The Hunger Games isn’t Just a Successful Book Series, It’s an American Reality

Over the weekend, while perusing my Twitter timeline feed, I saw the video attached below. If you’ve not seen it, watch it now. It’s recorded at a Wal-Mart, between a man–presumably the father of the toddler in the cart–and a woman. Here’s your opportunity to watch the video:

This article won’t be an explanation between the wastefulness of government spending. The contrast and proportionality of social welfare spending versus military spending. Even a minute amount of research will lead you to the conclusion that a significantly less amount of your taxed dollars go toward social welfare programs than those that go toward building new weapons of mass destruction. Instead, I want to unwrap the idea of the reality of the American Hunger Games.

There is a very sincere cultural identity that exists in the United States that does not exist anywhere else. It’s umbilical is anchored to the American Dream. The idea that with enough perspiration, you can make it big. The hierarchical food chain is a linear totem pole. There is a bottom, soiled and lazy, they’ll say, that you must never be slip into. Near the top, with the millionaires and billionaires, is what we must all aspire to. Here is the added caveat, here’s what the lady in the video is inadvertently admitting we must all do, and are ultimately all guilty of: we must look down upon those who cling to the rungs below us on the totem pole.

The lady in the video not only admonishes the man for being on food stamps–she despises the idea. This form of socialism isn’t fair, she admits, as they “take it out of her check every month.” Again, I’m overlooking the fact this woman most likely drove her car on roads paved with money that was taken out of YOUR check every month. Instead, unwrap what she’s saying.

“You’re beneath me, so I’ll attack you,” as no doubt those above her must also attack her. This woman, for all her complaining about the man in front of her using food stamps paid for by her own dollar, is also shopping at fucking Wal-Mart. This isn’t the suave millionaire thumbing his nose at the beat up Honda civic from the cockpit of a Ferrari. This is someone taking their best shot at someone who is just a peg down. Mocking someone in a wheelchair from crutches. This is the reality of the American Hunger Games.

There is no cooperation here. It’s a competition. If you have to use food stamps to stay afloat, I’m already ahead of you. This conversation expands further, explaining in easily discernible words why the rampant divergence in ideology exists with very few changes coming. This lady isn’t the only one who harbors such ill will toward socialized welfare programs, but I would almost bet you my savings account that beyond her rant here, she’ll expend very little effort to improve the problem she perceives. This is a zero sum game. Nobody wins.

Bonne journées, mes amis.

 

Do You Even Lift?

Comparatively, I have been around the fitness industry for only mere seconds. Fitness in the United States has a long and–it can be said without hesitation–sober history. The inclinations of men to improve their own health from the beginning of the 1900’s with men like Bernarr Macfadden and Charles Atlas has always been limited by a lack of scientific data. Efforts–paired with genetics–were often the prerequisites that governed one’s ability to be among the top tier of early bodybuilders.

The development of the industry into a lucrative moneymaking machine is not a foreign concept. In fact, it is the epitome of the American blueprint. Professional sports athletes have long hinged their success on the backbone of their exact and prolific physical prowess, existing as the top 1% of the 1% who made the cut. The shredded athletes of the fitness industry possess one glaring and disgusting difference: they tell you that if you their products, you too can look like them. This is only one of the multitude of chapters in the book of fitness industry lies. And you have to quit believing them.

Dr. Layne Norton, a reputable pro-bodybuilder, business owner and author eludes to some of the problems in his article “The Fitness Industry is Failing,” a link at which has been attached to the bottom. He underlines some of the more glaring issues with the industry, the rot from the inside, if you prefer. Among these are the fabricated elitism of the self-proclaimed Olympic Instagram gods, the poor direction of the fitness industry and general lack of accountability by the average gym goer at large. These are all apt points, but my argument goes in a different direction, and for good reason.

There are certain perversions that have grown from the bullshit of the fitness industry. They are not easily explained nor warded away. They are prevalent, persistent and always present. Succinctly, they fall into a single category. Bro science.

Broscience 1

Urban dictionary defines bro science as the following: “Broscience is the predominant brand of reasoning in bodybuilding circles where the anecdotal reports of jacked dudes are considered more credible than scientific research. ” This definition is functionally, but not all inclusive. Bro science can be interpreted as anecdotal perspectives not backed by reasonable scientific hypotheses or data. You need not be an NPC physique competitor or willfully injecting performance enhancing drugs to spew bro science.

