(Double) Weekly Roundup: The United States Of Dogwaste Edition

Sorry it’s been slow here at Riverside Green; I’ve had to visit the western time zones two separate and distinct times in the past ten days. One of those times gave me the chance to see the White Sands National Monument and to take a quick walk through the dunes. A bit of advice, should you ever try the same trip: don’t wear horsehide Crockett&Jones Pembrokes to do so. It’s no trouble to walk across the dunes on slick-soled shoes; it is tremendous trouble to come down off a twenty-foot dune to the parking lot while wearing them.

Enough about that; it takes a particular idiot to insist on wearing “grownup” shoes in an era where the billionaires wear polyester athleisure and $99 Allbirds. Instead, I want to talk about what I saw as I walked across these utterly pristine dunes, rendered free of footsteps and impressed with a waveform pattern thanks to the consistent action of the New Mexico wind: strings of little black rocks, encrusted with white sand and deposited seemingly at random both high and low on the sand structures.

“Is that some sort of… obsidian or quartz?” I wondered, looking closer. No, it wasn’t obsidian, and it wasn’t quartz. It was dogshit.

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Weekly Roundup: I Believe It… Even If It Is Not True Edition

As the kids say nowadays, I’m “still processing” the responses to last week’s distracted-driving column. A surprising number of the commenters appear to have an opinion which roughly boils down to: There’s no statistical support for the idea that texting-and-driving is as bad as drunk driving — in fact, it appears to be nightmarishly more dangerous to do the latter than the former — but in my Secret King feelingsverse I still think that texting is just totally the worst thing ever and I won’t hear any argument to the contrary. It doesn’t matter that my statistics are coming straight from the NHTSA, which is currently trying to use “distracted driving” as something between a cause celebre and a reason to implement a draconian new raft of privacy-destroying regulations. And it doesn’t matter that those statistics show distracted driving to be more of a nuisance than a deadly epidemic. These commenters just know that cellphones are turning the American highway into a bloodbath, and they won’t accept any opinion to the contrary.

In other words, just like the narrator of Miike Snow’s “Cult Logic” — they believe it, even if it is not true.

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Weekly Roundup: Don’t Count On Keeping Your Home Edition

I have a confession to make: I almost never read the “conservative media”. And why should I? Traditional conservative, or “tradcon”, publications are worse than useless. They’re the “Washington Generals of politics”, so to speak, preaching a bizarre gospel of corporate personhood and ever-decreasing taxation to a statistically insignificant demographic of drywall contractors and YouTube grifters. Their “conservative” positions are merely the “liberal” positions of twenty years ago, and they are adjusted on an annual basis. Today’s Koch-Brothers-funded mouthpieces are solidly to the left of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign platform. In two decades, they’ll be advocating a Green New Deal.

Which is just another way of saying that magazines and websites like National Review are utterly irrelevant. They are literally allowing the Washington Post to beat them to a comprehensive dismantling of Rachel Maddow. The only place where the Buckley crowd is out in front with a policy position is with regards to immigration — the Democrats want it to be both unlimited and socialized, but the conservatives want it to be unlimited, subsidized, and untaxed.

No, I’m afraid that if you want to see where public opinion is going, you have to read the far left wing — publications like Jacobin and The Nation. Anything you see in there is usually no more than five years away from being mainstreamed, ten years away from being compulsory, and twenty years away from being strongly advocated by National Review. And what is The Nation saying lately? Here’s a hint: you might want to hold off on that kitchen remodel.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: Can’t Stunt On ‘Em Edition

Brother Bark and I spent fifteen years helping to blur, or perhaps smudge, the boundary between the Internet and real life. Around the turn of the century he and I trolled a succession of local-music boards to the point where we had a half-dozen or so people swearing on the lives of their weedmen they would dox us and beat us up — so I invited all the players to a charity boxing match, at which point they all said they had to play gigs that weekend. The funny part was that at least one of them probably could have thumped me without much difficulty — the fellow just didn’t want to take the risk. So then Bark invited all the Internet Tough Guys to his gig — and they all showed up, slapped him on the back, and told him he was great.

My favorite story comes from an old-school BMX board back in ’03 or thereabouts where another rider and I clowned a self-important and hugely unpleasant participant by finding him at an event, removing the stupid vanity front license plate from his used Mercedes-Benz, and reinstalling it behind his stupid vanity rear license plate. I then photoshopped the plate onto a nearly identical vehicle at a used-car lot 2,500 miles away and put that picture on the message board. He filed a series of police reports and spent a week braying about how justice would be done. As I recall, he’d gotten as far as his local FBI office before someone took pity on him and told him where to find his “stolen” plate. To his credit — or maybe my discredit — the dude ended up kinda changing his ways and becoming a tireless volunteer on behalf of disadvantaged young riders before suffering a stroke and leaving the sport in 2016.

