Lunch Date: A meal of militias and meat

Once in a while, I take a new book with me to lunch and give it a half an hour or so to grab my attention. Lunch Date is my judgment on that speed-dating experience.

Who’s your date today?

Shadowlands: Fear and Freedom at the Oregon Standoff, a non-fiction account of the Malheur uprising by poet Anthony McCann.

Where’d you go?

Odinstar Smoked Meat Sandwiches, a food truck that gets around the greater Seattle area.

What’d you eat?

I had the Dave's Way, a brisket sandwich ($13) with a side of jo-jo's ($5).

How was the food?

Delicious! I was very excited about a new smoked meat establishment in Seattle (Martino's, I miss you every day) and I think Odinstar is a worthy continuation of that proud tradition. The Dave's Way had a great meaty and smoky flavor, and it held up well — it didn't fall into a pile of wet crumbs as I devoured it. But I would've liked the sandwich to be a little more sprawling than the small-but-tall square that Odinstar serves. It's a generous portion of meat, but it's tightly packed onto two small pieces of bread. I have to say, the jo-jos were, surprisingly, my favorite part of the meal: crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, salty and deeply satisfying without being too oily. I don't like ranch dressing ordinarily, but the housemade ranch was a great accompaniment to the fried potatoes.

What does your date say about itself?

It's a non-fiction account of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by armed right-wingers. Because a Maggie Nelson blurb is enough to convince many of you to read a book, here's Maggie Nelson's blurb:

The story Shadowlands tells is compulsively fascinating, and an excellent microcosm by which we might better understand our difficult national history and distressing political moment. McCann's magnificent prose, ever-questing intellect, wry humor, and uncommon empathy for human and non-human forms of life alike make Shadowlands a truly rare and stunning achievement.

Is there a representative quote?

Here's a bit after McCann thoroughly debunks some of would-be militia man Ammon Bundy's thoughts about nation and sovereignty:

That is not at all how Ammon understands that sacred document he carries in his shirt-front pocket; but, in engaging in a part-willful, part-inadvertent misunderstanding of American history, Ammon Bundy is far from alone. Contemporary American life is full of such misunderstandings. We might ask how it is that Alexander Hamilton, a man who despised the rabble and their democracy and made it his life's work to centralize financial, political, and military power in the hands of an elite financier and governing class, came to be the hero of a tremendously popular hip-hop musical. Or consider how the contemporary Tea Party, dedicated to the idea that America was founded on opposition to "big government and taxes, has loved tot rot out images and impersonators of George Washington at any opportunity. This despite the fact that Washington famously saw among the greatest immediate purposes and achievements of the Constitution — aside from its creation of federal power capable of crushing populist rural insurrection — the authority it gave the new federal government to levy and collect taxes directly from the American populace. The Constitution has long been an object of fantasy. As with any holy scripture, we are all able to find support in its pages for whatever we want to think. Americans have been doing it almost since the ink was dry.

Will you two end up in bed together?

Look, I'm glad this book exists. I'm glad that smart people are contextualizing this moment in history. But I just can't read this book right now. I can't read over 400 pages of a smart writer of beautiful sentences dedicating himself to the Bundys.

I know there are those who argue that this moment in time requires intellectual rigor and precision of language from the American left. Some people think that it is the left's duty to publicly dismantle the arguments of people like Bundy.

I disagree, because people like Bundy aren't actually interested in the argument. They just want to create chaos and then sit back and watch that chaos create even more chaos. You can't argue with Ammon Bundy, because the minute you engage him in an argument, he's already won. The man is a traitor and a criminal, and to give him this much thought and attention is a legitimization that I don't believe he warrants. His goal is to burn everything down, and you can't reason with fire. You can only fight it.

There's a reason why right-wingers love to demand public debates. It's the same reason that right-wingers wail and gnash their teeth whenever they're de-platformed: they know that if they get their message out in legitimate platforms, a few unstable folks will latch onto that message. That's how it spreads. McCann approaches this topic with what I believe to be the best of intentions. But I think his arguments are essentially useless. The best way to respond to Bundy is to call him what he is and refuse to carry and promote his message for him. I'm not going to give him 400 pages of time and space in my life.

That said, if you're looking for a book about the Malheur occupation, this is probably your best bet. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.