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OE USA: A New Zealander's Travels in the US - Part IV
by Andrew Bates

Las Vegas FreedomFest

Still conscious that I didnít want to waste all the time I had to spend in California in one place (or wear out my welcome at SOLOHQHQ), I contacted Alec Mouhibian to see if I could come down to LA and hang out with him. He informed me that both he and Garin were going to Vegas on the Thursday for the www.freedomfest.com conference put on by the Young Americaís Foundation and that I should come with them. I drove down Wednesday and stayed that night, entertaining Alec with my false dichotomy and a swipe card before going to bed.

Once dressed the next morning I went downstairs and was greeted my Alecís grandmother who is an heroic and inspirational woman. In 1965 she approached the authorities in Bulgaria for permission to go to Lebanon with her family. She was told that she should not have come, that the only reason she had not been killed was because of her young family and that she would be killed if she approached them again. Sick of communism, she approached them again, was granted permission and from Lebanon escaped to America.

Arriving with just $100, she worked for 13 years in a lunch van outside a factory before saving enough money to acquire a retail store. She added jewelry as a side operation and was so successful in this endeavour that it became her main line of work. She had not trained in that line of work until she got started but ascribed her success to hard work, honesty, looking after her customers and continual self-education about the jewelry market. She spoke of someone who had paid a large amount of money for a fake ruby overseas who had threatened to sue her when she wouldnít buy it from them. She also talked of how Japanese customers had tracked her down a few years after she had retired and 25 years since she first made their wedding ring in order to get their ring refurbished. Make the best mouse trap Ö

After a four hour trip to Vegas with Alec and Garin highlighting my lack of blues artist knowledge time and again, we checked in to the Ballys Hotel. The friendly staff of the Young Americaís Foundation were able to enroll me in the conference quickly after Alec and Garin registered. We then headed to the ESPN restaurant (where I had the hottest chicken wings I have ever had) before catching a woeful comedy show. I walked the strip that night, twice being approached by prostitutes, while Alec and Garin worked on their articles for their campus magazines. Heroically, they continued working long after I hit the sack.

I awoke early the next day and attended numerous early lectures while Alec and Garin slept in, having decided they would only attend a few lectures. One of the lectures they did attend was that of David Horowitz, a former Leftist turned crusader for academic freedom of students under Leftist professors. I didnít think all that much of Horowitz after he quickly moved on when Alec introduced me as being from New Zealand and then gave a rambling speech. It seems he has a few talking points which he regurgitates and flits from student to student looking for new material (instances of anti-conservative academic bias) to stuff his speeches with and earn his money. Who wants to hear about that in New Zealand?

Phil Hedges was in town so we met up and went to a party hosted by Nigel Ashford of the Institute for Humane Studies. Nigel was well informed about New Zealandís political scene Ė asking me to confirm whether the Maxim Institute were not advocates of liberty so much as they were religious conservatives. When the beer ran out, Phil nicked down to the bottle store and bought thirty more bottles but the students from a private school in the North East soon grabbed two each, took the caps off them and left.†

We then went to the Hard Rock cafť which was great. The New Zealand accent helped a treat but my initial good spade work with an attractive SF area lawyer when too many drinks led me into the close talking and a well-laid low-cut singlet trap. I didnít get in until late and so missed what looked like being good lectures the following morning but I did attend two excellent lectures by Steven Anderson of the Institute for Justice which fights abuse of eminent domain laws and by Sonia Arrison of the Pacific Research Institute, a libertarian think tank in San Francisco.

The banquet that night was held in an ornate ballroom and the food matched the ambience. Dinesh DíSouza debated Republican Congressman Bob Barr on the merits of the Iraq War. DíSouza, in support of the war, was eloquent and witty (if a little screechy) while Barr attacked the war, focusing not on Iraq but on lost civil liberties since September 11th with a Star Wars introduction theme that soon got tired. Barr quoted ďAnn RandĒ that civilization was the progress towards a society of privacy Ė I thought of the irony whereby Rand had also famously said that she was an advocate of capitalism because she was an advocate of egoism and an advocated of egoism because she was an advocate of reason and had written on the importance of not dropping context in the process of reason.

Los Angeles

After a large buffet brunch in the hotel, Alec, Garin and I hit the road, hoping to get home early so Garin could finish the fourth edition of his conservative-libertarian campus newspaper. Unfortunately we hit a traffic jam in the middle of the desert Ė something I could not imagine happening back home unless the desert road was actually closed. After we got back and dropped Garin off, Alec and I went to his fatherís place where a feast was being held for family and friends.

I had been wondering whether I would be able to get a bottle of Cloudy Bay, a world-beating New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, for my gracious hosts back in San Francisco but when I was introduced as a New Zealander a bottle was produced right away. Alecís uncle had provided it and invited to come round to his place the next day to pick up a bottle. Such was the generosity of this Armenian man that he offered to give it to me but I insisted that I could not in good conscience give a gift to my hosts that I had been given. (I was able to buy two from him the next day). I spoke with Alecís father, a CPA, about finance, taxes and international banking secrecy and he mentioned that he had studied economics at university but had given it up because he didnít agree with the emphasis on mathematics. I recommended Austrian Economics to him and a number of books.

Alec headed back to Santa Barbara that night, much to the concern of his family and I as I suspected he had had as little sleep as I while in Vegas. The next day I met up with Garin and we walked around UCLA then went for a four mile run before heading out for dinner with his cousins on Sunset strip. We picked up some new jeans for him on the way as I had pointed out that the jeans he had from his fat days were no longer suitable for him. The cousins were gob-smacked when they saw how fit he was looking nowadays. I mentioned to them that I had recommended he get tighter jeans and had been informed that such jeans may be the fashion in Europe or where I came from but in America only women and gay guys wore tight jeans. This after I had been wearing my tight jeans whenever I went out.

At this point I should point out that my form-fitting jeans have become even tighter here in the US. I bought them at my slimmest in September last year, before I started going flat tack on finishing my thesis and before I went touring. Iíve since put on about 10kg as I donít eat well when studying late at night or while I am on the road. The jeans have got so tight (they have changed you see, not me) that I have had to stop taking my full wallet out with me. To get back in shape (or stop the weight increase) I have had to take up running at night and in the mornings. If anyone can offer tips for those seeking to lose or maintain weight while on the road Iíd appreciate them. Itís hard to maintain the regularity of two 3 mile runs a day.

I had expected the bill for dinner would be split amongst us six ways if not using itemized accounting but Garin and his cousin fought over who would pay the bill. I asked Garin about this later and he said generosity was the Armenian way and in my experience it most certainly was. He wouldnít even let me pay the parking.

Garin and I worked out at the UCLA gym the next day. Garin is smaller than I am but he lifted heavier weights and did more reps than I Ė a testament to the condition he is in as much as it is damning of my running, rugby and Aussie Rules and no weights fitness regime from the last two years.



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