2016 Election: An Expat’s Point of View

12 Nov

For the past six years, I’ve lived over four thousand miles from my place of birth in North Carolina – separated from it by one of Earth’s great oceans. Beyond the simple geographic disconnect, I live differently than I did in the United States. I quite literally view the world and my homeland from a different perspective. The fact that I have no plans to reside in the United States again in the foreseeable future only adds to that. My future is here, in the Netherlands.

So when it comes to the United States’ 2016 election, I wasn’t in the thick of it. I wasn’t bombarded by shady election ads. I didn’t have to talk about it every day at work. Only social media kept me even remotely plugged in. And if I’m honest, my Facebook feed is largely a personal, liberal/progressive echo chamber. But even with social media being a large part of my life, I looked at all of this from an outsider’s point of view, because what happens in this election only scarcely effects me.

What I can see from this view is that it was a sewer fire. In short, the Democratic National Committee poisoned itself by rigging its nomination process to favour Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. Clinton served to be the ultimate ‘establishment’ candidate, which translated to so many in the voting public as ‘corrupt, out of touch, and a zero-sum-difference to business as usual.’

On the other side, Republican voters chose Donald Trump as their candidate – a man that gathered support, in large part, because his narrative made him look like anything but the status quo. His campaign successfully portrayed him as the kind of person who isn’t beholden to Washington’s good-ol’ boy club of elites by virtue of the fact that he is not one of the dreaded ‘career politicians’ everyone gets so excited about despising these days.

And above all else, he made those that feel discriminated against (rather than those who in reality are) feel powerful.

And it worked, not just to secure the Republican nomination, but to secure the office of President of the United States of America.

Ever since the results rolled in on Wednesday morning, I’ve seen myriad responses – most of which come from American friends on social media. Most consist of short-sighted half-truths and insults with the rare point of wisdom sprinkled among them.

But one point I’ve yet to see made, by anyone on either side, is just exactly how this plucky billionaire huckster/reality show star named Trump, who will become the 45th President of the United States, is actually a change from the status quo in any meaningful sense.

But before we get to that point, let’s talk about something we can all agree on, and what frankly caused this election to go the way it did. And please note that this is where the profanity will begin.

A damn good chunk of those elected into federal and state governments are rotten. Right? No matter the party, it’s fair to say that many, if not most, don’t even give half a shit about the average person; their daily struggles, health, or quality of life. And those who fill these elected posts have their influence swayed by a two primary things. First and foremost is the desire to stay in their position or rise to a higher one. They do things that look good to Jack and Jane Main Street in order to further their chosen careers. Second, and perhaps a more sinister influence, is the lobbying industry, working on behalf of well-funded industries and political action committees. They make deals to support political careers in exchange for favorable votes.

And therein lies the rub.

Donald Trump may not be a career politician but he is one of the very people who has influenced government by extensively lobbying politicians. And while he has touted his ability to run things cleanly, by virtue of the fact that he doesn’t need money or influence from anyone else, it doesn’t change the fact that he is among those that have caused the corruption so many say they’re rallying against.

Donald Trump is not among the diseased. He is the disease.

So how exactly is a vote for Trump a vote for anything like legitimate change?

It isn’t.

And finally, because I simply can’t resist it, let’s talk about bigotry in this election.

First, I know damn well that not all, and maybe not even most of Trump’s voters are some variety of racist, homophobe, sexist, etc. I’m guessing that many, legitimately if not ironically, did cast their votes for him in protest of the staus quo. They may not be bigots, but they are rubes and their fleecing will come.

But The Donald’s rhetoric and his election to the office of president has emboldened bigotry. When you see some slimy git rolling coal in his pick-up truck, sporting a “Make America Great Again” sticker in his back window and flying the Stars and Bars, you can pretty much guarantee that the person driving it has used the word nigger and/or faggot ten times in the past twenty-four hours. And if you somehow labor under the delusion that this isn’t the case, you are a goddamned cretin.

I only tell you this because you need to know that.

In summary, it all comes down to this. The choice was made. It was an emotional choice. And that is the problem. People voted for Clinton with their feelings. People voted for Trump with their feelings.

And your feelings have only lead you further into the Post American Century.

Church Bells are Medieval SPAM

27 Apr

DSC04449As you may now, I live in a sleepy little town not far outside Amsterdam. A little over 100 meters from my apartment’s balcony is the Catholic church you see to the right – the Sint-Laurentiuskerk.  It’s the new church in town; built in 1876. Across the canal and a couple blocks away is the old (now Protestant) church – the Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk. It was completed in the mid 15th century.

