About My Bass: The Hard (and Slightly Embarrassing) Struggle Towards “Musicianship”

A personal musical memoir, and a reflection of my childhood.

I. From Steve Miller Band to the Spice Girls and The Offspring.

My first cassette player was the Fisher Price player/recorder with the sing along microphone. It was my favorite toy besides my stuffed animals. I’ll never forget the first time I heard my voice played back to me, but most importantly of all, I’ll never forget the magic of my Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits. I could probably sing that whole album from first note to last, to include the bass, drums, and guitar lines. I listened to it all the time, but I always wanted a variety that was hard to come by. My music collection consisted of 80′s pop (my favorite genre at the time), Steve Miller Band, The Beatles (sang by the Peanuts), Mojo Nixon, and miscellaneous kids songs to include, but were not limited to, Barney (I Love You was my shit). Music was my thing way before writing ever was.

In fact, I remember the first time I was asked by one of my classmates about my taste in music. I was around 6 or 7 years old when my friends started talking about the Spice Girls.

“Who’s your favorite Spice Girl?” she asked.
“What’s that?” I replied.

My classmates gasped.

“You don’t know who the Spice Girls are?! Do you know who Nsync is?” another friend chimed in.
“No,” I sheeped.

“Backstreet Boys?!” some boy from the other side of the room proclaimed.
“No, I don’t listen to that.”
“Then what do you listen to?”
“I don’t know… Steve Miller Band… And 80′s music.”
“Well,” said my friend who asked about the Spice Girls,”it’s ok, we’ll have a sleepover this weekend and listen to music!”

She always saved me from that persecution, something that ended up changing later down the line. I mentioned in Ramble on Ayn Rand that the first time I ever rebelled by using music was by choosing Will Smith’s Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It to lip sync in front of the class with my other classmates. After my friend showed me all the music that she knew about, I went on a search for my own. Some of the music I came across through various mediums was Will Smith, Sisqo (lol), Baha Men (forgot about those guys), TLC, Missy Elliot, and Lou Bega. These bands were good for the musical outlet that I needed, but I still couldn’t relate to a lot of their words. They spoke of topics that didn’t really interest me, but I loved the sound of the music.

Frustrated with my taste in music, my big brother tried to get me to listen to bands like TOOL, Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, and The Offspring. He also got me into Weird Al Yankovic who set the bar for social satire in the music industry. The Offspring was the only one that really stuck, and was the first band that lead me to musical expression and really helped relieve the stress I felt living in the abusive household I lived in. Smash was the first CD I bought with my own money, an album that still brings me happiness 20 years after its inception.

Smash is a special Offspring album. It was their transition from the punk-rock-esque music of The Offspring (self titled), and Ignition. Bad Habit blew me away, I could greatly relate to the misdirected anger in the song, not in relation to driving, but in relation to my life at the time. The social and political commentary on the album really made me question the society we lived in today and my life at the time:

“I’m not a trendy asshole, do what I want, do what I feel like. Don’t give a fuck if it’s not good enough for you, ’cause I’m alive.”
“Do you accept what you are told without even thinking? Throw it all. You’ll make your own”

Indeed, for 9 – 11 year old Cassandra was enthralled by this band, a band that the empty pop music I was listening to couldn’t keep up with. The pop music was engineered to make me feel a certain way about my appearance and how I should act in my social relationships, but The Offspring was telling me to reject that…. Something that was a breath of fresh air for a child who was trying to find herself in a world which treated her like property and an extension of others’ wishes.

II. The Transition to Punk Rock

From 6th grade to 7th grade, The Offspring lead me to find other bands such as Metallica, Seether (lol wut?), Puddle of Mudd (Remember those guys?), Anthrax, Powerman 5000, and Saliva. What a list.

Needless to say I had enough eclectic music under my belt to pursue an instrument. What was my instrument of choice? The saxophone, of course, thanks to Lisa from The Simpsons. I went to the band director of my middle school and told him I wanted to play saxophone. He said he already had his saxophone spot taken by someone else, but that I could play clarinet until I could try out for the saxophone. Fine. I really wanted to learn the saxophone. So, we go on and I learn a little clarinet, said, “Nah,” and went on to choir.

Choir is really where I found my niche. My voice allowed me to sing both soprano and alto thanks to trying to sing a long to Mambo No. 5. Thanks Lou. I projected my voice outward, and found my own sound. I liked reading the music and listening to the harmonies, crescendos, and all different aspects of the voice in music. I was often picked for ensembles because of the rich tone in my voice, but it took me a long time to be comfortable enough to successfully sing solos. I stayed in choir until my junior year in high school (we aren’t there yet though, still in middle school). When I was in choir, nothing mattered except the notes on the music and the notes in my voice.

When we took the clarinet back to Guitar Center, I looked around me at all of the different types of guitars and was amazed at how different every single one of them was. This is when I knew that I was not meant to play the saxophone, I was meant to play the guitar. I immediately asked for a guitar for my birthday. It was still spring. During the summer of my 6th to 7th grade year, I struggled immensely. I was dealing with trying to find myself and trying to break away from the illusion that surrounded my household. It was during this time that my parents labeled me a liar. To them, I lied about everything. I lied about what I was doing, where I was going, that I wasn’t doing drugs and that I had no intention to do them. This kind of behavior from my parents was the result of their poor parenting — a lack of emotional and psychological support, and a whole lot of manipulation and control. It was as if my siblings were all I had and that we were the sole property of my parents. I needed to learn the guitar to get away from all that.

But I knew that my parents did not own me and that I was not an extension of them. I was very active on the internet when I was not allowed to go over to my friend’s house or go outside on my bike. It was the way I escaped from my family, in fact, I spent hours upon hours chatting to people online when I couldn’t be with my friends. Through this experience, I kept on hearing the words, “punk rock.” I listened to a little bit of The Ramones at the time and decided to do some more research.

This was the early 2000′s when punk rock was being commercialized and bastardized. Girls around school were listening to Simple Plan, Blink 182, Sum 41, and Greenday (If you mention Dookie, I will lose my mind.), and the worst of all of them: Good Charlotte. These bands whined (literally) about benign topics in a commercialized “anger” that teens were supposed to feel towards their relationships and their failure to keep them. This genre of music, what I refer to as “the greatest piece of shit ever to have been produced in a studio,” can’t even be referred to as “punk” rock. It said that if you shopped at Hot Topic and dyed your hair blue, you were “punk.”

Well, that didn’t sit well with me, my Yahoo! search returned what is and is not punk rock. One of the bands that was considered punk rock during that time was The Casualties.

III. Punk Rock — the Motherland

I’ll never forget the first time I listened to The Casualties (For The Punx, to be exact). It was the last month before my 7th grade year started. I laughed at first because I  couldn’t understand what they were saying. Then I listened to For The Punx a little closer:

“DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO SAY
DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO WEAR
OI! OI! WE’RE THE PUNKS OF TODAY (SPIKEY HAIRED DRUNK PUNKS)”

Their songs exhibited the anger that I felt deep down inside me. I transitioned from the sad, depressed Cassandra into really fucking pissed off. This album exemplified rebellion, originality, anger, and corruption in the government. All of a sudden I understood why the police never helped me, because I didn’t matter. Live fast, die young. That was my new motto. This rebellious music allowed me to stand up for myself and express my distress in my living situation. But, most importantly of all, it made me feel like I was not alone, that I wasn’t the only one who felt this anger. It affirmed my emotions, and charged my rebellion.  It was only a matter of time before I found bands such as the Lower Class Brats, OxyMORON, The Unseen, A Global Threat, GBH, and Cheap Sex. I found my outlet. I refused to listen to anything besides this punk rock for a good two years.

