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.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Saga of the BK Veggie Burger!

Or, How it Took Me Nearly Four Goddamned Months To Get My Hands on a Stupid Sandwich


Poor Burger King. They will always be to the world of fast food what Patrick Ewing's Knicks were to the NBA Eastern Conference in the mid 1990s; always playing second fiddle to the industry's unstoppable top dog. Try as they might -- and let's give credit where credit is due, they do indeed try -- BK just can't seem to gets its collective act together these days, and nothing exemplifies the chain's "B-stature" quite like a recent expedition I took to one of their franchised eateries.


For starters, I don't think I've actually stepped foot in an actual Burger King restaurant in at least a decade. Every now and then, I would get interested by their signage (seriously, who isn't just a bit intrigued by the term "Angry Whopper" emblazoned upon a billboard?) and think about dropping in, but I never seemed to find the proper impetus to get me to actually amble inside of one. 

Which brings us to this thing called the "BK Veggie," which, to the best of my knowledge, is the only true vegetarian patty-containing burger being hawked by a mainstream, franchised fast food chain in these United States. I've literally had that thing on my to-do-list for a couple of years now, and one afternoon, I decided to FINALLY waltz into the local BK and give that MorningStar Farms-branded sumbitch a fine digestin'. 


The eatery I went into was fairly standard, I suppose. A giant video screen was positioned over the cash register, and a ton of "knock-off" sandwiches were being hawked all over the place. I mean, shit, they're actually selling their own version of the Big Mac now, so that pretty much tells you all you need to know about their business operations nowadays. The clerks and cashiers, as expected, seemed to not give half a shit about what they we're doing (not that I would expect anything less from my fast food adventures), and the wait for my foodstuffs, considering the sparsely populated restaurant, was unusually long. Once again, not that I would expect anything less from my fast food adventures, of course. The restaurant also had this really weird, post-post-modern look to it; the furniture all appeared cold and metallic, and I will be damned up the ass if the soda fountain wasn't stationed atop what appeared to be a gigantic, stainless steel tool cabinet.

The meal I ordered was quite straightforward; a small order of SATISfries (allegedly, they are healthier than the normal fries, not that such is a self-defeating marketing ploy in and of-itself), and a medium caramel iced coffee -- I ordered vanilla, but apparently, the vanilla-syrup machine was tapped completely out. And of course, there was the Veggie Whopper itself.


When I ordered my burger, the cashier asked me if I wanted a "Veggie Whopper." I asked for a BK Veggie Burger, and I assumed the "Veggie Whopper" was more or less the same thing, except bigger, so I told her sure. The item was wheeled out in a paper box, complete with the phrase "no meat" scrawled on it in black marker. It all looked so generic, yet so fitting at the same time.


So, I open up my box, and there she is: a big, fat, huge Whopper sandwich, sheathed in an additional paper blanket. It smelled really nice, and it felt quite heavy, too.


The "Veggie Whopper" appeared to have all the fix-ins. Tomato slices, iceberg lettuce, onions, and of course, so much goddamn ketchup that after one bite, your crimson-dyed fingers resembled those of an ice pick murderer. And then, I noticed something, well, more than a little peculiar about my order...


...chiefly, the fact that it was COMPLETELY DEVOID OF A PATTY OF ANY KIND.

I ordered a "Vegetarian Whopper," and instead of a veggie patty hamburger, they just gave me two buns with a few chunks of mayonnaise and lettuce wedged between them. It was like that one episode of "The Simpsons," come to goddamn life.


As you can no doubt see by my receipt, my order was not "A whopper with no patty in it," but indeed a "Veggie Whopper." I was promised a delicious, vegetarian-friendly sandwich, and BK gave me nothing buy a hamburger of broken dreams, with crinkle fries on the side.

The sad thing is, the burger itself wasn't bad. It was pretty delicious, and relatively filling, and at a pretty decent price point, too. Of course, that's also sort of overlooking the one major negative of the purchase, which was Burger King sold me a goddamn Whopper without a patty in it. Clearly, this called for some drastic consumer action, and I did so rapidly.


