Wednesday, April 23, 2014

An Atheist Review of “God’s Not Dead”

It’s the movie that has churchgoers all across America creaming their proverbial Sunday Best. So, how does the film's finer points fare under an atheistic perspective? 


“This is a cause for celebration,” the stereotypically exuberant African-American missionary proclaims. His accent is so thick and nondescript that, conceivably, he can be from anywhere: Ghana, the Dominican Republic, heck, he could even be a Continental descendant of the Moors, for all we know. His jubilance, however, belies the fact that, just seconds ago, he watched a man literally die before his very eyes. It’s OK, though, because he knows that lost soul punched a last-second ticket to the Pearly Gates, and thanks to the magic of SMS, hundreds of thousands of youngsters will be exposed to the same central message: “God’s Not Dead.”

As soon as I saw the giant cardboard display for the film -- helmed by Christploistation shlockmeister Harold Cronk and featuring Disney Channel castoff Shane Harper -- I just knew I was in store for some Grade A, misguided-as-misguided-can-get religious propaganda. The film itself is basically a feature length adaptation of the old “noble college student versus antagonistic unbeliever professor” chestnut, complete with all of the murky apologetics and “god of the gaps” arguments you’d expect such an undertaking to consist of. It’s more or less a big screen version of the Jack Chick tract “Big Daddy?” -- indeed, some of the film’s debate scenes seem to be direct recreations of that (uncredited) source material.

Of course, “God’s Not Dead” is a polemic film. All of the Christian-conservative organizations (and their alike-minded kin) think it’s terrific, and virtually everybody else in the world -- as apparent by the film’s Metacritic score -- think it’s a cinematic turd de resistance. Before we get too critical about the film’s Christian apologist arguments, I think it’s fair that we first examine the film as a piece of entertainment, and secondly, as a film with a clear-cut political agenda.

As a movie -- and just a movie -- “God’s Not Dead” is pretty boring and uneventful. It’s about this college frosh named Josh Wheaton (boy, I wonder where THAT namesake came from), who, despite being a freshman at the university, has been dating his girlfriend for six years. Ever since his youth group met hers, it’s been true love, we’re told.

So, its registration day on the campus green, and Josh has to sign up for a philosophy course to fulfill his “liberal arts” requirements. Everyone in the movie, it is perhaps worth noting, uses the term “liberal arts” with palpable disdain, as if it’s a waste of time that keeps pre-law students like Josh from finding out algorithms to predict the Stock Market or cure lupus and shit. He’s told that his professor is a hardcore atheist, and advises Josh to drop the course. However, that would mean Josh would have to reschedule his classes, and God forbid he -- gasp -- find another professor, or, you know, just take the class next semester.

The first day of the philosophy class, we’re introduced to Professor Radisson -- played by, of all people, Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo, whom most really owe some wicked back taxes to have signed up for this one. Harkening back to a completely-misconstrued Florida Atlantic incident, Radisson asks his pupils to write down “God is dead” on a piece of paper, so they can skip a few weeks worth of fruitless arguing, but of course, our hero Josh says he ain’t going to do it, and this leads to a challenge between instructor and pupil where the young ‘un has three class periods to “convince” his peers that God exists.

Since that’s not really enough meat for an entire movie, we’ve got a couple of side stories going on to fill up the running time void. There’s this redheaded blogger with a big schnoz who likes to Michael Moore “Duck Dynasty” cast members because her car has animal rights and pro-humanism stickers on it, and she’s dating Dean “Superman” Cain, who is this really unprincipled atheist businessman fellow who breaks up with her because she has cancer (and in an MRI sequence, it's also heavily implied that she has vaginal piercings, too). Dean’s sister is this theist brunette -- whom also happens to be Kevin Sorbo’s love interest -- whose mom has dementia and tells her pastor that her boy-toy gets “verbally abusive” with her just because he offers counterarguments to her Old Testament edicts. There’s also a Chinese student, whose dad is some big shot in Beijing who thinks the government is listening to his phone calls, and a “rebellious” teenager who goes against her Muslim father’s Sharia leanings by downloading MP3s of Billy Graham’s son’s sermons. And EVERYBODY is excited about the Newsboys coming to town, for a concert that in no way, shape or form will ever serve as a pivotal plot device in the film’s finale. Oh, I almost left out Pastor Dave and the aforementioned missionary, whom, for some reason, just can’t get their cars to start so they can go to Disneyworld.

I reckon you can figure out the rest of the movie on your own. Josh’s first counter-lecture -- on why The Big Bang allegedly conforms to the teachings of Genesis -- doesn’t go over too well, and he gets really motivated and starts checking out a ton of library books and his girlfriend breaks up with him. His second lecture is all about why evolution is bullshit and some guy named John Lennox is right, and after that one, Professor Hercules decides to physically confront him in the hallway (not an action that would result in his termination or arrest, of course) to tell him that he’s going to give him what-for next time. Then the professor’s girlfriend breaks up with him, and the not-Muslim girl gets the dog shit beat out of her by her daddy, and on the third and final lecture, Josh “successfully” argues why morality can only come from God himself, how evil can simply be explained by free will alone, and that deep down, all atheists simply reject God because bad stuff happened to them in the past. With the utterance of “how can you hate something that doesn’t exist?”, Josh wins over EVERY last one of his classmates, and the professors runs to his office and reads a letter his dead mama wrote him. Dénouement City, here we come.

So, literally EVERYBODY in the film decides to go to the damn Newsboys concert. The liberal blogger sneaks into the building, and the band prays for her immortal soul, turning her Christian automatically. Meanwhile, Dean Cain is hanging out with his absent-minded mama, who tells him that atheistic success is actually a self-made prison, and when Kevin Sorbo attempts to amble across a walkway, SURPRISE! He gets waylaid by a hit and run driver. Thankfully, Pastor Dave is there -- thanks to his car not starting earlier -- so he can pray for Kev’s soul, turning him Christian right before he dies. It’s all part of God’s grand schema, he tells the dying professor. If God didn’t want him to accept Jesus, he says, why didn’t he die as soon as the car struck him? And with that, the atheist prof finds God, and at the concert, Josh, the not-Muslim girl and the Chinese boy that Josh seemingly has a crush on all groove to some good old-fashioned evangelical rock and roll, with one of the Duck Dynasty people telling the concert-goers -- and the theater patrons themselves -- to literally text everyone they know the message “God’s Not Dead.” A listing of about two dozen or so court cases about colleges infringing upon the rights of Christian students scroll, and this one is over and out.

So, as a film, the movie is, to use a technical term, “a real piece of shit.” As melodramatic and heavy-handed and syrupy as the film itself is,  however, the underlying politics of the flick itself are rather insidious. To begin, atheists in “God’s Not Dead” get representation that’s about as fair as the Jews got in “Triumph of the Will” -- of the three atheistic characters in the film, all three are completely miserable, misanthropic materialists, whom have no real understanding of true human terms like “love” and “integrity.” In “God’s Not Dead,” it’s the atheists that are the ones that are blindly loyal, and one-dimensional, and excessively dogmatic -- the fact that 66 percent of the atheistic characters end up either dead or stuck with a terminal illness, I suppose, should tell you everything you need to know about how the filmmakers view the cultural “other” here.

