Overweening Generalist

Thursday, June 20, 2013

From Living in a Dystopian Science Fiction Novel to Living in a Watergate-Era Paranoid Thriller in One Week

Those of my fellow intellectual paranoids with a taste for great mid-to-late 1970s Hollywood thrillers like 1975's Three Days of the Condor to Alan J. Pakula's rousing 1974 Parallax View to Pakula's 1976 All The President's Men...and from there my consciousness mind-melds with all the times I spent viewing and re-re-re-viewing, late at night, alone in the dark, The Conversation, Chinatown, Cutter's Way, 1940s films noir, later-than 1979 stuff like Silkwood and Blow Up...and combined with my readings of 20th century history, books on the CIA, Robert Anton Wilson and Philip K. Dick and Thomas Pynchon, JFK...I could go on ad nauseum. Anyway: if this tableau resonates, read on.

Okay, so the NSA is watching you read this right now. Let's try to forget that for a moment and go back to a simpler time, a time that the summer of 2013 is trying to rival but just can't. Not yet, at least. The summer of 1975? Let's go back there. I was too young to "get it" but years later I derived numerous garish intellectual paranoia-amphetamine-like thrills from reading about the almost daily national dispatches of what were then new(!) discoveries by the Church Committee (Sen. Frank Church of Idaho), about the history of the CIA, FBI, NSA, etc. Try to imagine a time when we thought the CIA only gathered "intelligence" and no one knew what "covert operations" were, and the long-hairs who had been telling us and writing about the CIA overthrowing democratically elected leaders and installing fascist dictators friendly to Yale Men and Wall Street were "fringe" or "lunatics." It all seems so quaint now, but remember: we're in the Summer of '75.

                                         see http://www.privacysos.org/church

Revelations about Hoover and the FBI's antidemocratic maneuvers appeared almost daily in things called "newspapers," which were actually made of paper, and people actually read them. Research tells us that it was quite common to have the "news" delivered via car, truck, or bicycling youngster, to one's own driveway, or even doorstep. Think of it like this: newspapers were like Internet, only you got ink stains on your fingers, and the national security apparatus only noted that you subscribed.

Nixon's resignation and Ford's pardon of Nixon were fresh in Unistatian minds. So was Vietnam, just ending. So were the SLA, the Weather Underground, a new consciousness about oil-rich Sheiks, and...

Everything was topsy-turvy and not like the America you were taught about in your compulsory schooling, and if you were somewhat educated and had a sense of justice, you realized the cops were on the side of The Man, and even if you were a cop (Serpico) or a CIA analyst (Three Days of the Condor), there were murderous, corrupt, unsavory characters you worked side-by-side with.

The Illuminatus! appeared and spread among the underground cognoscenti. It was the perfect thing to chase Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow with; it had more laffs.

The world was rapidly being taken over by the Military-Industrial-Entertainment-Banking-Organized Crime-Complex, and only intrepid seekers/reporters/wizened citizens could do anything about it. How to regain your wits in the face of it all - the news and the films - in 1975? How to retain some semblance of sanity?

Richard Hofstadter, a brilliant academic, had written the seminal rationalist's text on "the paranoid style" in Unistatian history. But the news seemed to be overtaking his thesis. Or maybe it was the drugs. Or maybe the news, the drugs, the films, the novels, and talking to your friends about all those things.

                                            Carl Oglesby, SDS spokesman and later
                                            professor of political science at MIT and 
                                            Dartmouth. A writer/musician/academic.
                                            His book The Yankee and Cowboy War
                                            is one of the great works in what Peter 
                                            Dale Scott calls "deep politics"

Then one of SDS's braintrustees, Carl Oglesby wrote an article for Ramparts in 1974, after Nixon resigned. Titled "In Defense of Paranoia," Oglesby argued, as Francis Wheen wrote in his difficult-to-set-down history of this period, Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Age of Paranoia:

"Instead of leading to political madness, the paranoid style might be the necessary prerequisite for retaining one's political sanity - an echo of the 'anti-psychiatry' popularised at the time by R.D. Laing, who held that schizophrenics and paranoids were the only people sane enough to see that the world is deranged. The Hofstadter paradigm was shattered, and has been irreparable ever since. 'Since the assassination of John F. Kennedy,' Norman Mailer wrote in 1992, 'we have been marooned in one of two equally intolerable spiritual states, apathy or paranoia.' The Illuminatus! Trilogy, that key to all mythologies of the early Seventies, features an anarchist sect called the Crazies whose political position is deliberately unintelligible but seems to encompass the worship of Bugs Bunny and study of the Tarot as well as 'mass orgies of pot smoking  and fucking on every street corner.' One of the Crazies explains: 'What the world calls sanity has led us to the present planetary crisis and insanity is the only viable alternative.'" (pp.16-17)

Violent Death of a Great Journalist
Which brings me to the death of Michael Hastings, a couple of days ago. Local Los Angeles TV news's coverage is HERE. David Sirota's obit at Salon. David Weigel, on Hastings, at Slate. Rachel Maddow, from her MSNBC show, HERE. 7 1/2 minutes from the Current TV show The Young Turks, where I felt like I got to "know" Hastings, HERE. Rolling Stone's obit, HERE.