So, I found out about punk rock during the summer, away from my peers. Now I had a different outlook on the education system and my fellow classmates. They came back to school without the mentality that I had. I was mad, and I wanted answers. I just knew I needed to behave myself until I got my guitar I wanted so badly. Once I got good enough, I was gonna form my own punk rock band.

My brother and I got guitars for Christmas: an acoustic Esteban. My guitar teacher tried to teach me Sweet Home Alabama but my lack of coordination with the pick hindered my learning, so I learned Blackbird by the Beatles. I loves plucking the strings and hearing the sounds coming from my fingertips. My little brother learned guitar much faster and more efficient than I did, but that was alright. I realized that I couldn’t play punk rock with my fingers…. Unless I played bass, so I learned some guitar while I was on my way to playing bass. My brother could play guitar, and I could play bass.

During the time I was learning guitar, a lot of things were happening in my life. I got my hair cut off after I secured my first guitar lesson so that I could be a part of this spikey-haired punk rock tradition. That I did. I tried to perfect the liberty spikes and eventually did. I had two other friends that did the same thing, and we were the punk rock trio in our middle school. We made fun of the kids who thought they listened to punk rock and reveled in thoughts of going to our first concert together. I had a lot of friends that supported me through my search for self, and I was starting to be happy.

Then we moved from Hudson, Wisconsin to Phoenix, Arizona, partly because my parents got evicted for not paying for my medical bills that they incurred, partly because my rebellion was raising eyebrows amongst my teachers, and partly because my dad was getting transferred there. My parents’ story changed from “it’s mandatory” to “we just wanna move somewhere hot,” but either way, their excuses for moving us around was all bullshit to cover up the many financial schemes my dad was planning in order to keep up with my mom’s obsessive spending habits. Hard to prosecute someone in a different state. (NPD) There’s a lot more to that story, but I won’t hang my family’s dirty laundry all over the internet because it’s not worth my time, but the context of what was going on with me at the time is important to understand how I got to be where I’m at now.

So, I went to my first concert the year I moved away from my two best friends, but it was the Lower Class Brats so I didn’t mind. The Lower Class Brats ended up being my favorite band out of all of the ones that I had discovered. I felt the anger in the music was not just directed towards having spikey hair and drinking til you pass out, but it was more directed towards the chains of society and promotion of the individual self, that “chaos” would be a hell of a lot better than the control we feel now. I felt like their music was real and from the heart, and when I went to their concert, I was proven right. I will never forget the energy I felt, the happiness I had to finally be around a group of people who understood me.

Bones DeLarge and I at the Mason Jar in Phx, AZ. Jun 2004

My parents resisted my rebellion, hard. I received psychological punishments for expressing myself, and I found release through music, art, and writing. I was blamed for everything that was wrong, and continue to be blamed for everything wrong by my parents; a scapegoat of sorts. They cite my anger was fabricated by the emotion of punk rock, but I was already acting out before I found punk rock. Punk rock gave me the COURAGE to speak out because I finally knew that I was NOT alone. I hated everything and everyone, except for those who I knew understood the struggle I felt. By the time high school rolled around, I was fully equipped to handle the culture shock of high school.

I quickly met friends who liked similar music, and I met my first boyfriend at a Casualties concert the year before. My big brother had just moved down to Phoenix because he was struggling in Wisconsin, and he and I had chats sometimes until 3 in the morning about random topics which further allowed me to question the “conventional wisdom” of our society. One day when I came home from hanging out with my friends, I found my father deleting all of my beloved punk rock from the computer. I looked at him and I told him he’d be sorry. So, I went up to my room, turned on some loud music, and slipped out my front window onward towards freedom without anyone knowing where I was or where I was going.

My destination? My boyfriend’s house. I hopped on the first bus I saw going east into Phoenix. There was a lot of anxiety leading up to hopping on the bus. I thought I was going to get caught, but I didn’t care. I made a choice, and I was going to be happy in the end. As soon as a sat down on the bus, I felt a release that was unlike one I had never felt before. It was the feeling of freedom, a release from my situation that was controlled by outside forces into a situation which I chose. This was the first time I ever smoked marijuana, and it was the first time in a long time that I felt happy (even before the weed). I met a lot of strange characters and even managed to not get kidnapped. There was a girl my age that disappeared from the same spot I ran away to that day. Somehow I managed to keep my composure and to keep people away from me. Maybe it was my self-made mohawk.

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Me, Winter 2005

At this point, I had been playing my bass for almost a year. I finally got it for my birthday when I was 13, and quickly picked up the rhythm required to be a good bass player. My problem was that I kept on comparing myself to other musicians. Even though I had a solid foundation to build off of in order to find myself, I did not realize that musicianship is also an individual talent. Everyone plays their instrument differently, but that was hard for me to understand. As a female, there was already high pressure on me to be able to play the instrument that mostly men play. I felt the stigma every time my brother and I went into Guitar Center or Sam Ash for new strings or just to look ’cause we loved going in there. To this day, musicians in those stores are surprised when I pick up a bass and play with flawless rhythm. That’s all it takes to be able to play the bass, but what does it take to play it WELL?

Well, shortly after I ran away to my boyfriend’s house and found the medicine that is marijuana, I started to be exposed to a variety of music thanks to my friends I used to smoke with. Now my brain was shifting from PUNK ROCK ONLY to, “What’s this? And what musical talent does it bring to the table?” It was a long transition to start to accept different types of music, but the artist that really opened up my eyes was Bob Dylan.

In my high school freshmen English class, we had to do a research essay on a poet. I wanted to do Robert Frost because The Road Not Taken was my favorite poem. I was going to write the paper based off of that poem. We had to choose from a list our teacher gave us, but only one person was able to write about each poet. Someone took Robert Frost. “Shit,” I thought, “Who the hell else am I supposed to do?! I don’t know any of these guys…” I looked down the list. “Bob Dylan. He’s pretty famous, Hunter S. Thompson likes him. That’ll be easy.”

That day, I went home, smoked a joint (still only 14), and listened to some Bob Dylan. Woah. I found the music kind of annoying at first (duh, all I listened to was fast and offensive punk rock), but then I listened to the lyrics and the composition of the scales with the stories he told. I was ecstatic. I felt like the words he spoke came from within, that his music had heart and was deeply seated in the heart of anti-authority and anti-war. He was punx before punx was punx. Needless to say, I wrote a pretty awesome paper abut Bob Dylan. Wish I still had it.

I remember the first time I actually bought a Bob Dylan CD. I skipped school that day, and decided to skateboard up to Barnes and Noble to see if they had any of his CD’s. Sho nuff, I found Highway 61 Revisited and was on my way to the cash register. The guy looked at me, then at the CD, and back at me again.

“Your father must listen to this.”
“Nope,” I scowled
“You sure?”
“Yup,” now I was getting annoyed.
“Somehow I don’t believe someone your age could just start listening to Bob Dylan without some influence.”
“You don’t know me, and you’re wrong. I found out about him on my own,” my voice was getting louder.
“Alright!” He rang me up and handed me my bag, “Have a good day.”
“Fuck you,” I mumbled.

