First day as a Peace Corps Trainee in country

Note to readers: This is a review of my personal journal from my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer more than a decade ago. I have done my best not to edit or censor what I wrote then. Time moves on, I learn things, and I no longer feel the same. Part of the joy of reading old journals is seeing a story arc where I’ve learned new things.

Hotel Naco
18 September 2001
I woke up at 5:30AM. I got up, showered, and put on overalls. As my roommate was asleep, I walked into the hall to stretch.

First, I put my right leg up on the banister. I leaned forward and stretched for twenty seconds, which I measured by counting my outbreaths. I then did the same for my other leg.

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On the dictatorial powers of Donald Trump

Donald Trump is probably a horrible person. But to think that one guy can ruin a system that is already so flawed is to give both him and the merits of our system too much credit. Compared to many places that style themselves as democracies, we have some strong traditions and institutions that limit how much damage a single poorly-intentioned person can do. Moreover, it’s already pretty flawed.
 
It’s true that we’re not some backwards failed state. In fact, we are one of the world’s most resilient and wealthy democracies. Relative to most countries, our institutions work like machines even when defective components are installed. The resiliency of our systems is especially clear to those of us who have lived for a time in a poorer country where governance and civic life is a little rougher around the edges.
 
Trump is no Jack Kennedy, but neither is he Trujillo, Pinochet, Hoxha, Videla, Hitler, Porfirio Diaz, Papa Doc, Jerry Rawlings, Hussein, Sese Seko, Pol Pot, Khadafi, Teodoro Obiang, Franco, Castro, Lenin, or Reza Shah. He doesn’t even rate a second-class Latin American dictator like Alfredo Stroessner. I know my dictators; I can say Trump doesn’t have the chops to truly win as a tyrant.
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My favorite dictator. Collect them all– and win!

The other side of the coin is that no matter which candidate we selected, the US government would remain the same great threat to human dignity at home and abroad that it’s always been. Donald Trump does not have to organize the secret police, since the FBI has been going after political enemies of the state for a lifetime now. He does not have to invent a massive program of oppression against ethnic minorities, since we have the still-ongoing drug war. He doesn’t have to build any gulags since we already incarcerated more people per capita than pretty much any other country in the world, bar none.
 
Abroad, the reign of many of the tyrants I mentioned above was made possible or has been sustained by US foreign policy. At this very moment, under the executive leadership of the party that just lost the election, the US is an occupying force in several countries. We have currently deployed our forces to armed conflicts in no fewer than five countries.
 
And all this is what makes America great, kinda-sorta. We are a country that is strong enough to install dictators elsewhere, oppress millions at home, and still get to call ourselves a democracy and a beacon upon a hill. American hypocrisy is the basis for our imperialism everywhere; neither Clinton nor Trump would have changed this.
I know this is a scary time. If it really does come down to deportations of nonnative US people and campaigns of violence against sexual minorities, I will defend you with my life. Hold me to that, please.
 
But don’t deceive yourself. Donald Trump is not going to change the fundamental workings of the US system at home or abroad, and neither would Hillary. Expect the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. We’ll continue to invade other countries for the sheer hell of it and oil. It’s the same system, just a different day.
 
Tomorrow, we’ll have record highs way up here, record lows way down here, and record middles somewhere in between. The massive machinery of the US Federal Government will continue to bumble along, sometimes ineptly, sometimes helpfully, and sometimes with precision strikes. And we’ll still be free enough, or at least most of us will be, to push back against any self-important nimwit who tells us that we may not copulate with or mary whom we want, may not object to rape, may not control our reproductive destinies, and should not under any circumstance put taco stands on every corner. We’ll also continue to destroy the planet with our voracious thirst for petroleum, and fail to provide for the basic needs of the poorest among us. Unlike many other countries, we will continue to refrigerate our eggs and our cheese. For all its flaws, this is our American way, and Donald Trump is not going to change it.
 

An introduction and background to Broadway, Nashville.

