Little Differences: Some Observations from Europe

In an iconic scene from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, John Travolta’s character (Vincent) says to Samuel L. Jackson’s character (Jules) “you know what the funniest thing about Europe is?… It’s the little differences. A lotta the same shit we got here, they got there, but there they’re a little different.” Many of the Europeans I have met know the exchange by heart.

JULES Examples?

VINCENT Well, in Amsterdam, you can buy beer in a movie theatre. And I don’t mean in a paper cup either. They give you a glass of beer, like in a bar. In Paris, you can buy beer at MacDonald’s. Also, you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?

JULES They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?

VINCENT No, they got the metric system there, they wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.

JULES What’d they call it?

VINCENT Royale with Cheese (…) you know what they put on french fries in Holland instead of ketchup?

JULES What?

VINCENT Mayonnaise.

JULES Goddamn!

Continue reading “Little Differences: Some Observations from Europe”

Travel Update

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN — Today marks exactly 100 days of traveling in Europe. I’ve been backpacking alone, taking classes, and spending time with family. I cycled through Amsterdam and hitchhiked through the Highlands. I learned Swedish folks songs in Uppsala and sailing fundamentals in Norfolk. I swam in the Gulf of Finland (saunaed for warmth) and in the Sound of Raasay (drank whisky for warmth.) I caught free jazz in Copenhagen, Dresden and Hamburg. I got to see an ecovillage in Scotland (and help out in the kitchen) and a refugee aid operation in France (and help out in the kitchen.) I made a bunch of mistakes and handful friends. I’m grateful, grateful, grateful.

Hey, here’s a map of where I slept for the past 100 nights.

What next? Now I’m in Gothenburg, Sweden, embarking on an internship with a small, clean-tech startup company. Next term I’ll go back to school.

From London, With Love

I walk in London
Among immense, impossible
spirals of glass, and fantastic, slanting
protrusions of office-bearing stone
Impressive testaments to the city’s ingenuity, modernity
–Or, rather, its wealth

Magnificent, ostentatious temples
like those of Ancient Greeks and Egyptians before

Power symbols of the rich
containing the misery of the poor

When will we learn to wear simple clothes?

When will we measure the strength of a society
Not by the grandeur of its elements
But by the scarcity of its pain?

In thinking of future cities
We must let our imaginations pan down
from the flying cars and floating gardens
of tomorrow’s magnificent skyline
To the darkest, most neglected part of town
– Is it safe there?

[Click here to read as PDF]

Suggested Grammatical Conventions for Leftists, Progressives, and Radicals

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once wrote “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” I would submit the corollary claim: “We mean what we say, so we must be very careful about what we say.” The way we use language reflects and informs how we think. Thus, I propose a few grammatical conventions to be adopted by those with leftist, progressive, and radical inclinations.

1. Refrain from capitalizing “american” and other nationalities.

The rise of Donald Trump, among other world events, suggests a resurgence of WWII-era nationalism; wasn’t “Make Germany Great Again” Hitler’s campaign slogan? It was no good then and it’s no good now! De-capitalize, de-emphasize, de-nationalize! Be proud of your country, but not too proud. Celebrate what’s good and criticize what’s bad. See yourself primarily as a citizen of the world, no more/less important than anyone else, and no more/less deserving of safety, dignity, freedom, and respect. (Eg. “My name is Dustin and I’m an american living on Earth.”) 

2. Exercise caution when using “we.”

“We” is a multifaceted pronoun that can be evoked (implicitly and explicitly) in a variety of forms. The collective we can be a powerful tool for generating feelings of solidarity and resilience within a community, and should be considered correct under the radical-grammatical framework (Eg. “We shall overcome” as a slogan of the american civil rights movement).