You’ve weathered bro science before, as many of us have. The most common bro science starts thus: “Well what worked for me was. .followed almost assuredly by something bizarre or even the most basic chemistry student can prove wrong. Among these are some of the examples I have encountered:

“Girls will get too bulky with free weights, they should only use machines.”

I made some serious gains by bulking up with ice cream.”

Your body only has a 30 minute anabolic window.”

Bro science is held aloft by a single premise. The premise is the sinister perpetuation that someone’s credibility in the fitness industry is based on their physique. This is simply insanity. It’s the equivocation of taking your car to someone who owns a Ferrari versus the mechanic who owns the Honda. There are those of you are there that will argue the easily dismissed counterpoint: “Why would I entrust the word regarding health and nutritional science to someone who doesn’t take care of their own body?” This is a very subtle ad hominem, the equivalence of dismissing someone’s argument based on whether they smell bad or not.

Simply put, the adherence to the ideology that because someone looks better (and in most cases, especially with the male anatomy; bigger) than you, in no way qualifies them more as an expert than you are. For those of you unfamiliar, this is the current Olympia champion, Phil Heath.

PhilHeath-FLX-Aug13-PavelYthjall-179

In comparison, Layne Norton.

layne-norton-training

Well, that’s not fair, you might say! What an unflattering picture of Layne! This picture is more stylized, actually. Layne Norton’s more common appearance in the gym is this:

Layne Norton

Far less flattering than Heath. Let no blame be placed on Phil Heath, here. He’s doing exactly what he should be doing. Phil Heath, I might argue, has become just as much of the product as the salesman. That’s not the argument here. This is the question I pose: Assuming that Layne Norton and Phil Heath were both present and available, who might the regular gym goer look to for information on bodybuilding?

The more rational of you might give pause. The logical premise here is to discern qualification. Is the health of a doctor a relevant criteria in determining whether or not he would be suitable to rend care unto you? Would you refuse care from a doctor because his own blood pressure was high, or he had arthritis? Then why must we insist–in the world of fitness-that only those who look qualified, are in fact qualified.

The insistence upon this irrational ideology has long been a personal battle of mine, though this article attempts to reach beyond that. I would not stand alone in the following statement: Given advice on a particular subject of nutrition or exercise science from a professional athlete in the sport–such as Phil Heath–and a certified expert in the field–such as Layne Norton–I would almost assuredly trust the latter over the former. And yet I stand in a suspiciously significant minority.

To dispel the idea above would be to go against a very real trend in the United States. Every year, the percentage of people overweight increases and yet the United States stand as the most fitness obsessed nation in the world. Something isn’t working. This brings me to my second point. The Bullshit of Supplements

The Bullshit of Supplements

There are two statistics of which are distinctly correlated. The prevalence of obesity in the United States and the growth of the supplement market. People are buying more fat burners than ever, and yet the human condition is deteriorating at an even faster rate. While most well mannered people realize that you cannot “buy the fat away,” supplement companies aren’t targeting those people. The ShredZ ads aren’t for people who understand that a single fat burner with a proprietary blend won’t burn the donuts, the beers and the twinkies away.

Obesity

Instead, the supplement companies have paired with the third, and most ludicrous aspect of the fitness industry. What Layne Norton refers to the fitness industry elitists. As a four year employee at a franchise owned GNC, I witnessed first hand the diabolical sales practices utilized to ensure that people believed they were exchanging their dollars for results.

Supplement Sales

The exaggeration of these products here cannot be understated. These products are only marginally effective in the realm of “bodybuilding gains” and “fatburning.” Vitamins and minerals have characteristics that have very real and lasting effect. The preworkout you’re taking, does not.

Mental Masturbators

Followed by thousands on Instagram, the mental masturbators are the fitness elite. They’re “sponsored” (whatever the hell that means), “professional trainers” (but no certifications, man?!) and always, always, always with their booking information. They are a well entangled web of ego boosters, who flaunt what they have and what you don’t. Their like and favorite-induced narcissism is not necessarily a self-inflicted poison. Rock hard abs and well developed glutes help sales, after all.