My receipt encouraged me to go online and vent my frustrations to Burger King via the World Wide Web. I spent a good half hour filling out a relatively fruitless customer survey, before I found an e-mail address that allowed me to go more in-depth with my consumer complaint. Below is my e-mail correspondence with Burger King, in its entirety:

Hello Burger King, 

On Jan. 31, 2014, I purchased what I was told was a "veggie Whopper,“ However, when I received my order, my hamburger consisted of nothing more than several chunks of lettuce, onion and tomato, with nary a vegetarian hamburger patty in sight. Due to my extreme social anxiety disorder and mounting anti-Vegetarian sentiments in the area, I did not inform the clerks at said establishment of the error. As I had been snowed in, this was my first meal in two days, and I was extremely looking forward to eating what I have been told is a delicious vegetarian sandwich. 

If it is possible, I would like Burger King to mail me a real "vegetarian Whopper," with a vegetarian hamburger patty in it. Also, I noticed that this franchise was handing out Pac-Man themed Burger King crowns. While a Pac-Man themed Burger King crown may not lessen my disappointment, it would be nice to have one, to go along with my mailed "vegetarian Whopper" with a vegetable hamburger patty in it. 

After a month of waiting, the suits at Burger King, Inc. had yet to respond to my polite and well-worded complaint. As such, I found myself ambling into another franchised eatery, and this time, I made my want of a vegetarian hamburger with a vegetarian hamburger patty in it insanely explicit. 



Indeed, I found myself ordering two BK Veggie Burgers, just on the off-chance that they decided to de-patty me on at least one of the comestibles. The first aesthetic difference I noted was the lack of one of those grandiloquent paper boxes, which the original "Veggie Whopper" was enclosed in. Apparently, these here normal veggie burgers weren't worthy of such treatment, it appears, as they were just wrapped in paper tissue like all of them other burger commoners. 


As for the burger itself, it was quite all right. There was certainly a lack of flora on this one, as there was nowhere near the amount of lettuce or tomato this time around. Of course, the inclusion of an honest-to-goodness vegetarian patty probably explains the absence, but still: it wouldn't have killed you mofos to slap on some more green, would it?


I really couldn't find myself complaining about any of the fixings, ultimately. While there was a comparative dearth of iceberg lettuce and mayonnaise compared to the "Veggie Whopper," there was an ample enough amount of the regulars -- especially the ketchup -- to prove an adequate burger-going experience, nonetheless. 


As for the Morningstar patty itself -- despite looking like a warmed-over slice of sausage -- it was pretty decent. It's one of those veggie patties that definitely has a nice bean taste texture to it, which will probably offend the sensibilities of anyone who isn't already familiar with faux-meat products of the like. It may not be a gourmet veggie patty or anything, but for a fast food offering priced at just three bucks, I really don't think you'd have any grounds for complaints, anyway. 


And so, that's how my quarter-year long fast food odyssey came to an end. I got a random hankering for some synthetic beef-like substance one day, got gypped hard by one of the nation's fast food leviathans (or, at least, one of their more lackluster franchised establishments), tried to obtain correspondence from their corporate headquarters, did some Internet customer complaining, and like all good Pavlovian consumers, found myself ambling right back into the same eatery that screwed me over, fueled partially by blind faith but much more an inquisitive, rumbling stomach.

So, at the end of the day, is the BK Veggie worth your time, dinero and digestive system investments? Well, if you are a vegetarian, probably, because its not like you have that many veggie-friendly options when it comes fast food scavenging time. But if you're not? Well, this probably ain't the menu offering that's going to steer your towards Vegan Central; it's all right grub for what it is, but don't expect anything world-changing, no matter your food sexuality at the present.

Oh, and if you're wondering? I'm still waiting for that UPS'ed Veggie Whopper and Pac-Man crown, Mr. Burger King...