Every Sunday at 9:45am, the bells in both towers go absolutely bonkers. And it’s loud. It damned well will wake you up if you’ve slept that late. If you’re hungover, it’s a nightmare cacophony of maddening racket that will have you crawling under the bed.

I’ve determined that this call to the house of god is little more than an antiquated variety of SPAM, and should be illegal.

See, if you were to pick 20,000 E-mail addresses and send them disturbing, unsolicited messages once a week, you could get in serious trouble resulting in hefty fines. But if you irritate the fuck out of the same amount of people once a week with the kind of brain-cleaving cling-clanging that removed the alien symbiote from Spiderman and call it tradition? Oh, that’s fine!

Every Sunday, I end up pondering how this is somehow considered anything less than annoying (much less charming) in the 21st century. Would my neighbours be as charmed if I were to open all my doors and windows every Saturday morning at 9am and played Slayer’s Raining Blood (easily among the most irritating songs ever recorded) at top volume?

I fucking doubt it. In fact, I’m pretty certain the homeowners association would be on my ass before the second incident even took place.

-S

 

Boxing Day Explained for Americans (Let’s Try This Again)

26 Dec

Okay, okay.  I was a bit of a stinker last year.  This time around, I’ll be more accurate.

No, really.

So, Boxing Day.  There are actually a few stories of its origins, and being an aging goth-type, this one is my favourite.

In the early 15th century, the House of Percy controlled the area we now call County Yorkshire, England and collected taxes as a means to subsidise their already substantial wealth and influence.  The family would tax basically anything they could, (livestock, grain stores, even children), a practice that would eventually lead to the Yorkshire rebellion in 1489 when they tried to enforce yet another tax to fund Henry VII’s war in Brittany.

One of the taxes they levied was on grave plots, but only when occupied by a corpse.  Of course, they didn’t dare enforce this tax on cemeteries or crypts on church grounds, but any other place where the deceased would be buried permanently would be subject to the tax.  The idea is that if there is land that the Percy family controlled being used, they deserved tribute for that use. A small army of assessors were sent out twice per year (December with all work to be completed by Christmas Day, and June) to not only count up the graves, but everything else that was subject to collection.  Note that the assessor’s job was just that.  Collection was a whole different thing.

Anyway, during spring and summer months, it was important to get dead bodies in the ground quickly.  Decomposition happens rapidly during this time and also begs for insect infestations.  However, as colder autumn and winter months came, you could wait around awhile, and that’s exactly what they did when dealing with the corpses of those not fortunate enough to be buried on hallowed ground.

Weather permitting, the shrouded bodies would be hidden wherever possible, away from the prying eyes of the tax assessors. Disused barrels was just one method, as they often times already had markings on them to denote duty had been paid.

After the tax assessors’ work was done and had left the area, (usually just before Christmas), the graves for all the bodies would be dug.  This was a community effort, with nearly any able-bodied person (including pre-teen children) lending a hand. If you’ve ever tried to dig a hole in the ground during winter, you know this is hard work.  Add in the time constraints of  extremely short winter days, and you know this is hellish work.

Carpenters, coopers, and anyone else who could build a box, would be hard at work putting together coffins.

Christmas Day, would then be celebrated, with only those who tended animals and such actually doing any work.

And then, on 26 December, the bodies of loved ones would be placed in their boxes.  Any priests trustworthy enough to not spill the beans about the tax dodge would come out to do all the necessary blessings.  Again, no other work would really get done, as this was a day that was to allow for proper mourning and reflection.

The tradition stuck in the area (even after the tax in question was lifted), largely at the insistence of various craftsman/artisan guilds.  Guilds (not unlike today’s unions) held significant influence.  While they often quarreled with nobles, they were effective at getting their way, especially during 15th century when advancements in steel work made certain trades less a commodity, and more of a necessity.  The arguments in favour of making Boxing Day a “day off” being that it should be a day of thanks for the services of their members after years of working for the greater community good (building boxes/coffins for no pay) with no returns.

The practice was purely localized to Yorkshire and the immediate area for roughly 5 centuries until the coal-producing (and increasingly industrialised) North of England came to prominence during the 19th century in ways it never had previously.  Factory workers particularly took to the idea, so much so that Boxing Day Strikes took place in 1901-1905.  By 1905, the strikes had caused so much havoc, property damage, and lost production time, that most industrialists gave in.

So there ya go!  The origins of Boxing Day…

…That I completely fabricated.  Again.

-S

Sell Me Something Healthy

17 Jun

I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who are highly skeptical about modern, Western medicine.