The national we, however, tends to impose a sanitized collective history and a simplistic collective will over a hugely diverse group of people, thereby erasing many individual’s narratives and needs. For example, in resigning from the 2016 Presidential race, Ted Cruz echoed a conventional claimthat “we were founded on… [the idea] that each of us have a right to find and use our god given gifts, a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In reality, of course, america’s founding slaveholders (to use Nathan Schneider’s term) made pallid efforts to extend such rights to most americans– namely those without property, white skin, a penis, or any combination thereof.1 Thus, this usage is not grammatically-radically correct and should be avoided. Continue reading “Suggested Grammatical Conventions for Leftists, Progressives, and Radicals”

On “Permanent Revolution”

Karl Marx famously evoked the term “permanent revolution” in urging the disenfranchised working-class to rise up against their capital-owning oppressors. He was beseeching those suffering under the nascent system of industrial production to mount a sustained resistance against capitalist exploitation, and never settle for a compromise that made life slightly more tolerable but failed to alter the underlying power dynamic of their time.1

Things are different now– at least in much of the global north. The lines between ‘proletariat’ and ‘bourgeois’ are more ambiguous. Factory work has largely been replaced with service work and knowledge work. Many people now experience some degree of sovereignty and pleasure towards their jobs, even if they are not CEOs. Moreover, technological change has brought many comforts and securities to huge masses of people that were largely or entirely unattainable in the past.

Under these conditions, the notion of revolution may sound unpleasant and undesirable. The word might conjure up images of 18th century French revolutionaries beheading politicians, or Cuban revolutionaries ousting Batista through guerrilla warfare. Even poor Americans–living paycheck to paycheck, working multiple minimum wage jobs– are unlikely to desire that kind of revolution.

The fact is that revolution does not always need to be violent. But it does need to occur. Continually.

Continue reading “On “Permanent Revolution””

Unpacking Dutch Tolerance

AMSTERDAM– In the two weeks I spent in the Netherlands, I repeatedly encountered the Dutch vocab word “gedogen.” This cherished verb– which one pronounces by issuing a flem-clearing throat rasp at the appearance of each ‘g’– roughly means “to tolerate.” It describes a kind of pragmatic tolerance, often expressed to me as ‘turning a blind eye’ or ‘seeing it through the fingers.’

It can be used to describe minor, everyday occurrences and major policy positions alike. For example, when a classmate of mine asked if he could eat his apple in the public library, and the librarian replied “No… But I won’t see it,” she gedogd it. The term is also evoked to describe the Netherland’s (restricted) decriminalization of prostitution, soft drug use (including marijuana), and the use of euthanasia for assisted suicide. As Yasha Lange explained in a 2001 article published on BBC News, these activities are permitted because the government believes they will occur regardless of their legality, but pose a lesser threat to individuals and society as a whole if they occur openly instead of in the shadows. Pragmatic tolerance. Gedogen.

In the optimistic understanding of this term, gedogen alludes to an admirable tradition of respecting difference within the Netherlands. That is to say, the concept of gedogen both reflects and reproduces various forms of tolerance, including tolerance of religious difference, artistic expression, sexual orientation, and more. Gedogen becomes a banner flying high above the country that reads ‘everyone welcome’ and illuminates the Netherlands as an uncommonly progressive nation.  Continue reading “Unpacking Dutch Tolerance”

Encountering Amsterdam: First Impressions, People, and Bikes

AMSTERDAM – Hello from Holland, this strange and exciting land renowned for its windmills and waterways, its tulips and tolerance, its pot, pedal-power, and prostitution. The language is Dutch, the currency is the Euro, and the affordable home goods & grocery chain of choice is Hema. Waffles are ubiquitous, ordering “beer” usually means ordering “Heineken,” and fries are by-default served with a hearty dollop of mayonnaise.

I arrived in here on Wednesday June 15th and spent two nights in a youth hostel in Noordjwik. I briefly explored Leiden and Rotterdam, then came to Amsterdam to embark on a two-week urban studies program offered through the University of Amsterdam (UvA) titled “Amsterdam Creative City: Media, Art and Urban Culture.

Houses on the canal in Amsterdam
Houses on the canal

Continue reading “Encountering Amsterdam: First Impressions, People, and Bikes”

Dear Bernie

Dear Bernie,

It looks like the race to become the Democratic nominee is coming to a close. Whatever happens next, I want to thank you– both for the incredible presidential campaign you have run, and for the prior 30+ years you spent in public service. As I have educated myself about your political career, I have been profoundly inspired by your empathy, foresight, integrity, and drive.

