Our Government Is Causing More Terrorism by Matt Beat [Guest Wreckers]

The terrorists who attacked us on September 11, 2001, did not win on that horrible day. But they have won every day since then. They have created a fear not seen since the early days of the Cold War. They have turned our politicians into people who make every major decision based on fear. The “War on Terror” has, in fact, created more terror. That’s right, after the death of around 9,000 Americans, after the death of millions of people in other countries (but, really, who cares about them? ha!), and after $1.28 Trillion spent (keep raising that debt ceiling!), we are less safe now than before the War on Terror began.

But it’s not just the War on Terror. It’s also the War on Drugs. President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs 40 years ago, and we now spend $42 billion a year fighting drugs (just illegal ones- alcohol, nicotine, oxycontin, morphine, those are fine) and more people use drugs now than ever before. The Global Commission on Drug Policy has recently affirmed what many of us already know. The war on drugs has failed.

Terror and Drugs have existed since the dawn of civilization, but recently our government decided to declare war on the two. Oh, and directly or indirectly kill millions and spend trillions of dollars since declaring both wars. It’s important to specifically look at how the two wars have created more terrorism.

The main reason why we are less safe now is simply because many people passionately hate us, and no, they don’t hate us for our freedom. They hate us for various reasons that I won’t get into, but the biggest reason of all is our foreign policy, and there is overwhelming evidence to support this. As a mostly Christian nation of people, our foreign policy blatantly contradicts the “golden rule.” Remember that one? That was the “treat others as you would want to be treated” rule that Jesus of Nazareth preached and popularized. For every military action we have made during the War on Terror, we have failed to ask ourselves, “what would we do if another country conducted such military action to us?” For example, if an unmanned aerial vehicle from Pakistan secretly dropped a bomb on a house where suspected enemy combatants lived (they’re innocent until proven dead!), killing an entire family except for an 8-year old, which country would that 8-year old grow up to hate? If Germany decided to build a permanent military base in Texas in the name of “national security,” how would Americans react?

You can distract yourselves with “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Celebrity Apprentice” every night, but the fact remains that while you watch those “reality” TV shows, the real reality is that civilians are accidentally killed everyday by the United States military and NATO. The real reality is that the United States has over 1000 permanent military bases outside of its borders. The real reality is that new terrorists are created because of the invasion and occupation of foreign countries by our military.

What about the civil liberties that American citizens seem to take for granted? Those have also been consistently attacked since the War on Terror began. Thanks to the Patriot Act,our government can spy on us or search our home without us knowing. (so much for the 4th amendment) We are also not allowed to dance in public (so much for the 1st amendment). We have two choices at the airport before we get on a plane: get exposed to radiation and show off our naked bodies or get groped. (so much for decency)

The War on Drugs, certainly related to the War on Terror, has also created more terrorism. Whenever anything is illegal, that creates a black market. Those who operate within the black market are more prone to operate outside of the law. After all, they’re already breaking the law to begin with, right? If someone doesn’t pay or if a business deal goes sour in the black market, violence is usually the solution to get a message across. Most drug-related violence is actually drug trade-related violence.

Statistics are hard to figure because there is so much hidden damage. For example, let’s look at the stereotypical gang. Almost all gangs make at least some of  their money through the illegal drug trade. Say Johnny is looking to join a gang which makes most of its money from selling crack cocaine.  In order to join, Johnny has to kill someone from a rival gang. He drives by the rival gang member’s house and opens fire. But he is not home. Instead, he accidentally kills his little brother and sister. When you watch the local news that night, you probably won’t make the connection that the double homicide was linked to the drug trade.

Now, what if cocaine was legal? It would be counter productive for the gang to sell cocaine. They would have to compete with the legal market, and couldn’t compete, so they would be forced to sell another illegal product. But if there were no other illegal products they could easily access, the gang wouldn’t be sustainable and it would fall apart. Johnny therefore would not care to join the gang and two children would still be alive.

That is a simplification to a complex problem, but history tells us that prohibition actually causes more problems than it solves. Look at the problems of prohibition of alcohol in this country or look at the success of decriminalizing marijuana in Portugal. The biggest problem with the War on Drugs is the terrorism it creates. The 1 million gang members in this country are easily the most frightening terrorists we have to worry about on a daily basis. They are the ones directly creating terror on our streets, disportionately affecting the lower class of our society (you know, the ones who rarely vote and don’t hold public office). The police fighting the drug wars are also unintentionally (sometimes intentionally) creating even more terror, often invading homes only to find no trace of drugs. Remember, the United States locks up more of its own citizens than any other country in the world. Most of those sent to prison are there for minor drug possession charges. Most of the drug possession charges alsodisproportionately affect minorities.

