoved me back to the sidewalk. Rex was laughing hysterically, and flung the backdoor open. The cars around us started their engines as I dove into the van, some backing up to trap us in the parking lot. But we escaped and sped away. We gave our goodbyes and parted ways. I drove home with a sense of elation which continued well into my stay.

I don’t think I’d do anything that extreme today. When I was young I felt invincible, I didn’t fear cops or much else. And as destructive as I sound, events like burning down a plastic toilet only happened once in a while. The only thing that even comes close was when we stole a four-way stop sign. My then peers and I preferred novelty over anything else, and since we were too young and antisocial to get any drugs, we opted for bigger challenges like theft and arson. I’m glad non of us got caught—arson doesn’t look particularly good on anyone’s record.

Two years later I found myself giving aid in Sri Lanka three months after the Tsunami hit. One night after we finished a church service a women approached our team and told us her husband was bed-ridden with severe pain in one of his legs.

We should have just called a doctor, Sri Lanka has better health care than we do (don’t quote me on that), but we prayed for him as he laid in bed. I was at the back of the group, so I laid my hands on my team members shoulders and she did likewise so that we were all connected as we prayed. And when we finished the woman in front of me told me she felt energy from my hand. I felt it too, but I wasn’t going to say anything about it. The man sat up and exchanged a few words with his wife in Sinhala. She looked at us and said his pain was gone.

Granted, our team were all young, naive, and some just plain stupid, so we didn’t really probe for the entire truth. I just took it for face-value, believing God healed him. Thinking back on his symptoms, he may have had a blood clot in his leg.

In my mind what had taken place was an act of god, proof of his existence, which nobody would ever believe. But it confirmed the energy I felt in my body, and it confirmed my faith in God. After everyone had cleared the room I led the healed to Christ* via his wife who translated between us. I didn’t know when I asked him to take the pictures of idols off his walls that I was really telling him to take his culture and throw it away. I hope he never did. That memory stays with me because of how it’s changed me continuously. It’s difficult to see the harm in what we believe is good.

When I was four or five, my mother was at work and my grandmother was napping so I climbed up my mom’s bed so I could reach the Sharpies she kept on the top shelf. I crept out, and scribbled on everyone’s doors at the small apartment complex. One of the residents caught me and when my mother asked why I’d had done it, I told her I was doing everyone a favor by writing their apartment number on their door. She laughed.

*I’ve haven’t been to a church in at least seven years, but the “leading a person to Christ” is just saying a special prayer together that confirms the new believers faith Christ. This typically occurs after a person has time to convince the non-believer that Christ did great miracles, is still alive in the sky, and will keep us alive in the sky with him if we believe.

To the Moon Instead

Why Mars? Doesn’t colonizing the moon first make more sense? For practice. The moon would be a great place for exploration, research, and with less gravity it’d make an ideal place to launch a realistic mission to the red planet. Space flight alone is an exceedingly dangerous task without the added bonus of building an experimental, self-contained human habitat that simulates the most basic conditions of our planet needed for survival. At this point getting people to mars safely is far-fetched, just colonizing a place that doesn’t already have a long-established people group is a big leap for humanity.

Winter Update

Winter sucks. I forgot how shitty it is to work and go to school in winter, when all I really want to do eat and sleep. I submitted some of my essays to my school’s art magazine, it’s no New Yorker but it’s a start–wish me luck. I’d write more but I have math homework. Hurray for spring. Be well.

Money, Politics, and the Mind

I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. “ – Jesus Christ

I’m no longer a religious person, but truth can be found almost anywhere. Unlike so many who believe a wallet stuffed with Benjamins is the key to happiness, but Christ wasn’t so hot on money. Christ’s words seem a little odd though. Why a camel? It’s hard enough just getting a thread through the eye. As the story goes the actual “eye of the needle” was a smaller secondary entrance into Jerusalem which only an unpacked camel could pass through. Unfortunately, there is no concrete proof to the story, but it’s the oldest, and it gives Christ’s words a practical meaning: it’s difficult for the rich man to enter because it’s difficult for the wealthiest to give up, or “unpack” their temporary status and income. Throughout history the wealthy have always sought more wealth, typically at the expense of others, but what if they couldn’t help it? What if they were driven by a force they weren’t consciously aware of?

Neuroscience is slowly unlocking the mystery behind our brains, but doing so is putting some powerful human ideas to rest. The soul, freewill—our diets and dispositions have more to do with what the bacteria in our stomachs want than what we believe we want independent of external forces. We have a long way to go before we fully understand the brain, but it’s giving us clues to how and why people think and practice the things they do.

Scientists can predict a person’s political stance by simply showing them disgusting images and watching what part of their brain fires—with 94% accuracy. Overall their study demonstrates an evolutionary need to stay away from rotting things. Before the days of doctors and antibacterial soap a rotting dead carcass was a real risk to one’s health (Feltman). Another study done reveals the same pattern. Scientists monitored the brain scans of people weighing a risky gambling decision. Marina Koren of the Smithsonian sums up the findings:

Building on this, the new research shows that Democrats exhibited significantly greater activity in the left insula, a region associated with social and self-awareness, during the task. Republicans, however, showed significantly greater activity in the right amygdala, a region involved in our fight-or flight response system.

Koren’s article focused on brain plasticity, comparing the data to another study that showed cab drivers developed more gray matter in the part of the brain responsible for navigation. I think that’s a bad comparison. It makes sense that someone who drives all day, everyday, would develop the brain wiring needed to do such a task well, but how do we do that with politics—which for many of us isn’t a day job.

Brain plasticity makes it very difficult to determine if our worldviews are inherent and beyond our ability to control, or if our environment plays a greater role, which gives us some control. It’s probably both, but if so than how much of which? It may seem trivial, but a lot goes into our politics—not just money. Laura Meckler reports the differences found by the Pew Research Center, “Conservatives are more likely to value teaching religious faith and obedience. Liberals are more likely to value teaching tolerance, empathy for others, curiosity and creativity.” Those observations cut to the core of our nation’s political divide. If we can figure out the chemistry of political breakdown then we can resolve many of the problems in Washington.

Right now there’s a lot more correlation than causation, but notable insights can be taken. It’s very important to be aware of the forces that drive our decisions—like voting. Had the rich man in Christ’s story unpacked his possessions for the kingdom’s sake he’d have gained spiritual wealth. We too have the opportunity to unpack our thoughts and emotions by being aware of our biases, be they genetic or environmental. That awareness allows us to more deliberately and conscientiously weigh our decisions. And although we won’t live forever, our legacy may live on.

Works Cited

Feltman, Rachel. “Your Brain’s Response to a Gross Photo Can Reveal Your Political Leanings.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 30 Oct. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

Koren, Marina. “Study Predicts Political Beliefs With 83 Percent Accuracy.” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian, 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.

Meckler, Laura. “Study: How Liberals, Conservatives Split on Religion and Tolerance.” Wall Street Journal. Wall Street Journal, 18 Sept. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.