Reading about his death jolted me back into the idiosyncrasies of watching something like Parallax View yet again, late at night, all's quiet, everyone asleep but me, looking for a paranoid fix. Warren Beatty is a radical reporter who only cares about getting to the truth.  It's Clinton or Bush43 or Obama in the White House, but I'm suddenly in the weltanschauung of artistic paranoid intellectuals circa late 1974. Why? Imprinting?

And then back again to my imagination of the crazy summer of 1975 (when, in truth, I was almost totally oblivious of all this ideation, being far too young to yet be warped by all this).

Hastings seemed to have been working on raising awareness of what he saw as the violation of free speech and persecution of another Enemy of the State, Barrett Brown, who was/is a spokesman for the Hacktivist group Anonymous. Here's Glenn Greenwald on the Brown situation. Here's a "Free Barrett Brown" site that includes Michael Hastings as a supporter.

Goddamn. This is all so...garish. To my nervous system...I don't like living in a dystopian science fiction novel. Nor do I enjoy living in a Watergate-era paranoid thriller-world. Or if I have to live in one of those, it feels like it's only fair for me to be able to shelve the book or stop the DVD, go outside and get some fresh air and sunshine, water the plants and exchange jokes with my neighbor, and I dunno...skip along whistling "Beth You Is My Woman Now"...?

I'm not saying rogue LAPD or some of Stanley McChrystal's men or some brutish operatives from the Republicans or Democrats (Hastings, being a rare True Journalist, had enemies in both parties) conspired to kill Hastings. His body was burned beyond recognition. Who knows what happened? Alcohol? Sleep-deprivation? It's probably Just One Of Those Things. (Yea...)

What I will admit is that I'm one of those who has meditated and analyzed and cogitated and fed my poetic faculty such a gawdawful amount of suspicion and paranoia about "official" stories, that it's only natural for me to suspect that just maybe...

And any of you who've been through a similar upbringing, are of a similar caste of mind, and possibly, of a similar mental age...will know exactly what I mean here. I will not spell it out. Just watch Parallax View after immersing yourself in "the news" for three hours a day for a week, reading Robert Anton Wilson in your "spare" time.

With Hastings's death, I experienced a "flashback" to a time I didn't experience when it occurred. It's my "historical imagination." I force-fed myself this stuff at a later date - of my own volition, I remind myself - when I had become "of age." By "stuff" I mean: probably the historical truth that most Unistatians can't face up to, or refuse to acknowledge. And, concomitant to all of this is the present-day world backdrop of confirmation of all the worst things we could have imagined from our own State, with its historically unprecedented technical apparatus to...well, know that you're reading this right where you are sitting now. And maybe you feel, lately, that you live in a particularly byzantine spy novel, given the knowledge. Or a Watergate-era Hollywood thriller. Or maybe you've read this far and you think this OG person is a loon and if so, bless you, blissful person...

I really don't mean to be glib or flippant about Hastings's death; I admired the guy. It's a huge loss for what I call the "truth."

 But maybe I'm so...damaged (?) that I noticed, in the hour or so after I began reading of his 4AM crash near Highland and Melrose...that somehow 1970s-era Robert Redford or Al Pacino or Warren Beatty might have known who was behind it. There are circuits in the brain that, if not paid attention to, can not distinguish between "reality" and "fiction." Or collective hallucination...Do I need to get back into therapy?


Will the Summer of 2013 keep its momentum going and give the Summer of 1975 a run for its money? Stay tuned. (There is no one with even half the guts of Frank Church in congress today, except maybe...Ron Wyden?)

A friend asked me the other day, re: the NSA/Snowden fallout:
-Are you keeping up?

-(Me): Yea, but I'm not sure how much more I can hack for now; I'm reaching critical mass. Maybe I'm gettin' old, man. I need a break. Let's hike the redwoods all day, STAT!

The key, as I see it, is to find a ground between Mailer's apathy and paranoia, to be creative, have a good time, get high, do good for someone else, get paid, and get home in time for dinner.