Terrorism is winning, and largely thanks to the ignorance of the masses and misinformation and disinformation in the mainstream media, it will continue to win. Ironically, this is after millions of lives lost and trillions of dollars spent fighting it. Who is to blame in the world for all of the world’s terrorism? A small amount of terrorism can be blamed on Al-Qaeda, The Taliban, and other terrorist organizations and also Muammar Gaddafi, Omar al-Bashir, and other brutal dictators. However, most of the blame, unfortunately, has to be put on the world’s greatest current superpower, the USA. The terror we cause is unintended and often accidental, but it is causing hatred around the world, thus fueling more terrorism from future generations. I love my country and I love what my country stands for, but I do not love its foreign policy and its drug policy, the two things that are putting my family directly in harm’s way the most. If we all want to survive, if we all want to feel and be safe, we must change both now.

Matt Beat is many things.  He is a father.  A middle school history teacher in Overland Park, Kansas.  And indie rokker as one half of the power duo known as Electric Needle Room.  His writing has appeared in the likes of the Kansas City Underground Examiner, and the charity based book about independent music, Children of Mercy: Tales and Teachings From The World of Independent Music.  Recently Matt has combined his love for american politics and history with his love for music with a collection of songs about all of the Presidents of United States of America, released annually on, you got it, President’s Day.  Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 of said albums are available on Bandcamp.  You can read more insight from Matt at The Beat Matt Blog, where this blog originally appeared on June 22nd, 2011.

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An Open Letter To Cage The Elephant by Jess Gulbransson [Guest Wreckers]

Dear CTE,

I have no intention of starting any sort of flame war with your fans or yourselves, as I presume that you are all ordinarily intelligent people able to function in society. There is an element of subjectivity in any review, and in recognition of that I’m not going to throw a bunch of stylistic terms and critical references around. Well, not as a main point. Sometimes I can’t help myself. What I will provide is a personal plea.

PLEASE CEASE YOUR EXISTENCE AS A BAND.

Sounds, harsh, I understand, but I’m serious. Please listen. I first heard your band on the radio. Now, I’m not normally a radio listener. When I do listen it’s either to the classic rock station or the tejano/norteno station. My wife likes the alternative, though, so that station comes on a lot. What’s come with that is exposure to the Change The Elephant single “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” which, not to put too fine a point on it, is horrid.

Is the title of the song a biblical reference? An instance of a widespread cliche? Or cribbing from the earliest musical reference I can think of, the excellent Ozzy album?Given what I later discovered, I would guess a craptastic combination of all three. So what is this song that earns such ire?

Now, there is a history of preening self-indulgent bands attempting to be righteous and comment on social issues. Sometimes they pull it off, usually through subtlety and/or sincerity. Mostly it ends up feeling as fake as a Sunday morning megachurch rock hymn. Social Distortion seems to practically live this trope. So, Cage The Elephant, what possessed you to step into this trench already full of failure and skeletons? That it is wildly popular probably only reinforces the feeling that you wrote a really awesome song. “Yes, our shitty ripoff of the equally execrable G-Love and Special Sauce is a hit. We must write more songs like this!” That’s probably what you’re thinking, and is the biggest reason you must STOP PLAYING MUSIC.

I didn’t think that I could diss you like this without at least listening to some of your other songs, and as the wise men saith, It Got Worse. Instead of more soulless faux-funk in the vein of The White Stripes’ lesser material, your other tracks are the most shameless copies of Arctic Monkeys. What? How dare you! The song “Lotus” is the worst, being a complete and shoddy redo of “The View From The Afternoon.” Look, being derivative is fine. It happens all the time, and everyone is derivative of someone, to some respect. Just… don’t suck at it. The common advice is to write what you know. Arctic Monkeys seem to write mostly about English club kids being bored and doing stupid shit. That’s vapid material, potentially, but they breathe life into it, and the verisimilitude stomps all over any liabilities the source material may have. It’s not just about Alex Turner’s vocal style, it’s the gestalt of all sorts of elements. You’ve just thrown a bunch of shit at yourselves, hoping some will stick into a cohesive style. We’re not buying it. Well, actually a lot of us are. Your “tenth generation sub-standard Faces” schtick, as phrased by Chuck Ubaghs, is getting a lot of people excited. Well, the fucking Archies did that too. So why not take a page out of their comic book and

DO NOT CONTINUE AS A BAND

The next step in your success, whether you remain one-hit blunders or not, will be to have new bands, who are just fine sitting in their basement doing their Warsaw-esque noodling, jump up and say “THIS IS A HOT SOUND, WE NEED TO BE ALL IRONIC SOUTHERN ROCK AND SHIT.” Some critics are sitting back and waiting for you to disappear before your influence spreads, but I don’t want that pop culture blood on my hands. Now, Cage The Elephant, I could suggest to you that you might take a reasoned look at your oeuvre and how you got there, then making a sophomore effort that avoids such tripe. It’s too late, though. Like a virulent virus ‘bricking’ before the host dies, your “Wicked” single is going to bring you down eventually. With the aforementioned consequences on impressionable young bands.