He wasn’t expecting a “fuck you” that morning, that was the punk rock thing to say, of course. Sorry dude. That man was just the object of my frustration with the adults in my life at the time, always citing my age as something that restricted me from knowledge and experience. It was very frustrating for me as someone who wanted to be recognized as an individual and not property or an extension of someone else.  However, although I chose Bob Dylan on my own, the influence that pushed me towards that choice was none other than Hunter S. Thompson, as I had mentioned before. It is interesting that he thought my father listened to him, but my father doesn’t have the cognitive ability to understand Bob Dylan’s music, so he never listened to him. Hunter S. Thompson’s writings were a guide for me through life, which is one of the reasons why I never gave up on myself. Hunter S. Thompson taught me that all the bullshit doesn’t matter:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’”

So, that’s what I did. After I found out about Bob Dylan, I started listening to bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, moe., Gov’t Mule, Animal Liberation Orchestra, Phish, and other 60′s-70′s music and the jam bands that were influenced by them. Their bass lines were phenomenal, and the music was the result of talent. This was also the time that I started studying other poets, and discovered the Beat generation. Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Charles Bukowski were the main influences in the poetry I was writing at the time. (Those poems are in the vault. Lol.)

Shortly after being exposed to all of this new information, I had met a boy who I was madly in teenage love with. We were both coming from broken homes, and we both loved punk rock. That was our thing. I was moving to Florida in the summer time, and an incident occurred which made me know that I was never going to see him again. I was afraid of the blowback from my parents, and so was he.  I was already ready to leave at any moment, I just needed someone to go with and I finally had it. We left my house and I had nothing but my purse, made a pit stop at his house to grab a backpack and a few essentials, and we were off to California where we squatted, hitchhiked, lived on the streets.

I won’t get into all of the gory details of the streets of California here, that’s saved for my essay on Skid Row, so stay tuned for that. When we were walking, we sang songs that we knew. Sometimes singing was the only thing that relieved the survival stress that I felt… But hey man, I was free and on the run. It is interesting to note that I felt safer on the streets than I did my own home. I met people along the way that helped me without expecting anything in return, and I mean like saved my life helped me, out of the kindness of their hearts. There were more people that helped us than hurt us, and it gave me a sense of thankfulness. I wanted to know how I could give back to them, so I resorted to a sense of patriotism. The music that I listened to didn’t have a lot of patriotism mixed in, and I was sensing that my mindset was changing. I had more pride in myself for surviving that which not many people do. That’s when I turned to Oi! and the ANTI-racist skinhead scene because I felt like skinheads with their working class mentality would help me find more pride in myself. I already had a shaved head because I cut all of my hair off when I was living on the streets after I almost got kidnapped in Los Angeles:

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Me, summer 2006, a few weeks after living on the streets.

 

VI. The Anti-Racist Skinheads and the Politics that Divide Them

Ok, ok, I know what you’re thinking, “Well, my whole life all I’ve known is that skinheads are racist neo-Nazis because all I’ve ever known about them, I heard from the mainstream news media and others who are ignorant to the sub-culture. So that means that since I heard it told to me this way my whole life, it must be true and there are no such things as anti-racist skinheads.” Well, guess what motherfuckers. You’re wrong.

There are many different types of skinheads, and the reason for this can be seen at the birthplace of the sub-culture: England. Yup, that’s right Americans, the English paved the way for the skinhead sub-culture and was bastardized over there before it even reached the United States in the late 70′s, early 80′s.

Moonstomp

The Spirit of 1969 as they like to say, this was a time that civil rights movements were not just in America, but everywhere across the world. Here’s the very very short, crude version (don’t worry, I’ll post some links too): Jamaicans were immigrating to England, having been under English control, and were in search of jobs. Either they sent all of their money on fashion and scooters and became what’s called a “mod,” or they ended up landing working class, blue-collar jobs and did not have enough money to get their hair cleaned, so they shaved their heads. Their white English brothers caught on, and started shaving their heads too. Together, the Jamaicans and the English resisted their oppressive working conditions and found solidarity through the Jamaican ska and reggae and the English punk rock, eventually turned into “skinhead” punk rock, also known as Oi!. <— Always have to have the exclamation mark.

skinheads1

This sub-culture eventually garnered a gang-like mentality. They promoted alcoholism and violence, but also called for unity for black and white people, because they realized the good it did to help your fellow man and get to know him instead of judging him for the color of his skin. The group eventually found its colors: collared shirt, blue jeans, suspenders, Doc Martens, and the shaved head. Females more often than not did not shave their heads bald, but the “initiation” is to shave the entire back of the head, leaving a fringe in the front, and growing out the back fringe. The back fringe was to show how long you had been in the scene, and the importance varies depending on the location of the female skinhead. If they were not wearing jeans, then they were usually wearing a skirt with fishnets and Doc Martens. Quite simply, this attire said, “Don’t fuck with me.”

Me, 2007. Shirt says Antifascists, AKA Antifa. I wasn’t associated with Antifa, but I was anti-fascist.

Skinheads were always causing trouble with the law; drinking and starting fights. The sub-culture got so big, that it was hard for law enforcement to contain. And, as a culture grows, so do the people who are rejected by it. The skinhead sub-culture was not immune to rejects. More often than not, the rejected skinheads were the ones who failed to live up to the ethos of loyalty, hard work, pride in oneself and country, and the important aspects of friendship regardless of the color of someone skin. Patriotism is what ultimately landed the skinhead scene under fire in the media. The rejected skinheads were easy for the National Front to confront and conform. The rejects wanted a place to belong to, and they already didn’t fit in to society. The National Front exploited this weakness, and started to recruit the rejected skinheads to their racist and nationalistic cause. They blamed the Indian immigrants for the problems that these rejected skinheads were having, that they couldn’t find jobs because the immigrants were taking all of them (sound familiar?). Of course, already instilled with a nationalistic patriotism from the scene that they were rejected from, these skinheads turned quickly to blame others and join the neo-Nazi National Front in the UK.

Not too long after the integration of these skinheads, the henchmen were running to Indian businesses, vandalizing them with swastikas, breaking windows, beating up immigrants, and just being all around disgusting. When the media reported these incidents, instead of referring to these guys as henchmen to the National Front, they referred to them as none other than “skinheads.” Seeing as though the National Front is a political organization, I wonder who the media teamed up with to tarnish this reputation. Hm! It was hard for skinheads to separate themselves from the BONEheads (derogatory word for racist skinheads), which resulted in the group Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP).

SHARP is not the only sub-set of skinhead. There’s RASH: Red Anarcho Skinheads, Trads: A-political skinheads (Spirit of ’69),  and Oi!/Punk skinheads who had varied strong political opinions and heavily influenced by the punk rock scene (this was my variety). A Google search will verify this information.

rash sharp

I got big into this scene when I moved to Orlando, Florida where the punk scene was awesome. This is where I hooked up a band from Philadelphia with a show to play downtown before I could even drive and where my involvement in the punk scene got more intense as I wanted to spend even less time at home. I was going to shows any weekend I could, and drinking and smoking a lot of weed. Weed was something skinheads didn’t like because “drugs” aren’t their thing, and I was often called a hippy for smoking it, but I didn’t care. People referred to me (and still do) as The Cass. It became my staple in the scene, and the networking I did on the internet allowed me to create and internationally distribute my first magazine: The Stay Press. It covered political issues, band interviews, culture issues, and music reviews. It was an editorial created by the scene, and I just put it together. People were very excited. I wrote about a bill that was being introduced to Congress which would label almost anyone a terrorist: the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Act. Oh yeah, I was only 16.

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Me, 2008.

This scene allowed me to grow up faster, provided me with lifelong friends, and provided protection to me from my living situation at home and from bullies of all shapes, sizes, and colors. There were great memories that I hold dearly to my heart, like when I beat up this dude for punching me in the nose at an Agnostic Front concert or when we lost the bassist to American Made (an Oi! band from Florida) and had to ask the cops if they got any calls about a drunk person wandering around. Skinheads take care of their own, but they are also as arbitrary as any gang, and can negatively affect the psyche of a young teenager (usually skinheads get shaven in around 14 or 15 years old. I just turned 15 when I was. If you hang out with the wrong people, say the wrong thing, or get in a fight with the wrong person, you are shunned, outcasted, and dropped like a fly. People who you thought were your friends call you racist scum (whether you’re racist or not), and never talk to you again.