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Let’s Face It: Kurt Cobain Sucked.

Two decades after the Nirvana front man’s self-administered demise, we reflect upon the grunge icon’s hallowed legacy. And as it turns out, he probably doesn’t deserve any of the reverence. 


It’s an illogical statement, I know, but I’ll say it anyway: I’ve more or less always been a pretty big fan of Nirvana, but at the same time, I’ve always detested Kurt Cobain.

Yes, as a ‘90s child, I’ve always fostered a certain affinity towards the “Nirvana sound,” if you will, but I never really bought into Kurt’s retroactive deification, either. From a musical standpoint, Kurt was clearly the least talented of his bandmates, and his faux-philosophical, anti-Guns N Roses, new-new-wave, ultra-liberal shtick more or less opened the floodgates for a million, billion wusses like Trent Reznor and that crybaby from Radiohead to make miserable, woe-is-me alternative the default setting for mainstream rock to this day.

Here, on the 20th anniversary of Cobain’s suicide -- or, depending on how much of a crackpot you are, the date Courtney Love either killed her husband or hired somebody (but not that dude from The Mentors, of course) to do it for her -- I believe it’s a most opportune time to reflect on just how overrated Kurt Cobain was, on every conceivable level.

First and foremost; Kurt Cobain was a shitty guitar player, a fact that doesn’t keep him from routinely being ranked on top 100 all time greatest guitarist lists, you know, just ‘cause. With a voice that sounded like dual recordings of Edward Furlong’s screaming outtakes from “Terminator 2" and Pepe Le Pew doing a drunken karaoke ballad, Kurt’s “signature” singing style was similarly a less-than-impressive display. It may not have been as imitated as the “Vedder Voice,” but seeing as how easily fourth-rate alt rock acts like Seether and Puddle of Mudd were able to faithfully recreate that soulful Cobain howl, I think it’s safe to say we weren’t dealing with an all-time crooning legend, either.

As for Cobain’s music, I think the entire Nirvana discography is horrendously overrated. Cobain himself absolutely hated “Nevermind” and “In Utero,” considering the first to be an overproduced turd and the second a reluctant compromise between him and the record company. All in all, the band was responsible for perhaps only one and half truly decent albums -- the beautifully unpolished “Bleach” from 1989 (a grimy, under-produced classic that stands out as the band’s one truly uncompromised release) and the glorified B-side collection, “Incesticide” -- and before you give that one too much credit, just recall that half that album more or less consists of cover tunes, which is also a criticism you can lob at the band’s much revered “Unplugged” set, too.

For a composer that’s frequently hailed as the voice of a generation, Kurt’s lyrics were suspiciously cryptic, disjointed and largely apolitical. Whereas Bob Dylan at least referenced social issues in his “decades-defining” songs, Cobain’s lyrics were really just a grab-bag of fragmented poetry pieces, seemingly tossed together at random. In fact, he actually said that’s how he wrote his songs, on numerous occasions. For an alleged voice of an entire decade, old Kurt’s music had astoundingly little to say about anything at all.

As far as the much-acclaimed “Nirvana sound,” by now, we all know it was mostly just a restructuring of classic rock tunes -- “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is basically just “Louie, Louie” and “More than A Feeling,” only played faster and shittier, while even early Nirvana tracks “Spank-Thru” convey a certain Credence Clearwater Revival-esque vibrato. Cobain’s adulation/imitation of the Pixies is well-documented, so there’s really no need to drudge up how much of the Nirvana discography is derived from “Surfer Rosa” and “Doolittle.” However, I’ve always thought the Nirvana’s “iconic” sound was actually more of a rip-off of Steve Albini’s post-punk outfit Big Black -- just take out the synth and amp up the distortion, and you’ve more or less got “Nirvana” before there was a “Nirvana.”

