Is there a place nobody you know has ever been?


Go there. It might suck, it might be interesting,  and at least part of the time it might be great. When we look at travel as if it should be just one thing, something predictable and describable, then we cut off most of  the possible. Most of the world does not fit into a travel brochure, an itinerary, or a Google Earth tag. If there´s no downside, then the upside won´t be very great, either. I can´t wait to visit a few countries in South America that have so far eluded me. I just want to make sure I have enough time and money to do the place justice. A three-day visit is nothing but a tease.

Reading too much about the place before you go there is a sure-fire way to talk yourself out of going there, especially since most travel blogs are written by young backpackers, and co ntain all the coherence  and substance of a Twitter post.

And if it turns out to be not-so-great, don’t be afraid to say so. The Internet is full of foolish hype and gushing praise for the commonplace or just plain lame. Don´t add to it.

Having wasted time and money searching out a place that was vastly oversold, I found myself wishing I could find the guy who wrote those posts. Don´t be that guy.

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The New Show Biz


Youtube is the people´s video outlet, and it´s only a matter of time before a new celebrity arises who has made his or her career entirely from Youtube postings. That person just might be me.

I propose to launch a career as an end-times expèrt-  All consipracy theories will intertwine in me. Alien abductions, the Pope as Antichrist, the coming economic collapse, false flag terrorist events, One World Government, David Rockefeller, Area 51…I´ll speak decisively and with authority. America needs more authorities, and especially those prepared to go way out on an illogical limb. I am prepared to be that person. Everything I proclaim will have long ago been predicted by Bible prophesy, or the cryptic utterances of Edgar Cayce or Nostradamus. I will ask a lot of rhetorical questions and then never really get around to answering them, but leave them floating in the air, adding an air of scholarship to all the I say. It will seem like science.

THE MYTH OF CONNECTIVITY


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Cell phone companies and Facebook are in the business of selling illusions.  You actually don’t need anything they’re offering, but they’ve done a very good job of making it seem that their services are indispensible. About half of everyone I know has bought the myth that getting and staying connected is everything.

In the picture above, taken from a magazine advertisement for cell phone service, we see four girls out sightseeing. But the girl who’s having the most fun isn’t looking at the sights at all, because she’s talking to someone who isn’t even there. And she’s positively ecstatic compared to her unconnected friends.  In fact, she’s literally writhing on the ground in ecstasy, even while she ignores the natural beauty in front of her. The message is clear. Nature is OK, and being in the here and now can be mildly amusing if that’s all you’ve got, but far better to talk to someone far away about what’s not happening to either of you.

It hasn’t been difficult for the providers to sell this concept because the target audience is already pre-sold. They’ve long ago accepted the idea that connectivity beats physical presence. Experience has taught them that illusions on small screens are preferable to seeing the real thing. In fact, the smaller the screen and the tinnier the audio, the more compelling it is. All their friends agree, and the younger you are, the more that matters.

This is what the Facebook community is like, as well. Instead of being with real people, users relate to their friends’ avatars. Now with the new Facebook smart phone application, you don’t need to bother to find a computer in order to be in constant contact with your Peeps. So even though the number of Facebook friends who are actually reading your posts may be small enough to count on your fingers and toes, the idea that, at least theoretically, anyone of Facebooks billions users could possibly be looking at what you’re about to eat for lunch is thrilling. No need to be alone anymore. That’s the miracle of connectivity!

The others three girls in the picture are trying their best to pretend to be unaware of their connected friend’s rapture, but you can bet as soon as they get home, they’ll demand that their parents buy them the best smart phone money can buy. And if they need to see a nature view, one will come up after a visual search, right there on their phone.

 

PLEASANT PLACES UNDER THE RADAR


Contrary to popular belief, there is real advantage to having only a few entertainment and shopping options. Unless you’ve just inherited a bunch of money and are in a hurry to spend it all before you die, most of us would be better off shopping less, and spending fewer hours being “entertained,” whatever that means. The very fact that so much money and effort is spent to convince us otherwise should be a clue to who stands to benefit from the transaction.

Likewise, most dietary problems could be solved by following a simple rule: never eat anything that you see advertised. Products that have their own television commercials are bound to be vastly over-priced and lacking in substance. If you took the contents of a typical supermarket and distilled them down to their essences, you’d end up with a lake of corn sweeteners, various piles of chemical additives, a mound of wheat, soy and cornstarch, and an enormous pile of colorfully printed cardboard.

Just as good foods often lack glossy packaging, there are plenty of places on this planet that do not show up as tourist destinations, and yet offer a quality of life that exceeds most that do. The people who live in such places are happier than the norm. These content and reasonably satisfied people are not newsworthy enough to attract the attention of real estate speculators, developers, tourism agencies or Internet travel sites. In many of these places it’s possible to live on much less than it would take to live in the “developed” world.

