Last updated: 23 December 1998
The Soviet constitution guarantees everyone a job. A pretty scary idea,
The Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies is supposed to have subscribed
to the "Village Voice" for six years in an attempt to find out
about life in America's rural areas.
I'm a registered Republican and consider socialism a violation of the
American principle that you shouldn't stick your nose in other people's
business except to make a buck.
These were people who believed everything about the Soviet Union was
perfect, but they were bringing their own toilet paper.
Smoking cigarettes seems to alarm peace activists much more than voting
for Reagan does.
Anything that makes your mother cry is fun.
I mean, so what if some fifty-eight-year-old butt-head gets a load on
and starts playing Death Race 2000 in the rush-hour traffic jam? What kind
of chance is he taking? He's just waiting around to see what kind of cancer
he gets anyway. But if young, talented you, with all of life's possibilities
at your fingertips, you and the future Cheryl Tiegs there, so fresh, so
beautiful - if the two of you stake your handsome heads on a single roll
of the dice in life's game of stop-the-semi - now that's taking chances!
Which is why old people rarely risk their lives. It's not because they're
chicken - they just have too much dignity to play for small stakes.
The real slums are another matter. The bad parts of Tondo are as bad
as any place I've seen, ancient, filthy houses swarmed with the poor and
stinking of sewage and trash. But there are worse parts - squatter areas
where people live under cardboard, in shipping crates, behind tacked-up
newspapers. Dad would march you straight to the basement with a hairbrush
in his hand if he caught you keeping your hamster cage like this.
Freddie Aguilar, who's billed as "the Bob Dylan of the Philippines".
This is unfair, since he's good-looking, plays the guitar well, can carry
a tune, and writes songs that make sense.
To really enjoy drugs you've got to want to get out of where you are.
But there are some wheres that are harder to get out of than others. This
is the drug-taking problem for adults. Teenage weltschmerz is easy to escape.
But what drug will get a grown-up out of, for instance, debt?
A child growing up in an excessively safe environment may never learn
that he is one - not until he gets married and has a wife to tell him so.
The forces of safety are afoot in the land. I, for one, believe it is
a conspiracy - a conspiracy of Safety Nazis shouting "Sieg Health"
and seeking to trammel freedom, liberty, and large noisy parties. The Safety
Nazis advocate gun control, vigorous exercise, and health foods. The result
can only be a disarmed, exhausted, and half-starved population ready to
acquiesce to dictatorship of some kind.
Something is happening to America, not something dangerous but something
all too safe. I see it in my lifelong friends. I am a child of the "baby
boom", a generation not known for its sane or cautious approach to
things. Yet suddenly my peers are giving up drinking, giving up smoking,
cutting down on coffee, sugar, and salt. They will not eat red meat and
go now to restaurants whose menus have caused me to stand on a chair yelling,
"Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, dinner is served!" This from the
generation of LSD, Weather Underground, and Altamont Rock Festival! And
all in the name of safety! Our nation has withstood many divisions - North
and South, black and white, labor and management - but I do not know if
the country can survive division into smoking and non-smoking sections.
In fact, safety has no place anywhere. Everything that's fun in life
is dangerous. Horse races, for instance, are very dangerous. But attempt
to design a safe horse and the result is a cow (an appalling animal to
watch at the trotters.) And everything that isn't fun is dangerous too.
It is impossible to be alive and safe.
Neither conservatives nor humorists believe man is good. But left-wingers
Every generation finds the drug it needs.
Drugs are a one-man birthday party.
Man developed in Africa. He has not continued to do so there.
Industrialization came to England but has since left.
Fishing ... is a sport invented by insects and you are the bait.
The America's Cup is like driving your Lamborghini to the Grand Prix
track to watch the charter buses race.
There are a lot of mysterious things about boats, such as why anyone
would get on one voluntarily.
In Western Australia they don't even know how to make that vital piece
of sailing-boat equipment, the gin and tonic.
Earnestness is just stupidity sent to college.
The larger the German body, the smaller the German bathing suit and
the louder the German voice issuing German demands and German orders to
everybody who doesn't speak German. For this, and several other reasons,
Germany is known as 'the land where Israelis learned their manners'.