This never happened to me, I was always upfront and honest about my activities in the scene, and I was adopted as a little sister to the older skins. I, like a lot of others in the scene (including the punks), grew tired of the left-wing politics dominating our BBQ’s and shows. It was hard, as an up-and-coming libertarian, having just found out and was very excited about Ron Paul, and being labeled as “right-wing” and “nationalistic” and “might be racist ’cause I love Ron Paul and there was this one story that said that he said racist things.” I slowly saw my friends turning to collectivist mindsets given the turn of the Great Recession: they lost their jobs and thought the government should be required to pay unemployment and that everyone should receive unemployment or something like that. Ok, so who cares? Well, they were my friends, and I didn’t care. I thought, “Well, he’s a commie, so who gives a fuck? He’s my friend.” But then the division started happening: If you weren’t RASH, you weren’t right, or rather, you were a Nazi. Now, coming from people who struggled with their identity as a skinhead and had to recite skinhead history probably like 4 or 5 times a week, being called a Nazi by your friends hurts and it is one of the biggest insults in the skinhead scene. To this day, the people who were involved in the Orlando punk scene from 2006 – 2009 cite those politics as the reason everyone went their separate ways and the scene went to the dumps, passed on to a younger, crustier, left-wingedier Orlando punk scene generation.

Well, I gotta say, I agree. I wrote off my friends conforming to the communist side of the scene simply because they were bringing me down. It wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if they didn’t ask me why I never read or agree with Marx when we had a party and argue with me until they’re blue in the face. I didn’t want to talk about that shit when I was hanging out with my friends. Now, I don’t care anymore that they’re pinko commie fucks. I don’t talk to many of them anymore, but they were there for me when I needed them and vice versa, and that’s all that matters.

Just to reiterate here: once again, I am not and will never be racist. If you still don’t believe that, I suggest you do some research.

I left the scene because I was off to bigger and better(?) things: the United States Marine Corps. An institution which wears a button-down shirt, straight-legged trousers, a MCMAP belt, and combat boots which says, “Don’t fuck with me.” A gang-like culture with a set of strong ethos, just like the skinheads, but far more violent and supported by the government.

V. The Hip Hop and Punk Rock Connection

I was still pretty mad at the scene pretty much the entire time I was in the Marine Corps. I felt betrayed, and I stopped listening to Oi!, I steered away from punk rock, and I mostly listened to Bob Dylan. That was until I met one of my best friends who showed me his favorite artist: Tech N9ne.

Rap was not my forte. I listened to some Geto Boys, Scarface, Xzibit, and David Banner, but that was it. Literally. I thought that the music had long since been distorted and useless. I thought that there wasn’t any real talent in it because they weren’t actually playing the instruments they were using, and the lyrics they sang in their popular songs didn’t have any substance. Tech N9ne changed that.

His song, Slacker, made me hungry for more angst:

“You say get a job, I say hit a knob
’cause the way you run the world is every bit of fraud
So what you ask of me? You get no tax from me
I got whites, natives, Mexicans and blacks with me”

My buddy and I were in the car.

“Dude,” I said, “Who the fuck is this?”
“You don’t know Tech N9ne man!?” he proclaimed, “Hands down, favorite artist of all time.”
“All time?”
“Alllllllll time, duuuuuude.”

We listened to some more, and he showed me more songs like that. Now, I was on a quest. Rap was not dead, just like punk was not dead. Rap was not substanceless, just like punk was not substanceless. How could I have been so ignorant for so long?!!?! The musicianship did not lie within the ability to actually physically play the instruments. It came in the composition of the music itself. I was listening to simple funky bass lines like Tupac’s It Ain’t Easy. My favorite lyricists are Bushwick Bill and Ice Cube, my favorite beats come from Scarface, and my favorite rap artist of all time is Eazy-E.

After I found out that Eazy punked the White House by donating to charity under Eric Wright and being unintentionally invited to George H.W. Bush’s Republican “Inner Circle,” I just knew that there was more to him than what was being portrayed in the stories about him. The “Inner Circle” Republicans were furious when Eazy-E got off the plane with journalists all around him. He said he paid $1500 for millions of dollars worth of press. Eazy-E was a business genius, as if that wasn’t already proven by him making money off of Dr. Dre’s “diss CD” with Death Row Records.

I also found out that the corruption in the music business was far crazier than I could have ever imagined. There’s a common vein amongst the music industry that is deep-seated and evil, just like the “devil” that is described in many different raps songs by different artists which is just as frightening as realizing that the President is not the leader of our country for the first time.

Punk rock and hip hop are not all that different. Both groups of people are oppressed by authority and the police. (Although, punk rock was saying “Fuck Tha Police” for longer. ;)) So, it’s a shame that these two cultures are constantly at arms with eachother. Music is a spiritual experience, just as I have guided you through my spiritual music experience. It brings comfort to the downtrodden and pissed off, it brings people of two different social groups together, and it exposes oppression amongst the population.

When I found the connection from hip hop to punk rock, it was a lot easier for me to hone in on my musical abilities because I was a lot more open minded. But, my musicianship did not really fully develop until I read Victor Wooten’s book The Music Lesson.

In the Music Lesson, young confused Victor is visited by his spiritual mentor to explain that music is what you feel. The bass is the honorable instrument: holding the band together and providing the groove without all of the recognition. Fact of the matter is, you don’t start dancing until the bass and drums come in. That’s why the bass guitar needs to be felt, not examined. I didn’t NEED to play the bass like Victor Wooten because musicianship is spiritual, not tactical.

VI. The Conclusion

I’ve come from a very colorful past, but the one thing that kept me going was the music that reminded me that I was never alone. There was always going to be people to care about me no matter what culture label they associated themselves with. I guess I just found spiritual enlightenment through all of the different types of music I listened to over the years, and the different experiences each of them shared with me. Dude, if you ain’t got music, what have you been doing your whole life?!

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Me now with my spiritual sidekick, my bass. :)

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The Man Who Drew the Picture

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Deep in the heart of Los Angeles,
there was a man who wore a worn grey hat,
and a green ripped up jacket
the grey beard on his face covered the highway blues
his eyes were red, bloodshot, torn.
He looked at me with a genuine, crooked smile and said,
“You are beautiful, may I draw you?”
as he pulled out his sole possession:
the paper and pen.
When the portrait was finished, my first thought was,
“Man, that is a beautiful picture.”
I said to the artist, “This is great, man but I ain’t got any money.”
He smiled, and touched my shoulder.
“It is a gift! From me to you!”
Then he wandered off,
and I never saw the artist again.
I kept the picture, and would look at it from time to time
to remember who I was.

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Individual Rights: Essential to a Free Society

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As of today, all of the fruits of your labor will be donated to the state. Your occupation, based off of personality tests, will be lawn engineering. Your job is to make sure that the landscape in your town looks perfect. We know you have wanted to pursue a career in computer engineering (based off of the phone conversations we’ve been listening to your entire life), but the community needs landscapers. That sounds like an awful collectivist world where individual rights are not held to the highest esteem. Why does it seem so creepy when others make these types of decisions for us? We are all individual beings, and when we are forced to be a part of a collective**, our individual souls suffer; we are not allowed to find who we really are because our bodies do not belong to us.