I watched with awe and admiration how you passionately argued for military spending cuts before the House of Representatives in 1992:

We are spending $270 billion a year on the military, but we don’t have a major enemy! I know it hurts your feelings, I know you’re upset about it, I know you’re hoping and praying that maybe we’ll have another war, maybe somebody will rise up. But it ain’t happening! … Let’s have the guts to give leadership to this country. The Cold War’s over. Let’s reinvest in America.

Perhaps a dozen times I watched the clip of you rising in opposition to the 1991 crime bill to declare:

This is not a crime prevention bill. This is a punishment bill, a retribution bill, a vengeance bill… If you wanna get tough on crime, let’s deal with the causes of crime. Let’s demand that every man, woman, and child in this country have a decent opportunity and a decent standard of living, let’s not keep putting poor people in jail and disproportionately punishing blacks.”

And I wept as I watched you, realizing how uncommon this view was at the time, and knowing that those crime bills of the early 1990s did not make crime drop but instead helped construct today’s system of racially-biased mass incarceration.

You were right right about the crime bill, Bernie– they were wrong. Just as you were right to oppose war in Iraq. Just as you were right to repeatedly oppose the Patriot Act and the mass surveillance it entailed. Just as you were right to gallantly filibuster the 2010 agreement that extended Bush-era tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. Just as you were right to vote and speak out against ineffective “war on drugs” policies again and again and again. You have been right so many times over the years, Bernie, while the popular view has been painfully, dangerously, destructively, wrong. Why couldn’t more people see that?

Continue reading “Dear Bernie”

[Guest Post] Feminist Farting: The Gender Politics of Passing Gas

farting manFive Dunns sit squished in a white Prius, bellies bursting with lime margaritas and bean burritos. As we turn onto Denver St. and pull up outside our house, Papa Dunn rips a big one. Noses wrinkle, eyes roll, disapproving groans ensue. He lets out a chuckle and quickly exits the vehicle as I, trapped in the middle seat in intense olfactory discomfort, must wait for my sister and cousin to move before I can escape. Once clicked free from the sulfurous inferno, the suffocating bath of toxic air, a gaseous microcosm of patriarchy, I confront the inconsiderate culprit: “Really? You couldn’t have held that for two more seconds?”  Call me ageist but I think it’s OK to assume a 60 year old still has adequate autonomy over his anus. This is a matter of unabashed privilege.

Mama Dunn, the all too modest breadwinner in our family, nods in silent agreement with my grievance. She has dealt (more like smelt ha ha) with this for almost thirty years now and knows protest is futile. But strangely, she never attempts retaliation. No all fiber diets. No wake-you-up-with-a-fart-to-the-face radical resistance to rude flatulence. You see, no matter what, Mama Dunn doesn’t fart. Like, ever. For a long time I’d thought her incapable. In our household, the precious rare occasion she let something escape was a spectacle! No matter how weak the squeak, it was a big fucking deal. The two times I remember it happening, my sister and I went bonkers. Through riotous laughter we’d scream to everyone around “GUESS WHAT??? MOM FARTED!!!!!!!” She smiled sheepishly while scolding our hysterical reactions and “dirty” language (the f-word was forbidden, we had to soften it to “fluff”). Farting, both as a concept and an action, is a highly censored subject, and is undoubtedly the next frontier for feminist critical analysis and deconstruction.

Continue reading “[Guest Post] Feminist Farting: The Gender Politics of Passing Gas”

A Novel Encounter: My First Time Reading About Sex

Well, it finally happened. It took until my sophomore year of college, I’m a little embarrassed to say, but last night I finally had a chance to read about sex. Her name was “American Identities, Lone Stars, and the Politics of Radicalized Sexuality.” I have to admit I stumbled through the ordeal quite clumsily; at times I felt totally lost. She was just so… knowledgeable… moving me from “Chicano Marxist” thought, to “imperialist nostalgia”, to “the periphery of the American capitalist culture.” When we finished, I felt utterly dazed, but also exhilarated.

Sure, I suppose I sort of read about sex in high school. I read about characters with complex sexual lives and I read about meiosis and all that, but I’m not sure you can really call that reading about sex. This was the real deal: this time there was actual penetration into “the processes of subjection made possible… through stereotypical discourse”. Continue reading “A Novel Encounter: My First Time Reading About Sex”