Introduction

Broadway is Nashville’s central entertainment district that encompasses the five blocks of the eponymous street, starting at the river and ending at Fifth Avenue. Other venues, bars, and restaurants line the intersecting streets. There are about thirty bars, four boot stores, one candy shop, one ice cream parlor, a hot dog stand, a psychic, and several tourist trinket shops. Live music emanates from the bars, generically called “honky tonks,” sixteen hours a day every day of the year.

There are about sixteen venues in five blocks. There’s not usually a door charge; the bands play for tips all day. And they are really quite good. That’s 1024 hours of music every day, for those of you who know your powers of two.

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Photo essay: West Nashville, Headquarters Coffee, and shit

Headquarters Coffee wouldn’t take any of my shit. They had a sign up that said “Our plumbing is over 100 years old. If you have to go #2, don’t use our toilet. Our pipes can’t handle your pipes.” I had to take a shit really badly because I just drank coffee, and coffee makes me shit. I asked the counter worker, the barista, what I should do. I said “I can’t use your bathroom. Any idea where I can go?” She told me that I could go next door to Cool Things and Weird Stuff. So I go over there.

 

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What Robertico Told Me When I Went to Buy Dos Panes, Una Rasuradora y Seis Pesos de Salami

Congoses are so stupid. Here we are, all of us, wanting to leave this evil batey. I’m going to play baseball, God willing. I’ll get my break soon, and then I’ll be contracted. Cheyito is working in the zona and saving up money to build a house with his woman in San Pedro. The rest of my buddies are trying to be cops, except for Frede, who is stupid, just like his Haitian dad.

No, Frede made some girl’s belly swell, and now he drives a god-damn tractor. He says he wants to stay here with his family, the whole lot of the patois gurgling stupids. Which is pointless, shit! There’s no life living here. That’s why I’m going to make a break. They’re going to sign me, and then I’ll have some money.
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Never going to be senator

You know, you can’t make everyone happy. You can’t be everything to everyone. You’ve got to choose. One of the sacred myths of my people is that we live in a meritocracy, right? One way we express this myth is by telling our children that maybe one day, they’ll grow up to be President. We live in America, where anything can happen, right? If you just work hard enough at it, you can be anything you want.
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“Stanford Prison Experiment” movie review: Prisoner 819 did a bad thing

Phil Zimbardo is one kinky motherfucker. Anyone who has taken an a first survey course in psychology or sociology within the past two decades could probably tell you he’s freaky-deeky. Maybe this impression comes from watching him narrate survey-course videos on a variety of subjects in now-outmoded clothing.

Probably a perv.

In my case, when I lived in the Bay Area, I did hear a rumor once that he was involved in the San Francisco BDSM scene, and it seemed credible. It’s more likely that we think he’s a fellow perv because he once locked up a bunch of Stanford undergraduate students in a basement, whereupon he coached another group of students to enforce petty rules meant to dominate and control the first group. He called this an “experiment.

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17 Nov 2001 Journal entry discussion: Peace Corps site selection

In my recent posting of a journal from 17 Nov 2001, there is some context that needs discussing. I am doing my best not to edit or censor my 15-year-ago self, but if someone actually reads any of this, s/he’s going to want to know a little bit about a few things.

I wrote this long list of why Peace Corps wouldn’t work out for me after a couple of really shitty things had happened to me. First off, I had a nasty fight with another trainee during training, and managed in the process to alienate most of the other trainees in my group. Then, I was sent to a site that wasn’t really ready for me, but which was perhaps the most hellish piece-of-crap placement that Peace Corps could have come up with in all of the island.

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So— what do you do?

This morning, I’m thinking again about what I’d do if I had no need to earn money. It’s easy to give a fanciful answer involving charter jets, mansions, luxury goods, or endless cruise ship vacations. It’s easy to make some equally unlikely scenario involving sainthood: opening a homeless shelter or volunteering to save the rainforest.

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