One thing that we all have in common is inalienable human rights which were defined under the United States Constitution to organize a society which was just being born. This was the first time in history that the rights of the citizens were defined in a government document, and that is the reason why it has been used as an example for constitutions around the world. There have been countless debates over the years as to what type of society a human should live in. We are a social species who thrives off of fellow human contact, but we are also a species who needs to spend time by ourselves. Every single one of us is different, and all different types of people have been trying to figure out how we can all live in harmony on this earth together. When those rights have been regulated by an imposing collective, the individual becomes confused and agitated: Why do I have to be a landscaper instead of a computer engineer? Your parents will tell you, “That’s just the way it is, and you should be proud to be a part of bettering the community.” This conflicting environment creates in the individual what is called cognitive dissonance.

Chances are, after your parents and others in the community congratulate and praise you for being the town’s newest landscaper, you’re probably thinking, “Well, landscaping can’t be so bad. I’ve always loved mowing the lawn.” At this point, you are creating the illusion that you have always loved mowing the lawn, and you helped your dad put in some sprinklers and a pond one time and you loved it. Pretty soon, you forget all about being a computer engineer because landscaping is your life. This is what Leon Festinger (1957) calls cognitive dissonance: a situation where the individual believes one thing but acts a different way, which results in discomfort. This discomfort is relieved by changing one’s attitudes or beliefs around the conflicting behavior, and the result is an unhappy being. The collective forces this type of compliance onto the individual, and eventually it spreads to all individuals and makes a population unhappy.

When you have an unhappy but obedient collective, the individual is suffering, and when the individual suffers, he will try to overcome this suffering by means he has learned throughout his life. Some things individuals do to cope with suffering is relieving the stress that is caused by it. We know positive ways to relieve stress, but the negative ways seem to be increasing across the nation, and sometimes that stress can kill us. According to the CDC, suicide has made it to the top ten leading causes of death in the country at more than 38,000 deaths in 2010. According to suicide.org, untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide, and depression amongst the population has leaped significantly since the Great Recession of 2008. Americans were hit with home foreclosures, loss of money in the stocks, loss of their jobs, and an out of control government bailing out the banks and corporations that caused the meltdown in the first place. It seemed that during that time, a lot of Americans lost hope, and according to Forbes.com, the U.S. leads the world in depression rates at a total of 9.6% of the population suffering. Compare that to a .8% depression rate in Nigeria, and you have yourself a huge problem. A lot of this depression stems from Americans feeling like they will never get to live the American dream because most of their money gets taken from the government in taxes and they cannot find a job.

When you have collective control over the economy, unemployment rises. Why? Because the key to a collectivist society is getting the individual to depend on the collective. According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,  as of January 1st, 2014, almost 5 million Americans are collecting unemployment, 13 million are on welfare, and a whopping 46 million use food stamps. Not including unemployment and food stamps, the federal government uses $131.9 billion of tax payers’ money to pay for these “benefits.” These costs do not even compare to how much tax payers are going to pay for those 60 million non-workers’ healthcare. How is the already stretched and depressed tax payer going to afford that? The answer is that a lot of us can’t afford to without thinking about turning to welfare to help us get by. If this doesn’t constitute as a collectivist-leaning society, I don’t know what would.

Although all of this sounds bleak in comparison to our ancestors’ America of roads paved in gold, we still have a chance to turn our country around to cater to the individual like we once did before. We must stay vigilant in holding our representatives responsible for what they legislate and always stand up for the underdog. We must question the official narrative of everything because it is our duty to keep our government in check, and as long as we keep on asking questions, we will find answers. The Millennial generation grew up with promises of going to college, getting a degree, getting a part time job, meeting our soul mate, getting married, having kids, and retiring at 65. As long as you follow the program, you will succeed, just like your parents did. Now we are finding that these promises were never true, that we have to find our own way that wasn’t promised to us, and that we may have to work until we die. As long as we stay active and voice our opinion, our generation will be the one that leads future generations into getting back to the America with “roads paved in gold,” where the individual soars, and the government stays out of the way.

** If an individual chooses to be a part of a collective, that is different. If we are born into a collective, we did not get to choose.

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What is Capitalism?

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The dictionary isn’t going to tell you. I remember asking a similar question as a child: what is economy? What is capitalism and what is the economy? Before you read any further, erase your mind of any prior conceptions you had of economics because the answer may confuse you. The answer to these questions is simple on the surface: economics is about human action. That’s it. But, human action is a very complex subject. That’s where the complexities of economics comes in, and the intimidation one feels when researching economics. I am here to tell you that economics is not a subject left solely to males or masters, and it is our duty to understand what it is and it is something that affects our everyday lives.

Before we begin to understand what capitalism is, based off of new information, we must first define what capitalism is not. Capitalism is not wealth accumulated through corporations and government subsidies. Capitalism is not going through the government to get a business license, adhering to strict tax laws and government regulation. A capitalist economy does not thrive with the advent of government.

Wealth accumulated through corporations and government subsidies where the economy is controlled by legislators working hand-in hand with these corporations is called CORPORATISM! The first known use of the word, “corporatism” goes back to the 19th century, Adam Muller of France devised an economic system whose collectivist leanings provides protection to the political class but not the individual.  Muller’s thought was that if markets and private property were regulated by the state (a blanket term for government), then human greed could be regulated. However, if you have legislators and corporations in control of the country’s money supply and what certain businesses can and cannot do, then you have created three separate classes: the corporations, the politicians, and the consumer. Bankers and businessmen took hold of this idea, and in the early 20th century with the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, America took its first step towards corporatism by imposing a forced income tax and transferring control of the money supply to a bank whose practices are kept secret, even from Congress. Did you know that the Federal Reserve is not even federal? It is a corporation that created money whose value is based off of the money that is already in circulation — not sound money. The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was authored by bankers in a secret meeting on Jekyll Island, Georgia, so it is safe to say that this was the first turning point into America’s corporatism (not capitalism).

If you wish to verify any of that information, go ahead. Now you have all of these great ideas and you want to start a business but don’t know where to start. Hey! It’s hot outside, why not go set up a lemonade stand and make some extra change from some thirsty customers? So, you go construct a stand with a perfect banner on top. We will call your business Cold Ass Lemonade. It’s not just cold… It’s cold as shit. Anyway, so everything’s perfect you got your lemonade stand all set up and ready to go with mom’s secret lemonade recipe, and guess what? It’s cold as shit. You made $50 today which makes your total capital gain $20 with supplies and all. Congratulations! You just made money from your first business! Except for that you’re gonna have to pay $3 in taxes, $2 for Social Security, $1 for Medicare, $10 in fees for not getting a business license,  oh and $1 for Ma. Now all you got is $3 dollars. Don’t spend it all in one place. You did not choose to pay these fees, it was chosen for you before you were even born. YOU! set up the stand, got Ma’s help, and made that super sweet Cold Ass Lemonade banner, but the government took $17. That is what corporatism is. Actually, the FCC is going to charge you $2 for your business name and slogan being offensive, so you paid $19 to the government. That’s corporatism. Let’s look at Cold Ass Lemonade’s profits if the government was not involved.

Well, first of all, Ma could be paid more, let’s raise her payment to $5 — the same amount paid in taxes and Social Security. That leaves you with $15. Keep $5 for yourself, and invest the rest in awesome cups for the customers since they said the cups were boring. Now you have a growing business, something that is 10 billion times harder to do under corporatism. Maybe the next day you will make $30 in profit and you can donate some to charity. Ma, your helper, was able to get paid more, YOU were able to be paid more, AND you were able to invest in your business to satisfy your customers. All you had was a recipe, sweet banner, and a stand without having to worry about paying anyone else. As long as you are just and ethical, the customers will come, and you can build your business. This is capitalism. This is laissez faire.