How can you tell if a people are happy? They laugh a lot. They are affectionate with children. They enjoy each other’s company.

I spent twelve years living in San Francisco, a lovely though terribly expensive place. The Zodiac killer had just ended his reign of terror, though there was a guy named Charles Ng who was kidnapping, torturing and killing people in the nearby Sierras. Within a year or two another guy would be stalking and killing hikers on Mount Tamalpais. I took many hikes there at that time, and found I was the only person on the path.

One day, while reading the San Francisco Chronicle, as was my daily habit, I read of a man who like me had recently gotten divorced, and had custody of his thirteen year old son. The two of them lived in a grand house on a big spread somewhere in the exclusive hills of Marin County. What got my attention was the fact that the son had murdered his father. So even though he had alarms on the doors, and video cameras monitoring the front gate, what did him in was his own offspring. Crazy. That got my attention. I thought to myself “whatever this guy had, I don’t want it. In fact, get me outta here!”

I have just spent a few days in Mendoza, a medium-sized city in the foothills of the Andes. Mendoza doesn’t get a lot of press. You can’t find it mentioned much on TripAdvisor, or Lonely Planet, nor do the hucksters at International Living hype its charms. After hanging out in cafes and parks, and generally wandering around without purpose, I have come to conclusion that it would be a nice place to call home. My only concern is the stability of the government and economy.

Why isn’t Argentina one of the richest countries in the world? It certainly has the resources. For the last week I’ve been riding busses covering only about half the nation’s land area, and can vouch both for the quality of their highways and the existence of millions of acres of golden soybeans ready for harvest and plenty of tall corn. Compared to neighbors Bolivia and Paraguay, Argentina boasts a relatively educated populace. It’s certainly not over-crowded. You’d think they would enjoy security and liberty, but they seem to lack the ability to govern themselves.  They elect fools and scoundrels, lie to themselves and others and then believe those lies right up to the point that everything collapses and they have to pick up the pieces and start over again from scratch.

There’s a joke: Argentinians are people who speak Spanish, live in French houses, eat Italian food, and think they’re English.

A few days ago, I passed through the Plaza San Martin in Cordoba, the main square in the nation’s second largest city. The National Bank occupies one side of the square. There were lines of people stretching around the corner in both directions streaming from the front door, waiting patiently for hours for the chance to collect their pension or withdraw some portion of their savings. An armored vehicle was parked in front, and soldiers with weapons stood guarding the entrance. It looked like everyone’s idea of a fiscal emergency, but this economic nightmare was just business as usual here in Argentina, where people have little confidence in their economy or rulers, and plenty of historical justification for feeling that way. One night about ten years ago, the government decided to devalue the currency, and within a few weeks everyone had lost two-thirds of their wealth. Of course, the politicians knew in advance that this was coming, and had already squirreled their cash away to offshore banks.

At that time, the country defaulted on its loans and some creditors who declined to accept ten cents on the dollar are still demanding their money back.

Fortunately, Argentina has had good luck rebuilding their economy without outside help, but one gets the impression they learned nothing from their collapse, and that the next one will arise from the same mixture of arrogance and deceit that caused the first. In 2002, I saw a blonde, blue-eyed woman holding her infant child and begging in front of a Buenos Aires subway station. For most of this white boy’s experience, poor people were dark-skinned, but it was then that I realized when white people have the rug pulled out from under them, they get hungry, too. It gave me pause.

Here, in the southern part of South America, they’re still working at getting over the horrible abuse of power they suffered during the Military Dictatorships of the seventies. Then, Argentine military aircraft routinely dumped bodies into the delta region just north of the capital. Twenty to thirty thousand people simply disappeared. Even schoolchildren who had been protesting an increase in the price of their school lunch were rounded up, tortured and executed. As the Phillipines and even Thailand found out at roughly the same time Argentina and Chile did, once you let the military start killing communists, pretty soon everybody looks like a communist.

Hopefully that sort of thing is permanently behind Argentina, but as poor people all over the world know, when you’ve got nothing to lose, it’s not that big a leap to resort to drastic measures. The social fabric could tear again. And if the military ever takes power, it’s time to head to the airport.

Yikes!


Have computers really transformed our lives for the better? Hard to tell. Long distance communication and word processing have certainly advanced, but since most people don’t engage in creative thought, we’ve embodied the empty promise of cable television – hundreds of channels but nothing’s on.

Computer domination started in business then crept into our social lives, and now we are reduced to slathering idiots who press the “like” button when shown a picture of a cute kitten. This degrading transformation is so recent there’s nothing to compare it to, except maybe the onslaught of radio, motion pictures and then television.

I wrote my graduate thesis on a typewriter. For a long time when I was trying to make it as an actor, my day job was typing for lawyers. I remember when the first computers came in, they ran word star, which meant you had to memorize all sorts of clumsy commands in order to do word processing. I then learned UNIX in order to the same, on bigger, networked computers. I was thirty-eight years old when I bought my first VCR and fifty five when I bought my first cell phone.