At the end of the day, “God’s Not Dead” is hardly a spiritual film at all. Indeed, whereas movies like “The Passion of the Christ,” “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” and even something like “The Ninth Configuration” were inherently about man’s faith, this is a film steeped in political hatred, through and through. It’s not the love of the Gospel or Jesus’ teaching about charity and forgiveness that unite the heroes of the film, but rather, their communal disdain of leftist forces. As with countless straight-to-DVR propaganda flicks of the like, this is a film that absolutely revels in the thought of Christian persecution, to the point where you wonder if these people aren’t getting some sort of sadomasochist sexual titillation from their perceived repression. The target audience for this film are the kind of folks that express dire outrage over chain e-mails, oblivious to the full facts of the incidents but so empowered by believing they are being disempowered that things like “reality” no longer seem to matter. In a nation where three-fourths of its inhabitants believe in a higher power, films like “God’s Not Dead” are convinced, convinced I say, that the nation as a whole has some sort of conspiracy going on to silence them; of course, they would never, EVER put the shoe on the other foot and decry private universities that bar homosexuals from teaching, or the countless kids that were tossed out of loving, Christian homes for the sin of being gay, or even dating someone of the “wrong” color or ethnicity, or even the state-funded(!) school boards that seek to bar evolution from being taught, in this, the year two-thousand-and-motherfucking-fourteen. As a whole, the only thing “God is Dead” is 100 percent effective as, I would suppose, is oppression pornography for the Dave Ramsey-listening, WND-reading, Chick-Fil-A eatin’ evangelical set -- chiefly, those who complain about the alleged “War on Christmas” serving as cultural subjugation, while conveniently forgetting about clear-cut examples of actual historical subjugation like The Inquisition and The Crusades.

Perhaps the film could be a little more tolerable had the apologetics been a little more convincing, but alas, such is not the case here. Josh begins his campaign to convert his heathen classmates by stating that the Big Bang is the act of an “uncreated” creator, an example of the faulty “first cause” argument that’s been around since the days of Aristotle. The logic here is never really rebuked: if God can be an uncreated first cause, then why can’t the Big Bang itself be an uncreated first cause?  Even Josh’s attempt to link up the Book of Genesis with the scientific rationale behind the Big Bang is biblically erroneous: per the first two sentences of the bible, the Earth and its waters were already formed before God said “let there be light” -- a fairly massive oversight that, right from the proverbial get-go, makes the Big Bang and the biblical story of creation completely incompatible. A secondary postulate served up by the heroic theist -- that the bible clearly states that the universe is expanding (thus, making it congruent with current cosmological theorizations) while most scientific theorists until the the 20th century got it wrong -- is just a big old steaming pile of horse shit, and then some.

Josh’s second lecture is about as error-ridden as his first. He starts off by saying that Stephen Hawking and his kin are guilty of believing that the universe needed to create itself, and since nothing can arise from that which doesn’t already exist, everything from the atheistic Big Bang framework to Evolution is a bunch of manure. Slighting his professors appeal to authority, Josh cites the fairly obscure preachings of Gavin Jensen (whose degree, it is perhaps worth noting, is in graphic design) as a counter appeal to authority, then makes the asinine claim that since Earth life has gone from prokaryotes to humans in just 3.8 billion years, it’s far too little time for the Darwinian sciences to take effect. After all, Josh, reminds us, wasn’t it Darwin himself who said that “nature doesn’t jump?”

The character’s suspiciously professional looking PowerPoint slides offer virtually no hard evidence to refute the hard sciences that contradict his religious leanings. In fact, pretty much all of Josh’s argumentation is based on hypothetical logical presuppositions, which don’t actually ADDRESS the realities of evolution or cosmological sciences at all. For everything wrong with Josh’s take, here’s a fairly interesting diatribe that covers pretty much all of the scientific and philosophical bases for you.

Which brings us to the third and (diagetically) decisive argument, which is about the nature of evil and free will. Here, Josh does away with science altogether and tells us that since humans have free will, we are allowed to deviate from god’s wishes and embrace sin and all of that other nasty shit. HOWEVER, Josh also says that God is all-knowing and all-powerful, and since he controls and dictates every human life by “circumstance,” that means every moment in our life is, essentially, pre-determined. It’s a logical error you could drive a truck through: if an omnipotent being guides us throughout our entire life, how in the blue blazes is it possible for us, as individuals, to have anything that even remotely resembles free will? God, he tells us, is about choice, ultimately, a matter that demands faith (aka, thoughtless allegiance) and not empirical knowledge. And from a logical fallacy to outright insanity, he argues that ONLY morality can come from God and his desires, and if God’s morality didn’t exist, then how come his professor looked down upon cheating? This is quite possibly the most fascistic element of the entire movie, and definitely the most troubling; per the Christian adherents, the only pathway to a noble, charitable, meaningful and altruistic existence is through THEIR specified blueprints -- without God existing, Josh tells us with all the fury of a fiery despot, “everything is permissible,” and as such, life itself has no inherent meaning. The deadening crux of Josh’s argument is so nihilistic, it makes Nietzsche seem like a glib optimist: the ONLY thing that makes life worth living is death, for all of the universe and all of reality is utterly insignificant compared to existence on this plane outside of existence that NO ONE HAS EVER SEEN OR COULD POSSIBLY VERIFY THAT YOU CAN ONLY ACCESS BY BELIEVING EVERYTHING WE TELL YOU TO. If the liberal statists in “God’s Not Dead” are terrifying absolutists and tyrants, then I suppose that makes born again Christians, by virtue of their own philosophies, an ideological force of subjugation on par with 20th century communism's heaviest hitters.

The ending of the film is vague, yet ominous -- the wooed Christian youth celebrate their (canonically, unacknowledged) triumph over atheistic oppression at the concert, which is symbolized by the very real death of their professor. Of course, this means everybody fails the class by default, but who cares! Our opposition was removed, by the greatest and most humanistic force we have -- the death of those fostering ideological differences, with the auger of divine wrath exonerating us from feeling guilty about their own expiries. The frenzied youth all gleefully march towards the reward of death, their only real reason to be in this form of existence being to forcibly make everybody around them believe in the same post-death reward/punishment they do. If divinely-endorsed free will does exist, then it’s the Christian themselves that seem most hell-bent on taking it way from everybody else.

Of course, it’s a little silly to go off on such a long-winded rant against something like “God’s Not Dead,” which is clearly preaching to the choir with no aspirations of winning over the opposition with things like “fact” and “reason.” Ultimately, it’s just another propaganda movie, a stupid little flick for neo-cons to mentally masturbate to and give smug, well-represented church people yet another excuse to run around claiming victimization.

It’s not a good movie. As propaganda, it’s even worse. But as a commentary on the mindset of today’s evangelicals? Folks, this might just be the most terrifying movie of the year; films about real-life zombies, after all, are always more horrific than films about the fictitious brain-dead.

Monday, April 21, 2014

100 Potential Names for Atlanta's New MLS Team

Atlanta was recently awarded an expansion franchise by Major League Soccer. Here's one hundred potential nicknames for the ATL's latest pro sports team...