Imposing taxes and regulations on business via the government make it harder for the business to operate because it has to adjust its prices around the taxes and regulation. For instance, if you wanted to still make $5 while paying taxes, then the lemonade price needs to be higher even though the quality is the same. Ever wonder why almost everything we buy is made in China? This collectivist type of regulation raises prices and ENCOURAGES greed due to criminals dodging and good citizens following the regulations… In a REAL capitalist society, only the fair businesses with the highest quality for the smallest price thrives. That’s when you introduce Frosty Lemonade, new competition on the block. Cold Ass Lemonade and Frosty Lemonade will compete for the highest quality product for the smallest price to bring in the most customers. Maybe Frosty Lemonade will put Cold Ass Lemonade out of business, but that is the risk you take in starting  a business. This is the simplest way I can explain capitalism: business ran without government interference.

I guarantee that if you go to your political and economics professors tomorrow and tell them what real capitalism is, they will tell you that you are wrong, that the current system we have is capitalism and that’s why things are so messed up. It is important to stand up for what you believe in. Do not be afraid to challenge authorities such as professors and teachers and to stick out from the crowd. Be a leader full of different knowledge.

If you are interested in learning more about real capitalism, sound money, and the business cycle, visit: http://www.mises.org and click on “Literature.”

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Nomination: Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Cassandra Rose Arthur:

A kindred spirit has been inspired by my writing, and for that, I am grateful. :)

Originally posted on Live Laugh Love:

If all you have the strength for is small things, do the small things in your best way~

If all you have the strength for is small things, do the small things in your best way~

I am a little in awe at the moment.. … .. I had this crazy notion one day to start a blog and to make it all about inspiration. I didn’t think

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Money in War: Research into the Life of Just One Financial Marine (Part I)

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September 11th, 2001; I turned 10 years old a few months prior and had just started fifth grade. They didn’t show the news coverage in my school for a long time, and my teacher had to do it without permission. I remember a cloudy feeling of doom: our country was plunging into war. What was going to happen? I learned about the Revolutionary War — the war against an oppressive government; the Civil War — the war of the federal government against the states; and Vietnam — the war we never “won.” What would this new war be against? A new word started appearing everywhere, “terrorism.” Something just wasn’t right. “How long will we be at war?” I thought, “Hopefully not that long. Hopefully it won’t be as bad as Vietnam.”

13 years later, I am almost 23 years old. I have lived over half of my life during a war time. This War on Terror has been the longest war fought in United States history. I had countless battles throughout my childhood wondering what the place of war is in our lives. As a child, coming to grips with the fact that the government you were taught to believe was there to protect you was all of a sudden using our children as martyrs for the sake of “democracy.” It was a confusing time, and over the years, I have grown to understand just what the costs of war are, and these are costs that no one should be willing to pay.

In 2009, the economy was recovering from an economic collapse, AKA “The Great Recession.” (Isidore) I graduated from high school that May. You can guess how many jobs there were out there for an 18-year-old high school graduate with writing and sandwich making skills, a knack for violence and a bunch of family problems. After attempting to make it out on my own in Alaska, only to be sabotaged by unfortunate circumstances, I joined the Marine Corps.

I arrived in Parris Island, South Carolina on January 25th, 2010. It was there that I began my journey being trained to do nothing but accomplish the mission and destroy the enemy. Marine Corps boot camp is one of the most psychologically stressful events in the world. There, you are broken down as an individual and built back up as a perfectly molded soldier, ready to take any order given. There have been studies done by the military on the psychological effects of boot camp. What the top psychologists do to the individual recruit, in warfare, is called attrition: the action or process of gradually reducing the strength or effectiveness of someone or something through sustained attack or pressure. There are many factors that tie into the effectiveness of Marine Corps attrition, such as the recruit’s socioeconomic background, coping mechanisms, defense mechanisms, and other forms of adaptation to stress. They extract and manipulate psychological information about every recruit, and exploit weaknesses by almost any means necessary. The first 24 hours of boot camp are essential to establishing instant willing obedience to orders which carries on into Basic Warrior Training (BWT), which is where I believe most of the brainwashing occurs, but I do not remember those times.

The first time I knew I could not resist the brainwashing that was happening to me in boot camp was after we had been taught how to properly shoot our rifles on the range: BWT. As females, this was often the first time many of us had been exposed to warrior training. It consisted of two weeks: indoctrination and application. The most important week was week one: we were marched into a large theater with our brother male battalion under high stress. I didn’t understand why our drill instructors were acting the way they were during this time. They seemed angrier, which just added to the stress and confusion of boot camp all together. I do not remember the first week very well. The only part I remember during that time is the Combat Hunter video we watched. Combat Hunter is a course given to Marines to make them effective at doing just what the title insinuates: how to hunt other humans perceived to be a threat to the mission. There were speakers who taught us land navigation, battlefield operations, and weapons management, but I can’t recall any of the classes.

In between each speaker, we were forced to stand up straight and scream Marine Corps “knowledge” at the top of our lungs. These were things such as the Commandant of the Marine Corps, weapons safety rules, general orders, etc. It really hit me what was going on when we were told to relax and watch a video which gave us a general overview of what Combat Hunter is, then I started to fall asleep. My battle buddy smashed my arm with her fist and before I knew it, the video was over. Our drill instructors were told to relax as some higher ranking officers came in to speak to us about the video we just watched. Shortly afterwards, we marched out onto the old flight deck and lined up to stare into the tree line of the South Carolina forest. We were looking for suspicious objects in the tree line with our binos (binoculars), and to my amazement, I found every single one of them they set up. “Wow,” I thought, “What has happened to me?” That was just a pale fraction to the amount of psychological stress that the recruit endures to adopt the Marine Corps warrior mindset. Some Marines do not even remember boot camp and their other training. Combat training in the School of Infantry is just another monster added to the shaping of the United States Marine. This is the time where we are made to follow orders, and that’s what I did.

After combat training (see details of combat training in Money in War Part II) came our Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) School where I was trained as a financial technician to credit and check miscellaneous amounts of money from individual service members in the interest of the United States Treasury. It was there that I finally learned what it is that financial Marines do overseas. During our initial brief, Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) Jones was assigned to our classroom to give a brief on what finance Marines do when we were deployed. He described an incident which happened while he was in Iraq that really opened up my eyes as to how the wars in America are funded.

One of the responsibilities of finance Marines while deployed overseas is to complete monetary contracts with the local villagers. The most common form of contract is for restitution of destroyed property. I’ve heard of $2,000 being paid for a single goat being destroyed in a firefight. Another form of contract is the “humanitarian” contract. This is where CWO Jones comes in. He described a contract in which he and his men had to form a patrol over to a nearby village’s school to form somewhere between a $50,000 and $100,000 contract. This money was intended to provide electricity and running water to the school. I’m assuming that since the amount of the contract was over a certain dollar amount, the team had to follow up to ensure the money was being used for what it was intended for.

The man who signed the contract had disappeared. CWO Jones and his men got a call to inspect a hose that was nearby the school that had been reported by a sympathizing villager to be suspicious. They went to the house, kicked down the doors, herded the women and children into a sectioned off area, and found a house full of automatic weapons. “We can only assume what happened to that man at the school,” he said, “but that’s war. That’s what you’re here for.” What CWO Jones did not take into consideration is that he did not join the Marine Corps to personally fund the enemy he was supposed to fight against, and I did not think it was possible for him to understand that. I understood that, though, and the decision that I made of joining the military really began to sink in.
Financial Marines are the foot soldiers in the funding of these wars. There are missions assigned to us that consist of entering the United States Treasury vault, removing pallets of money, sending it on a helicopter, getting the transfer form signed, and that individual Marine does not know where that money went. Here’s the thing, though, someone does. Any amount of money being removed from or inserted to a government institution has been recorded in the money database systems of the government. There is a trace (whether electronic or hard copy) of every financial transaction ran in the United States of America — it’s just a matter of finding out where it is.