War will exist as long as there's a food chain.
Civilization is an enormous improvement on the lack thereof.
I'm sure they were looking for a person who embodied democratic spirit,
intellectual excellence and the American ethos, which is why they picked
And Harvard has been almost as important to the American Jewish community
as the pork-sausage industry.
The world is built on discrimination of the most horrible kind. The
problem with South Africans is they admit it.
Sailing-boat racing can be interesting. So was Altamont.
The Australian language is easier to learn than boat talk. It has a
vocabulary of about six words.
Stars & Stripes captain and future White House guest Dennis Conner
was there, also in a bad tux. He looked like a poster child for the Penguin
The purpose of the spinnaker is, I believe, to give the sponsor some
place where he can put the name of his company in really gigantic letters.
I've always figured that if God wanted us to go to church a lot He'd
have given us bigger behinds to sit on and smaller heads to think with.
To grasp the true meaning of socialism, imagine a world where everything
is designed by the post office, even the sleaze.
One nice thing about the Third World, you don't have to fasten your
seat belt. (Or stop smoking. Or cut down on saturated fats.) It takes a
lot off your mind when average life expectancy is forty-five minutes.
Cockfighting has always been my idea of a great sport - two armed entrées
battling to see who'll be dinner.
Everything on a boat has a different name than it would have if it weren't
on a boat. Either this is ancient seafaring tradition or it's how people
who mess around with boats try to impress the rest of us who actually finished
I am no stranger to loud music. I've been to a Mitch Ryder and the Detroit
Wheels concert. I once dated a woman with two kids.
Some people are worried about the difference between right and wrong.
I'm worried about the difference between wrong and fun.
Everyone's very busy, though not exactly working.
The interesting thing about staring down a gun barrel is how small the
hole is where the bullet comes out, yet what a big difference it would
make in your social schedule.
If Christ came back tomorrow, He'd have to change planes in Frankfurt.
Modern air travel means less time spent in transit. That time is now spent
in transit lounges.
They don't like anyone who isn't Korean, and they don't like each other
all that much, either. They're hardheaded, hard-drinking, tough little
bastards, 'the Irish of Asia'.
What would be a road hazard anywhere else, in the Third World is probably
Italy is not technically part of the Third World, but no one has told
Even when they don't know what they're doing, they're doing so much
of it that they're still going to get an A.
Moscow has changed. I was here in 1982, during the Brezhnev twilight,
and things are better now. For instance, they've got litter. In 1982 there
was nothing to litter with.
I can understand why mankind hasn't given up war. During a war you get
to drive tanks through the sides of buildings and shoot foreigners - two
things that are usually frowned on during peacetime.
The most extraordinary change in Moscow was Arbat Street, the USSR's
first pedestrian mall. Of course, there's something a little sad about
a pedestrian mall in a nation where few people own cars - the whole damn
country's a pedestrian mall.
The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and
then gets elected and proves it.
The entire Soviet service economy is conducted in geological time.
The French are a smallish, monkey-looking bunch and not dressed any
better, on average, than the citizens of Baltimore. True, you can sit outside
in Paris and drink little cups of coffee, but why this is more stylish
than sitting inside and drinking large glasses of whiskey I don't know.
The Italians have had two thousand years to fix up the Forum and just
look at the place.
There are probably more fact-finding tours of Nicaragua right now than
there are facts - the country has shortages of practically everything.
It had never occurred to us that the Kremlin's new anti-booze campaign
would apply to journalists. Now, that's a human-rights violation.
I like to do my principal research in bars, where people are more likely
to tell the truth or, at least, lie less convincingly than they do in briefings
There's only one secret to bachelor cooking - not caring how it tastes.
A steady job is at least as deleterious to the spirit of bachelorhood
as a steady date. Some jobs are worse than actual wives.
Never serve oysters during a month that has no paycheck in it.
Despite the fact that meat is made from dead animals, it shouldn't smell
that way. Try this test for meat freshness: close your eyes and see if
you can tell the pork chops from a gym locker.