Again, this may sound harsh, but I really think your band sucks, and I just have to be honest about it. I don’t think you’re bad people- just writing bad songs. Take that as what you will, and thanks for reading my little note. Good luck in your future endeavors as record store owners/fry cooks/business executives.

Sincerely,

Jess Gulbranson

Jess Gulbranson is a novelist/journalist/musician currently residing in Portland, Oregon.  He isthe  author of bizzaro fiction novels 10 A BOOT STOMPING 20 A HUMAN FACE 30 GOTO 10, Mel, and Antipaladin Blues.  He is also 1/2 of the experimental folk band Couer Machant, which is featured on the Children of Mercy Compilation.  Jess also contributed to the book Children of Mercy: Tales and Teachings From The World of Independent Music in 2011.  He contributes regularly to the Portland based blog Crappy Indie Music!  The Blog! where this piece was originally published on on July 4th, 2009.

Sound Is The Blood Between Me and You by Curtis Sutton [Guest Wreckers]

To say it’s been a good year for music would be an understatement. 2010 yielded some great things, but it wasn’t exactly overwhelming. There were some definite surprises this year (The Beastie Boys and The Roots are still putting out quality music! It’s already time for 90s nostalgia! Lady Gaga exists!), and some disappointments (No new Missy Elliott record. What was Lupe Fiasco thinking? Rihanna exists.). And if the hook from “Moves Like Jagger” gets stuck in my head one more time, I’m reaching for the sleeping pills.
Narrowing down my Top 10 for 2011 was a bit of a chore, even more so because I bought a ton of music in the past few weeks, and I’ve been trying to listen to it as much as possible to see if it compares to the stuff I bought earlier, which was already impressive. I wish I had a better system, possibly something more quantitative, like points for catchiness or number of total listens or something; but no, I just kinda look back at all the music I bought this year and pick out my favourites. Anyway, in no particular order, here goes:
• PJ Harvey – “Let England Shake”
Polly Jean has crafted an album about war and politics, but it’s also a dark love letter to her homeland.
• Real Estate – “Days”
This is what lazy Sunday afternoons sound like.
• Washed Out – “Within and Without”
• Wye Oak – “Civilian”
• St. Vincent – “Strange Mercy”
Expert guitarist, emotional singer, gifted songwriter, and not too bad to look at, Annie Clark never fails to bewilder me. This set of songs straddles the line between weird and weirder, but they’re so catchy, it’s almost like a pop album.
• Radiohead – “The King of Limbs”
Well, duh.
• James Blake – “James Blake”
• tUnE-yArDs – “w h o k i l l”
Merrill Garbus’s violent, chilling lyrics are hidden by wacky, exhilarating music. Thinly produced but somehow richly textured, it’s more fun than it has any right to be.
• Fucked Up – “David Comes to Life”
The best punk album I’ve heard in a long time. Back in 2008, they released “The Chemistry of Common Life,” and even though I heard such great things about it, I resisted. For some reason, I picked up DCtL, and I can’t get enough. Yes, it’s somewhat of a rock opera concept album, but get past all the pretentiousness that entails and you’ll find a record full of love and regret that breaks all the rules and doesn’t look back. I’ve since bought TCoCL, and now I understand what all the fuss was about.
• Wild Flag – “Wild Flag”
A little piece of me died the day Sleater-Kinney decided to go on indefinite hiatus back in 2006. Corin Tucker’s 2010 solo album was good stuff, but nothing has been able to fill the SK-sized hole in my heart until Wild Flag. Made up of Carrie Brownstein, Janet Weiss (the other 2/3 of S-K), Mary Timony (of Helium), and Rebecca Cole (of Elephant Six and the Minders), WF takes punk, indie rock, 60s girl-group, and psychedelic influences and blends it all to create their own sound. It’s a tense record, with Carrie and Mary trading off vocals to keep you guessing. Yet it’s still amazing fun, the kind of music you can hear in a dive bar or at a beach party, making you want to raise your hands and sing along. If I had a dollar for every time I almost ran off the road dance-driving to “Romance,” I’d take that money and buy this album again.

So, that’s my top ten, but I’d feel bad if I didn’t give honourable mention to The Weeknd. (Sounds like “the weakened.”) The Weeknd is the musical project of Abel Tesfaye, who released a suite of free (!) mixtapes this year via his website. It’s ambient alt-R&B that I can only listen to at night, preferably while drinking wine, and even more preferably when I have someone to make out with. Not only is the music phenomenal, but I appreciate how he’s taking advantage of the internet, not fighting the inevitability of free music. Radiohead proved that an established act would have no problem operating like this, but The Weeknd is proof that one doesn’t need a big, faceless record company to distribute his art to the masses. The fact that it’s such a quality product is an added bonus.