Soccer is a sport with huge appeal to Atlanta's growing Hispanic population, which is something that is looked upon favorably by all of metro-Atlanta's residents. 

  • The Atlanta Sex Traffickers --  quaint local behaviors have always been a staple of sports nicknaming: Brooklyn had its trolley Dodgers, Nebraska had its Cornhuskers and Atlanta has its shadowy human cargo economy.
  • Do Black People Really Care About Soccer FC -- the million dollar question nobody in Atlanta has the balls to ask, even if you gave the question asker one million dollars.
  • The Atlanta White People Pretending to Care in Order to Appear Cultured -- an expected 75 percent of season ticket holders will consist of said demographic.
  • The Dribbling Dead -- because there's some kind of zombie show filmed in Atlanta or something. 
  • The Atlanta ATL -- because calling any other city's team the "ATL" just wouldn't make any sense. 
  • The Atlanta Hackneyed Outkast References -- which is what most suggestions for the team nickname have consisted of up to this point
  • An Excuse to Tax Hotels FC -- because honesty is always the best policy.
  • The Atlanta Publicly Financed -- when Arthur Blank said the team will be "owned" by the fans, I think he really meant to say "paid for."
  • The Atlanta Delayed Flights -- especially if there's more than an inch of snow on the ground.
  • At Least We Have a Decent Airport FC -- pretty much the standard Atlanta apologetic retort.  
  • The Atlanta Georgians -- is it really any worse than calling a team the Houston Texans?
  • The Atlanta Hashtags -- the sound of people clicking their cellphones to tweet their friends could become the team's Tomahawk Chop equivalent. 
  • Oxycontin FC -- drive twenty miles outside of Atlanta in any direction, and you'll figure out why this namesake is fitting.
  • The Atlanta 2 AM Waffle House Patrons -- Pittsburgh has its steelers, and Atlanta has its creepy-ass, almost assuredly intoxicated early morning hash brown munchers.
  • Kroger FC -- because Kroger plays such a valuable part in modern Atlanta lore
  • The Atlanta Downtown Connectors -- named after the worst thing that's happened to Atlanta since Sherman's march.
  • The Atlanta Madeas -- named after Atlanta's most important pop cultural contribution, of course.
  • The Atlanta Still Palpable Augers of Slavery -- plantations in the east, crumbling ghettos in the west, really nervous white people in the north and really bitter and dejected black folks in the south. Culturally, this may hark back to something, although I really can't put my finger on it...
  • Way More Gay People Here Then You’d Think FC -- because when it rains in Atlanta, it's always a rainin' men
  • T.I. FC -- because this new MLS team will give you, ahem, "whatever you like." (It's funny because that's the name of a T.I. song.)
  • Dem MLS Franchise Boyz -- but will league officials let them play while wearing platinum chains?
  • The Atlanta Whoomp -- an homage to local rap duo Tag Team, who in 1994, gave us the anthem of an entire generation.
  • Fuck the Georgia Dome FC -- allegedly, a bumper sticker spotted on Arthur Blank's Rolls Royce.
  • The Atlanta Vegan Girlfriends -- named after Little Five Points' most valuable societal contribution. 
  • The Atlanta Scared Old White People -- the players can wear their shorts all the way up to their belly buttons and constantly complain about an impending "race riot" instead of actually playing soccer.
  • The Atlanta Dragon*Cons -- arguably Atlanta's most popular attraction to the 18-34 demographic (and also, child predators.)
With so many themed restaurants in the area, families of all shapes and sizes should have no problem locating a fine, after-game dinner. 

  • The Atlanta Day Traders -- probably the most dangerous wildlife in the entire city.
  • The Atlanta Orange Drinkers -- goes great with a bag of rags and a bloody steak.
  • The Atlanta Wait A Minute, Don’t We Still Have the Silverbacks? -- because it's true.
  • The Atlanta Beat with Penises -- since the Beat is the name of Atlanta's all-female soccer team, this one makes more than enough sense, no?
  • The Atlanta REALLY Hoping to Capitalize on the Hispanic Market -- si se puede...profiteer!
  • The Atlanta This Sounds Really, Really Familiar For Some Reason -- and it should. For good reason.
  • Freaknik FC -- if they ever win a league championship, we have no choice but to party like it's 1995.
  • The Atlanta High Functioners -- if you've ever watched Cartoon Network programming, you'd probably agree with me. 
  • The Atlanta We Used to Have Two Hockey Teams -- two of them! Here's hoping Moose Jaw or Medicine Hat enjoys the team we send up in 2027.
  • The Atlanta Vampire Diarists -- how its any worse than calling a team "The Mighty Ducks," I'm not really sure. 
  • Deportiva Adult Swim -- because Atlanta is the world leader in hipster-manufactured bullshit, after all. 
  • The Atlanta Flaming Thrashers -- the second most homoerotic nickname imaginable...
  • The Atlanta Thrashing Flamers -- ...and the first.
  • House of Payne FC -- if we had a team in the 1980s, it probably would've been called Matlock FC.
  • The Atlanta Superfluous -- and since the CDC is headquartered in Atlanta, having a team with the words "super flu" in their nickname is all kinds of awesome.
  • The Atlanta Expansion -- because meta is the "in" thing at the moment.
  • Chicken and Grits FC -- alongside overpriced indie beer, components of most Atlantans' breakfasts.
  • The Atlanta Bobby Browns -- fans can threaten to beat the opposing team "like Whitney" as part of a cheerful, family-friendly pre-game ritual. 
  • The Atlanta Successful Black Females -- instead of playing, the team can just watch Bravo with their girlfriends and complain about not being able to land a husband. 
  • Fulton County Jail FC -- it's where half of Atlanta's pro sports stars wind up, anyway.
  • The Atlanta Kooky, Presumably Homeless Street Performers -- travel to Ponce de Leon Ave., and you'll figure out why this one gets an official nod.
  • The Atlanta Unhealthy Eaters -- because if you live in the ATL, you don't really have any other choice.
  • The Georgia Forced -- a great pun, especially if you're one of those Tea Party types that don't won't your tax monies going to finance a new Dome.

Contrary to popular misconception, relics of antiquated racial prejudices have all but disappeared from the metro-Atlanta area. 