Label

While understanding it’s whats in the white label that should matter, most people love the promise of results. “I got shredded in six weeks with this!” It is a self-inducing cycle, maintained purely by the ignorance of their potential customers.

These “sponsored” athletes are part of a club, and you’re in it. There is a very real divide between superstar and customer. The idea here is that they have been placed on a pedestal, and it is in their best interest never to come down. In fact, it is in their best interest for you not to get results. If you took their products and they genuinely worked, you wouldn’t be a customer. It is a self-serving cycle that can end in only one way. Self-education. The availability of information is covered in Layne Norton’s post, linked below, that I need not repeat here.

These elements of the fitness industry are not new, nor are they near the end of their life cycle. This article was written as an impromptu thank you to those who have helped educate me on the facet that self-awareness is the path best taken to a strong body. This article is a testament to the idea I hold close that many putting in hours in the gym, lifting with improper form because Bodybuilder Joe told them or buying the latest fat burner are doing so with genuine and good intentions. I wrote this article as a reminder that I once believed Kre-Alkaline was the “more effective” Creative, overlooking it’s 150% price point, or that the fat burner I was burning could give me the abs of the Instagram model trying to sell them. It’s not that.

It’s hard fucking work, and it’s knowledge. Everyone has a little bit of the first one. The second one is a bit more rare.

Layne Norton’s “The Fitness Industry is Failing” https://www.biolayne.com/articles/training/biolayne-guest-blog-by-jonathon-goodman-the-fitness-industry-is-failing/

Why I’ll Never Date a Religious Girl (Again)

Religion. Fewer things conspire people to throwing verbal darts and attacking your character faster than religion. As a collegiate student, I was that guy. While I am vehemently capable of defending my own beliefs (or lack thereof), it was during any concourse of religion that I would often make others defend their beliefs. It’s something that most religious people care not to think of. Oklahoma (of where I went to college and have lived a large portion of my life) is the most Christian state in the U.S., and because of that, Christians are safe in that most conversations and forums they partake in, they remain the majority. An interesting observation I have made is that most Christians take personal offense when you question their beliefs. This is significantly different than when you disagree with their politics, or that they party on the weekend. When you question Jesus of Nazareth, you may as well have cast the first stone, as it were.

Allow me to say this, I do not intend to invoke the same tyranny of anti-theism here I was guilty of as a college student. Instead, I wish to portray the perspective and experiences of a non-religious person who has in the past dated Christian girls of varying faith and why I would never do that again. I want nothing more than to lay my experiences bare.

While I was a student in college, I was as liberal as one might be when it came to dating. Political views, race and religion were all up for grabs. If you could hold a good conversation and enjoyed ice cream, I was probably going to try and date you. (So many great candidates unfortunately fell short at the first hurdle). I’ve dated white, black, and Hispanic girls. I’ve dated American, French and Irish girls. I’ve dated atheist, Jewish and Christian girls. It’s the last one specifically that has given me fits of conscious I may yet never recover from.

For years I wanted to write this piece. I wanted to let those who aren’t religious know the mind numbing cancer of religion that can often poison a perfectly good relationship, but for years I couldn’t quite find the most appropriate manner in which to describe what it feels like as a non-believer to date someone who has so aptly given their life to a man two thousand years died (and apparently risen again). I have since discovered this analogy and it’s here I’ll share it with you.

Dating a Christian (girl), is to me, the equivalent of dating a mother, except the child is one whom you will never experience life with, never interact with, and never see grow up. It is being the third wheel in an already fundamentally grounded relationship. It is a problem to which there is no viable solution.

Interestingly enough, two of the three Christian girls I dated–who are are all phenomenal human beings–were the daughters of Evangelical preachers. Perhaps it is no one’s fault than my own to attack the tree at the root. Both circumstances have similar beginnings worth telling: both girls attempted to subvert my “lack of relationship with Christ” by repeatedly dragging me to church with them. It was undoubtedly my hesitant agreement to attend that fueled our relationships. I always attempted to make religion a non-issue in the sphere of these budding relationships. I would avoid the conversation of the afterlife, or the purpose of life at my own chagrin because I understood that–like most Christians settled deep in the Bible Belt–these girls did not like their beliefs challenged.