Trailer for 1974's Parallax View:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

NSA Revelations and Edward Snowden: Some of What Froths For Me, Now

I don't know what part of me remained surprised, or even why, after Snowden outed the NSA. Because the topic has been a leitmotif in conversations with all of my friends, since at least the too-Orwellianishly-named Patriot Act passed. But I guess there were a few clusters of neural circuits that were in denial: maybe no one's really spying on me. And you know: that would be just...grand.

[But: in 2011, hadn't Dana Priest's and William Arkin's "Top Secret America" articles in the Washington Post annihilated any last vestige of that neurally stubborn naivete? Apparently not...]

Now: the more "adult" clusters of neurons, the ones that neurobiologists implicate in learning, which have been actively buzzing each others' synapses, exchanging glutamate and acetylcholine, strengthening each other's connections, building on other circuits, merging different circuits, looking for patterns...that part of me was not surprised. Because I've been following the topic of "surveillance" and "privacy" and "the corporate state" and the Panopticon ever since that summer after I graduated from high school, when, just for "fun" I read Brave New World, then immediately: 1984. As soon as Winston Smith learned to love Big Brother and that whole boot stomping on the face of humanity forever thing, I chased those two novels with Fahrenheit 451. I was naive. I was a budding conspiracy theorist. I was an adrenaline junkie. I didn't know what to make of these three books, which acted synergistically in my nervous system...and well, frankly, they fucked me up one side and down the next pretty good. And yet: I "enjoyed" them.

Since then, I like to think my thinking/feeling in those areas has become far more nuanced. I mean: that poor 18 year old gangly naif! All hair and fear and testosterone and yea, verily: idealism.

Other times I seem to have not changed much, only lost a lot of that hair. (And I was all hair, really. I played guitar in metal bands and it was sorta like Marty Friedman's, only dyed with Miss Clairol Number 52 Blue/Black...and I was 6 feet tall and weighed about 135. Yes: a freak. Like Cousin It, only with a well-used library card.)

So what to make of Snowden coming out and confirming what intellectual paranoids like myself already suspected?

Well: I was pleased to see that sales of 1984 jumped 5000%, but was equally disappointed by my fellow Unistatians that they weren't already on board with Orwell's ideas. I mean: you'd think the Patriot Act would've done it fer ya, eh? Also: I suspect only about 15% of those who ordered it from Amazon will actually read it all the way through. Also: I remembered the story of Amazon's Kindle owners having their Orwell (and other books) erased. Remotely.  Because they could. Hey, they apologized and gave your money back. And said they wouldn't do that again under "those circumstances." But they can do that. Just another reason why I love the dead-tree book.

No need to point out irony. I hope...

As far as Ray Bradbury's book: no one is burning libraries. Not yet. Oh, you have your Christian fascists getting together for a good ol' Two Minutes Hate and burning, say, Harry Potter books. And there are always classic Murrrkin a-holes harassing librarians and school boards for teaching from commies like John Steinbeck or Mark Twain. Get a load of it HERE.

I think Aldous Huxley's 1932 book cements him as a seer. Just that book alone. The ideas about an entire society made drug-dependent and infantilized, with the overwhelming assumption that some people are "naturally" better than others so there ought to be a way to keep the lessers away from the betters...all with an overarching ethic of consumption, of buying things and consuming them as a way to obtain a self-identity? Aldous was legally blind, a modern Tiresias. Aldous's World Anti-Sex League is far too...2013 Kansas for me. It's spooky.

Orwell. Let's see. For his dystopian state to meet ours we need, indefinite detention just because the State says so (check!). We need the State to be able to torture people for any reason they want and get away with it. (We have lift-off on that. Roger!) The State can decree that it can kill anyone they want, anywhere, and they're supposed to have a reason for this but they can choose to not tell anyone what those reasons are, and no one can compel them to tell why they're assassinating people. (We have this, now, under a "liberal" President in Unistat, June, 2013.)

And of course, the State can have surveillance over all communications. (Edward Snowden on Line 1.)


What about..."Justice"? Presumably there's a Justice system. I mean, there's a Justice Department, just as there was a Ministry of Truth, that put out non-stop propaganda. One of my favorites from 2013 - so far, and there's a cornucopia of this crap to choose from - was the President of Unistat coming in, assuring us that his would be the most "transparent" administration we'd seen. In "reality" as I see it, his Admin has been one of the most opaque when it comes to..."extrajudicial" (Orwell!) matters. (My blogspew on "neomedievalism" might be a germane link here?) And other matters. Liberals have been taken for a ride with this guy.