A few years later, I got tired of an “anonymous” fellow on VWVortex trying to cyberbully me so I cracked open my favorite Kevin Mitnick book and worked my way all the way to the desk phone at his job. “Hey man, I’m going to give you an opportunity to put your words into practice,” I said.

“How did you get this number?” he asked, voice shaking. Then he apologized for being such a jerk, told me he was actually a really meek person when he wasn’t online, and asked me to give him a chance to mend his ways. A few days later, he sent me a private message on the Vortex board thanking me for not humiliating him any further. We had no further interactions, he laid off his bullying behavior, and we lived happily ever after for about twelve years.

But that’s not the way he remembers it.

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Weekly Non-Roundup: Fast And Furious Edition

This was an unusual week for me: I didn’t write anything! Nothing at all! Brother Bark did, so we are still having a roundup — but in order to fill the time and provide some material for discussion, I’ll offer a few articles which have come across my screen in the past week.

Before we get into that, however, we should note: today is the ninth anniversary of Brian Terry’s death.

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Weekly Roundup: White Mirror And The Bad, Bad Deal Edition

Well, as they say, that escalated quickly: Two weeks ago, Peloton, a company which makes stationary exercise bicycles for the terminally soulless and self-involved, debuted a Christmas-centric advertisement called “The Gift That Gives Back” in which a 30-year-old man buys a Peloton for his 22-year-old wife (who has a 9-year-old child already). She is initially terrified by the exercise bike, which seems odd because she is already at the peak of physical perfection, even after becoming a mom. However, she submits to the gift without complaint and uses her iPhone to capture a daily “vlog” detailing her efforts. At one point, she squeals with joy because a Peloton instructor speaks her name. A year later, she explains to her husband how much she has been changed, for the better, by the Peloton… and scene.

This was the rare commercial which offends everyone, even the secular puritans at Vice:

She would rather be anywhere else in the world than here, in her glacial home with the husband she loathes, putting on this sick pantomime of wellness and marital bliss; she’d even rather be back on the dreaded Peloton… Her grim motivation that pushes her to drag herself out of bed combined with exclaiming at the camera how blatantly, inexplicably nervous the Peloton makes her paint a bleak portrait of a woman in the thrall of a machine designed to erode her spirit as it sculpts her quads.

Others drew sinister parallels to an episode of Black Mirror where an entire society is forced to pedal exercise bikes in order to keep the power turned on and where there is no escape from the video screens on all sides. The actor/businessman Ryan Reynolds hired the “Peloton wife” to star in a quickie ad for his “Aviator Gin” where the woman downs three martini glasses’ worth of alcohol in an attempt to forget her year of cyclo-suffering. Peloton’s stock took a $1.5 Billion-with-a-B hit in the wake of the commerical’s release — but to be fair, that dip did not erase the 48% lift the stock saw during October and November as the market breathlessly anticipated the purchase of who-knows-how-many $2,245 exercise bikes.

Much of the criticism leveled at the ad was of the OMG Y U SO SEXIST nature, but I’d like to suggest that there’s nothing sexist about it — or at least, there’s nothing misogynist about it. This isn’t a straightforward advertisement. It’s not even an aspirational advertisement. Rather, it is fantastical, and that makes a big difference.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: The Church Of England Edition

I apologize for the slow pace of posts around here. It’s not that I don’t have some great work on deck by Ronnie, John Marks, and others — rather, it’s the fact that I went on an eight-day trip without my personal laptop.

Part of that trip was to London, to visit my tailor and see the sights. I’m the Anglophile son of an Anglophile mother, and I majored in 18th-century Brit Lit, so I always experience mixed emotions when I visit the City. It’s no longer the same place it was twenty or even five years ago. In 2011, the census showed that only 44% of London’s population was ethnically British; it has to be much less than that now. This is something you can temporarily forget on Jermyn Street or Savile Row, but a couple of hours spent as the only white face on the “Tube” reminded me of the fact sharpish, as they say.

Which is not to say that the UK is required to avoid change; after all, the nation was essentially founded by an act of hostile immigration in 1066. There is, however, something profoundly sad about the collapse of European populations and cultures. Like the dodo, we are basically just going to stand there with a stupid expression while remorseless human predators hunt us to death. Maybe this is simple karma, or one long act of voluntary self-immolation in penance for the Triangle Trade or the atomic bomb or indoor plumbing or Garth Brooks.

