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March 30, 2007

The Shark Ethic


Rum will be absolutely necessary to get through this night – to polish these notes, this shameful diary..keep the tape machine screaming all night long at top volume: “Allow me to introduce myself… I’m a man of wealth and taste.” 


Not for me.  No mercy for a criminal freak in Las Vegas.  This place is like the Army: the shark ethic prevails – eat the wounded.  In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught.  In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.


— Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.


            I did say I would return with some wisdom from Shark Hunt.  But I changed my mind as  I happen to be reading from Vegas to do research for a group presentation yesterday. There were three of us presenting (Amy, Sam and me), and for reasons I can’t remember, we picked “vice.”   Sam spoke about the history of alcohol prohibition, focusing a lot on Mencken and Mark Twain; Amy  spoke about tobacco and the spin doctors in the industry, also managing to quote Mark Twain.   I spoke about marijuana, which I felt familiar with, despite the fact that I don’t really smoke it (I’m very sentitive to THC . when I smoke it, or eat it, it consumes my entire day with either wild paranoia or non-stop laughter for 8 hours, which was fun with Hunter, but not anymore).

              I was sort of asking the question to myself that people have been asking since 1937: “Will the prohibition of marijuana ever end?”  I became even more doubtful when I stumbled across, in my research, statistics about the private prison industry.  Section 1 of the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution says “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” There are many companies profiting from prisons besides the prison industry itself. There is one place that is dangerously competitive in the 3rd world labor market: US Private Prisons.  When a company hires a prison to make their assembly line products (like jean jackets), usually private prisons are expected to pay minimun wage, but 80% can be deducted and paid to the prison. Prisoners make 17 cents per hour to 50 cents (50 cents if for “highly skilled labor”).      

          The private prison boom happened in the early 80’s, right before the “minimum mandatory sentencing” for drug laws. The prison labor market in the United States has turned into a mega business that thousands of (mainly poor black or Hispanic men) work for.   So, when I asked myself if marijuana prohibition is every likely to end, it gets uglier and uglier the more I learn about the money some corporations are making off the labor of those convicted marijuana users (any other drugs of course).

             A man named Tony Serra is speaking out about prison labor and will be at Owl Farm this summer (with Tommy Chong) at the second annual NORML party that I will have for their legal conference that is organized by Keith Stroup.  I look forward to seeing what he has to say. 



Until next time, your friend,

Anita Thompson

March 28, 2007

Full-time For My Sweetheart

Hi there.   For some queer reason, I haven’t had anything to say recently, which has never happened in my life.   There is a lot going on, and I’ll slowly catch you up on it.  I’ve just been…well… quiet.  But, it’s nice to be back.

I spent Spring Break at home and it turned into exactly that — a break.  I did absolutely no work aside from working my legs on my snowboard every day with my 9-year-old nephew. We rode at Buttermilk Mountain, the mountain I worked on for several years before I started working for Hunter.  One morning, after a particularly long but productive time helping Hunter all night with the second letters book, we looked at the clock and realized it was 7:30am,  I had to go to work!  So, we hopped in the car, and listened to "spirit in the sky" full blast all the way there on that beautiful crisp morning.  He dropped me off at the door: he almost drove his red jeep into the ski shop.  It was pretty exciting. The hours were such that I ended up quitting that cush job on the mountain shortly thereafter  to work full-time for my sweetheart. 

Now, back in Manhattan, the spring weather is balmy and warm. I’ve had my windows open all day.  Good news: the paper was a success. My professor didn’t throw me off campus, and in fact, I seem to be quite welcome.    I’m reading a book right now (for a class) by Nicholas Lehman called "The Promised Land"  about the great black migration to Chicago from the south and how it changed America. I highly recommend it.

I’ll check back tomorrow after class.  I am flying home again next weekend to retrieve some more home video of Hunter that will be included in a serious documentary about Hunter coming out in the fall by Alex Gibney

Anyway, will check back in tomorrow with wisdom from Shark Hunt. 