Blaise Pascal said “most of man’s problems can be traced to the inability to sit alone, quietly in a room.” The older I get, the more I think he’s right. Currently, I have a phone, but no service, as I’m not sure I’m going to stay in this country long enough to justify buying another SIMM chip. By the way, in most of the rest of the world, any cell phone can be used to access wireless service, and all you have to do is buy a SIMM chip for a few dollars and then add minutes at any kiosk. It’s a brilliant system, and if you don’t use the phone much, as I don’t, cell phone service can cost less than five dollars a month. Of course the reason we don’t have it in the states is because the cell phone companies lobbied congress to allow them to dictate the possible terms of service.

By not carrying a phone with me, I spent less of my brain CPU waiting for or responding to calls. If I need to talk to someone, I’ll find a phone, but that rarely happens, maybe less than once a day. This lack of interruption gives me the opportunity to sometimes be lost in thought, or just daydreaming. This is what Thoreau called appreciating “the bliss of the present moment.”

Here, in South America, people seem to enjoy cacophony more than I do. Today I was eating in nice restaurant, but they had a television in every room, and even though no one was watching it, ithe one in my room was playing a comedy program with the volume was up loud. There were at least three televisions blaring away in the various rooms of this restaurant, and then, near the cash register, a radio was playing loudly.

I got the feeling they considered this chaos a gift to their customers. Yikes!

The Gift of Frustration


It occurs to me that those areas in my life in which I have known mostly chronic frustration and failure might be the very areas where I have the most to learn. The problem lies with me. I have never successfully been able to pretend to agree with something I fundamentally oppose. Therefore, my failures have proven to be gifts from the universe, showing me what I really believe even before I knew it.

For example, I think certifications and accreditations are bullshit, and that the people who invent and support them are self-serving bullies who hope to take a shortcut to the top of the heap by sidestepping the masses who aren’t as clever, slippery or ruthless as they. Hence, I’ve never been able to make much use of my Master’s Degree, because I think the whole concept of higher education is nonsense.

Likewise, I wouldn’t make a very good policeman unless I agreed with each and every law I was asked to enforce. For some reason, I’ve managed to avoid applying for the job of prison guard, even in light of our burgeoning for-profit incarceration industry.

I’ve never gotten on my knees and offered a woman a diamond ring purchased on credit in order to fulfill some popular scenario of romance, because I don’t believe the people who wrote the script have my best interests at heart. Heck, my Master’s Degree is in play writing. I know arbitrary invention when I see it.

Any attempt to create a life by purchasing its key elements off the rack instead of creating them from whole cloth is doomed to failure. There are no shortcuts to self-actualization.

Through years of scanning employment classified ads, looking for work that might not prove too onerous, I entertained the notion that there might be some job I could take that would not be soul-killing, but that I could fake for a few hours a day, in order to save my real energies for myself later. Such an idea is nonsense – a barter made with Satan.

Even if I could persuade some poor employer that I was sincere in my intentions towards his job, I would be lying and in the long run I would be found out. For example, Iowa City is full of graduate students who are pretending to be waiters and cooks as long as they can fool themselves into thinking that they’re not really in the restaurant business, but actually poets or artists who are temporarily pretending to be. Their deception serves neither them nor the public. You can tell by the falseness of their ministrations that they are merely phoning in their performance.

All paths to hell begin with one seemingly innocuous step.  The Quakers clearly saw that violent acts begin with the apparently innocent act of naming. It’s not OK to kill other human beings, but it is OK to kill Viet Cong. Or Communists. Or Terrorists, Jews, or Homosexuals. The name switch supposedly removes their troublesome humanity.

The problem with self-deception is that it’s easy to forget the first step that led us down the wrong path, the path that leads to wasted opportunity, self-pity, and discouragement. Even if you do manage to avoid blaming others, if you can’t remember how you got there, it’s hard to retrace your steps.

Change is possible, but not if you’re unwilling to admit it when all signs indicate you’re on the wrong path. Otherwise, you just keep trudging towards oblivion, whistling in the dark to keep up your courage, shouting out hoarse words of encouragement to others you meet along the way, the same ones who will curse you later.

I think the hardest job in the world would to that of divorce lawyer. Your days would be filled with sifting through your clients’ dashed hopes, broken dreams, scenarios of victim-hood, legitimate anger and justified resentments. Heck, I’d rather shovel manure. At least at the end of the day you could change your clothes and take a shower.

I’ve been drifting around the world for over a few years now, and have found that there is no escaping my own head. No matter what baggage I leave behind, I take myself along on every trip. That’s both the curse and the gift.

Fortunately, here in Northern Thailand I feel I may have landed somewhere where I can stay put long enough for me to catch up with myself.