I hid away my Richard Dawkins’ and Christopher Hitchen’s books so that while browsing my meager library of books my girlfriend wouldn’t discover such titles as “The God Delusion” and “God is Not Great” among my recently read list. I did this because the relationship between two people (in this case, the girl of my affections and myself) was more important than God–some fantastical idea that she revered and I despised.

I intentionally hid my grimace when her father would tell me that I could lead the prayer before dinner, because my girlfriends happiness was more important than my own. You need make no comments about the magnitude of these mistakes, but this additional point must be known: I dispatched of this attitude halfway through these relationships–only to recoil back into after the failure of the first relationship, and my apathy of religion in the second–which caused their end.

These girls, both collegiate athletes and excellent students,  hid behind God in defense of bigoted beliefs that often manifested in snide remarks about homosexuals and condemning others to hell. These were girls for whom I was dedicated 100% to, insomuch as that when I was with them–I was with them, but that I felt it was terrifyingly difficult to have a conversation with them without the word God being brought up to explain the severity of one of her teammates daily transgressions.

Being in a relationship with someone who loves Jesus more than they love you is much like it sounds. Replace Jesus with literally any man who is taller and funnier than you and the sickening reality is this: at least that person is real. Jesus died 2,000 years ago. Everyone can relate to the stomach churning anomaly of realizing the idol of your affections has their eyes set on another. Imagine instead that your crush held their affections in reserve for someone who was 2,000 years deceased.

I don’t intentionally intend the awful humor of Judeo-Christian beliefs, but I can not state it simpler. In a moment of genuine regret during my sophomore year of college, I was at a restaurant with one of these two girls, unaware our relationship was only minutes awful from a tumultuous collapse. While discussing choosing a topic for an essay in a political science class, she made the offhand comment that “all the topics we can choose wouldn’t even be a big deal if more people gave their life to Christ.” Among the topics on the list were abortion, the death penalty and gun ownership, per usual.

Neurons fired in my brain and I was unable to hold back the disgusting comment I made only a moment later. “If you love Jesus Christ so much, why don’t you let him fuck you and pay for dinner?”

I never saw her again.

It is no different than dating a parent who comes with a child. Except that when you date a parent who does have a child, any investment they (and you) make, is tangible. It’s real. The person in this circumstance–the child–is full of life and loud and beautiful and disgusting all within a few breaths of each other. The two hours for the Wednesday service, the hour and a half for the early (and sometimes late) service. That wasn’t real, and I’m glad I have the courage not to deal with it now.

Christians I’ve spoken to on this have given me some ironic feedback. “Well, that’s okay,” they’ll tell me. “I would never date an atheist.” I bet you wouldn’t. But why is that? You can’t get over them when they keep telling you NOT to discriminate against same sex marriage? Or when they tell you maybe to quit brandishing your faith as a weapon?

Bonne Journeés, mes amis.

Hard Work Matters, But Only a Little

There exists in life a totem pole. With success at it’s apex and utter fail at it’s base, the totem pole can faithfully represent every individual that lives, has ever lived and will ever lived. Unfortunately, it is poor in representing the truth behind the dice roll that is life. Even before you’re born, you’re placed somewhere in the rung of this immense totem among the other helpless eight billion neighbors based on three factors. These three factors are luck, circumstance and genetics. Among these three hard work is not, and for good reason. While you will most likely work hard in your life, unless you’re already comfortable with your spot on the totem, it’s bearing on where you end up on the totem is negligible at best.

The three aspects responsible for where you end up on the totem pole are worth a further examination, if nothing else. The first is luck, and the easiest to explain. During your conception, biochemical decisions were being made for you months before your brain had developed to form what we now know as consciousness. Your mother for example, may have made the rationally poor decision of smoking during her pregnancy,  increasing the risk for mental and physical deformation. It’s not critical to hypothesize that your life would have turned out much differently had your mother made these decisions, and say, inadvertently caused you to be born with a mental or physical deformity. An easier example, who your mother decided to conceive with, has an effect on who you will become. A simpler example again, on where your mother was when she conceived you, or even still where she was when she birthed you, can all have irrefutably massive effects on where in the totem pole you begin. These factors are seemingly random, but they are anything but. Liberals tend to understand that a person can be lucky or unlucky in all matters relevant to his success. Conservatives, however, often make a religious fetish of individualism.

