Politics & Policy

Dispatch From Skeeve Central

And the French method of measurement.


When the Goldberg File went on the road to New Orleans, we antagonized the Goths. In Birmingham, we piqued the anti-Lincolnists. In Switzerland, we intrigued the gun nuts. My concern going into Seattle and Vancouver was that we wouldn’t find a group worthy of ridicule who at the same time wouldn’t spam us to death.

We considered the super-caffeinated crunchsters who seem to be flooding Seattle, in everything from SUVs to Volkswagen buses, on errands while waiting for their audition for the local production of Godspell. Like Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, they seem to come in a variety of flavors and styles. But despite all of their assurances that each is different, the reality is that in the end they’re all the same thing. Still, these people are on the web constantly and I learned my lesson after bad-mouthing the Goths. If just every U-Dub student pretending to read No Exit at a cybercafé decided to send me one e-mail a day, AOL’s server would have a matter-anti-matter breach and we could all die.

Instead, I will pick on a more deserving target. The skeeves. A skeeve usually passes the famous duck-test — if you give them a duck, they will sell it for booze or heroin. No, wait, the actual duck-test is if it looks like a skeeve and acts like a skeeve, it’s a skeeve. These are not to be confused with the would-be dissident hippies, and other forms of low-rent anarchists. The skeeves may have started out with some sort of political awareness and intentions — about not playing by the “man’s” rules, showering is for suckers, if it’s still at the top of the garbage, it’s still edible — but now these people just want to get high and do nothing.

Downtown Seattle had droves of skeeves wandering about, trying to bum cigarettes and quarters from passersby. But Vancouver is the great skeeve capital of the Northwest — including that Shangri La for able-bodied young men who don’t want to work, San Francisco. It is really astounding. Right in downtown Vancouver you can find young kids whose life trajectories are set, the skids well-lubricated by pot resin and heroin tar. Many of these people have graduated from skeeve to “homeless.”

Indeed, the downtowns of Seattle and Vancouver are full of people hawking copies of homeless newspapers. Ads for “helping the homeless” are ubiquitous. The déjà vu is staggering. When I grew up in New York during the 1970s and 1980s it was assumed that “homelessness” was either a structural necessity of urban life or, as the New York Times and Dan Rather taught us, a product of Reagan-Bush greed.

Well, homelessness is not totally gone in New York City, but it’s pretty darn close, and public drug use and needle parks are a thing of the past. But in cities with “enlightened” polices, cities which aren’t run by “brutal dictatorial mayors,” these “progressive” cities are teeming with garbage-eaters, beggars, car thieves, and steam-grate sleepers.


But please don’t get me wrong, Vancouver isn’t the set for Escape from New York. It is a hustling and bustling city. Construction sites are everywhere as one after another (profoundly ugly) sky scrapers go up. It seems that as the Chinese pour into this city, they are determined to make it look like the Hong Kong they left behind.

But the most interesting thing for me is something everyone already knows about Canada. They’re on the metric system. I know this isn’t news, or at least interesting news, to anybody, but it is a reminder of the differences between these two great nations. Seymour Martin Lipset is one of the most productive political scientists of the 20th century and probably America’s foremost expert on the differences between Canada and the U.S. He cites the metric system as a great example of the continental divide, as he calls it.

In the 1970s, the U.S. and Canadian governments declared that everyone should switch to the metric system (Canadians in 1970 and the U.S. in 1975). Within two decades, Canada was all metric. Almost 25 years later in the U.S., most people have no idea what any of that stuff is. In fact, I think I am about ten kilograms tall and weigh over six kilometers.

The Canadians are largely the descendents of royalists. They thought the revolutionaries were as high as a Vancouver skeeve who sold an extra pint of blood for thinking that they’d be better off without a king. There is no anti-government gene in the national DNA here. Canadian television and radio frequently run ads saying things like “this message was brought to you by the government of British Columbia.” No ad agency in the U.S. would recommend using the word “government” so cavalierly.

In fact government leaders, planners, and politicians have been trying to get the U.S. to go metric from the beginning. Even the sainted George Washington dug the metric system. Not surprisingly, francophillic Thomas Jefferson dug the metric system, since it came out of the spirit of rationalism in politics that was born in France in the late 18th century. In 1866 President Andrew Johnson encouraged, but fell short of mandating, the metric system for all Americans. For two hundred years the U.S. has said screw you to the government. This sort of effrontery seems like the height of arrogance to planners and one-worlders. But Americans say, “Why the hell do we have to measure the circumference of cucumbers in accordance with the EU? Why should I care how much a wedge of surrender cheese (aka brie) weighs in centimeters?”


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