  • Trying to Downplay Local Confederate History FC -- just pray that ticket buyers don't decide to travel north up I-75 to Kennesaw after the game. 
  • Failed Public School System FC -- because it's far and away the most terrifying thing about the city
  • The Atlanta Violent Criminals -- if nothing else, it's a statistically appropriate nickname.
  • The Atlanta Child Murderers -- it's certainly more historically fitting than the Hawks, at least. 
  • The Atlanta Abortion Clinic Bombers -- see above
  • Clermont Lounge FC -- a loving ode to Atlanta's most famous building
  • The Atlanta Wolfmen -- encouraging fans to "ask for Donna" would be a real hoot and a half. 
  • TitleMax FC -- it's not really the holiday season in Atlanta until you start seeing this commercial playing every five minutes on Peachtree TV. As far as Atlanta iconography goes, its hard to beat the images contained therein.
  • Bad Street Atlanta, FC -- the meanest damn street, in the whole U.S. of A, is worth naming a pro sports team after.
  • The Atlanta Foxworthies -- because he's still, somehow, our cultural ambassador to the world at large
  • Why Are There So Many Assholes on Bicycles FC -- because if there's one thing Atlanta needs, its a reason for traffic to be even slower. A fitting, albeit frustrating, symbol of the city itself.
  • The Atlanta Underemployed Grad Students -- it would make for a hell of a logo, at least.
  • The Atlanta 2,5,6 and 11 -- only REAL Atlantans should be able to get this one.
  • The Atlanta Black Crackers (of Soccer) -- because those who forget history are destined to exploit it for future profits
  • The Atlanta Humidity -- the arch foe of many a towering hairdo in the Dogwood City. At any given moment, the thing responsible for at least 80 percent of the city's concomitant woes. 
  • Designing Women FC -- because ain't nobody going to fuck with the Sugarbakers, that's why.
  • The Atlanta Groupons -- since most Atlanta residents wouldn't go to a soccer game without an online discount. 
  • MARTA FC -- to commemorate a quarter century of the city providing urbanites with the finest public transportation system in the nation.
  • The Atlanta Rolled Up Windows -- named after the instinctual first move of anyone traveling down Moreland Ave. 
  • The Atlanta Paternalistic Whites -- because nothing says Atlanta quite like well to do white people, who are more concerned about the plight of poor black people than poor black people themselves. 
  • Surrounded by Dope Fiends FC -- Cherokee, Bartow, Clayton...drive half an hour in any direction, and you'll be sure to encounter some colorful exurban residents. 
  • The Atlanta Vacant Shopping Centers -- because in Atlanta, there's more empty commercial space than there is greenery. 
  • The Atlanta Chipotles -- since overpriced burrito bowls are the proverbial lifesblood of the city.
  • The Spirit of ‘96 -- an ode to simpler days, when Coca-Cola could buy an international competition and guys that really, really hate gays could blow stuff up, all indiscriminately and what-not. 
  • The Atlanta Crank Addicts -- it makes sense as an official nickname. I mean, you're not supposed to slow down in soccer, right?
  • The Atlanta Bad Ideas -- because sometimes, the obvious is so obvious you don't even need hindsight

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why I Don’t Drink

In today’s culture, being a teetotaler is about as uncool as it gets…and why such a labeling sits perfectly well with a non-drinker such as myself.


Let’s talk about public health risks for a bit.

According to the NHTSA, an estimated 34,000 Americans were killed in motor vehicle-related accidents in 2012.

In 2010 alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallied up at least 38,000 deaths in the U.S. that were related to prescription drugs.

That same year, the CDC found that about 31,000 Americans were killed via firearms -- about 11,00 in straight up homicides and nearly 20,000 in additional suicides.

With the statistics mentioned above, one can clearly see why automobile safety, firearms and prescription medication regulation are hot-button issues in American society. As contentious as these issues may be, however, there is one aspect of American culture that absolutely dwarfs those afore-mentioned political footballs as a genuine public health menace.

I’m taking about the agent that’s responsible for at least 88,000 deaths in America per year -- good old fashioned alcohol.

The data here is pretty mind-boggling: behind being fat and smoking cigarettes, excessive alcohol use is indeed the nation’s third largest avoidable health risk, with a total annual economic cost (circa 2006, anyway) tabulated at about $223 billion.

And hey, those other public health risks mentioned earlier? Well, alcohol is apparently a factor in one out of every ten fatal U.S. traffic accidents. It’s also a component in at least 40 percent of all U.S. homicides and at least a quarter of all U.S. suicides. In terms of other crimes, roughly half of all sexual assaults committed in the U.S involve either intoxicated perpetrators or victims, while about 35 percent of all confirmed child abuse incidents in the U.S. involve parents or caregivers who were under the influence at the time.

All in all, about three million crimes in the U.S. are perpetrated annually by individuals who had been drinking, an apparent factor in 15 percent of all robberies and about half of all simple and aggravated assaults. You can chalk up about 70 percent of all drowning and and about 40 percent of all fire-related accidental deaths in the U.S. to alcohol over-consumption, as well.  And those prescription drug deaths, you may be wondering? Per the CDC, many of them are the direct result of in-tandem alcohol use. Speaking of which, remember the “crime pandemic” that was brought about via the proliferation of crack in the 1980s? The real catalyst there may have actually been the combination of alcohol and cocaine -- a metabolic cocktail, known as cocaethylene, which researchers have determined results in nearly superhuman levels of hyper-aggressive behavior.

For all the hubbub we hear about the “war on drugs” and “gun control,” it’s crystal clear that alcohol is a far greater social threat than either -- indeed, one could argue that the presence of alcohol itself is quite possibly the single greatest "cause" of deaths related to both firearms and illicit and ill-obtained drug use.

Of course, we all know how Prohibition turned out; a supposedly “failed” act of government regulation, which since has resulted in a $400 billion a year mega-industry…and of course, with that, a national populace of only about 100 million or so that, at some point in their lives, experience severe drinking problems. Alas, you can see the arithmetic here: alcohol may cause a good $230 billion in social havoc each year, but it at least generates close to $200 billion annually in profits. Hell, Anheuser-Busch pulled in a cool $43 billion all by itself last year, which makes it a more profitable enterprise than Walt Disney, FedEx or even Goldman Sachs.

Psychosocially, Americans live in a culture that encourages mass consumption as essentially a religious duty, and the alcohol beverage industry holds a special place within this framework of constant ingestion. It’s impossible to watch any kind of sporting event without being bombarded by dozens of ads for pilsner, and popular entertainment -- from high school comedies to sitcoms to animated programs -- more or less sanctifies the act of drinking, partying and bar-hopping as social necessities. There’s not a whole lot of overlap in terms of thematic content between hip-hop, country, punk, pop and metal music, but the one commonality they seem to share is a fondness for distilled and brewed substances: listen to any popular hard rock, rap or southern-tinged ballad, and you’re almost certain to hear at least one reference to Cristal, Jack Daniels or the overt act of binge drinking itself.

Drinking -- and the various euphemisms for binge drinking -- seem to be equally celebrated as popularized gender constructs. Hard drinking is seen as a trait of manliness, with all kinds of testosterone-soaked brands and products equating regular (and sometimes, heavy) alcohol consumption as emblems of masculinity and vigor. Among females, drinking is displayed as a mature, therapeutic pastime, a “social lubricant” of sort that leads to oh so many a “Sex and the City” plotline and Katy Perry music video. The pop culture machinery is ceaseless in its message: where there’s alcohol, there are good times, and where there isn’t? Dullsville, my friends, Dullsville.