And of course, how could I talk about Kurt Cobain’s revolutionary “creativity” without talking about the second-most iconic track off  “Nevermind?” A song, by the way, that is a direct rip-off of the Killing Joke song “Eighties,” which itself is a rip-off of The Damned’s “Life Goes On.”

Compared to the glut of Seattle-area bands, I still find it weird that Nirvana, out of the deluge of groups, is the one that gets the most credit for kicking off “The Grunge Revolution.” Yeah, “Nevermind” is said to have been the turning point, but a lot of people tend to forget that both Soundgarden and Alice in Chains’ big mainstream breakthroughs were released long before Nirvana’s 1991 opus. And any number of bands -- from The Melvins to Green River to Mother Love Bone -- could rightly lay claim to pioneering the “grunge movement,” years before Nirvana was even a fully-formed idea in Kurt Cobain’s noggin. The theory I’ve developed over the years was that the Grunge Takeover had always been something of a ploy by David Geffen and his kindred to supplant the dried-out hair rock movement, and Nirvana was just the right act at the right time to get all of the engineered publicity to turn the tide; with enough mass marketing and enough sound mixing, really ANY of the Seattle area bands could have had a “Nevermind” sized breakthrough. Clearly, Cobain’s ascension as pop icon had a whole hell of a lot more to do with luck than it did talent...and most certainly, ambition.

And what about Kurt Cobain, the individual human being? Well, for starters, he was bold-faced hypocrite, the kind of soul that liked to champion himself as a defender of women’s rights when he himself admitted to once molesting a developmentally disabled girl in his youth. His notebooks were filled with hateful diatribes against “jocks,” decrying their meat-eating dispositions, when Kurt was responsible for intentionally killing cat when he was a kid. He routinely mocked the macho excesses of the hair metal movement, even though he was pumping lethal drugs into his veins habitually and publicly priding himself on his own sexual conquests, too. And the ultimate tragicomic punch line to the Cobain life story? After literally making a fortune regurgitating the same-old, same-old “my parents are sell-outs and the break-up of our family royally screwed me up” drivel, he then proceeded to become a sell-out himself who voluntarily decided to break up his own family by blowing his brains out.

A lot of people like to speculate how Cobain’s music would’ve progressed had he not played the shotgun clarinet that fateful spring morning in King County. Odds are, he probably would’ve progressed down the Metallica path, abandoning the tried-and-true Nirvana sound for something a little more radio-friendly. Legend has it that the never to be “last” Nirvana album was going to be a stripped down, mostly acoustic, “Automatic For the People”-inspired detour, which is exactly the kind of thing you hear before a band starts playing half-hearted, bland-ass music that clearly indicates the outfit’s lack of good ideas anymore. The “In Utero” studio follow-up, as such, would have likely been Nirvana’s “Monster” -- a critical flop that signified the slow, boring downfall of the formerly influential and inspiring.

Of course, that scenario skirts perhaps the most important aspect of who and what Kurt Cobain was, and that was a sad-sack junkie. In reality, any fantasizing about what Cobain would be up to “today” is just pointless, since had Cobain not offed himself when he offed himself, he no doubt would’ve been dead before he turned 40, anyway. Perhaps the allure of Cobain is that he had the good sense to kill himself at a time when it was still fashionable and attractive -- going down at one’s peak is a hallmark of the legends, while disappearing into a decade of drug dependency, only to resurface as a bloated, O.D.’d corpse five years after last releasing an album just makes you Layne Staley.

What is Cobain’s lasting legacy, ultimately? Well, for one thing, he made suicide and flannel shirts fashionable -- at least one of which is still considered en vogue at the moment. And his stardom went a pretty long way in “normalizing” heroin addiction as a common occupational trait among rock stars. Musically, he’s probably the most culpable party responsible for the rock and roll industry’s shift away from good-time, nostalgic party and driving music to music more befitting anti-depressant-fed teens that paint their nails black and cut themselves on the third floor of their suburban mansions. Yes, he was responsible for eliminating the grandiose vapidity of Guns N Roses from the national consciousness, but nobody really brings up the fact that all Nirvana really did was replace it with a more nihilistic form of grandiose vapidity.