As a post script, I’d also like to talk about Sufjan Stevens. Like Fucked Up, Sufjan is someone I’ve heard about for years, mostly because of “Illinois,” his 2005 album that put him on the indie map. I’m one of those people who can’t be told about new music; I have to discover it on my own. (I guess it’s a pride issue.) But something came over me late last year when I was browsing in an independent record store in Baltimore with my friend Dan. I saw “The Age of Adz,” and I just had to pick it up. I knew it was sonically different from his earlier records, and even though I wasn’t hooked right away, something about it kept me queuing it up on my iPod every few days. Since then, I’ve purchased the greater part of his back catalogue, and I now understand the draw of “Illinois.” Few singers can make me tear up with sadness with songs like “John Wayne Gacy Jr.,” and then shed tears of joy three songs later on “Chicago.” Equally impressive is how he handles everything so delicately, creating songs with gorgeous melodies and story-telling lyrics, the depth of which is rare in any genre. I still feel like I’m catching up to those who have known about Mr. Stevens from the get-go, but I’m loving the experience.

Curtis Sutton is an American currently living in Budoia, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy.  He is a thoroughly researched music junkie, with a direct and passionate obsession with Sleater-Kinney.  Curtis documents his love for music, life, and especially travel across the globe in his up close and personal blog, The Wax, where this story originally appeared on December 31st, 2011.

An Open Letter To My Mid-Twenties That Can Suck It by Lindsey Cope [Guest Wreckers]

Dear Mid-Twenties:

When I was a child I was under the impression that once I finally reached this time in my life I would “have it together”. You may ask, what does it exactly mean to “have it together”? It means that I supposed that by the time that I had conquered adolescence, survived my 21 run, and began the downhill slope towards maturity, that I would maybe have a house, a savings account, a degree, and some sort resemblance of normal, healthy relationships. Unfortunately, my assumptions were incorrect.

Instead of any of these things, I have a studio apartment that is falling apart, a car I can barely afford, unemployment which equates to about half of my regular pay, a poor understanding of normal, healthy relationships, and no degree, let alone any clue what to get a degree in if I were to go back to school. Let me clarify that this not a pity party for myself. These are simply the facts as they stand.

What I find even more frustrating than the life that I’m currently living, which truthfully feels as if it belongs to someone else, is that it is not only myself who thought I’d have it together by now. I’m constantly being asked, “Why aren’t you working? When are you going back to school? What do you WANT to do?” Let me answer these questions for you:

I am not working because I was very unhappy with my job and it didn’t work out. Do I miss the paycheck? Absolutely. Do I miss my coworker? All the time. Could they double my salary, apologize and beg for me to return? No. That is not my forever career, though I am thankful for the opportunity and education. Also, maybe before you ask you should check out the state of our current economy and the unemployment rate. It’s not exactly easy finding employment these days. I’m looking. And looking. And looking.

When am I going back to school? Well, I don’t know. Sooner rather than later, hopefully. However, to be truthful with you, I feel that I cannot justify the time and expense for an unfocused education, which brings us to the final question…

What do I WANT to do? I don’t know. The things that I enjoy do not exactly pay a living wage and do not necessarily require a formal education. Coaching, writing, dancing, and bullshitting aren’t going to pay the bills. So, other than that? I’m not sure. I’d love to teach, but since our country feels the need to cut education budgets over others, the teaching jobs are becoming less lucrative and available. Please consider that maybe if they would not cut the education programs, we wouldn’t have delinquents running around spelling “words” without vowels and with numbers. Just throwing that out there… Nursing is a popular profession, but to be honest, I don’t like icky people, let alone sick icky people. I could go on and on about the professions I’ve been asked to consider and nothing really feels like it’s “my thing”. I know that eventually I will fall into something or have some unlikely epiphany about my future, until then I’ll keep searching.

Also, besides feeling stunted in regard to profession and standing in life, is the realization that I am no longer 18. My metabolism is already starting to wane. People are starting to ask the questions about why I’m not married, when I’m going to have children, and where I’ll settle down. I feel as if I live in some hell of 20 questions for the 20-something with 20 different people and their 20 different opinions telling me what to do. This isn’t 1950 any longer; I do not HAVE to be married, a mother, and pushing my children out at 18.

I suppose this is just my griping about the annoyances of not having all the answers. I wish I did, until then, mid-twenties, you may suck it. Suck it hard.

Love, Lindz

Lindsey Cope is a twenty-something woman living in Longview, Washington where she attended Lower Columbia College.  She documents the crazy antics of her life, and of the astonishingly estranged civilization that is Cowlitz County at her blog LoveLindz, where this blog original appeared on January 26th, 2012.