Regarding the cultural acceptance of drinking and binge drinking, it appears to be one of the rare American experiences that transcends class delineations. Multimillionaires, trust fund babies, mechanics, unemployed roughnecks, museum patrons, wannabe thugs and actual thugs all live within respective social stratums that not only give the A-OK to regular alcohol ingestion, but also regular intoxication. While the long-term health impact of smoking cigarettes has led to a culture-wide jihad against tobacco manufacturers and users, the long-term health impact of drinking and binge drinking are all but ignored aspects of modern society. Similarly, the negative upfront impact of methamphetamine and street drug usage is all but agreed upon in regular U.S. discourse, but the upfront impact of alcohol -- all of the statistically verified traffic accidents, crimes and even fatalities -- remain nearly verboten subjects. For whatever reason, we choose to view mass-drinking rites like St. Patrick’s Day and Mardi Gras as “good times” instead of the statistical reality in front of us -- periods of gargantuan crime spikes. We all know that alcohol ingestion leads to many, many social negatives, but we just can’t come to state the obvious here.

Now before you write this off as the out-of-touch musings of some Straight-Edge Mormon fundamentalist or something, I myself, was at one point in time, a drinker. In fact, I was what you would probably call a “heavy drinker,” which is really nothing more than a polite way to say “alcoholic in the making.”

I grew up in the Southeast, where next to college football and being ignorant of science, there is no greater cultural unifier than the love of getting hammered. Literally my entire childhood neighborhood was crawling with alcoholics, individuals that would crack open a Busch at nine in the morning to compliment their Egg McMuffins. Cruising up and down the country backroads, my ma and pa used to toss back bottles and cans of Bud Ice like they were casually nursing frappucinnos. Where I come from, “drinking” meant having an alcoholic beverage every four hours, and “partying” meant blood poisoning.

Good times were had by all, I assure you. Like that time my step-dad got lit on moonshine and threatened to go on a shooting rampage at work the next day. I recall sleeping underneath my bed that night…with a bookcase wedged against my bedroom door…because I was all but certain he was going to go Chris Benoit on me first. And there was also that time my mom got absolutely blitzed on vodka (which she snuck to work, of course), passed out, and almost set herself on fire. Now, I don’t know how drunk you have to be to NOT notice the smoldering Marlboro incinerating an inch-deep layer of your skin, but it’s probably “quite a bit.” And for the record: my mother’s burns went all the way down to her adipose tissue.

Now, with such a history shone before my delicate adolescent eyes, perhaps you’d think I would, I don’t know, steer clear of even the shadow of alcoholic beverages. Well, being a good old Southern boy in high school, that little program didn’t last long at all. I got drunk for the very first time when I was 16, and for nearly two years afterward, I spent every Friday night getting torn up.  And it’s not like I was out partying or being sociable, to any extent: I meant it was just me, listening to Outkast and playing Xbox, while pounding Heinekens one after another. From there, I went from drinking like a maniac on Friday nights to drinking like a maniac on Saturday nights, as well. During football season, I would get smashed on Sunday evenings, and pray that I would be able to make it to First Period geometry class without a hangover. Eventually, I got to a point where I was basically hammering my liver into pink, stinky Play-Doh from 8 PM Friday night until Monday morning. And then, of course, I started drinking as soon as I got in from school. I can’t tell you how many times I did trig homework, with a cup of Vodka and Dr. Pepper as my study buddy. And if that wasn’t enough, my final semester in high school, me and my pals used to sneak drinks into homeroom. As in, actual cans of beer, which we popped open and casually chugged in the back corner like we were sipping on Slim Fast.

Of course, knowing what I know now, it was pretty clear that I had a drinking problem. It got worse in that limbo phase between high school and college, when I would find myself drinking at 1 PM while playing Gamecube offerings like “Puyo Pop Fever.” I got to a point where I “realized” that I was only myself -- my true self -- when I had alcohol running through my veins. It was at that point -- in hindsight -- that I realized I was *this close* to becoming a full-blown alcoholic.

I’m not sure what my catalyst to stop drinking was, but by the time I actually turned 21 and could legally purchase alcohol, my interest in beer and various liquors was already on the wane. I recall my first semester in college, and finishing off an entire 12 pack of Dutch brew while playing “Guitar Hero 2.” It wasn’t even 4 pm before I was completely out of cans; ever in a lowly state, I found myself not only drunk dialing exes, but drunk dialing my exes' parents, too.

I suppose I always knew that the alcohol ingestion was nothing more than a cover-up mechanism to mask the pain I felt from having a lack of social acquaintances, but sometimes, it takes a copy of “NBA Street Homecourt” and a $6.99 bottle of tequila to truly grasp your failings as an individual. I just strolled into U.S. History one morning with a hangover, stared at the chalkboard, and said to myself, “you know, there’s got to be a better way than this.” And that was the last time I touched an alcoholic drink for well over a year.

I fell off the wagon, so to speak, about a year later, when I started working at this one place where EVERYBODY was a problem drinker. And then, I started dating this girl who I knew was a full-blown alkie, but since I was on the rebound, I just didn’t give a shit. Going through a particularly heinous depressive period, I started hitting the bottle again, which was quite possibly the stupidest thing a nearly-suicidal human being could do. A near-DUI and a near exit from the mortal coil later, I still hadn’t learned my lesson quite yet.

I think the main problem with alcohol dependency is that, so many times, you never actually pay for your misdeeds. Of all the times I drove while drunk, not once did I get pulled over. Of all the times I got hammered at the local sports bar, not once did I get into a fight, or make out with the wrong girl, or barf in front of the barmaid I kinda’ had a crush on. Really, any negative consequence of the like probably would’ve had me rethinking my ways a lot earlier, but since nothing truly negative stemmed from my drinking escapades, why bother? Besides, I was out, having fun, with other people now. If you’re looking for the world’s most dangerous equation, here it is: “lots of alcohol” plus “the illusion of socialization” minus “punishments for excessive drinking and being a total dick while inebriated.”

Over the last five years, though, I haven’t had a sip of alcohol. I never really decided that there would be a certain point when I “stopped” drinking, it just kind of happened. If there was ever a “catalyst” event, so to speak, it would probably be hitting up the Athens, Ga. club scene for an entire weekend, and not once feeling the want for an alcoholic drink. I was able to go into social situations and NOT feel the need for alcohol to be “normal,” or “enjoy myself.” Sure, I could probably have one or two drinks now and not worry about anything, but that’s the thing -- I don’t want beer or liquor at all anymore. I don’t need the buzz, I don’t need the lightness, and I certainly don’t need that really, really hard piss first thing in the morning anymore. I realized -- long, long, LONG before most alcoholics do -- that all alcohol is is a prop, this fraudulent armor that doesn’t protect you at all. I found myself becoming comfortable with my own existing, and me being exactly who I am as a person. And -- coincidentally or not -- that was around the same time that I no longer felt like drinking.

As a dude that is somehow on the verge of turning 30, I get so disheartened when I look at all of these kids in their 20s -- and especially all of the people older than I am -- that are still doing the same shit I used to. They’re out, getting hammered, multiple times a week, thinking they’re having a good time when all they are really doing is running away from themselves. The fog of a three-beer buzz simply masquerades one’s longings for self-acceptance, which in and of itself, is hardly a social issue at all. Perhaps the allure of being among others who fear their own internalized self is some sort of mass psychosis -- or, it would be, if it wasn’t something that’s been beaten into our brains as “cool” and “hip” and “normal” since we were old enough to watch a James Bond movie or “Dawson’s Creek.” Show me a drinker, or a hard-partier, or someone who embraces alcohol use as a major lifestyle component, and I’ll show you a person who is utterly terrified of what lurks within their own souls.