At the end of the day, though, I suppose Nirvana had some good songs, and if given the option of listening to a decade of bands that sounded like Silverchair and Oasis or a decade of bands that sounded like Trixter and Firehouse, well, shit, the answer ought to be downright obvious. But all of this retroactive mourning and retroactive reverence -- now stemming from youths who weren’t even born when Cobain made the choice to end his own life -- that he gets?

Well, that’s just stupid, and unfortunately, contagious.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Secret Files of Pride Fighting Championship REVEALED!

For ten years, Pride FC was home to some of the zaniest -- and most memorable -- moments in MMA history. Seven years after the promotion’s demise, here’s a look at some of the organization’s wild plans that didn’t quite come together…


From 1997 until its untimely death in 2007, Pride Fighting Championships was unarguably the zenith of global mixed martial arts. What the Ultimate Fighting Championship pioneered, Pride FC more or less perfected, providing MMA fans with crazy ass match-ups, incredibly awesome tournaments featuring the best fighters on the planet, and of course, grandiose spectacles at the Tokyo Dome and Saitama Super Arena that made the UFC’s Las Vegas cards look downright staid by comparison.

About two years after Pride FC was bought out by UFC parent company Zuffa, a somewhat mysterious book was published by Japanese fighting magazine Kamipro titled “Pride FC: Secret Files.” The book, according to Sherdog prattle, was penned by someone with some inside info at Pride, whom apparently was privy to all of the bizarre and outlandish things the suits at the promotion wanted to green light. Recently, an English fan translation of the book has popped up on the MMA shareware circuits, and if even HALF the things the enigmatic author of the title says are true, then it appears we, as mixed martial arts fans, were this close to seeing some truly unforgettable things transpire in the Land of the Rising Sun.

The book begins with a recap of the Zuffa buyout on March 27, 2007. According to the author of the book, Lorenza Fertitta (who shilled out $3.3 million from his own pocket to pay for the announcement press conference) had a major tiff with Nabuyuki Sakakibara and Dream Stage Entertainment shortly thereafter, which more or less sunk any chances of Pride FC shows operating under the Zuffa banner. The two sides exchanged legal threats -- with DSE accusing Fertitta of contractual breaches and Zuffa accusing Sakakibara of fraud -- until Zuffa decided to just shutter the Pride FC Worldwide offices in Japan on Oct. 4 of the same year.

According to the book, Fertitta (whose interest in MMA was sparked by the legendary Royce Gracie/Kazushi Sakuraba bout at Pride GP 2000) said that without a TV deal in Japan, the costs of running any Pride shows in the promotion’s home country were just too expensive. On April 8, 2007, Pride FC officially became “American capital,” but due to insufficient “asset assessments” on Sakakibara’s behalf and a lack of time to schedule shows in the wake of the transfer, plans for the much ballyhooed Pride Lightweight Grand Prix had to be nixed. Speaking of which, had that tournament gone on as planned, it likely would have consisted of a who’s who of then-lightweight and welterweight Japanese heavies, including Shinya Aoki (who said that he was given an offer to fight BJ Penn before going full time with Pride) , Gilbert Melendez, Joachim Hansen, Takanori Gomi, and Satoru Kitaoka. Furthermore, there was at least discussions of bringing in some current UFC fighters for the tourney as well, including Sean Sherk, Matt Hughes, and yes, possibly Georges St-Pierre himself. While the Pride tournament never came to fruition, we did end up getting something of substitute with the DSE-backed Dream 2008 Lightweight GP, the book reminds us…which, of course, was sans Zuffa umbrella fighters of any kind.

While the end of Pride is somewhat glossed over (funny, the authors of the book never really seem to address the well-founded accusations that, at least in part, the promotion’s downfall could be traced to bad business with the Yakuza), there is a WEALTH of information about the original plans for the first couple of Pride FC shows.