My Ego and I by Alexander “Bodi” Hallet [Guest Wrecker]

One day last week I was feeling particularly down on myself, as happens from time to time. I went on a long run up in the mountains of Colorado, came back, and wrote down my thoughts. I rarely journal, and even more rarely make any entries public. But I thought maybe this particular string of words may help some relate and let go of some of their own weight, so I decided to post it. Here it is. 

I’ve been feeling shitty today. I used to get mad at myself for feeling bad when so many people in the world actually have real problems or have it worse…and then feel more guilty for feeling bad which would make me more mad at myself, and the downward spiral would continue. I don’t do that anymore. That’s good.

But I do get down on myself. I feel like I’ve hardly accomplished a thing that I want to, but the truth is that isn’t true. I have. I used to dream of touring, now I’ve done it many times over. I used to look forward to one day meeting or making a song with Micheal Larsen, and I did both, as well as touring with him and developing a friendship…I used to hope for an album of my own, for fans who knew my words, for the message that I feel compelled to share getting out there. I’ve accomplished a lot of these goals, thanks in equal part to my drive to make them happen and to countless amazing people who helped allow the possibility by being supportive, genuine, and a friend. I think the reason I feel unproductive or not as prolific as I would like is two-fold.

One is that I am plagued with an “on to the next” mentality when it comes to accomplishments. I don’t take stock of where I’ve been or what I’ve done, but rather focus on what I haven’t done. That can be good in that it helps motivate, but not when it’s viewed without taking the past into consideration. Then it becomes a burden, it becomes an overwhelming list of “I need to do this, this, that, and those…” and I become incapacitated and drowned.

The other is that it’s comparison to what others have accomplished, especially people with whom I’ve worked. Started with Budo, then Macklemore, then Grieves, then a host of people in Seattle even though I never lived there I lived near enough to the scene to feel like a static outsider looking in. That comparison causes envy. That envy causes me to spend hours looking at how many plays they have on youtube, or how many fans on Facebook, or how vocal their listeners are, and hating myself for not having the numbers that they have and resenting them for having what I want. Or, at least, what I think I do. But why do I want it? I don’t want fame for fame’s sake. Honestly, the idea of being a public figure scares the hell out of me. I want what “they” have because they have a bigger audience and are influencing more people with their message. And that’s what I want. To get out there as much as I possibly can. But then, that’s partly a product of the ego.

My ego, and by ego I just mean my sense of self, the idea of “me” that everyone has, is what causes envy, what causes self doubt, to feel unproductive, to feel fear, and pretty much every other negative emotion. It’s what causes me to react if someone talks badly about me personally or artistically, or partly believe what they say. What causes me to want to reach a bigger and bigger and bigger audience, to always want the next, to always think there’s bigger and better and to not be able to simultaneously take stock and appreciate what I’ve done while still aspiring to greater heights in a healthy way.

And this goes far beyond music, that was just an easy example of it. This spills over into my daily life, too. This battle with my ego. I see athletes with six packs and biceps as big as my quads.  I remember the words of one silly ex and question my masculinity, or some dude in a porno and feel inadequate. And then think I don’t have “it” because I don’t have that, even if what I have is something good. So then I worry about taking steps to achieving these things, without stopping to ask if they’re really necessary or why I want them in the first place. And when that happens, I’m so consumed by “I need this then that then I can do this and then…” and map out fitness programs and nutrition outlines repeatedly. I study how to live without really living it, and I don’t give myself a break if I turn out less than my ideal. I don’t take full stock of what I have, even if it’s more than I could ask for and something by which to be humbled. And while I’m thankful beyond words for what I do have, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes resent what I don’t. Instead, I could simply realize that being in shape and having good health is a blessing, that the ex had issues of her own that she admittedly took out on me, and that having a healthy and functioning penis is something to be thankful for, baseball bat or not.

I really, really, really believe and, I feel now, have experienced that the ego, the “me” and the “I” is what’s at the core and root cause of all of these negative emotions and afflictions and self-doubt and turmoil. I’ve read about the “wisdom of no ego” and similar teachings from lots of sages and teachers and great historical minds and religious figures. I mean, that was the crux of Charlie’s last sermon: that his life wasn’t about him. It was about all of us. Getting to that stage on a daily basis will, I think, eradicate for all intents and purposes these feelings. It will help me to feel free, liberated, and lighter. I don’t know that it will ever be completely gone. (I  think that’s what enlightenment is). But I think it can get close. And I think that’s done one day at a time. When I get to feeling depressed or envious or doubting, to simply label it. When I think, “Shit, so and so’s new music video has 30,000 views in ONE DAY.  Cool. Mine has 7,000. What other videos do they…” and then cut it off right there by recognizing it’s just an ego thing. When I think “I haven’t even released this album yet, I haven’t done a thing…” ego. Just labeling it, recognizing it for what it is. The more I do it, the more it loses it’s power. The less I will judge or envy others. The more I let go, the more what matters will continue to become apparent.