Time to re-think. What? Hillary Clinton will clear it all up and make it better in 2016? If you believe that and you're reading this blog, you're in the wrong place. Hillary is set as a Neoliberal thinker...better than NeoCon, but really: she's an embodiment of the very outmoded way of thinking about economics and foreign and domestic policy that led us into this morass: a new sort of Failed State, where the government can't even get background checks on gun sales despite about 90% of the public wanting them, us Idiot Citizens thinking it's about time we take even the most trivial steps towards trying to keep from getting accidentally slaughtered by a "lone nut" when we go the goddamned mall. This new sort of Failed State spends as much on military matters as the rest of the world, combined, while the infrastructure crumbles, the actual unemployment level is closer to 20%, and there's a welter of staggering statistics that show how the 1% have run away from the 99%. This government can't even insure its citizens health care, but it can kill any one of its citizens, for any reason.

Justice? Who goes to prison? The poor. And any insider who blows the whistle on the rampant theft in banking, or the gross injustices in the military policies overseas. And let's just wait to see what happens to Snowden.

One thing that many smart writers have missed: even if the NSA can decide to hone in on a domestic citizen with potentially "subversive" ideas, they probably are really only after communications from abroad, looking for "real" terrorists: the infrastructure for a future President Brownback/Palin/Ted Cruz/Newt Gingrich is in place, and it's not going anywhere. If Wall Street or the college loan debt bubble or a combination of both plus something else (another terrorist attack?) happens, this is a real threat to make Orwell's Oceania look like Sesame Street.

We now know that young well-educated people in Unistat who became politically active in order to avert more economic or environmental disasters were heavily surveilled by the State apparatus. As Chomsky has been telling us for at least 15 years: the internal dialogue of the Military/State/Corporate complex refers to the citizenry as "enemy territory."

"The U.S. is the greatest, best country God has ever given man on the face of the Earth." - Sean Hannity, "Hannity's America," June 6th, 2008.

                                  Seth Rosenfeld, author of the stunning Subversives

Seth Rosenfeld Hasn't Had A Proper Hearing Yet:
Another thing a lot of smart, perspicacious writers are missing surrounding the NSA/Snowden clusterfuck: there seems an assumption of linearity in history: we're getting dangerously out of hand, and we need to dial it back. But it's not that simple. Look at what turned up in 30 years of Freedom of Information Act requests in Seth Rosenfeld's 734 page book about Ronald Reagan's and J. Edgar Hoover's wildly paranoid hatred of the University of Berkeley, Subversives, which came out last year. The FBI fought Rosenfeld tooth and nail, but ultimately, the 9th Circuit sided with him. What did we find? A dizzying number of new things that haven't yet filtered into our discourse. Among them:

That Reagan was a snitch for the FBI since 1947. That the FBI sent poison-pen letters (where they make up stuff about someone they don't like) to officials in order to get people fired...that the FBI helped Reagan get elected Governor or California. That the FBI broke into offices, stole and copied and planted information, falsified documents and planted false news stories, assumed both Mario Savio (a brilliant but disturbed Philosophy student and architect of the Free Speech Movement) and UC Berkeley President Clark Kerr (a Quaker and pacifist) were both "communists." The FBI did everything they could to ruin both of their lives, and they succeeded fairly well. (Kerr and Savio were, in actuality, opposed to each other politically regarding the policy of Berkeley.)

To those students of COINTELPRO: yes, it seems like you've seen this; it's not "new" to you. But the depth of Rosenfeld's research ought be considered a series of at least "major" important footnotes to "all that." To those of you who have not been students of COINTELPRO, or only have a cursory knowledge of it: Rosenfeld's book is a perfect place to start, if only because he's so wonderful at narrative using his research. It's a thick book but I found it hard to put down. (Get it from your library as some sort of ethereal shout-out to Ray Bradbury?)

Above all, for our purposes here: the FBI created massive secret lists of "subversives" who should be rounded up "in case of emergency." This included students who were interested in alternative points of view about political and social ideas. If you were an 18 year old English major who signed a petition agreeing that the HUAC should be disbanded, you got on the Hoover/Reagan shitlist. And if your friends or family members subscribed to (or especially: wrote for) publications they thought were "UnAmerican" you were suspect. The brightest young people at the best public university (where much of our actual wealth originates: in new ideas) were enemies to Hoover and Reagan.

This is a hell of a book, so far criminally overlooked. Just because it's about one university, albeit maybe the top public university in Unistat, always productive of Nobel Prize winners, in one small area of Unistat, doesn't mean it's not germane to you who live in some other part of the country...or the rest of the <cough> "free world."

So - and sorry I've gone on far too long once again here - it has already happened here. But a digital infrastructure just makes it possible to do again, but about a million times more - and here's a favorite fascist's word - efficiently. Or, as Edward Snowden put it, we have extended the "architecture of oppression."