As it turns out, the entire point of the first Pride show was to basically be a Pro Wrestlers Kingdom vs. Gracie family exhibition. That initial show -- held Oct. 11, 1997 at the Tokyo Dome, with the main event of Nobuhiko Takada vs. Rickson Gracie -- originally had Kazushi Sakuraba penciled in to do battle with RENZO Gracie as a co-main event. Of course, seeing as how important their eventual showdown in 2000 became to the history of mixed martial arts, the author of the book rightfully muses what could have been had the two tangled three years before their infamous, arm-snappy bout.

Additionally, there were plans for Tank Abbot to battle Kimo Leopold on the first Pride show, which ultimately tuned into the colossal Kimo/Dan Severn snoozer. Various other wrestlers, among them Akira Maeda, Minoru Suzuki, Riki Chosu and even MITSUHARU MISAWA were also contacted about appearing at Pride 1, although little came out of the discussions, obviously.

The original main event for Pride 2 was to be Mark Kerr vs. Royce Gracie, with the Gracies ultimately cajoling the Pride suits to turn the bout into a no-time-limit, no ref-stoppage affair (virtually, the same regulations they demanded for the Saku bout in 2000.) However, Royce got a bad case of bitch flu before the fight could be finalized, and we instead ended up with the Mark Kerr/Branko Cikatic “classic” that saw the former K1 Grand Prix champ disqualified just two minutes into the match-up.

A dude named Akimoto Yasuhsi, who is probably best known for being the Svengali behind the popular girl group Onyanko Club, was originally pegged as the producer for Pride 4, but it was not to be. I probably don’t need to tell you this, but the guys at Pride also had a really intense interest in luring a ton of sumo wrestlers over during the early years of the organization. Alas, few grapplers of name value took the lure. The book skips chronological sequencing for a while, it lets us know that the reason Pride held its U.S. shows in smaller Las Vegas venues than the UFC wasn’t because of territorial reasons, but because the larger arenas wouldn’t let them use gun powder.

With DSE taking the reins from KRS, Pride FC underwent a huge restructuring that saw the promotion land a Fuji TV deal as well as hash out partnerships with organizations like K1, New Japan Pro Wrestling and Rings, which went a long way in helping the fledgling MMA organization secure a much-needed “end of the year” television special. Of course, that DSE takeover didn’t mean that Pride was soon to abandon its leanings towards the bizarre, as the author of the book informs us that the promotion had THREE different plans lined up to bring in a Tiger Mask-themed fighter. Originally, Pride went after pro wrestler Tiger Mask IV, but negotiations fell through. A plan for journeyman Guy Mezger to rock the iconic furry mask in battle similarly was on the table, but it likewise deteriorated. At one point, the organization even wanted to create TIGER MASK V as an all new mascot, to be “played” in battle by Kiyoshi Tamura. However, the sight of a grown man a giant cat helmet in a genuine mixed martial arts bout just wasn’t in the cards for Pride, unfortunately.

From there, we leap a couple of shows to Pride 23. A symbolic event of sorts, that show saw longtime Pride FC spokesfighter Nobuhiko Takada get "retired" by Kiyoshi Tamura. However, Naoya Ogawa was actually penciled in to be Takada's final opponent, and when that fell through, both Hidehiko Yoshida and Big Nog were floated around as possible adversaries before the powers that were ultimately decided upon Tamura.

Believe it or not, a good five years before The Ultimate Fighter made its cable TV debut, Pride FC had its own reality program, titled "Pre-Pride" and later "Pride King," which aired on Toyo TV. According to the book, none other than Yushin Okami served as the ultimate winner of the program's fourth season, where it appears as if he strolled out to ringside while rocking a Batman mask. Other reality TV experiments backed by Pride included a similar show called "Pride Challenge," "Sayama's Ultimate Boxing" and "MMA the Best," which featured not-quite-ready-for-PRIDE-time fighters duking it out in a very familiar looking eight-sided cage.