A lot of the defense mechanism of the ego is a byproduct of fear. And fear is an overbearingly strong, but ultimately foundation-less emotion.  Without an ego to fuel it, fear would not exist. And without a fear of what I haven’t done or accomplished, there would be no ego to drive it along. No ego, no fear. No me, only this.

And that’s not to say that I don’t matter, or that my happiness is irrelevant. I do, and it matters. But I can still take care of myself while not placing all of the negative connotations of the me with it. I can still be me without the ego.
Alexander Hallet is a hip hop artist and philanthropist currently residing in Fort Collins, Colorado.  He has performed under the monikers Alexipharmic, and more recently Bodi.  He is also the CEO of the label Elephant Memories LLC, which donates 50 percent of all it’s earnings to go toward charities that are manifested by the never-ending desire to create a global world that is more compassionate and aware than its current state.  He has toured with the fellow hip hop icons Sadistik and Eyedea.  An essay about his experiences with the late Michael “Eyedea” Larsen appears in the charity based book Children of Mercy: Tales and Teachings From The World of Independent Music.  This blog originally appeared on his own personal experimentation blog entitled Good Side Of Bad on September 6th, 2011.

Sick Day (In Europe) by Amanda Gonser [Guest Wreckers]

With the cold front we are having in Europe (today its 32º here) and a weekend with friends, I guess I was bound to get sick – I wouldn’t be Amanda if I didn’t.  Working with the kids this year, it seems my immune system is just way off.  I guess with atleast one kid being sick everyday, germs are all around and my little body doesn’t like it much.  So, today here I am in bed with no voice and a super swollen and sore throat.

Being sick though made me think about telling you about being ill here, since it is not something I would wish upon anyone visiting of course!  That’s one of those things you want to read about, not experience firsthand on vacation.  From the doctor to the pharmacy to sick days, it’s quite a great system that is set up for Spanish residents in my opinion (as a sicko today).  The World Health Organization even ranks the Spanish system as the 7th best healthcare system in the world according to NPR.

Spain has a public healthcare system, meaning anyone who pays social security has access to all health benefits.  Employers do not provide insurance policies or anything of the sort for thier employers, and instead each employee pays a sort of social security tax each month that includes health care.  A person in my similar employment level pays about 5% of thier monthly wage towards social security.  While that may seem steep, there are absolutely zero out-of-pocket costs to the patient besides medicine (we will get to that soon).

Each neighborhood has an ‘ambulatorio’ or health center that is open weekdays from morning until mid-evening.  With tons of doctors, you are assigned just one and normally can get an appointment with said doctor in a day or two.  To make an appointment you can either go in, call or make the appointment online (which is normally my go-to).  You can see your doctor as often as you deem neccesary and if you have questions about your treatment or just want to ask a question you can also set up a phone appointment with a nurse.  If need be, a doctor will even come to your home to give you medical attention.  No co-payments, no insurance slips, nothing.

When you go to see your doctor, it’s normally quick and to the point, which is fine with me.  My doctor in my old neighborhood was always so excited to see me, mostly because of my name.  Apparentley, there is a famous Spanish song by a Chilean singer called ‘Amanda’ and he normally sang it to me when I came in.  When you explain your symptoms, the doctor will either give you a prescription right away, order more tests or send you to a specialist.

If you are sent to do some more tests they usually take place the next day.  Blood tests right in the same ambulatorio right along with pee tests.  The results are passed onto your doctor and they call you as soon as they are in with the results.  You can pass your ambulatorio any time after that to obtain a copy for yourself.  As for X-rays, you take the photos, they print out your X-rays and you take them (yes you just carry them around town) to your next appointment, which is usually the day after your screening.

As for prescriptions, there are about as many pharmacies here as fast food restaurants in the States.  One block can have 3 pharmacies! Each is well-spotted with a flashin green cross out front signalling that it is open.  You take your prescription and a couple seconds later they bring your meds out.  Because of the universal healthcare, the prices of prescriptions are incredibly low.  My last cough syrup cost less than 2€.  You can also get ‘the pill’ for something like 3€ per month!  Another surprise to me are the doses that the medicine comes in.  In the States I have never seen Ibeprofuen of more than 200mg for sale.  Here you can’t find smaller than 600mg, and you don’t even need a prescription to buy it.