 For now, I’ll leave you with my favorite quote of Hunter’s that I’ve probably already shared with you.  Hunter rarely spoke directly about the meaning of life.  He didn’t like to answer vague or generalized boring questions.  But this one he answered as such:

"Learning, that’s what it’s all about."

— Hunter S. Thompson

 Okay. Until tomorrow, your friend, 

Anita Thompson 


p.s. As far as the message board goes, (I will read it this weekend), Peter was going to integrate it into the blog. But before he can do that he has to finish working on gonzostore inventory syncronizing. So, please accpet the lull in the Owl Farm World for now. We do miss you!

March 08, 2007

A Blank Page and the Battle of the Pyramids

Hello. I thought I would check in with you before I finish my last paper before Spring Break.  My job is to prove to the professor that I understand where the Modern Period terminology in the Middle East comes from and what it means. The first part of my essay is actually a look at the year 1798 as the beginning of the “Modern” period in the Middle East – but strickly according to European standards. 

            Of course, the essay had to get tedious to show an understanding that the term "Middle East" is based on a Eurocentric point of view, and indeed “Modern” is a European term as well.  Many historians claim that a "Nation-State" (another European concept) becomes “modern” when they become Europeanized. So, one breaking point in the history of the area is in the year 1798, when Napoleon defeated the Egyptian Mamluk forces at the battle of the Pyramids. He was basically fighting in the interest of disrupting the British route to India. (as you know, the British were utterly obsessed with India, and wanted a safe route to what they claimed was their jewel and their crown.) So, Napoleon found a way to at least complicate British passage to India. 

          After that, Egypt was heavily influenced by European military and technological advances – Europeanizing Egypt —  bringing it into the “modern” period.  After a semester in a famous Middle East professor’s class (Rashid Khalidi) about the entire region we’re now invading, it becomes apparent that we Westerners will probably never leave the Middle East alone. It’s not about passage to India anymore (or cotton or wheat) as it is for our oil that somehow got under their sand.  

            So as I sit with the last page of my paper still blank, with the fear that my professor might tear my essay into shreds, cast me off as a dunce and instruct me never to set foot on Columbia campus again, I thought I’d check in with you. And, behold. It works.  I’m feeling calmer already.   

            Although I’m not the writer in the family (that was Hunter’s job), all this staring at the page today makes me think of one of my favorite, wretched characters from Fire In the Nuts, Harrison Fieler.  The character wants to be a writer, and has been working on a novel (off and on) and decided that it wasn’t any good (he hadn’t touched it in four months anyway).  So, once again, he tries to start a new one:


            He felt intensely literary, sitting there in his underwear, all alone in the middle of Greenwich Village.  How many others had trod the same path?  Wolfe? O’Neill? Who else? Well, there was Bodenheim.  Jesus.  Anything but that.
            He forced Bodenheim out of his mind, trying to concentrate on a plot, even a subject.  The army?  He’d always wanted to write a story about the army, really blast the bastards.  Maybe satire; he had a flair for satire.  Yeah, that was it – pit an oddball against the system, and rip the army to bits.
            Now he could see himself in Andre’s.  Casually mentioning the story he’d just finished.  They probably wouldn’t believe him – he never paid any attention to those bums who were always talking about the great novels they were writing, the fabulous paintings they had in the works – but when he came in flashing the check, huge and beautiful from one of the slick magazines, they’d fall all over him.  He could see it now: discussions of his work in the quarterlies, himself back home on vacation, parties in his honor, soft lips spilling secrets into his ear – he’d have it made.
            The page was still blank, as he forced himself to concentrate…
Hunter S. Thompson, Fire In The Nuts


You may have read that story in the limited edition that was printed before Hunter died – there were 176 copies printed by steam press. This summer, I published it  in the The Woody Creeker birthday edition.  Ralph did the drawings for both the book and the mag.  Yep, they worked together ‘till the very end.  And they are still working together.

 I’ll check in when I get home, provided my flights take off as planned.

