"The restaurant manager says he is worried about you," explained the interpreter. "That makes two of us," I said. It was late 1994 and I was stationed in Korea, where my off-duty time was spent teaching English to adult and children's classes. One of my classes was a group of doctors, and we met twice a week at the hospital in Kunsan City. On this night, however, they wanted to show their appreciation and so conspired to take me to dinner.
At one end of our table was a gas burner, upon which sat a black kettle. A frumpy lady dressed in drab polyester appeared and poured some water into the kettle, along with seashells, a few spices, some lawn grass along with an entire fish. She would return periodically to stir the soup as it simmered.
Since I didn't know what to ask for, nor how to ask for it, my gracious hosts brought all manner of rancid, uncooked, and unchewable items with which to entertain me. The local beverage of choice was called Soju, and it tasted like a hybrid of vodka and white lightning. It wasn't well regulated, so that one entire bottle might do no damage while a quarter of the next bottle might put you under the table. It was the Russian Roulette of booze, and I would've wished I were dead if I wasn't hoping to alleviate the tribulations of that meal by getting hammered. Meantime, I gnawed on rubbery raw fish, chased it with Soju, and enjoyed chatting with my hosts until Our Lady of Perpetual Kettle Maintenance showed up to stir the soup and pronounce it ready.
While everyone else was served a bit of the broth, I was given a bowl filled with lawn grass, a couple of seashells and that poor unblinking fish with his tail flopping over the side. My Cajun roots notwithstanding, I'm not one to relish a staring contest with dinner. So while the fish looked at me from his grassy solitude, I politely pushed the shells out of the way and had a little broth but couldn't avoid scooping up pieces of lawn grass too. The Soju helped.
Then, just when I thought the meal was coming to a merciful end, Kettle Girl showed up with an oblong shaped plate and placed it in the center of our table. The plate had been lined with old browned lettuce leaves of the sort that we typically peel away and discard. And on that lettuce, writhing and slivering about, was a live octopus with a head the size of a cantaloupe. They had chopped it alive and placed a raw egg on it, and there it lay, its tentacles moving every which way.
"Eat!" my host said, adding, "It will make you strong!" I was tempted to ask why, if it makes them so strong, they needed so many non-octopus eating Americans there to defend them … but thought better of it. The piece I went for actually grabbed onto my chopsticks for me, proving that Korean courtesy knows no limit. Since I was the only American in the joint, and every eye was on the anglo to see if he could do it, I popped that sucker in my mouth and chewed with great enthusiasm in an effort to "kill it," since my hosts had cautioned that it must be dead before swallowing, lest it "cause problems." The problem was that when it eventually stopped moving in my mouth, I found that I couldn't will myself to swallow it. It was as if my throat had shut down and my entire being was in unanimous revolt. I finally reached for a cursed clump of cold rice wrapped in seaweed and used that to force the octopus down. From that point on, it was straight Soju for me -- thank you very much and please shop again.
That's when the manager showed up expressing concern that I wasn't eating anything. How could I? They weren't cooking anything! But, mustering all the polite diplomacy I could under the circumstances, I asked the interpreter to explain that the food was simply too different to the American palate … which was a nice way of saying that this mess would gag a maggot.
I was reminded of this biological revulsion against insufferable intrusions when reading of the assaults being undertaken against free men and women in America. A plurality of the voting public has voted the rest of us, and our descendants, into economic servitude while using the state as the means of their plunder. There is no precedent for it in our founding documents. To the contrary, the Founders warned against precisely this kind of tyranny and yet we who object are denounced as out of touch not only by starry-eyed utopians, but by those ostensibly on the right who really ought to know better.
We now live in a parallel universe where judges release violent offenders back into society to further hone their deadly trade, and where criminals go on murderous rampages while our self-appointed intelligentsia responds by attempting to disarm as many law abiding citizens as possible. Which, come to think of it, makes as much sense as our quest to incapacitate our national defense even as the world's mental cases acquire nuclear weapons.
What is a free person to do in a world where up is down and wrong is right, where sloth is rewarded and industry punished, where criminals are coddled and the law abiding victimized? Of course there's no end to the advice from the well heeled right. "Don't you see," they tell us, "the country has moved leftward and, if we don't move with it, we risk becoming irrelevant." A "live and let live" approach to the activities of consenting adults behind closed doors is no longer sufficient, for example. No sir, unless we lavish societal approbation and then pay for their rubbers and abortions, we are intolerant and bigoted. And unless we acquiesce in the continued dismantlement of the nation's sovereign borders, we are nativist and xenophobic, dontcha know? That this comes from Republican ranks calls to mind the quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw that, "We've already established what you are, ma'am. Now we're just haggling over the price."
Realistically, there is only so much that the individual has control over these days. Whether the fiscal cliff will be averted or whether tax rates soar as high as Willie Nelson on a bad doobie is really beyond the individual's control. But there are lines to be drawn … lines over which the individual does have control. Take the owners of Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores, who are staring down the barrel of $1.3 million per day in fines for refusing to pay for abortion-inducing drugs for their employees. Their conscience will not permit them to cede their religious freedom to the state, and they've chosen to fight.
Meanwhile Diane Feinstein proposes new "assault weapons" legislation that, while "grandfathering" weapons citizens already possess, would require owners of those weapons to register them and submit to photographing and fingerprinting. For me personally, that's where the line gets drawn. My right to self-defense, inextricably linked as it is to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is non-negotiable and subject neither to the designs of the statist left nor the political expediency of Republicans whose principles were discovered at yesterday's exit polls.
As a new year arrives, the free man looks about and asks: Given the now irreversible course upon which the country has embarked, if political relevancy requires the jettisoning of first principles, what exactly is the point of the exercise? As Bill Buckley noted decades ago:
In the past we have temporized with collectivism and we have lost. And after the campaigns were over, we were left not with the exhilaration and pride of having done our best to restore freedom, but with the sickening humiliation of having failed to seduce the American people because we were pitted against a more glib, a more extravagant, a more experienced gigolo.
I, for one, am weary of the notion that because a majority of voters decided in favor of dependency and servitude, I am now required to abandon the fixed and tried postulates upon which a great nation was created. If that makes me an anachronism, then I will happily embrace such anachronistic ideas as are embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. There are, after all, certain things that are simply not suitable for the American palate.