The downside of the system a lot of people say, and I can agree, is if you do have to see a specialist.  With so many people to serve, there are not even close to as many specialists as doctors – so they are overwhelmed with cases.  To see a dermatologist, gynocologist, etc, your average wait time is atleast 3 months.  For someone who has an urgent problem you might be able to be squeezed in early, but a lot of people then decide to turn to the ‘private’ healthcare system in the country.  Some doctors in the public health system moonlight as private doctors after thier shifts – where they probably make quadruple the money.  With quicker specialist appointments, the private system works much like our system.  You can pay yourself or with the use of an insurance carrier.

Something drastically different from here to home is the care of elder and ill relatives.  There are practically no rest homes or hospice centers here.  The Spanish are very family-oriented and more often than not, take after thier own relatives.  In fact, if your parents get sick, as thier child it becomes your responsibility in the eyes of the State, to take care of them.  Very few people are put into nursing homes and those who are are only there normally because their cases are so severe they cannot be cared for in a home.  But, family and friends regularly stream in and out to visit them.

With the highest life expectancy in the EU (80 for women and 74 for me), Spain seems like it has it all together when it comes to caring for thier own.  Or caring for anyone for that matter.  No one is ever turned away from immediate healthcare – tourists, illegal immigrants, etc.  As tourist from another EU country, you have free healthcare just like a Spaniard and some people use this to thier advantage and come to the country for special operations and such.

So, while I am sick, I can relax knowing that if this little cold turns out to be something much worse, I am covered on all sides.  Healthcare is a constitutional right in this country, and after having it as part of my life, I wouldn’t like to imagine othewise.

Off to take some super strong ibeprofuen and onto a speedy recovery!

Muxu!
Amanda

Amanda Gonser is an American from Washington State who has been living in Donostia-San Sebastian, Basque Country, Spain since 2008.  She teaches English to pre-school aged children when she is not globe trotting across Europe and documenting it all in her brilliant and renowned travel blog, Opportunity Knocks where this story originally appeared on February 9th, 2012.  She is also a guest columnist for The Daily News in Kelso-Longview Washington and Big World Magazine, and JetSetExtra.com.

Literary Tourism in the Pacific Northwest by Mike Phillips [Guest Wreckers]

During a recent trip to my hometown of Port Townsend I had a great conversation with a friend who’s lived in PT for close to 40 years.  We were discussing the crumbling historical brick buildings and he noted they had been built with a mortar mixture consisting of seawater, leading to the crumbling decay of many of these feats of architectural achievement that remain imposing reminders of the majesty that once embraced this beautiful city.  We began poking fun at the town we both loved, and he called upon a man named James Gilcrest Swan, who’d lived in Port Townsend during the late 1800’s and was perhaps the city’s strongest advocate of any era.

Port Townsend has many nicknames – the “Key City” the “City of Dreams” – and it’s no wonder.  Port Townsend is strategically situated on a peninsula where the Salish Sea meets the Puget Sound.  On a clear day you can see two mountain ranges, and a bay stuffed with sailboats, many passing within a stones throw of a ferry carting passengers to and from Whidbey Island.  It’s known among the locals that Port Townsend was once considered for the capital of Washington State.  If you walk among the Victorian homes and historic buildings you’ll see an old customs house, a former German consulate and a clock tower and post office that remain as regal standard-bearers from a distant era.  It is also known that the city went through both a dramatic boom and perhaps a more dramatic bust due to its strategic port location.  In the 1800’s it was the first stop for many ocean-going vessels entering the Puget Sound, but it became irrelevant when larger ships were redirected to the deeper port in Seattle, and the railroad never made it past Tacoma.

My interest was piqued when my friend said that Swan had written several books of this era – semi-antropological narratives that shed a light into the dark lives of men from an area which was once called the Washington Territory

Swan grew up in Boston, and in the mid 1800’s he left his wife and young children behind to travel across the continent and over to San Francisco where he worked in the shipyards.  He made his way north, parking himself in Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay just north of Astoria, Oregon.  It’s there he spent several seasons working on oyster farms as one of the first white settlers in the region.  This is where his memoir “The Northwest Coast”, published by the University of Washington Press (Go Cougs!) focuses almost exclusively.

Swan’s “The Northwest Coast” is a nearly anthropological study of life in the Oregon and Washington territories during the 1850’s and 1860’s.  I’ve long been in love with my lifelong home in the Pacific Northwest, but Swan’s narrative gave me a fresh opportunity to explore an era of history that I know precious little about.  During his time in Willapa Bay he befriends natives, becomes an oyster farmer, explores the Washington/Oregon coast, is a passive observer to tensions caused by a war between the U.S. and Great Britain, witnesses the creation of the first roads to Olympia and Salem, spends some time in what will become Astoria (home of the Goonies) and travels the majority of the region by canoe.  Of the natives, he describes their customs and habits it in a manner that you might expect of a white man from the 1850’s … slightly racist at times, and definitely ethnocentric … but at the same time you can tell he has a greater respect for the natives than most white men of that era.  He is discouraged by the manner in which other white men treat the natives, and he goes out of his way to be fair in all dealings and adventures.  It’s apparent that he has many native friends.  In fact, it was my friend who had recounted that Swan wrote about native methods for boiling water that were far superior to European methods at the time, and thus began my interest in Swan.