It is amazing to me what some people will do to avoid addressing their own unhappiness with who they are as individuals. If that means getting meningitis from a keg stand, or going into a near-comatose state at a frat party while encircled by ravenous opportunists, or turning your liver into hepatitis-flavored beef jerky, or even tempting the very auger of death itself, so be it. Nothing, nothing we are told, as is awful as turning the camera around on ourselves, and exploring our own infernal failings, sufferings and worries as lone human beings. That little number right there more or less explains why alcohol is a $400 billion a year industry, and perhaps why we’re so quick to turn a blind eye to all of  its beyond obvious social consequences.

If you’re looking for a boiler plate statement on why I reject any and all alcoholic substances, it’s pretty simple: I don’t need something to help me forget who I am. At heart, that’s pretty much the raison detre for all forms of substance use and abuse, and in case you forgot it, alcohol is far and away the nation’s favorite method of self-shunning.

Now, do I automatically look down upon people that are alcoholics, problem drinkers or even casual consumers because of this? No, and indeed, I believe far, far more could be done to help out the 30 percent plus of the U.S. population as a whole that does experience problem drinking episodes. The thing is, we live in a cultural vacuum where the idea of getting shit faced -- that is, chemically altering one’s brain to the point of stultification for simple amusement -- is at worst, celebrated, and at best, typified as normal (albeit periodic) behavior. The mass media consumer culture machine has us believing that alcohol is some sort of good times juice, and as such, oh so many of us fall into excess…not for amusement, of course, but to simply avoid facing ourselves and our own internalized foibles and faults.

At the end of the day, I just decided that I didn’t need alcohol to enjoy myself. And then, over time, I realized that I didn’t want to get drunk, or even buzzed.

That, more than anything, is why I don’t drink: I really don’t have a reason to avoid myself anymore.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Oreos of Spring 2014!

Lemon, marshmallow and cookie dough-flavored stuffing? The times are indeed great for fans of unusual cookie offerings...


It's not surprising that Nabisco's Oreos are the most popular brand of cookies in the United States. Heck, even those that really don't profess a fondness for the sweet stuff tend to pick up a bag or two of the beloved twist-top comestibles every now and then, and those who consider themselves brand loyalists aren't just cookie connoisseurs, they're downright gaga about their preferred, sugar-laden snack. One look at the brand's official Pinterest board tells you this ain't just about cookie fandom...indeed, Oreos constitute their very own way of life.

While I was recently carousing around the local snack cake aisle, I noticed an end cap showing off all sorts of limited-time only Oreos permutations. Granted, there have been some cool variations produced by Nabisco in the past, but by and large, I've always kind of thought that their re-vamps and re-flavorings were a tad on the boring side. Well, this time around, they shut me up good, with a trifecta of novelty goods that are utterly irresistible to any cookie connoisseur...

Offering Number One:
LEMON OREOS!


At first glance, the idea of citrus-fruit flavored twist-top sandwich cookies sounds about as palatable as a sloppy French kiss from Abby Lee Miller. Yeah, we've all heard that shit about fruit being "Nature's Candy" and all that, but personally, I've preferred my actual candy to taste as artificial and unnatural as technologically possible. 


There's no denying that these lemon-flavored Oreos have a strange taste. In fact, your immediate reaction the them may indeed by uncontrollable revulsion, but the same way you found a way to make yourself enjoy beer, these things get kinda' tasty after prolonged exposure. 


Wisely, Nabisco decided to use the vanilla cookie toppers for this one, thus creating a nice aesthetic to compliment the faded yellow creme. Of course, the vanilla cookie toppers and the chocolate cookie toppers pretty much taste the same, but really, who wants to chow down on Pittsburgh Steelers-looking cookies? That's right, not a damn soul in the world, that's who. 

Offering Number Two:
MARSHMALLOW CRISPY OREOS!


Get it? They're called "Marshmallow Crispy Oreos" because "Rice Krispies" are trademarked by a competing brand!


As for the overall taste and texture of this variation, I thought it had its pros and cons. For starters, the taste is a little synthetic -- meaning, yeah, it kinda sorta tastes like a crisped rice treat, but only vaguely -- but, Nabisco semi-makes up for it by clumping a TON of stuffing between the cookie toppers. Seriously, these things might as well be listed as unadvertised double-stuffed variations, because so much white goop is packed between the vanilla cookie shelf-ends. 


Visually, it's an all right package I guess, although the golden cookie on white creme motif is rather bland-looking. Also, be forewarned that these things are quite possibly the most sugary thing ever released that didn't come in a bag explicitly labeled "SUGAR" -- if sweets have a tendency to turn your stomach, more than three of these suckers in one setting while likely have you bolting to the commode in no time at all. 

Offering Number Three:
COOKIE DOUGH OREOS!


Oh, the best, we definitely saved for last.


I don't really know where to begin on these. Outside of being the most goddamned meta-product in the history of anything -- it's basically a cookie with cookie flavored goop inside it -- it's also one of the most delicious novelty products I've ever tasted.


I guess you could say these here Cookie Dough-flavored Oreos have a strong maple syrup taste going on, but it's the good kind of maple syrup taste, not that pseudo-crappy flavoring found in many a seasonal soda offering. True to their word, the cookie-creme actually does appear to have mini chocolate chips in it, making it far and away the most aesthetically interesting creme ever to be slapped between two black cookie discs. And as with the Marshmallow Crispy variation, there is a TON of creme wedged between said sandwich toppers; eating these, no doubt, will leave a trail of pre-baked cookie slime within a ten foot radius of everything you come into contact with afterwards.


It's a tad unfair to rank the three on taste, because they all have such distinct ambitions as dessert products. The cookie dough iteration is probably the best overall, but I would probably give the lemon-one the nod for most creative. As for the marshmallow crisp permutation...well, uh, it is really, really white. That's got to account for something, in some niches households, anyway.


Of course, with three kinds of stuffing, you know what was inevitable: a triple decker, lemon-cookie-dough-marshmallow MEGA OREO!


...which, somehow, tasted JUST like pork sausage. Don't ask me how, don't ask me why, and don't ask me to draw up any mathematical equations, just take my word for it: if you combine lemon, cookie dough and rice crispy in Oreo form, that end dividend, somehow, is super sugary dead pig. 

Like I said, don't ask how

SUPER GOODTIME EXTRA FUN OREO BONUS:
SPRING OREOS!


Well, shit. Just as I was about ready to publish this here article about the latest, multi-flavored and multi-hued Oreo products, I saw this little package here hanging off an endcap rack at the local, union-free, no-overtime-paying big box mart. Apparently, a trifecta of novelty cookies just wasn't good enough for King Nabisco, and as such, we have actual Springtime-branded Oreos on store shelving to complement our afore-mentioned lemon, rice-crispy and cookie dough-tinged snacks.