Until next time, your friend, thinking about the Egyptian Mamluk forces being defeated by Napoleon in 1798,

Anita Thompson






March 02, 2007

The Plain People

         Hello!  The weather is beautiful here, the plumbing is fixed, my family is healthy and happy, people are smiling, my midterms were a success, and yes, it is Chopin’s birthday. Well, it was actually yesterday, but why not celebrate it again.

          Listening to a bunch of Chopin’s nocturnes  (mixed with Johnny Cash) I’ve been reading, for a class, something very interesting that happened in American at the end of the 19th century.  I don’t think I actually ever spoke to Hunter about it, but it reminds me so much of him that I had to share it with you.  As you know, there was a tremendous amount of change happening in America before, during and after the Civil War that the experiment of the United States was severely tested — almost to the point destruction. It was not just the war of course, but also the fallout from it and the remaining hostilities that were devastating the country.

“As the camel falls to its knees, more knives are drawn” is something Hunter liked to say to explain that during times of weakness is when you must really be watchful, because that’s when the enemy make its move. Such was the case in this country, particularly in the South.  Yep, during the uncertain time of the postwar period came the birth of the Mega Corporation.  (40 years later, Roosevelt, understanding that axiom, implemented the New Deal)

The Populist party platform was adopted in 1892 and really is a beautiful document written at a time when the two party system seemed to be failing the working people.  So, out of the small farmers unions came the Populist party.  I think it’s heartbreaking that the party didn’t last, but it does leave a lasting legacy that lasted over the next 50 years — things like government control of currency and a graduated income tax.  If you want to be inspired any day of the week, go ahead and read the entire Populist party platform.  But the Preamble is my favorite document from that period, and here is an excerp I selected for you. You can read the entire thing here.

Assembled on the anniversary of the birthday of the nation, and filled with the spirit of the grand general and chief who established our independence, we seek to restore the government of the Republic to the hands of “the plain people,” with which class it originated. We assert our purposes to be identical with the purposes of the National Constitution; to form a more perfect union and establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.

We declare that this Republic can only endure as a free government while built upon the love of the whole people for each other and for the nation; that it cannot be pinned together by bayonets; that the civil war is over, and that every passion and resentment which grew out of it must die with it, and that we must be in fact, as we are in name, one united brotherhood of free men.

Our country finds itself confronted by conditions for which there is no precedent in the history of the world…

We believe that the power of government—in other words, of the people—should be expanded (as in the case of the postal service) as rapidly and as far as the good sense of an intelligent people and the teachings of experience shall justify, to the end that oppression, injustice, and poverty shall eventually cease in the land.

While our sympathies as a party of reform are naturally upon the side of every proposition which will tend to make men intelligent, virtuous, and temperate, we nevertheless regard these questions, important as they are, as secondary to the great issues now pressing for solution, and upon which not only our individual prosperity but the very existence of free institutions depend; and we ask all men to first help us to determine whether we are to have a republic to administer before we differ as to the conditions upon which it is to be administered, believing that the forces of reform this day organized will never cease to move forward until every wrong is remedied and equal rights and equal privileges securely established for all the men and women of this country.

preamble to the populist party platform, 1892

 Until next time, your friend,

Anita Thompson

P.S. Doug Brinkley wrote a beautiful piece about Arthur Schlesinger. I highly recommend reading it when it appears in the L.A. Times on Sunday.  

P.P.S. a huge thank you to Peter for putting up the message board. He is going to integrate it into the blog soon. Because this is a test, we have decided that to approve each member, which takes a bit of time. so, if you don’t see your posting up yet, it will be soon. Don’t worry, we’ll get to everybody! I would love to see which was was your first HST book and how you got introduced to him. Most people remember, "where they were" when they discovered his work.

P.P.P.S.If you don’t know much about Chopin and want to learn, I would suggest starting with nocturne in E flat (alhtough that is not the most famous) I loved it so much that it was the first piece I learned to play when I was younger.  Hunter really loved the sound of piano and there was a period when we had a chopin CD constantly running constantly. Give it try!

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