Pride 25 basically marked the beginning of the organization's second life, with the "passing of the torch" from Big Nog to Fedor. At the next numbered event, Mirko Cro-Cop became an instant legend when he KO'ed Heath Herring, thus setting up what was basically a two-year long "angle" with the Croatian kickboxer on a collision course with the Last Emperor. At the same time, however, the UFC was in the midst of some wheeling and dealing with the Pride powers that were, with UFC 46 almost landing a Kazuyuki Fujita vs. Wesley "Cabbage" Correiera match-up. The UFC also made a bid for Saku, and allegedly turned down a contractual offer for Sergei Kharitonov, because he was a "no-name Russian" that was too good for the comparably thin UFC heavyweight division at the timeframe. The UFC even gunned for a cross-promotional show in Japan, with Cro-Cop is a potential headliner; and had things gone smoother, we may very well could have had ourselves a Wanderlei Silva vs. Randy Couture bout at the 2004 New Year's Eve show.

Speaking of NYE shows, the original plans for the 2003 event were downright insane. While we ended up with a pretty boring Ronnie Sefo vs. Tamura bout, the original plan was to have Tamura do battle with Saku. With Saku and Tamura unwilling to come to terms for the bout, the back-up plan was to have Tamura fight Big Nog, and when talks sputtered there, Pride FC talked about bringing in former heavyweight boxing champ EVANDER HOLYFIELD as Tamura's opponent! The organization also targeted Oscar de la Hoya and Sugar Ray Leonard for contests, but unsurprisingly, not much came from the discussions. Believe it or not, the blueprints actually got even crazier from there, with Pride wanting to have Saku fight at the show while wearing a lucha libre mask, and the suits even mulling a TAG TEAM BOUT with Saku and Tamura teaming up with partners of their choosing in what would've been an MMA first (and most likely, an absolute train wreck, to boot.) And before Saku's bout with Lil' Nog was finalized, he came pretty close to having a match against lucha libre legend El Solar.

Russian Top Team, the book alleges, really had it out for Fedor. In fact, RTT was downright obsessed with creating their own homegrown monster to take down the Last Emperor. While the grooming of Kharitonov didn't go as planned, RTT was -- at one point, at least -- deadset on turning Suren Balachinsky, a guy that had bested Fedor in Sambo competitions, into the next great Russian MMA wrecking machine. Alas, the best laid plans of both mice and men often go awry, and they certainly went awry for RTT.

Ryan Gracie was the loose cannon of the first family of mixed martial arts, and his ongoing "backstage feud" with Chute Box is well documented. Ryan provides us with perhaps the book's funniest passage, in which the author describes how, as soon as he buried the hatchet with Chute Box, he immediately pissed of a bunch of fighters under the Brazilian Top Team umbrella to start another ongoing rivalry. Speaking of backstage fights, there's an old urban legend claiming that Charles "Krazy Horse" Bennett once knocked out Wanderlei Silva, after he himself was choked unconscious by Cristiano Marcello. While Krazy Horse, to this day, claims to have KO'ed Silva in a fury after regaining consciousness, the book tells a different story -- namely, that a disoriented Bennett swung and landed a few hits on Silva after waking up, but coming nowhere close to knocking out the long-time Pride middleweight champion.

According to the book, the Bushido co-brand was to be an "MMA toy chest," largely anchored around homegrown Japanese talents (who, as fate would have it, weren't doing too well against their Brazilian, American and Russian cohorts.) The idea of a "Pride Survivor" program was also knocked around, focusing on fighters on long losing streaks, but it never came to fruition. If you recall the first Bushido event, you'll probably never forget watching Mirko Cro-Cop knock Dos Caras, Jr. (now, WWE'S Alberto del Rio) silly -- per the author of the book, Mil Mascaras was none too pleased that his protege wore a modified mask during the bout as opposed to his traditional luchador regalia.