Many seem to have absolutely no awareness of how fortunate one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works. One must be lucky to be able to work. One must be lucky to be intelligent, physically healthy, and not bankrupted in middle age by the illness of a spouse.

The second of the three is most linked to the first, and exists as an extension to it. Circumstance is the the fact or condition relevant to your state. The majority of those around you will tell you that where you are in life is exactly where you deserve to be. Your current situation is the summation of all your previous life decisions. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s easy to assume that our success in life is simply how we play the cards we’re dealt in life, but that assumption is predicated on two false premises: that A) we were all dealt the same cards and that B) we all have the same fundamental stakes in the game. Both of these can be proven false without much effort.

Donald Trump is often made synonymous as a “self-made man,” but this is simply the sum of the two factors of life working with him. Donald Trump had luck on his side being the son of a successful real estate investor Fred Trump. Would your life have been any different–any easier–had your father been a millionaire? The circumstance of this birth elevated Donald Trump further. He mentions it in a 1999 interview: Recently, Donald Trump said he was happy his father stuck to Brooklyn and Queens. ”It was good for me,” the developer said, chuckling. ”You know, being the son of somebody, it could have been competition to me. This way, I got Manhattan all to myself!”  (http://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/26/nyregion/fred-c-trump-postwar-master-builder-of-housing-for-middle-class-dies-at-93.html?scp=2&sq=Fred%20C.%20Trump&st=cse&pagewanted=2)

The mere circumstance that Donald Trump’s father died with a near monopoly over the larger New York City era and subsequently left a power vacuum for his son to take shortly after only further aided Donald Trump’s financial rise. In fact, I’ll argue that Donald Trump isn’t genetically wired to be a good businessman. He’s declared bankruptcy four times, though his wealth (much of it made from money given to him from his father) was only ever at stake in the first bankruptcy of the Trump Taj Mahal. In the subsequent three bankruptcies, his own personal wealth was never at stake.

‘Hard work is most important,’ is what businessmen like Donald Trump, Sam Walton and Ray Kroc would say. Though a more in depth look at Sam Walton would reveal he merely filled a niche that did not exist at the time: large scale stores in small scale towns. Was it all elbow grease that got these men to the top? Are there no examples of men that worked harder than Trump, Walton or Kroc and failed where the former three did not? What explanation then can be given for their success?

Michael Jordan, Lebron James and Kobe Bryant are stellar examples of sports mega-athletes. “They’re the first to show up and the last to leave,” has been said of them. The idealistic idea that the amount of time put into a given task leads to it’s optimization is farcical at best. Thousands of would-be professional athletes almost assuredly shoot more shots than Lebron James does, practice crossovers more often than Bryant and spend more hours on their full court endurance than Jordan, yet will never be half as good can easily be explained. If there is anything we can be sure, the athletes that win won’t always be the hardest working or the best coached. At the most elite level, the victory is contested by those with the best genes.

The fact is that systematic development of alleles in the genetics development of the human condition are the reason for the existence of these athletes. It is both rational and at the same time heretical to say that one day there will be a player whose own skill dwarfs that of Michael Jordan or Tom Brady or Barry Sanders at their respective positions. For the latter because they are some of the best to do ever do it, the former because it is simply inevitable that as humans evolve, so too do our genes to better succeed at the games and tasks we have been conditioned to play.

These players work hard, but not because hard work is what matters to be successful. Instead, they work hard because the human psyche is designed in such a way to play at one’s strengths where possible. It is not feasible for one human to give 110% effort and another to give 100% and assume that player giving more effort will win. The maximum effort that can ever be given by any one person at any one time is 100%. Assuming two athletes are both giving the maximum effort at one time, genetics will always decide the winner. Yet, it’s your natural human inclination to disagree. Hard work is what separates the winners from the losers, right? To agree to the idea that you are not wholly in control of your successes and failures rides against the very criteria that many have used in their formula for success.

Michael Jordan, one of the best (if not the best) basketball players in the history of the game, is currently owner and head of basketball operations for the Charlotte Hornets. For all his prowess on the court, Jordan has shown himself incapable of manifesting any form of success on the financial side of things. Is he simply not working hard enough? Is it luck? Or are his genes simply not wired for the tough to make decisions of running, as opposed to playing for, a professional basketball team. Jordan has the income and assets to focus on things in life in which he has no strengths, but the rest of us, we must simply stick to what we are good at.