Oh, and the "subversives" in Rosenfeld's book?: they're not Savio or the SDS or professors who ordered books on communism. Guess who they are.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Art and DNA: Careening All Over Da Place

Friends: Let us take a moment...let us all bow our heads and take a few deep breaths and...WILL YOU TURN THAT SHIT DOWN? WE'RE TRYNA GET IN TOUCH...with something profound. Sorry. I lost my head for a moment. Exhale loooong, slow, deep...seven...eight...that's good enough. Now: check out the pic an atheist took of Jesus in mold behind his refrigerator: HERE. (I thought it looked more like proto-neo-classical shred guitarist Uli Jon Roth, but what do I know?) I love how dad says he took the pic with his phone, then wiped it up and aye, it may be Jesus, but he's got three kids and he can't allow mold. For some reason this made me think of Robert Anton Wilson. RAW may have also liked this other little bit from the artworld's museum without walls:

A pubic hair on a urinal shaped perfectly like a treble clef. The comments on this I've seen fall into two basic camps: a one-in-a-million shot. Or: someone - some freak - spent way too much time before resuming time with friends or acquaintances in the bar. I thought, Hey, maybe he practiced this a lot and just got really good at it? He may have been able to pull it off in a few seconds.

Isn't the Art World wonderful?

Check out a photo of an interesting artist. I'll tell you why I think she's interesting, but first get a good gander at her:

                                                     Heather Dewey-Hagborg

Heather's one of those artists that would make C.P. Snow have a coronary if he had a time machine and  we could show him what Heather's been up to: she's a PhD candidate who combines: found detritus on the streets of New York, DNA sequencing, 3-D printing, forensic biology, algorithms, and art, all in a guerrilla ontological way.

Here's how she does it: she finds someone's used coffee cup or chewing gum or fingernail or cigarette butt (or maybe a pubic hair from a urinal?) and extracts enough DNA from the trash discarded by a stranger to sequence it. We have accelerated our abilities to do this so quickly that it's become cheap enough that a biologist-art student, working out of Genspace in Brooklyn, can afford the equipment to do this! Heather then feeds the information from the sequenced DNA into a computer, which has such fancy algorithms available to her that it quickly churns out a 2-D model of the face of the person who threw away the trash.

But wait, there's more: Dewey-Hagborg then uses the 3-D printer and creates a life-sized mask of the person...turning it into "art" and...well, just really making us think a whole hell of a lot about the implications of this. I think it's astounding stuff. Get a load of these "masks." Note the inclusion of the "self-portrait." She calls herself an information artist who's interested in art as research. Just imagine: you throw away a coffee cup in NY; you just had to have your latte, being from out of town and jet-lagged to boot. You walk on and don't give it the slightest thought. Heather finds it and ends up making a replica mask of your face, and hangs it on a wall. She's trying to make us think. It works for me: I've been thinking a lot about her work...

The DIY-Biology movement is shaping up to bring us all sorts of surprises, no doubt.

For more on her, Slate did a piece not long ago. (NB the title?)

That reminds me: have you heard of 23 And Me? Here's a video:

Now: genetics is NOT destiny (except in a few relatively rare cases), but this is cheap and promises all sorts of information about your risk factors (so you and your doctors can possibly avert unpleasantness), and your ancestors, which is, I think the thing that will begin to make this more and more popular. It also opens up a Pandora's Box: now that you know you have a substantial risk of getting a disease of which there is no known cure on the horizon, are you still glad you know? Do you have some sort of moral obligation to find out about what's lurking inside you, including who your relatives are? Etcetera! Whoa...(Already there are many stories of people who found out that the sibling they grew up with was really their cousin or uncle, or they aren't related, or mom probably had a tryst with the FedEx guy while dad was at work, etc.)

Returning to Heather Dewey-Hagborg, the Supreme Court, this week voted 5-4 that police can take a cheek swab/extract your DNA even if you've only been suspected of a crime! In other words, says the Court, no, that is not a violation of the 4th Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure and personal privacy. What world do the five Judges live in? This was astonishing to me, but on another level, it figures. This is a court that also ruled, again 5-4, that cops can strip search anyone, even for minor offenses like traffic stops or failure to leash a dog. In the you-haven't-been convicted-but-we're-taking-your-DNA-anyway case, Sotomayor worried that the State was overextending itself, and Scalia - who I find extremely offensive, personally - basically agreed with Sotomayor. Vociferously. But Alito saw DNA as the "fingerprints of the 21st century," and didn't have a problem. Notably, Scalia voted against the cops strip-searching for trivial offenses. He does seem to be for some personal privacy, but especially the personal privacy of corporations to do what they want.

I plan to write Heather Dewey-Hagborg and ask her if she can see if she can get hold of Alito's DNA and make a mask of him so I can throw darts at it, while sipping double IPAs, in time for next Halloween.

Meanwhile, sorry for ruining anyone's buzz, but the very real and growing danger of not only identity theft, but genome theft, is a thing now.