Every form of financial authority is recorded in some long, boring manual with every piece of financial knowledge in there for you to conceive. These financial transactions are governed by the Department of Defense Financial Management Regulation, a manual compromised of every financial authority in the Department of Defense. Every branch of the military studies this manual, and each section that is referenced is divided by the financial specialty. The DoDFMR is so large that it is impossible to know all of the information contained in all of the volumes unless you’re The Rain Man or something. My point is that there is no possible way for the Department of Defense to know exactly where all of these financial transactions are located.

I sat through a financial regulation stand down where a top Colonel was giving announcements on certain system functioning changes and pay systems manual updates. He happened to mention that the administrators who created the system we use to fund our troops and military operations cannot be audited. That means that there is no possible way to keep track of all of the financial transactions processed by the Department of Defense. This also means that these financial transactions have little accountability. What does that say for the other, larger branches? As a platoon, we had fairly efficient ways of keeping track of financial transactions, but ultimately some just end up missing or being incorrect for long periods of time. This is due to the inflation of financial transactions processed during a war time.

When a Marine is stationed overseas, he can make anywhere from $450.00 – $700.00, sometimes almost $1,000 more dollars per month being stationed in a combat zone or hazardous duty location (HDL) (APSM). An HDL, as distinguished from a combat zone, would be an area with an increased rate of violence that the United States is not at war with, such as Libya or Egypt in 2012. (DoDFMR, 7a). These entitlements have to be adjusted every time the Marine travels from country to country. A lot of these transactions are ran through administrative units which were so unreliable that a lot of times Marines got overpaid or underpaid whatever monetary amount the manuals had instructed. These failed oversights resulted in individual service members owing the federal government hundreds to thousands of dollars.

I was in charge of writing the denial endorsement for every Marine that requested a waiver of this debt that had not been wounded in combat. There was an instance of a PFC Cocoa who paid child support every month. He had been receiving an entitlement to cover the child support amount that was incorrect, resulting in a total debt/overpayment for this PFC of around $12,000 with a $300 monthly liquidation on this debt at less than $800 biweekly and $200 to pay in child support. In his grievance letter, he said that he could not afford gas money to go and see his daughter because all of the money he was spending was on uniform items and left him with barely enough money to sustain his life. Oh yeah, and he was in the infantry too. His waiver was denied because a brand new PFC to the fleet should “have reasonably known” that he was not entitled to the money he received, even though he asked his superiors several times about the money he was getting. That was not even the half of it. I’ve seen countless Marines fall into the indebted hands of the United States government and have been afraid to leave the service because the debt that they have to pay due to incorrect entitlements sometimes runs to tens of thousands of dollars. This is a system that oppresses and enslaves individuals by instilling indebted control over their lives.

What’s my point here? The point is that the military industrial complex is so large that the federal government cannot accurately take account for the money its’ spending because the system is too large, and therefore enslaves men by creating a monetary debt based off of clerical errors. Murray Rothbard, in his book entitled, Anatomy of the State, explains that one method the state has to maintain support is by creating vested economic interests. Since the state has the individual in debt, the individual feels as though he cannot escape the hands of the state because the debt will forever follow him. With veteran unemployment so low, a lot of active duty and reserve service members are intimidated into staying in the service because they believe their lives would be ruined if they did not have the government funds coming in to pay off their government debt. Let that sink in for a moment. Not only do service members get deployed overseas to kill men, women, and children in the name if economic interests of the few, they also run a high chance of being monetarily controlled by financial debt transactions that cause over payments to the individual.

Why do we fight in these wars that our children are being brainwashed in the name of national security to fight, send our children over to die in, and deal out our financial support that may just end up stuck in a database somewhere and is never accounted for? We deal out humanitarian monetary contracts that end up in the hands of the enemy, thereby inadvertently supporting the enemy that our fellow men died while fighting against. These are the kinds of things that happen when governments are allowed to fight against other countries in the interest of international corporations. A large government creates an uncontrollable government. Hopefully in the coming years, our fellow men will learn to live voluntarily with one another, and that violence only exists if we allow it to.

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When Staff Sergeant Ordered Me to Save the Hummingbird

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“Kerkman, there’s a hummingbird dying, trapped in the courtyard.
You gotta save it.”
“SSgt, why did you come to me to save it?”
“Well, because you’re a hippy, Kerkman.
You’re the only one who knows how.”
It was a hot summer, the bird was dehydrated.
“SSgt, I need sugar and water.”
We headed in to make up the concoction.
My Sergeant asked me what the hell I was doin’,
told me to get back to work.
I said, “Staff Sergeant ordered me to save a hummingbird.”
I went outside.
The hummingbird was scared,
others thought it was going to die.
It couldn’t fly.
I gently put the cup of water up to the little guy
It weakly and eagerly drank
After a couple sips, it found the strength to get outta there.
He got his wings back.
He could fly.

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Thought for Today

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Know your center of gravity.

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Standardization Undermines Our Abilities (On College Admissions)

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I remember my first day of high school very well.  All of the freshmen had to assemble in the theatre for an introduction to high school by the current seniors with the main message of: do your homework, pass your tests, and — more importantly — don’t mess up your GPA! For when your GPA is not up to the standard of your college of choice, you will never accomplish your dreams. Being the pink-haired, studded-vest, loud, fast music and ripped up jeans type of 14-year-old, I thought to myself, “I don’t need no high school prison telling me I won’t make it in life if I don’t get with the program and abide by their regulation.”

Later, I found out that even if I made good grades, if I didn’t pass the standardized tests which also rank me amongst my peers, I would have done all of that hard work for nothing. When you’re so young, what does that tell you? It made me feel like mistakes were not going to be forgiven, so why should I even try? A lot of my friends either felt the same way or got so anxious about their performance at school, that they could not fathom life being any other way. Grade point averages, standardized tests, and other forms of testing are methods which imply that the individual’s worth is based off of their performance compared to the likes of their peers and not based off of their individual abilities.

At the end of my freshmen year, my GPA was a whopping 1.7. I had a hard time recovering from living on the streets of California during the last months of the school year and did not have the time nor the ability to care about something as meaningless to me as a grade point average. Throughout the rest of my high school years, I was able to successfully raise my GPA to a barely-graduating rate of 2.7. That’s good enough to get into community college, sure, but I was under the impression that any university would look at my GPA and laugh — a waste of time. I felt like the actual number of my GPA did not show my character as much as the increase did, and I couldn’t understand why that would not be taken into consideration. It made me feel like I wasn’t going to amount to anything even though I was determined to be the best that I could be.

Needless to say, I didn’t do too well on the standardized tests either. You mean, I lose more points if I answer a question wrong than if I don’t answer it at all? What kind of conditioning is that? Not trying is better than trying? I felt like this same oppressive aspect was applied to the grade point average: if you make a mistake, you will be punished by not being as competitive in the college market. I believe “college market” should be used to describe college admissions and the relationship between college and student. The more higher-performing students they have, the more government subsidies they get and higher tuition they can charge. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, and not everything about receiving a college education is bad at all — it’s how you get there that causes such financial and psychological problems. This is why it is important for higher learning education centers to not base admissions off of frivolous scores and averages, but off of the individual as a well-rounded being.

What our society has is a mental slavery to standardization — one that Slate.com claims to increase depression and anxiety in over 80% of students. It suppresses the individual by forcing different personalities into one classroom and teaching them as a group and not individual beings. Does this mean that every student should have one teacher? Well, as a mandate, that may not be plausible. The solution to this problem is to repeal compulsory laws of forced education, and to return education to a free and compulsory market where the individual is allowed to express himself and perform in manners which apply to his personal abilities. Such and education would  allow the individual to choose how he will be educated which will allow for greater self-awareness and a more intellectually and emotionally fulfilling society.