For some mysterious Darwanian reason, women feel compelled to straighten
up bedrooms before and after sex. Try to make love in every other room
of the house.
Keeping house is as unpleasant and filthy as coal mining, and the pay's
a lot worse.
Even newlyweds don't spend much time together, now that few marriages
outlast the appliance warranties.
You can keep the dining room clean by eating in the kitchen.
Cleaning, like seduction, should be done from the top down - starting
with the ceiling, which is ridiculous. Gravity takes care of that.
Women make their beds each morning and they assume everyone - criminals
on the lam, animals in their burrows - does the same.
Lemon juice, an important ingredient in Bloody Marys and other forms
of liquid breakfast. Makes fish taste as if it was grown on trees. And
improves, immensely, the taste of lemons.
The real truth about children is they don't speak the language very
well. They're physically uncoordinated. And they are ignorant of our elaborate
ideas about right and wrong.
Bachelors know all about parties. In fact, a good bachelor is a living,
breathing party all by himself. At least that is what my girlfriend said
when she found the gin bottles under the couch. I believe her exact words
were, "You're a disgusting, drunken mess." And that's a good
description of a party, if it's done right.
A good bachelor drinks his dessert (and sometimes the rest of his meals).
A sweet tooth is a danger signal that you're getting too much exercise
and not enough cocktails.
The only really good vegetable is Tabasco sauce. Put Tabasco sauce in
everything. Tabasco sauce is to bachelor cooking what forgiveness is to
You have to wonder about a food that everybody agrees is great except
that sometimes it tastes like what it is.
Coffee and cigarettes are much better if you want an instant breakfast.
Remember, your body needs 6 to 8 glasses of fluid daily. Straight up
or on the rocks.
Traffic was like a bad dog. It wasn't important to look both ways when
crossing the street; it was important to not show fear.
Asia is the continent rhythm forgot. At best Asian music is off-brand
American pop, like Sonny Bono in a karaoke bar. At worst Asian music sounds
as if a truck full of wind chimes collided with a stack of empty oil drums
during a birdcall contest.
I'd like to end the book a lot of ways. Except I don't have any answers.
Use your common sense. Be nice. This is the best I can do. All the trouble
in the world is human trouble. Well, that's not true. But when cancer cells
run amok and burst out of the prostate and take over the liver and lymph
glands and end up killing everything in the body including themselves,
they certainly are acting like some humans we know.
Saigon is like all the other great modern cities of the world. It's
the mess left from people getting rich.
Personally, I believe a rocking hammock, a good cigar, and a tall gin-and-tonic
is the way to save the planet.
Sloths move at the speed of congressional debate but with greater deliberation
and less noise.
From Virgil a line of direct descent runs for two thousand years to
One thing that's certain about going outdoors: When you come back inside,
you'll be scratching.
In a war against hunger, what do you do? Shoot the lunch?
It takes a lot of weapons to do good works (as Richard the Lionhearted
could have told us). And this is not just a Somali problem. We have poverty
and deprivation in our own country. Try standing unarmed on a street corner
in Compton handing out twenty-dollar bills and see how long you last.
Somalia is so bad that making a mess improves the place.
Any person who has spent time outdoors actually doing something, such
as hunting and fishing opposed to standing there with a doobie in his mouth,
knows nature is not intrinsically healthy.
Ecology is the science of everything. Nobody knows everything. Nobody
even knows everything about any one thing. And most of us don't know much.
Say it's ten-thirty on a Saturday night. Where are your teenage children?
I didn't ask where they said they were going. Where are they really? What
are they doing? Who are they with? Have you met the other kids' families?
And what is tonight's pot smoking, wine-cooler drinking, and sex in the
backseats of cars going to mean in a hundred years? Now extend these questions
to the entire solar system.
And biotechnology is a worry. What if they take genetic material from
wet noodles and blowfish and splice it into politician chromosomes and
create a Clinton administration?
Man has been breeding livestock for ten thousand years and has yet to
come up with a monstrous sheep that can trample buildings and graze a whole
golf course for breakfast.