Alternately, it’s something far more sinister, which brings me to the books on the table above.

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Weekly Roundup: The Silver Queen Of North Carolina Edition (With Video!)

For the first time in my life, I heard about the naturalness, tradition and superior flavor of New Jersey produce. “Taste-wise, nothing compares to Jersey Silver Queen,” the New Yorkers declared, clawing at ears of a fat-kerneled, North Carolina-grown supersweet hybrid, all sugar and no corn flavor, nothing like Silver Queen. They tossed the husks on the ground for me to rake up.

The depth of our society’s current obsession with food is impossible for me to plumb, and painful for me to contemplate. Observing the central role that consuming food has taken in the lives of so many successful and influential people is enough to bring out my inner Wordsworth:

The food is too much with us, late and soon;
Eating and shitting, we lay waste our powers

Don’t get me wrong — I know why things are this way. We’ve drastically increased the salaries of the upper class while also demanding that they all maintain apartments in our rabbit-warren cities. It’s no great trick for me to find a place to stash an extra motorcycle, mountain bike, stereo system, or automobile; all of these purchases are impossible to contemplate when you’re dropping 2,980 non-deductible dollars a month on a one-bedroom apartment. You can’t even own a lot of clothes, because very few of these places have enough closet space. So what do you with the difference between your $300,000 post-tax annual draw on commission and the $150,000 it costs you to merely exist in Manhattan? You spend $200-300 a day on swallowing things and digesting them. Poof! Problem solved. You’re now free to lecture others on living simply.

This is the lowest form of human existence, really. Even a pig can hunt a truffle. It’s so base that we have to make it complicated. There’s no cultural or contextual apparatus necessary for you to appreciate great art, great music, or great literature; you need only pay attention. Nor do we make it particularly difficult for you to do so. The Internet is free, as are most museums and libraries. Great food, on the other hand, has to erect a Byzantine scaffolding’s worth of intimidation to prevent the unwashed from noting that wine reviews are mostly imaginary or that the color of food plays a large part in what it tastes like.

Alternately, it might be that I have the taste of a twelve-year-old reform-school inmate and am therefore extremely anxious to believe anything that paints foodie-ism as a total fraud. Your choice.

Either way, it’s easy to see why I would be charmed by “Lessons From A Local Food Scam Artist”, from which the opening paragraph derives, and I was — until, of course, things got funky.

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Weekly Roundup: Not Standing Pat Edition

If you’re been reading me for any length of time between 1991 and 2019, you likely know that I am a longtime admirer of, and listener to, the fusion/jazz/whatever-guitarist Pat Metheny. I’ve seen him in concert a dozen times at least, have bought one copy (or more) of pretty much every recording he’s ever made, own hundreds of hours’ worth of bootlegs and mixer-deck tapes from his concerts. I have T-shirts, sealed-and-signed vinyl albums, posters, and 24k-plated Japanese-market-only hi-def CDs. He has published three books of music; I bought, read, and played them. Hell, I even own a book of interviews with the fellow.

Earlier this year, I went to see Pat’s “Side Eye” tour and it was, charitably speaking, a mess — an indifferent setlist where both of his sidemen had music on the bandstand and were visibly uncomfortable with the material. This in no way diminished my willingness to buy front-row tickets again in the future. Everybody has a bad gig once in a while.

The email I received yesterday, on the other hand…

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: Not Our Kind, Dear Edition

We meet then, appropriately, via an interruption. My son and I were standing in the line to register for a day at Windrock Bike Park, a hardscrabble collection of steep descents and unpleasant terrain just west of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It was our first visit to the place and we had no idea what we’d be seeing or riding. All we knew was that there was a no-entry-fee race being held in the afternoon, and that there was some sort of youth division.

“Should I race?” John asked, leaning close to me so I could hear him over the conversational madness of the queue. This was also the line for Windrock’s ATV and SxS trails, so we were very close to a lot of very loud people. They were also very fat. I can say that because I, too, am overweight — but I was between fifty to a hundred pounds short of the average off-roader in our vicinity, regardless of gender.

“Well, John,” I said, loud enough for him to hear me but no louder, “we have no idea what the race course will be. It might be a lot of really steep and rocky stuff, which you don’t like riding. Or it might be ten big jumps in a row, and you’ll be the only kid to clear them.”


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