Contrary to popular belief, formal and public education has not been around forever. Humans have the capability to learn great things without the force of state mandates for every child to attend school. Perhaps these types of laws proved to be beneficial to some people at some point in history, but any long term regulation has adverse affects on the generations that come after the laws. As humans and our technology become more advanced, society should be able to adapt to its advances. It’s about time America rethinks its education system, and give it back to each individual and beautiful student.

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Keep Your Enemies Closer

heart

Defenseless, the man with the knife to his heart
He felt no way out
“Why am I being treated like this?” He thought.
“I need to defend myself.”
Knowing nothing else,
the man with the knife to his heart embraced the man holding the knife
After the shock, he accepted.
The man holding the knife had never been hugged before.

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The Establishment-Social Media Love Affair (This post keeps on getting nixed into “draft” form after I publish it.)

pcworldcom

In the conglomerated, up-and-coming internet world of 2003, a new website was introduced into my life: MySpace. Little did I know that this business was going to be the pioneer of an informational revolution. The news media portrayed MySpace as a disgusting, uncontrolled area of cyber space where teenage antics run amuck; save your sons and daughters from the creeps! The uncontrolled area of youthful expression is a danger to our society of good order and discipline! Do you remember those news reports? I do. The reason why these reports stuck out in my mind is because they portrayed a stark contrast to what I knew this new social media as. It was a place where I could express my thoughts, interests, and feelings to others, a place where I found new lifetime friends as well as the old and my favorite bands. Eventually, the older generation caught on, and with the advent of Facebook, social media took off. All of a sudden the news reports were changing. I started hearing, “Follow us on Twitter,” and “Like us on Facebook.” What happened? Society was changing, social media was becoming a huge part of our lives, and we were – and still are — learning how to adapt. The main issue that social media has faced within the last decade is privacy and government interference.

In the summer of 2013, Glenn Greenwald (The Guardian) reported the most important story of our lifetime: secret mass government surveillance across the globe perpetrated by the National Security Agency (NSA). Everyone in the world soon learned that all of the information they were sharing on the internet was under the prying eyes of an invasive government. Associated Press reporters, the Vatican, and multiple government officials around the world have been targets of wiretaps. Millions of innocent citizens’ private lives are unknowingly being invaded by the collection of unlimited amounts of metadata through social networking and other electronic communication for an uncertain amount of time. We can only speculate as to what they do with the data and report on the activities we have found to be true.

According to Russia Today, the NSA has the ability to use metadata to track and exterminate targets via unmanned aerial vehicles AKA drones. A former NSA employee confirmed that the methods used to locate and verify the target are untrustworthy and the agency hopes that the person on the other end is, indeed, “the bad guy.” They use geolocation to track the SIM card in the cell phone on a specific target. Why is this important to Americans if they are only using the predator drones overseas? After all, they’re only targeting the bad guys! The reason why it is important is because there have been reports of great inaccuracies in the pursuance of these predatory endeavors. Civilians have been wrongly killed with inaccurate data. With The National Review reporting on suspects being arrested due to domestic drone surveillance via the local police, inaccuracy in data is something that could land you wrongfully arrested. Police stations across the United States are considering or currently are using drones as a method of criminal surveillance – something that has the great potential of being inaccurate, or even worse, abused.

Early this month, Turkish citizens found themselves unable to access Twitter. They later found out that their government suspended the use of Twitter for an uncertain amount of time. I read a blog written by a Turkish citizen on WordPress.com saying that the only way he could access Twitter was through the posts he made on WordPress. Wouldn’t it be something if Americans found out that the United States government temporarily banned Twitter under the feign of “national security?” There are other governments in the world, such as China, who censor what is able to be posted on social media and therefore use it as a means to acquire control over the populations’ ability to express oneself. This would be a direct violation of the First Amendment if something similar were to happen in the United States.

The beauty of the social media is that it gives us a chance to connect with those likeminded to us that we would normally never be able to meet otherwise. It keeps us connected to the people across the world. One example is from 2012, when the Iranian nuclear weapons “scare” was happening. Israel and Iran were about to start World War III. A group of Israelis made a Facebook page called, “I heart Persians,” as a way to protest their governments pushing them into war. Iranians started doing the same thing. There was a huge public outcry on social media which resulted in tensions between the two countries to ease. It would not have been so easy to do that with the way Israel and Iran’s diplomatic relationship is had it not been for the public disdain of another war. How else would word have travelled and action been taken so quickly? There is a social revolution amuck, one that will greatly affect future generations to come.

Who has seen pictures of babies on Facebook? Everyone. We love to see pictures of our younger family members across the country, it is a great way to keep in touch with your loved one’s life. One thing I find unsettling is that I have watched children that I have never met before grow up on my Facebook. Some of my high school and Marine friends that I haven’t seen in years have had children, and I love seeing them, along with their parents, grow up. Here’s why it’s unsettling though: the children did not have a say in whether or not the information could be posted on the internet. It brings a whole new meaning to “embarrassing childhood photos.” I can’t help but think sometimes when I’m scrolling on the screen, “I wonder what they’re going to say when they find out the government has been keeping track of their parents’ metadata their entire lives and therefore know everything about them.” They know when your kids got sick, what makes them throw temper tantrums, makes them smile, their favorite toy was, how they reacted to important life situations. Do we really want strangers knowing all of that information? To me, that’s an operational security risk associated with life itself. With Facebook’s new eerily accurate face scanners that can only get more accurate over time, I think this is an issue that needs to be talked about. What rights do children have in objecting to the publication of their lives? I’d say complete control, only if they knew. That’s why parents need to be careful about what they post about their children as well as what they post about themselves.

 

It is important for all of us to take responsibility for not only what we post on the internet, but also for holding governments responsible for impeding on any privacy or freedom of speech. We would not let strangers go through our homes, so why would we entrust in a government which uses deadly force under possibly inaccurate circumstances or violates the trust of the American people by collecting and analyzing their information? Why would we allow them to censor our speech? We wouldn’t, but only if we were aware of it, something that is happening to more and more people across the globe. Social media has and will continue bring change to the world, and the just will always succeed.

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Enlightening (Update)

I am very excited and humbled at the great response that has come from the things I have written, and I want to thank everyone for their professionalism. I have been rather absent as of late due to feeling pretty under the weather, so I hope to address the great points being brought up in the comments sections of my essays when I’m feeling a little better!

Some topics coming up are: government encroachment on social media, and a comprehensive research paper on the similarities between Eazy-E and Syd Barrett’s music careers.

In the mean time, I will transcribe a poem I wrote when I was in the Marine Corps:

Field Day

So there I was
Cleaning the toilet
I wasn’t mad
Like last week
But I’m cleaning the toilet now
and I’m pretty pissed off
Marine Corps

Field day is the most dreaded day of the week for young Marines: the day (usually Thursday) that we all have to clean every inch of the barracks and our barracks room. The day after we cleaned, our rooms stood a white glove inspection. If you failed the inspection, you would be subject to reevaluation Saturday morning which meant that Friday night was spent all night cleaning. Usually the reevaluation was done in our dress uniforms which meant that not only was your room being reinspected, but your uniform was being inspected as well. So, you can just go ahead and kiss your weekend good-bye if you failed field day inspection. The sacred weekend. So, that’s where the frustration and stress comes in this poem. I had spent a lot of time cleaning the toilet, and my Sergeant came in and told me that there was a little bit of dust in a tiny little crack on the side that I missed. I had to reclean the toilet… So I wrote a poem before I did and got the toilet clean. Haha. Marine Corps.

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