Is the Era of Being an Asshole Over?

There used to be a time and a place to be an asshole. It can even be said with some exceptional clarity that assholes had their own much needed place in the social ecosystem of the 21st century. Is this coming to a close?

First, the more often than not vague perimeters of an asshole must be defined. An asshole can be defined as “a person who does not give a shit about the effect they are having on anyone or anything outside of themselves, most often in the goal of success and self-preservation.” Everyone knows an asshole. Many people are friends with them (by necessity rather than virtue), and some of you reading this are one. However, it could be said for millenia on end that the asshole has always held a chair at the table of dialogue. Few can ever admit to not relishing in an asshole delivering a backhanded blow to someone who you know, really deep down, deserved it.

Let me be up front about this: I’m an asshole.

I don’t pander to kindness for its own sake, and I’m objective in how I spread out my apathy. I walk a fine line on the tightrope of political correctness, because while I don’t steep to it, I understand its existence is practical.

2016 is a different year. Things are changing. The social dynamics are being altered in a way that’s bodes ill for assholery everywhere in the United States. Again, allow a moment for explanation here. I exchanged this dialogue with others in the past and have received the same response. “You’re just a bigot then! Or maybe a racist!” Really? I’m none of these things. Instead, I mean the days of the Christopher Hitchens stage debating are coming to a close. If you’ve never seen the journalist and antitheist Christopher Hitchens devour opponents on stage or in pen, you’ve certainly missed out. No only was the man capable of convincing political and socio-economic rhetoric, his ability to be both admired and an asshole is unlike the world has ever seen.

Being an asshole has it’s perks. You’re free to cast the feelings of those whom you’ve no attachments to the side. There is some morality in empathy, but toeing the line for fear of offense has been more capitulation than tolerance.

Aaron James, a philosophy professor at Harvard and an ardent fan of catchings waves from time to time off California’s shining coast defined asshole in a way much more materially and philosophically pleasing than I did above. “The asshole (1) allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically; (2) does this out of an entrenched sense of entitlement; and (3) is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people.”

Assholes are categorized in a sympathetically different method than psychopaths in that he conducts himself within the restraints of moral reasoning. While a psychopath might not care if you have rights, an asshole understands that you have rights and simply believes his own should take precedence. People who are generally considered to not be assholes but sometimes make decisions based off this thinking. “You’re such an ass,” you might think to someone who does this once or twice. Someone who makes this into a calculated lifestyle: asshole.

It exists for conversation that the era of being an asshole is over. Think back to those great assholes of lore: Achilles, Napoleon, Genghis Khan, Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, George S. Patton and Charles Dickins. These people were major, unsympathetic assholes. The kind of people who got shit done. Many scribe to me that Donald Trump is an asshole. He’s not an asshole. He’s a dick. A huge dick. Dick’s aren’t cool, man. They ruin shit for everybody else. Assholes get shit done at other people’s expense. There’s a difference.

Such behavior now is frowned upon, though it seems there isn’t a reason that its pulse is dying out. I think it can be said the world needs assholes. Without them, the conversation isn’t as lively, the laughs aren’t as big (because only assholes are telling the really funny jokes) and its harder to appreciate the sweeter moments when they’re all too common.

Bonne journée, mes amis.

 

Stuck on the Far Side: Traveling the World, and Why You’re Not Doing It

“I want to urge you very strongly to travel as much as you can, and to evolve yourself as an internationalist. It’s as important a part of your education as a radical as the reading of any book.”  ─ Christopher Hitchens

Putting on and taking off one’s coat becomes a habitual, almost Pavlovian reaction in the cobblestone streets of Copenhagen. Too hot indoors and so frighteningly cold outdoors that you might be inclined to recheck the map when you realize that Copenhagen isn’t that much further north than London, but thrice as frigid.

“It’s the sea,” any Dane will tell you, an assurance that you probably hadn’t thought of amid the mystification of Danish architecture and hospitality. It is true, that Copenhagen at least feels colder than any city in a tangibly similar latitude.