Before Brock Lesnar became a pro wrestling-turned-MMA sensation, Pride sought their own American heavyweight import -- none other than the man called Vader himself! Way back in 1996, Vader was scheduled to do battle with Kimo in a U-Japan bout; eventually, Vader backed out, with Bam Bam Bigelow stepping in to get his ass kicked instead. So, what kept Vader from making his Pride debut in 2003? Well, it was primarily due to his in-ring performance at a Hustle pro wrestling show a few weeks earlier, where he allegedly spent a great deal of time backstage puking blood everywhere.

As Pride reached its twilight, the organization became obsessed with weird-ass publicity match-ups. First up was a proposal for the 2006 NYE show that would have seen Takanori Gomi doing battle with former WBC Super Flyweight boxing champ Masamori Tokuyama. The original plan was for the bout to be contested under boxing rules, with four rounds, and only knockouts "counting." Needless to say, things never really progressed that far from the drawing board.

For the last five years, the two biggest MMA stars in the world have been Anderson Silva and GSP. According to the book, Pride cut Silva back in 2005 because he was on bad terms with Chute Box, and the organization didn't want to do anything to alienate its fighters. And believe it or not, Pride actually passed on Georges St-Pierre, with DSE stating they were't interested in the fighter prior to his signing a contract with UFC, although they did send him "materials" regarding the organization.

Perhaps the last major hurrah for Pride's crazy-ass planning was in 2006, when the organization bandied about an idea for a "Mike Tyson World Tour," which would have seen the iconic fighter boxing Pride heavyweights like Fedor and Cro-Cop in special events in China, Russia and Europe. And if you know anything at all about Mr. Tyson, you already know why that shit never got off the ground, either.

As for the organization's final two shows, the book tells us two things that most MMA fans weren't aware of. First, the original plan for Pride 33 (one of the best MMA cards of all-time, by the way) was to have Lil' Nog do battle not with Sokoudjou, but none other than KIMBO SLICE! According to the book, however, Pride decided on an "other black and beastly" fighter (those quotes are theirs, not mine), which itself led to one of the greatest upsets in mixed martial arts history. And for Pride 34 -- what would come to be the promotion's final card -- the original main event was supposed to be Saku versus Tamura, which was then scrapped for a hypothetical Saku vs. Wandy IV showdown -- a bout made impossible because Wanderlei got knocked out just a few weeks prior by Dan Henderson.


After reading "Pride FC: Secret Files," I really got me a hankering for some old-school, mismatched, freak-show, weight class averse Japanese MMA action, all right. While the book itself seems pretty biased towards Pride FC -- what, with the vilification of the UFC and the brazen oversight of the organization's shadier business doings -- the stench of sour grapes isn't that overwhelming, thankfully. Needless to say, the big draw for the publication is all of the "top-secret" data on Pride's kookier matchmaking ideas, and there is a ton of such material to be found within said treatise. Of course, this being a Japanese publication, the Engrish is out in full force, and the "exclusive" interviews with dudes like Gomi and Minowa really don't tell us anything we don't already know. Beyond a few outright miffs (like the author of the book saying that Fox tried to buy the UFC for $1 billion in 2009), it seems to be a rather reliable tome, for the most part; and perhaps best of all, virtual copies of the publication aren't difficult at all to come by.

There's no denying that Pride FC had a penchant for the grandiose, the bizarre and the downright absurd, and this book was a delightful look at all of the crazy ass ideas that were just too much, even for the nation that once gave us a live, televised bout featuring Bob Sapp and an anthropomorphic cartoon character. It's a fun, nostalgic look back at what once was, and the downright insanity of what could've been -- it may not be sports journalism at its finest, but for hardcore MMA fans that sure do miss them some wacky, soccer-kick-laden action, it's most certainly a tract worth thumbing through, if nothing else, for the sheer "WTF" value contained therein.