We've seen this kind of gimmick before -- one year, I do believe Nabisco offered a similar deal with some "Summer"-branded twist-tops. As the name implies, these Oreos all feature various cookie imprints of spring icons -- a gleaming sun that kind of looks like a hamburger, a gigantic bee, some Love-Me-Nots, and of course, a pair of '80s-styled shades (an oblique reference to that puke and STD-encrusted rite of passage, spring break, I am assuming.)


Sadly, that's where the novelty ends, I am afraid. Nabisco, ever a company to hedge itself on the safest of bets, decided to forego the crazy flavoring for your standard creme, which was tinted bright yellow -- to simulate the overhead sol, or daisies, or something along those lines. This also fulfills my prophesy from above about nasty-ass-looking Pittsburgh Steelers cookies, so if you've ever wanted to chow down on a Batman-colored sandwich cookie, well, here's your chance, I reckon. 

With these newfangled Oreos, though, all I can think about is how much Nabisco missed the boat on potential spring-time flavorings. Why not a honey-flavored Oreo, in honor of all of that pollen out there? Or Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference Quarterfinals cookies, which taste like stale hot dogs (and can only be eaten past 11 PM, if you live on the East Coast?) Heck, an official Spring Breakers Oreo would be a sight, and taste, to behold: although for the life of me, I'm not sure how the company is going to synthesize the taste and texture of co-ed spit, bong residue and lifelong regret, though...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why America DESPERATELY Needs Another War

Looking for a multipurpose solution to the myriad woes plaguing the United States at the current? The answer, it seems, is quite clear: wide-scale total war, and much sooner better than later


You don't really need me to tell you this, but America sure does have a lot of problems these days. A slagging economy. A gargantuan National Debt. Rampant unemployment and underemployment. So many sociocultural issues and problems -- running the gamut from education to racial strife -- that it feels less like an actual culture than it does the worst-managed game of "SimCity 2000" ever.

A lot of different proposals have been thrown out there by a whole host of different people regarding the best ways to rectify the nation's numerous hardships, but to paraphrase that great Houston-area philosopher Scarface, they "ain't done shee-yet."

Looking at the 20th century, I can't help but see a staggering number of parallels between America, circa 2014, and America, circa 1934. The same way we're all mired in a never-ending national recession (due in part to the semi-undesired emergence of a new economic system), our great-granddaddies found themselves knee deep in a rather literal famine (due in part to the semi-undesired emergence of a new modes of production.) A divisive democratic commander-in-chief has just unveiled a sweeping social program that detractors call soft totalitarianism -- an apt description of affairs, be it '34 or '14, clearly. And while political systems crumble ('34 vs. '14) and foreboding social upheavals transpire across the globe ('34 vs.'14), the U.S. finds itself mostly sitting idle, with its physical military footprint resting largely on the lower lumbar of states that really aren't worth occupying, anyway ('34 vs. '14.)

Ultimately, the thing that got the United States out of its nearly twenty-year long economic crisis wasn't FDR's alphabet soup of federal programs, but rather, the nation's entry into World War II. With a centralized national war effort, two major things happened: one, it got people on the home front corralled into actual manufacturing jobs, and two, it got the boys on the front-lines experience with the emerging technologies which would come to define the second half of the 20th Century. Prior to 1942, the American experience was either a Fitzgeraldian tale of privileged excess or a post-Hooverville nightmare; after Pearl Harbor, however, the American dynamic became a monoculture of sorts, complete with its own mono-economy. The numbers here don't lie: while unemployment estimates rest at 21.7 percent in 1934, the national unemployment rate tanked out to just 1.2 percent in 1944. Indeed, the World War II years were the closest the U.S. ever got to "full employment" in its entire history as a nation. 

According to Jan. 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, nearly 30 percent of the nation's 18-24 year-olds are currently jobless. And on top of that, estimates for the total percentage of U.S. youth unemployed AND not enrolled in college and/or skills training programs rests at about 15 percent. And of course, the real unemployment rate (with underemployment and those who have just stopped looking for work factored into the chart) paints an even bleaker image.

In 1910, William James published an essay titled "The Moral Equivalent of War," in which he advocated for the conscription of youth into national service -- i.e, road-building and foundry work and the like -- in a manner similar to how youths were formerly drafted into military duty as a dual means of building jobs and citizenry ideals.

"To coal and iron mines, to freight trains, to fishing fleets in December, to dishwashing, clotheswashing, and windowwashing, to road-building and tunnel-making, to foundries and stoke-holes, and to the frames of skyscrapers, would our gilded youths be drafted off, according to their choice," James penned more than 100 years ago. "To get the childishness knocked out of them, and to come back into society with healthier sympathies and soberer ideas."

To say that today's military aged young people (18-25) are devoid of "healthy sympathies" or "sober ideas" would be the understatement of the goddamn millennium. Theirs is a culture completely averse to anything beyond the superficial, the aesthetically pleasing and the instantly gratifying -- basically, they're a first-generation consumer-nihilist class wholly incapable of finding inherent personal meaning in anything.

Clearly, the e-cigarette smoking, molly-taking, behavioral drug-addicted, adversity free middle-class young adults of today's America are in dire, dire need of salvation from what Voltaire called the "three great evils" -- boredom, vices and needs. With the Protestant Work Ethic recently bludgeoned to death by the snow shovel called "globalization" (and perhaps poked a few times afterwards by the ice scraper of "moral relativism," pending you're a full-on Bloomian), occupational and civic pride have since been replaced by a sense of commercial absolutism. It's not god, family and country that gives today's youth their sense of "identity" and "belief," but their obsessions with mass consumption, technology and popular culture. Ours is no longer a nation that vaunts actual productivity as virtuous; instead, we are a culture in a constant state of repackaging, and re-purchasing, and replicating. We know not heroism or valor, just the childish facsimiles of such things hoisted upon us by decades and decades of Nintendo, Saturday morning cartoons and Star Wars. In short, contemporary "gilded youth" aren't just detached from reality -- they cull most of their personal identity from, and indeed take much pride in, their own delusions and ignorance.

I'm hesitant to call today's 18-25 demographic a wayward generation, because that would imply that they are actually seeking something. Paeans to abject ennui and suicide ideation by shitty bands like Wavves and AWOL Nation are pretty indicative of this culture's utter spiritual emptiness, and the pharmaceutical-weaned masses have been more or less given an all-purpose, "get out of jail free" card in the form of medicinal dependency. Not too long ago, I was rear-ended by some 19-year-old piece of shit who told the police officer that he "hadn't slept in two days" and then proceeded to blame his error on having ADD. All the while, he kept toking on his vapor pen, laughing hysterically at something invisible to my feeble human eyes, and sucking down lime juice out of one of those plastic, fruit-shaped containers. Some Google research later informed me that kids these days tend to use lime juice as some sort of masking agent for drug tests -- allegedly, it's supposed to help 'em beat oral swabbings.

For awhile, I thought about this fine, upstanding young man -- speeding around town in his daddy's car while whacked out of his mind on god knows how many drugs, both illicit and legally prescribed -- and my grandpa, who at the same age, was shipped off to the Philippines by Uncle Sam to hunt down Tomoyuki "The Beast of Bataan" Yamashita. My, what a difference 70 years makes, no?