Reading this, most likely from the warmth of a spacious American home or apartment (yes, still spacious compared to their European equivalent), one might be called into question whether a future visit to Copenhagen in the winter is in the books. It should be. All places should be. But I want to threaten you with a more radical idea instead. Take them out of the books, and put them right out in front of you. Now.

It can be said with some admirable clarity that travel is a second life of sorts. Fewer things in life can swat away your problems like exploring a new culture. In my youth, I refused to believe that an airplane was a means of travel by space and rather one by world entirely. I, as far as my meager mammalian brain could figure, got onto the plane, promptly fell into a nap as dictated by the alluring whir of the airliners turbine engines, and when I awoke was in an entirely new place, but a new world entirely.

I have lived abroad in France, vacationed in Denmark and witnessed profound cultures as far north as Sweden and as robust and grounded as Bavaria and Silesia in Germany. An explanation of my jettison from Oklahoma to France might sound idyllic to you, the very type of adventure you might want to go on. I purchased a ticket, round trip knowing that my stay was to be woefully limited, and landed with only a single friend in the entire country. He was to be my tour guide, my cultural guide and later one of my best friends.

I went thinking I spoke better French than I did, believing I know more about the world that I do, and that this trip would be like any other. I was wrong on every count. The trips return however, is the one portion most worthy of analysis. When I returned, I was threatened with eviction from my apartment, having simply disappeared from the world for so long, my car had been towed and I was so broke that my sustenance was nothing more than a loaf of bread with mayonnaise for taste. Why, you might be asking? I didn’t plan to leave for France for ninety days. I just did it. And it was─to this day─the best life choice I have ever made.

I used to be among your club. I used to dream, hope, pray and tweet about seeing the world. Then I did it. And you’ll never see me hoping for it again. Travel is─like everything else in this world─something that requires your direct attention. In fact, many of you reading this will never travel because it is a pipe dream for you. Traveling the world isn’t a priority, it’s just something you like unfold on your favorite Travel Porn Tumblr and The Amazing Race.

Sometimes travel means putting off those new clothes or eating out every single day. It requires sacrifice, much like anything else. Yet, Americans─who have almost more disposable income than any industrialized country in the world─are some of the worst savers of money, ever. My explanations of my own travels are not a proverbial throat clearing, but a message that impulse, in this case, is more the angel than the devil. When the urge strikes you to see the world, sometimes the best thing is to jump at it.

Bonne journée, mes amis.

 

A World Where Luke Skywalker and Rey Switched Places

Let’s talk Star Wars.

I’m posting this because I have to open the faucet on these pent up thoughts bubbling up in my head. Twitter is an excellent place for initial thoughts, but most tweets are free from context and limited to 140 characters. Two problems that won’t follow us to Word Press.

Before I embark  on this miniature mental exercise, I’d like to say a few things: First, these are my opinions. If you loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens (and I certainly wanted to), then nothing I say here will change your mind. What is about to happen here is a stark comparison between two characters. Nothing more. What I want is dialogue. I want you to read this and come back me to me with your thoughts. Let’s talk about it.

The most common argument I’ve seen in the defense of The Force Awakens on Twitter is thus: “If you didn’t like it you’re a [insert whatever morally reprehensible thing you hate the most here] and that’s that. It’s Star Wars, people!” No, sorry. Star Wars is not immune from your criticisms. Not yet.

So, let’s go! Spoilers abound here, people!

Most of you know Luke Skywalker’s tale, but we’ll go into further detail in a bit: Stuck on the Outer Rim planet Tatooine, dryer than your weird friend’s phone after the club, Luke eventually gets swept up by Ben Kenobi into a galactic conflict that sees his Force potential realized until he defeats the baddest dude in the galaxy: Darth Vader. All along the way, Luke gets his ass thoroughly whooped. Without Han Solo, Ben Kenobi, Leia Organa and Yoda, it’s no stretch of the imagination to see Luke face down in a ditch somewhere.

Rey, one of three primary protagonists of The Force Awakens has similar strides in story, until she doesn’t. We see right from the get go that this bad mamajamma doesn’t need any help. In fact, it seems almost made a point very early in the movie that “Rey does not NEED your help.” When Finn first reaches the settlement on Jakku, he sees Rey being accosted by several of Unkar Plutts hired hands and immediately dashes off to help her. Slow your roll, bud, because she doesn’t know it. She handles the thugs without breaking a sweat, and it’s all downhill for Rey here. It’s established early on that there are no stakes for Rey. Whatever terrible fate befalls her, she simply wills herself out of it.