Remember, FDA employees are serious about fear. We pay these people
to panic about an iota of rodent hair in our chili, even when the recipe
calls for it. FDA employees are first-class agonizers, world champions
at losing sleep. When Meryl Streep got hysterical about Alar, they actually
checked the apples instead of Meryl's head.
Mankind is supposed to have evolved in the treetops. But I have examined
my sense of balance, the prehensility of my various appendages, and my
attitude toward standing on anything higher than, say, political principles,
and I have concluded that, personally, I evolved in the backseat of a car.
The people who believe that, as a result of industrial development,
life is about to become a hell, or may be one already, are guilty, at least,
of sloppy pronouncements. On page 8 of Earth in the Balance, Al
Gore claims that his study of the arms race gave him "a deeper appreciation
for the most horrifying fact in all our lives: civilization is now capable
of destroying itself." In the first place, the most horrifying fact
in many of our lives is that our ex-spouse has gotten ahold of our ATM
card. And civilization has always been able to destroy itself. The Greeks
of ancient Athens, who had a civilization remarkable for lack of technological
progress during its period of greatest knowledge and power, managed to
destroy them fine.
A careful reading of 50 Simple Things leaves you wondering whether
you're going to die from environmental disaster or intellectual annoyance.
Failing either, you can worry yourself to death.
Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.
Politics is the business of getting power and privilege without possessing
merit. A politician is anyone who asks individuals to surrender part of
their liberty - their power and privilege - to State, Masses, Mankind,
Planet Earth, or whatever. This state, those masses, that mankind, and
the planet will then be run by ... politicians.
Human problems are complex. If something isn't complex it doesn't qualify
as problematic. Very simple bad things are not worth troubling ourselves
Being gloomy is easier than being cheerful. Anybody can say "I've
got cancer" and get a rise out of a crowd. But how many of us can
do five minutes of good stand-up comedy?
And the typical old-fashioned diet was so bad it almost resembled modern
Even the bad things are better than they used to be. Bad music, for
instance, has gotten much briefer. Wagner's Ring Cycle takes four days
to perform while "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" by the Crash Test Dummies
lasts little more than three minutes.
Are we disheartened by the breakup of the family? Nobody who ever met
my family is.
American children grow up to be valuable citizens. Bangladeshi children
grow up to be part of the world population problem.
Fretting about overpopulation, is a perfect guilt-free - indeed, sanctimonious
- way for "progressives" to be racists.
Imagine a weight-loss program at the end of which, instead of better
health, good looks, and hot romantic prospects, you die. Somalia had become
just this kind of spa.
When a thing defies physical law, there's usually politics involved.
There is a fine line in the Third World between half a dozen customs
officials waiting for you to offer them a bribe and half a dozen customs
officials waiting for you to offer them a bribe so they can throw you in
Anyone who thinks he has a better idea of what's good for people than
people do is a swine.
"Malthus,", says Vice President Al Gore in Earth in the
Balance, "was right in predicting that the population would grow
geometrically." Al, as the father of four children, should know.
Crowded as the country is, is overcrowding even its main problem? Hong
Kong and Singapore both have greater population densities (14.315 and 12.347
per square mile, respectively) than Bangladesh, and they're called success
stories. The same goes for Monaco. In fact, the whole Riviera is packed
in August, and neither Malthus nor Ehrlich have complained about the topless
beaches of St. Tropez.
Most of the research about species extinction has been conducted on
islands because islands are controlled environments and scientists can
get drinks with little umbrellas in them there. (...) Island logic also
tells us that an increase in habitat size means an increase in number of
species. But it doesn't necessarily. You can build your bed as large as
you like and still get very few people to sleep with you.
I guess the argument of contextuality is that anything is okay as long
as it's done by people who are sufficiently unlike you.
If the politics of disease are to be understood, particularly in the
dreadful countries where this understanding is most needed, then the politics
of total collapse have to be understood first.
"Why would we have crime in Haiti?" said Dumarsais. "We
have the police and the army to do that for us."
Idealism is based on big ideas. And, as anybody who has ever been asked
"What's the big idea?" knows, most big ideas are bad ones.