Fair enough.  I can empathize with this feeling to a certain capacity.  Having lived in the States for most of my life, I’ve seen the near constant flow of pharmaceutical reps quickly passing in and out of the various doctors’ offices I’ve visited.  I’ve also known enough people who were strung out on a cocktail of prescription medications they may or may not have legitimately needed at some point.  It can all seem rather consumer driven, which seems contrary to the general idea of health care.

But, every time I click a link to an article that tells me that eating fish oil soaked broccoli while standing on my head will eliminate a variety of ailments, I always find that something is for sale.

Whether it’s that the source of the information is splattered with ads in one form or another, the text has several internal keyword hyperlinks links (one of the most basic means for keeping people on a site so they can look at more ads), or there’s a small library of e-books for sale, someone always wants my money.

That being the case, I can’t see any significant difference between the alternative health trade and modern Western medicine.  If anything, both smack of hypocrisy.

And for some reason, I find the hypocrisy from the side of alternative medicine to be the greater sin and infinitely more infuriating.  I don’t think Pfizer makes any explicit or implicit claims to be some kind of caring, warm, and fuzzy non-profit.  But alternative health gurus love to play the role of an oppressed caregiver full of nothing but good intentions when in reality, they’re just playing to a niche market.

Boxing Day Explained for Americans – The Original Fight Club

26 Dec

For many Americans, Boxing Day is a tradition they’ve heard of, but never truly understood.

Today, Boxing Day is just a day off from work and an opportunity to unwind while watching football (soccer) on television.  It almost works out like a Second Christmas Day, as it’s called in the Netherlands, for instance.  However, the origins of the holiday are shockingly violent and the tradition was the cause of several deaths in the early days.

The story starts in South Kensington, London in 1897 with a disagreement between next-door neighbors Reginald Higgins and Jonathon Stone.  The two men and their families resided in a row of townhouses just off Sloane Road (a major thoroughfare in the relatively new neighborhood).  It was a pricey area, mostly inhabited by upper-middle class families.  Many of the houses there also served as second homes to the wealthy who still had manor homes in the countryside.

Higgins and Stone were quite similar in many ways.  Both were retired junior officers in the British Army with Stone having served in India.  Both were married with primary school-aged children, were well-paid and revered in their occupations (Higgins a well-connected architect, Stone a physician), and the two belonged to a well-respected gentleman’s club.

However, while they seemed to get along well with everyone else in their social circles, it was widely known that the two couldn’t stand one another.  They had each spread accusations and rumors about one another.  Stone had claimed Higgins had been bribing local authorities in exchange for consideration on the design of public buildings.  Higgins accusations against Stone were less malicious.  He claimed his neighbor had often stolen coal from his outdoor delivery box, didn’t dispose of rubbish properly, and that his unruly children had caused quite a bit of property damage (broken windows, fence slats, etc.) to his home.

But the straw that broke the camel’s back occurred on Christmas Eve 1897.

Continue reading

Dutch People Can’t Park Worth a Damn (and Other Stuff Too)

25 Feb

The following is to be read in the narrator’s voice from one of those 1950’s educational films:

The Dutch are a proud, hard-working, and rather tall people.  They’ve made many contributions to global culture, particularly in the arts, water management, seafaring, and the slave trade.  The Netherlands is also well-known for the use of bicycles in their bustling cities rather than automobiles.  The result of this two-wheeled transportation point of view is that the fine, fine ‘Nederlanders’ who do operate motor cars can’t park them worth shit.

Of course, the above is hyperbole and intended to induce a chuckle or two.  But the fact remains that if there’s one skill the Dutch lack, it’s the ability to properly park an automobile. Continue reading

Houston’s Death Should Shine Light on Larger Issues, But Won’t

13 Feb

So Whitney Houston is dead.

My first reactions were pretty typical of me when it comes to celebrities running amok.  I didn’t really care.

To me, it seems somewhat disingenuous to go on about how sad it is that this famous person died or suffered some other brand of misfortune.  It also feels a little inappropriate to me when we pass judgement on the circumstances.  While these people have indeed made the choice to live their lives in the public’s scope, we very rarely know who they really are.  I support the idea that says people in the public eye (entertainers, politicians, and the like) should be subject to a certain amount of scrutiny.  But there’s a limit to what we can see with the naked eye.

I do believe that Houston’s death, which we all pretty much presume was connected to her substance abuse issues, should be important though.

The reason being is that in America, all things related to drugs seem to be viewed through a rather strange lens, and that is perhaps highlighted by Houston’s struggles.

First, there’s the issue of illegal recreational drugs including, but not limited to marijuana, cocaine in its various forms, LSD, ecstasy, and heroin/opiates. Continue reading