Let’s get down to the exercise then. Here are the rules. Scenarios from the films Star Wars and Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be taken out for analysis, how the original protagonist responded, and how I believe the opposite protagonist would respond. Key word: Believe! Let’s start with the new movie, shall we?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Encounter with Unkar Plutt’s Guards
Location: Jakku
SettlementAnalysis: Interestingly enough, this isn’t too dissimilar from something that happens to Luke Skywalker very early on in his own film. While in foreign territory in the Mos Eisley cantina, Luke is accosted by a humanoid and strange creature. Luke ignores them, trying to keep a cool profile, until he simply can’t. When the man and creature threaten them further. Luke seems all but helpless until Ben Kenobi slashes Rotten Attitude Man’s arm clean off.

Rey─staff in hand─didn’t need Finn’s help at all, taking two of Unkar Plutt’s guards down before Finn could even close in on the scene. With Luke tagged in here, it’s very likely this would have been a a two versus two, close quarters battle with Finn running in to even the odds. Overlooking the chemistry that could be built between a man who needs help and a man who wants to help, it’s evident that Luke would not have handled this so cleanly as Rey.

Piloting the Millenium Falcon
Location: Jakku, Jakku Low Orbit
Analysis: Luke never flew the Millennium Falcon. He did fly an X-Wing and an additional character, who we might argue is a better pilot than Luke will be added for further comparison: Poe Dameron, stated in the movie as one of the best pilots in the Resistance.

During Star Wars, Luke does pilot an X-Wing, but his previous history as a pilot is established during the briefing to attack the Death Star. Luke is apparently familiar with flying a T-16, as indicated by the dialogue, and has shot at womprats, which aren’t much bigger than 2 meters (the size of the exhaust port on the Death Star). INTERESTING NOTE: While this is considered extra-canonical, the T-16 was manufactured by Incom, who also manufactured the X-com, meaning we can assume they have similar controls. These beats are utilized to establish the character of Luke and the plausibility of him being a fighter pilot. In The Force Awakens, Rey just hops behind the controls and pilots the Falcon in a way that no one else ever could. No explanation is ever given.

Poe Dameron, proclaimed the best fighter in the galaxy, has a learning curve when trying to escape in a TIE Fighter. Not only that, he’s shot down. Even the best isn’t invulnerable─unless you’re Rey─and while its incredible to see Poe and Finn build this chemistry while they escape, it seems fitting a single TIE is shot down while escaping a Star Destroyer.

Lightsaber Duel
Location: Starkiller
After Kylo Ren dispatches the woefully incompetent Finn (though he puts up a hell of a fight), he turns to collect Luke’s lightsaber with the Force. Instead, it’s Rey who pulls the blade to her, activates it, then the fight is on. Wait. What? How does Rey even know Jedi can do that. Weren’t they all myth and legend? I’m not asking how she can do that. She’s apparently Force sensitive. But how does she know that Jedi can move things with their mind? Let’s move on. (We’ll come back to it, I promise).

Luke on the other hand is trying to stop a floating robot from hitting him with microscopic laser beams via his lightsaber. And he can’t seem to get it until the very last second. Even after training with Yoda (which isn’t in the scope of the first film), Luke gets beaten and maimed by Darth Vader.

Luke, if placed on the Starkiller Base in Rey’s stead, would’ve never got the lightsaber. Hell, even when the lightsaber was being uncontested in the snow on Hoth he wasn’t much good. If another Force user were trying to get it from Luke’s grasp, he’s as dead as a womrat in front of a T-16! This is all overlooking the fact that neither Rey or Luke had any distinguishable lightsaber training up to that point, and Rey beats Kylo Ren pretty handily. Would Luke have done the same? Doubtful.

These are a few tidbits of comparison between Luke and Rey I find interesting. If you disagree, that’s fine. Let’s talk about it. Spill your ideas. Let’s disagree and let’s exchange dialogue. The more I think about it, the more I realize Luke was getting his ass whooped throughout the original trilogy and Rey was whooping everybody else’s ass.

That’s all for now.

Bonne journeés, mes amis.