Simply put, there is no greater national identity framer than warfare. In battle, ethnic, racial and socioeconomic identities are completely obliterated, with the common quest of victory -- or at the very least, survival -- becoming the only real social qualifier that matters. There's a lot of things you could call today's kids, but "nationalistic" certainly isn't one of them; today's youth place their own ethno-racial, socio-economic  and consumer identities before their identification as Americans -- in fact, the very idea of labeling one's self as "American" is seen as uncool, and cheesy, and in the eyes of oh-so-many, prejudiced. Funny how, in a contemporary culture that bitches ad nausem about the benefits of multiculturalism, we tend to reject the only true multicultural label we share as a peoples -- that being, Americans ourselves.

War, as such, is the greatest cultural unifier humanity has ever known. With a common enemy and a palpable threat, we're able to put aside our collective differences and unite against an existential menace. Furthermore, the gruesome specter of death and subjugation is a sure-fire way to turn our attention away from trivialities and towards things that actually matter -- such as our own lives and the welfare of those we care about. All other forms of identity politicking are silenced; what matters is the battle in front of us, and all else is wholly inconsequential. The warfare mentality, then, is the precise opposite of the ADD, nothing-means-anything cultural mantra of the present.

The more I dwell upon it, the more I begin to think that America's problem in the latter half of the 20th century was its lack of war-waging. Yeah, we had the Cold War (which really didn't reinforce a national identity at all) and Vietnam and all of that tomfoolery in the Middle East, but there were quite a few things "wrong" with those theaters. For starters, America actually hasn't participated in a Congress-approved "war" since the 1940s, meaning Vietnam, Iraq I and II and Afghanistan were actually prolonged military escapades instead of existential battles for identity. Nor were any of those conflicts "war" in a traditional sense -- in all four campaigns, the battle strategies were to disrupt the adversaries as part of some longer, broader geopolitical ambition, and not to completely crush the opposing forces as a matter of self-preservation. Needless to say, the above-mentioned conflicts did little to galvanize Americans as a peoples, with Vietnam and Iraq 2.0: Electric Bugaloo actually making the cultural rifts among the masses more prominent than they were prior -- indeed, such escapades clearly reinforced class differences within society, with the well-to-do and their privileged progeny allowed college deferments while the lower classes were sent off to the marshes and deserts en masse. But on the plus side? At least draft dodgers like Bruce Springsteen were willing to write songs about their plight when they got back home, I suppose.

For all intents and purposes, America hasn't actually participated in classical warfare in seven decades -- and it's pretty damn clear that our lack of social cohesion at the current can be directly attributed to our profound lack of existential battles as a collection of peoples living within the same geographical boundaries. In a country with oh so many problems -- rampant unemployment, aimless youth, social dissent, class inequality, and the auger of losing our technological, scientific and even military advantage to emerging global powers -- it is perhaps time for our political leaders to turn towards the only thing that has been proven as a historically-backed remedy for all of the above-mentioned ailments: total war.

A prolonged police action -- which is more or less what Afghanistan and Iraq became -- isn't going to cut it here. In order for America to grind its way past the post-2008 ash-heap, the nation needs an all-encompassing, levee en masse comparable to, if not larger than, the concentrated war economy efforts that took place during World War II. I'm generally a bit hesitant to lift material from Wikipedia, but this passage (penned by whoever) on the U.S. total war efforts during the 1940s is worth quoting in full:

"Civilians (including children) were encouraged to take part in fat, grease, and scrap metal collection drives. Many factories making non-essential goods retooled for war production. Levels of industrial productivity previously unheard of were attained during the war; multi-thousand-ton convoy ships were routinely built in a month-and-a-half, and tanks poured out of the former automobile factories. Within a few years of the U.S. entry into the Second World War, nearly every man fit for service, between 18 and 30, had been conscripted into the military 'for the duration' of the conflict. Strict systems of rationing of consumer staples were introduced to redirect productive capacity to war needs.
Previously untouched sections of the nation mobilized for the war effort. Academics became technocrats; home-makers became bomb-makers (massive numbers of women worked in heavy industry during the war); union leaders and businessmen became commanders in the massive armies of production. The great scientific communities of the United States were mobilized as never before, and mathematicians, doctors, engineers, and chemists turned their minds to the problems ahead of them.
By the war's end a multitude of advances had been made in medicine, physics, engineering, and the other sciences. Even the theoretical physicists, whose theories were not believed to have military applications (at the time), were sent far into the Western deserts to work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory on the Manhattan Project that culminated in the Trinity nuclear test and changed the course of history."

And that's not to neglect the post-WWII U.S. economic boom, which saw the national GDP and quality of life grow for Americans for nearly half a century. With the G.I. Bill and technological skills acquired during warfare allowing the former lower classes to attend college and get middle class industrial, clerical and engineering jobs, the United States entered a period now joyously remembered as "The Golden Age of Capitalism." Astonishingly, this cultural shift even led to the economic resurgence of the same nations that were completely devastated in World War II, with Japan, Germany, Italy and even Greece rebounding just years after being reduced to rubble and scrapheap.

Of course, warfare is not a happy experience, and it demands massive sacrifices. It should never be entered into lightly, but at certain junctures -- when the very livelihood of one's culture is on the line -- it is quite frequently an existential necessity. Looking at today's empty-eyed, internally-void youth -- and their parents, stuck in a financial purgatory sans any possible escape opportunities -- it becomes glaringly apparent to me that there's a large swath of the American citizenry that are indeed fighting for their very existences. Without mass mobilization accompanied by fiscal stimulus and other government investments (indeed, both are time-tested kick-starters for private enterprise wealth), there will indeed by a miniature mass death among the U.S. lower classes -- an economic extinction of sorts brought about by a lack of employment and spiritual purpose. And of course, the mass mobilization efforts would also allow the middle and upper classes to share a common identity with the proles, and actually contribute to the social system personally. It's a panacea that the collectivists and nationalists alike can all rally behind -- a true, unquestionable group cause.

As much as I admire William James's "moral equivalent" idea, the frank economic reality is that only a true total war can rouse such wide-sweeping, all-inclusive social system changes. Perhaps Russian adventuring in the southern ex-Soviet states could prove a pivotal first cog in the machinery of continental warfare, or perhaps tensions between bitter rivals China and Japan could escalate into a full-on militarized conflict. Most likely, a trans-Eurasian conflict is necessary to bring about the mass mobilization of U.S. forces and resources; perhaps not something as (seemingly) grandiose as a robotic war against an allied Turkish-Japanese-German front because they blew up our strategic defense satellites, but alas, one may dare ponder.

A pro-war stance is a bit out of fashion these days, and the idea of engaging in total warfare, at least partially, for the economic benefits therein will no doubt be controversial. That said, what is better for the layman: the possibility of a heroic death on foreign soil for the prospects of middle class assimilation ("The American Dream," I've heard it was once called), or a slow, painful, pitiful death amid a decaying social system, sans any hope of financial improvements?

To reinterpret the squealing of one Edwin Starr, what is war good for these days? Looking at the totality of the human fabric in today's America -- and in particular, the lower class masses -- I'd say pretty much everything.