In “The Northwest Coast” Swan spends a lot of time in the wilderness in and around Willapa bay.  He describes the natural abundance as something I’ve never seen in my lifetime.  The rivers stuffed full of large salmon, ducks and other fowl abundant – in fact, Swan paddles around the rivers and bays of the region shooting just about anything he can – including beaver, bear, lynx – any number of animals I have rarely if ever seen in the Pacific Northwest today.  At times I was disturbed with the manner in which he went around shooting anything that moved, just for sport.  It’s an interesting insight into the greedy and shortsighted mindset of the European settlers – a topic I can recall most vividly from a Kevin Costner’s soliloquy inDances with Wolves.  Swan pays no mention of the rampant genocide that occurs in the region, yet mentions several massacres between warring native tribes.

In one of the more interesting stories from the book he attends a treaty ceremony somewhere inland on what I think was the Chehalis River.  It was a negotiation between General Stevens, representing the U.S. government, and many regional tribes.  The U.S. government was negotiating to give the natives a large swath of land on the coast with the caveat that they must all move there and share the same land.  He seemed to have good intentions because from his perspective, he thought this would give the natives the ability to form one cohesive unit, granting them greater power and influence.  What he didn’t take into account was that some of the tribes were reluctant to give up their native homes, but also had long standing rivalries that often resulted in war between neighboring tribes.  After several days the negotiations fell flat and each party went their own separate ways leading to what is now a patchwork of reservations across the region.

This historical account so interested me, that I took the opportunity to visit the region this past weekend.  I picked one of the foggiest days of the year (out of circumstance) and heading out to Astoria where I met with two friends from a favorite restaurant called Clemente’s.  The co-owner then took me out on a hike across the Columbia River at a place called Fort Columbia that had it not been foggy, would have allowed a great vantage to see many of the lands James Gilcrest Swan spent the early years of his tenure in the Pacific Northwest.  The forest was beautiful and majestic and crammed full of magnificent and large trees – I felt a pulse of life that has been denied from the past six years of city living – and I recalled an earlier era in which my step-dad would take me to the West End of the Olympic Peninsula nearly every weekend to hunt for that elusive steelhead.

After finishing the hike we drove up the coast to several towns – areas that Swan most certainly hiked or paddled through – including Chinook, Ilwaco and Long Beach.  We drove past a salmon hatchery that was established in 1893, another reminder of the way in which the Europeans thoroughly abused the land.  Just 30 years earlier they were pulling 100 lb salmon from the river by the tens of thousands (a brand of fish that my guide referred to as “summer hogs”).  Now it’s more common to see a couple of 50 pounders each year.

Swan has another book – this one describing his life in and around the Port Townsend area, or so I am told, and this is next on my list.  Then there’s a NW man named Ivan Doig who has a book titled “Winters Brothers” about his experience going through Swan’s memoirs – I have already purchased this book and might put Swan’s next memoir on hold as a result.

After leaving Willapa Bay, Swan made his way to Port Townsend, where he spent a greater part of the end of his life advocating for the town and for native rights, and eventually drifting into severe alcoholism.  Swan’s dream of making Port Townsend a grand city on par with San Francisco was never actualized.  He lobbied hard to have the railroad link up to the bustling port city but it never made it past Tacoma which ruined the town, from an economic standpoint.  Yet, I think this is what makes Port Townsend so great today.  It’s a remarkable yet isolated city with unmatched natural beauty.  It has Victorian-era buildings to suggest a city that time forgot.  You can live there and thrive eating locally produced foods, biking or walking anywhere you want to go and are exposed to a great art and music scene too.

And while I miss and love that town, I cannot live there because I can’t imagine living there, and making a living too.  At least not right now.  Still, no matter where I live or where I travel, my compass will always be oriented with Port Townsend as my magnetic north – sorta like a modern day James Swan.

Mike Phillips is a mad genius and entrepeneur living in Portland, Oregon.  Once the bass player for the pop-punk phenomenon of a band known as The Young Immortals, he has evolved into the lead singer of the Portland Music Award nominated band The Fenbi International Superstars.  He is also the CEO of The Neo Com Group, a literary and performance arts marketing firm that represents the likes of Bill Carter, Todd Grimson, and more.  In 2011, Mike contributed an essay to the charity based book Children of Mercy: Tales and Teachings From The World of Independent Music.  This blog original appeared on the website for The Neo Com Group.