To recap our Top Story tonight: an atheist father sees Jesus in mold behind his fridge, then wipes it out with some disinfectant, while another guy either found or made a perfect treble clef from a pubic hair on a urinal. This led to a brilliant artist-scientist who really makes us think about what can be done with our own discarded waste, little intimate shards of our unique informational makeups we haphazardly leave all over the world, which led us to ponder whether we should spend $100 to find out detailed information about what diseases we might get and where our ancestors actually came from. This logically led to The State being able to strip search us and take our DNA for any reason, really. And we  learned that our genomes can be stolen by others, besides the cops.

Beautiful weather here in the Bay Area with a hot weekend up ahead. You literally have 17 billion blogs to choose from, so thanks for making the OG one of your sources for the latest-breaking weirdo news.

Good night, and good luck because we're all gonna need it.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Drug Report: June, 2013: Beer, Glorious Beer, But Especially Hops

I realize I'm horribly delinquent on what was projected to be one-blog-per-month on something drug-related; I'm not sure if anyone noticed or cares. But maybe I'll chip away and "catch up" when my life gets a tad more..."normalized"?

Short Primer: Getting Up To Speed on Lousy Beer, Worldwide
Where to start? Hmmm...Okay, if you're reading this in some area of the world other than Unistat, and you're over, say, 35, you grew up knowing (and it was all-too-true) that Unistat beer was "yellow fizzy water." Beer aficionados in Unistat now often use the shorthand "BMC", meaning "Budweiser/Miller/Coors." Before the "progressive" idea of Prohibition, there were 1500 breweries in Unistat; the 18th Amendment (Jan.17, 1920, a day that will live in infamy) killed all of them overnight.

[Everything Hitler did was legal: you just pass a law.]

The 21st Amendment - getting rid of the 18th - was ratified Dec. 5th, 1933, a day that we celebrate...every day, come to think of it! But it was Depression times (gosh, I wonder what that was like?), and then after what's commonly called the "Second World War," only a few but large corporations had enough capital to brew for the thirsty masses. And they brewed really terrible stuff (I'm biased, I know, I know).

Perhaps the major brewer in Unistat was Anheuser-Busch, and I heartily recommend reading William Knoedelseder's recent Bitter Brew: Anheuser-Busch and the Rise and Fall of America's Kings of Beer. If you'd rather practice Bayard's art here, see Tom Dibblee's terrific review of the book, "Even Anheuser-Busch Hates Bud Light." Don't miss the very George W. Bush 43-ish personality of August Busch IV; the downfall of competitor Schlitz, which tried to speed up fermentation to produce more beer, but this caused a yucky mucous-like substance to accumulate once the beer got old enough; how the good ol' boys running Anheuser-Busch were dismayed - ironically so like me and my beer snob friends - when Bud Light outsold their beloved Budweiser, which to me is a horrible beer: they thought Bud Light had no soul, and I think everything Anheuser-Busch has brewed has no soul and aye: 'tis "yellow fizzy water." They began to lose market share (much of it via mismanagement) and tried all sorts of ridiculous gimmicks, one of which the reviewer Dibblee unashamedly loves: Bud Light With Lime. (And I admire his defense of it, by the way. See Dibblee's paragraph near the end that starts, "I wrote earlier about...")

A right-goodlie portion of Knoedelseder's book was a revelation to me; I have been a ruthless opponent of Unistatian Bad Beer for many years now (25?); and I love the new craft beers and micro- and nano-brewing experiments, and I'm a confessed huge Hop Head, but I'll get to that in a bit.

The most poignant part of the book, which informs what I call The Big Divide, is how Anheuser-Busch was taken over, hostile-fashion, by Belgium-based InBev. Like all giant sociopathic corporations, it laid off thousands of workers and cut benefits. It also cheapened their production processes to make even shittier beer (hard to imagine!), and the upper brass and CEOs gave themselves humongous bonuses. But the worst: they feel a threat from actual BEER: craft beers, innovators, the little guys who actually care about beer. So they buy up as many of the other larger worldwide breweries and distributors, spend enormously on marketing, and take up the precious "eye-level" space in markets. And they have enforced laws that basically only allow their own beer to be shipped across state lines. It's complex, chock-full of mendacity, galling stuff.

In late January of 2013, driven by the New America Foundation, the "Justice" Department in Unistat actually began antitrust (!) proceedings against Anheuser-Busch/InBev (ABI), because ABI had announced they wanted to buy Grupo Modelo, the largest beer distributor based in Mexico. ABI saw Corona beer as a threat.