Violence is interesting. This is a great obstacle to world peace and
also to more thoughtful television programming.
War is a great asshole magnet.
It's hard to come back from the Balkans and not sound like a Pete Seeger
Haitians weren't screwed-up, but everything political, intellectual,
and material around them is.
In Japan people drive on the left. In China people drive on the right.
In Vietnam it doesn't matter.
Any random group of thirty Vietnames women will contain a dozen who
make Julia Roberts look like Lyle Lovett.
... two key rules of Third World travel:
The morning meal was served in traditional socialist fashion - very
slowly, with the courses out of order so that the jelly arrived half an
hour after the toast and the coffee didn't come until we'd called for the
check. However, it was hard to be angry at a place that had ice cream,
beer, and cigarettes on its breakfast menu.
In a society where commonweal does not exist, there are no duties, only
exactations to be avoided, and no freedoms, only privileges to be grabbed.
There can be no such thing as "public services" because nothing
in the country is truly public. Everything is somebody's fief. And every
fief must be exploited if the exploiter cares to survive.
I suspect the Haitian Ministry of Health's principal contribution to
health in Haiti is providing nice, healthy jobs to those Haitians with
the connection to get them.
Of course, the humans in Haiti have hope. They hope to leave.
Bureaucrats want bigger bueraus. Special interests are interested in
whatever's special to them. These two groups bring great pressure to bear
upon politicians who have another agenda yet: to cater to the temporary
whims and fads of the public and the press.
Government subsidies can be critically analyzed according to a simple
principle: You are smarter than the government, so when the government
pays you to do something you wouldn't do on your own, it is almost always
paying you to do something stupid.
People who are wise, good, smart, skillful, or hardworking don't need
politics, they have jobs.
We tried to find the mayor. His secretary said he was at home. His wife
said he was at the office. In Italy or France this would mean His Honor
was having an affair. In Chabarovice it probably meant he'd run off to
be a busboy in Stuttgart.
Schneider has made a career of telling the public that the climate is
going to change drastically any time now, and indeed every spring and fall
he's been right.
People with a mission to save the earth want the earth to seem worse
than it is so their mission will look more important.
Worshiping the earth is more fun than going to church. It's also closer.
We can just step off the sidewalk. And sometimes we can get impressionable
members of the opposite sex to perform sacramental rites with us. "Every
drop of water wasted is a drop less of a wild and scenic river, Jennifer.
We'd better double up in the shower."
When government does, occasionally, work, it works in an elitist fashion.
That is, government is most easily manipulated by people who have money
and power already. This is why government benefits usually go to people
who don't need benefits from government. Government may make some environmental
improvements, but these will be improvements for rich bird-watchers. And
no one in government will remember that when poor people go bird-watching
they do it at Kentucky Fried Chicken.
On Friday, June 12, 1992, 110 heads of state gathered at Riocentro.
They were indistinguishable in dress and deportment. Where was biodiversity
when we needed it?
Advocating the expansion of the powers of the state is treason to mankind,
The observers had a logbook recording the assaults, bombings, and artillery
attacks on the area. Each page was ruled in vertical columns: DATE, TIME,
LOCATION, DAMAGE, CASUALTIES. The columns headed ACTION TAKEN BY THE UN
were completely empty.
If Martin Luther were a modern ecologist, he would have to nail ninety-five
T-shirts to the church door in Wittenberg.
When a private entity does not produce the desired results, it is (certain
body parts excepted) done away with. But a public entity gets bigger.
If we're going to improve the environment, the first thing we should
do is duck the government. The second thing we should do is quit being
moral. Screw the rights of nature. Nature will have rights as soon as it
get duties. The minute we see birds, trees, bugs, and squirrels picking
up litter, giving money to charity, and keeping an eye on our kids at the
park, we'll let them vote.
A pleasant natural environment is a good - a luxury good, philosophical
good, a moral goody-good, a good time for all. Whatever, we want it. If
we want something, we should pay for it, with our labor or our cash. We
shouldn't beg it, steal it, sit around wishing for it, or euchre the government
into taking it by force.
Copyright © by Eberhard Wenzel, 1997-2001