Oh, wow: I realize I've gone on far too long on the lousy beer stuff, and I could write off the top of my head another 5000 words on this shit, but suffice: ABI, together with another monster crap-beer conglomerate, SABMiller (So. African Brewers who bought Miller in 2002, then later Coors and Foster's, blah blah blah) control at least 80% of the market in Unistat. ABI's buying of Grupo Modelo would make this even worse; hence, the antitrust stuff going on now. They say they have their eyes on the world beer market and mean no artistes any harm, but make no mistake: they want to crush the craft beer industry - the only beer worth drinking, something that makes my life immeasurably more worth living - in Unistat.

There's a lot of Good News on this front, and maybe if anyone asks me in the comments I'll go into it, but right now I need to go into hops.

Finally:Get a load of this world beer map of brews made by just "Two Giant Brewers, 210 Brands." (If you personally like any one of these, good for you! I want people to enjoy what they enjoy. But know who's controlling what you're drinking. It may give you pause...)

Oh, there's so much of surpassing fascination to say, talk, write and talk again about: malts, malting processes, and the miracle of yeast. To say the least. But I'd like to talk hops, which are very closely related to Cannabis. (Full disclosure: as I write this blogspewage, I'm languidly lavishing in a bomber of Coronado Brewing's Idiot IPA: an India Pale Ale, "Imperial"- style, which means it's hopped-up big-time, basically a double IPA: very bitter and delicious.)

The story goes that extra hops were used in beer shipped to British troops maintaining the Empire in India: hops act as a preservative in addition to adding a fine bitter taste to ale. When Unistat made homebrewing legal in 1979, those garage-scientist-brewing-tinkerers were influenced by the good beer they'd had on their trips to Europe, and especially England and Scotland, but also: Germany, Ireland, Czechoslovakia...(Now many brewers in those countries are being inspired by Unistatian craft-brews. Do you see what I mean by the The Big Divide?)

What else do hops do? Well, they're linked to controlling respiratory infections in children. Maybe isolates of humulone will one day fight pneumonia and bronchitis in kids? (This reminds me of Pliny the Elder, the Roman naturalist, 23-79CE, who died after inhaling smoke and ash after the Mt. Vesuvius eruption: a craft brew from near-to-me Santa Rosa, a hop bomb called Pliny the Elder, has won multiple awards and is much celebrated and sought-after among hop-heads in Unistat. It's maybe my favorite beer right now...)

So hops are anti-viral and related intimately to Cannabis and their oily terpenoids contribute overwhelmingly to the character of a particular beer, "So fucking what?," as the Anti-Nowhere League once said. (Check out Metallica's cover - NSFW! probably? - of that very Libertarian song HERE. There are many sources for the lyrics, one of which HERE. But clearly: when Hetfield of Metallica sings it, instead of "I've sucked sweets/I've sucked rock," he's singing "I've fucked the Queen/I fucked Bach..." This needed to be cleared up.)

I like very bitter, hoppy beer. That's what. "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do," as Ruth Brown and B.B. King once sang, in a very Libertarian song. (You know this one, but in case not, it's HERE. Great Mother of All Hops!: I love BB's vibrato! It's like a trill, it's so even and quick. Inimitable! And I've tried to imitate it. And I dig how he just decided, long ago, to not play chords, and just...sing with his "Lucille" and Lucille's interlopers. The only vibrato that made a deeper impression on me is Eric Clapton's, 1967-74, but clearly, that's for some other time.)

Am I addicted? I don't think so. Although "addiction" has become far better understood and hence much more complicated over the past six years. Russian River Brewing's Vinnie Cilurzo and another brewer named Matt Brynildson coined the phrase, in 2005, "lupulin threshold shift," which means "when a double IPA just isn't enough." Vinnie brews Pliny the Elder, and I once wrote him a fan letter because of it. Yea, I got it bad. I consider Vinnie an Artist.

Briefly, I have gained some insight into why I push the envelope for hoppiness (some people can't stand the bitterness of some "hoppy" beer that to me, is only a jump, step and hop from Budweiser), and it's from the literature of addiction. Briefly: there's adaptation to a stimulus, when the perception, in this case taste/smell, dissipates over the course of an exposure. I try a hop-bomb beer and go wow! You try it and think whatever, you like it or not or something in between, you've got your own complex neurochemistry-set that's unique based on your DNA, experience, aesthetics, etc.

Within an hour, your sensorium is back to "normal." Me? Habituation has taken place. What's going on is that, for a long time after the initial exposure to some overweeningly bitter hopped-up beer, my sensitivity remains diminished. In other words, the impression of the hops on my nervous system was pleasurable, and I sorta...want more. Hence, we hop-heads push the hop-envelope and now there are Triple IPAs. At this point the way we measure this - so far, in IBUs, or International Bitterness Units - is off the charts. There's no "official line" for what makes an IPA a single, double, or even triple. (I recently had a quadruple IPA called Moylan's Hop Craic - pronounced "crack" and Gaelic for "conversation" but the brewer knows what the pun's about, I assure you.)

A Novel Hypothesis?

Now, I don't know if the following observation has been made, but here goes:

Experimental psychologist Linda Bartoshuk has done studies and noted that about 25% of the population are "non-tasters." About 50% are "tasters" and 25% are "supertasters." This has to do with administering a chemical, which interacts with the either very low, medium, or high number of fungiform papillae on your tongue. This chemical, yoked to your overall sensoria, will have you reacting (or not or to some degree) that it's very bitter and unpleasant, or maybe you barely notice it at all. Supertasters taste this chemical and it's horribly bitter to them; they find cruciferous vegetables very strong and unpleasant, so they may get more cancers because they can't handle, say, broccoli. It's far more complex than I will make it out, so look into this stuff for yourself. [See links HERE, HERE, and HERE, for example.] Ya gots yer fungiform papillae, ya gots yer reactions to foods or drinks, ya gots yer olfactory bulb and genes and all that stuff. Supertasters may be thinner: less to eat, everything's really intense for them. The wine expert Robert Parker is probably one of these people. The late Aaron Swartz described himself as a supertaster.

"Non-tasters" like their coffee black. (Supertasters often can't drink coffee at all, or if they do, they cut it with all kinds of gawdawful stuff like cream or milk or sugar.) Non-tasters dig really hot peppers. They generally eat anything. Many of them are overweight, because they can eat anything, and they like everything, and especially extreme tastes. Because of what I'll call my genetic profile, I am not overweight, but I am a non-taster. Give me the hottest salsa you can find. Make my coffee black, no cream or sugar, and so thick you can stand a fork in it. I'll eat anything and I generally like it, even if I think it's not exactly the best version of taco/cheese/tomato/yogurt/pickles/chocolate/steak/turnips, whatever. Throw just about anything at me and I'll like it. Hey gals? I'm EASY!

Okay, so this is my best explanation so far for my extreme hop-love: the more bitter and extreme the hops, the more stimulating the experience, then the habituation, followed by escalation. The evolutionary psychology explanation: the supertasters could tell the rest of the wandering-through-the-forest tribe which plants might be dangerous, extreme bitterness and strong tastes in general being suspected poisons. My people were the ones who maybe died because they ate something anyway, never getting the verbal memo. But I'm here, my lineage remains. They got the memo, and maybe even said "the hell with it: I want something interesting..." I have survived. (I'll spare the Donna Summer link.)

And you know what? The bulk of non-tasters are caucasian, white, and male.

Where are the most gargantuanly hoppy beers being quaffed? In California, Oregon, Washington, in areas that are crammed with slightly overweight, educated, caucasian males. Interesting. They're often the hop-bomb brewers, too.

Now: the old statistical saw: Correlation Does Not Imply Causation. I'm merely suggesting it.

So, an article by a self-described beer writer and admitted hop-head (and female), Adrienne So (sounds non-caucasian), was published by Slate recently. She says enough with the over-the-top hops, craft beer freaks! I like 'em too, but we're alienating the people who are willing to jump from the Dark Side of The Great Divide's ABI/SABMiller beers to the Good Stuff, and you're clobbering them with extremes! I see her point. The commenters seem sorta unfair to her. But I think Adrienne So is not paying attention to 1.) the market will say who wants extremely hoppy beer; 2.) there is no end of really delicious non-extreme hoppy craft beer out there, and 3.) her friend from Tennessee is a weasel.

So let me reiterate my (?) hypothesis: the genes that migrated to the Left Coast contained a lot of non-tasters, folks who like extreme tastes and will try anything, as long as it's interesting. While there are tremendously hopped-up hyper-bitter beers brewed in areas not on the Left Coast, this is where it's really hot. (I love Avery Maharaja Double IPA out of Boulder, Colorado and the day I tasted Three Floyd's Dreadnaught Imperial IPA out of Munster, Indiana was a very good day indeed!) Adrienne So has not taken into account non-tasters and their genetic drift to the Left Coast of Unistat.

I'll be paying attention to see how my Hypothesis falls apart upon further evidence. Until then: Cheers!

Some Beers I Regret I Didn't Get To Mention That Have Taken Me To Hop Heaven:

  • Green Flash Imperial IPA
  • Pliny The Younger 
  • Moylan's Hopsickle
  • Marin Brewing White Knuckle
  • Stone Ruination 10th Anniversary
  • Lagunitas Hop Stoopid
  • your massively hopped beer here
uber-wonkiness on hops:
Dr. Charles Bamforth - the Pope of Foam - on hops and bitterness.