Inner City Obesity (Part 2)

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FOOD DESERTS AND THE WRACKED INNER CITY TODAY

At the end of the day, urban sprawl, especially the rise of suburban supermarket chains, created food deserts in inner cities throughout America. The United States Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as, “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options.” Food deserts are identified under two criteria. Low-income communities are places with a poverty rate of 20% or greater while low-access communities are places where at least 33% of people are more than a mile away from a supermarket or grocery store.[1]

Though supermarket chains flourish in the suburbs, many owners are reluctant to open new supermarkets in the suburbs. Owners prefer to open new supermarkets near existing ones so they can supply customers with their brand in a large, consistent territory without much competition. Like all other businessmen, supermarket owners prefer to open shop in places where their investment pays off with large profits. They don’t open supermarkets in inner cities because they do not think they’ll sell food to enough customers to make a large profit.[2]

As stated in the previous page, supermarkets also drove out smaller, independent grocery stores out of business. With no supermarkets or independent groceries in the inner cities, people had to find other forms of food, which they could afford and access. Fast food chains fill in the inner city gap, providing cheap and convenient food at the price of health. With little education, inner city adults and children are especially vulnerable to fast food advertisements[3] and propaganda, such as the claim that cheap food gives them freedom.[4]

With the lack of supermarkets, liquor stores also fill the gap, “which had sprung up like weed on sidewalk cracks.”[5] Liquor stores became a primary source of food for inner city people. However, their goods were even more expensive than supermarket food, while having little healthy food such as fruits and vegetables.[6] Corner stores and Chinatown stores serve similar functions. Both give inner city people cheap, processed, easily prepared food at the cost of their health. Corner stores are de facto liquor stores in their own right[7] while Chinatown food is deep-fried, full of meat, fat, and oil with little antioxidants and vitamins in the form fruits of vegetables.

The longer the inner city stagnates in poverty, the more difficult it is for the inner city to economically bounce back or allow supermarkets to flourish. Inner city decline economically locks the inner city in a derelict state, preventing people and capital from entering or leaving. Zoning and redlining prevent capital from accumulating in the inner city partly because those areas are marked as dilapidated and dangerous.[8] Naturally, business owners such as supermarket owners do not open businesses in such places where risks are so high and rewards so little. Redlining also dissuades any new investment in housing repair[9] as well as investments to improve inner city infrastructure. This includes investments such as gyms and playgrounds where adults and children can exercise to keep themselves fit.

Social scientist writers such as Mark Winne and Alison Alkon and activists are not the only ones to blame fast food and lack of supermarkets for the rise of inner city obesity. Scientists and researchers have come to similar conclusions, blaming not only poor nutrition but also unhealthy lifestyles, both of which exist in a dying inner city. Lopez and Hynes link racial segregation to increased stress and fear of crime to decreased physical activity, people staying indoors. He also links having to work multiple jobs to decreased physical activity.[10] As strange as it seems at first glance, this statement holds truth. Not all inner city jobs demand hard physical labor, and jobs that did were outsourced. Inner city workers have little time to physically exercise between jobs. While obesity also rose in the suburbs, it rose by a lesser degree, tamed by sidewalks, a low population density, and interconnected streets.[11]

Rodrick and Deborah Wallace from The New York State Psychiatric Institute, squarely blame America’s rising obesity on the psychosocial stress of lower class people and racial minorities. With the deurbanization of the 1970s and the deindustrialization of the 1980s, many inner city communities lost a huge amount of economical, political, and social capital. The massive losses in working class employment and workers’ union influences contributed in the rise of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of medical conditions, obesity being one of them. As society becomes increasingly stratified between a mass of very poor people and a handful of rich people, obesity rises among people of higher classes of people and the majority population.[12]

Paula Whitacre, Peggy Tsai, and Janet Mulligan of The Public Health Effects of Food Deserts: Workshop Summary directly correlate food deserts with obesity and other medical conditions. In their research, they state that 29% of zip codes do not have a grocery store or supermarket while 74% do not have a chain supermarket. In addition, the prices of fast foods, soft drinks, and other unhealthy, non-supermarket foods dropped massively from 1990 to 2007. Even when income, education, and race are controlled, communities with “unbalanced” food environments, where unhealthy, “fringe” food is closer to people than supermarket, “mainstream” food, have more deaths from diabetes, one of the many side effects of obesity.[13] As both the literature and studies reveal, America’s inner cities are suffering from a massive socioeconomic decline. Obesity is merely one manifestation of poverty in American inner cities.

POSSIBLE PROPOSALS TO REDUCE OBESITY

Politicians, scholars, researchers, and activists alike have given a decent number of proposals to tackle America’s obesity problem. Some proposals are effective albeit riddled with some problems. Other proposals are completely inept. The three most recognized proposals other than government interventions to improve inner city infrastructure are imploring people to take personal responsibility, erecting farmers’ markets, and experimenting with urban gardening.

The conventional liberal response that politicians use is for people to take personal responsibility and change their life choices. While politicians’ intentions were noble and sometimes ignoble, their advice was ineffective. It is very hard for inner city people to “take responsibility” in what they eat when they barely have any options available. Many of them may have to travel more than a mile away without a car to get to the next supermarket and even if they get there they cannot reasonably afford the food with the money they earn. In particular, the Reagan administration’s philosophy of personal responsibility clashed with their fiscal conservatism. By slashing government programs poor people needed to survive and investing little money to tackle poverty head on they exacerbated poor people’s food problems. They told the poor to take personal responsibility all the while denying them what little means they had to change their situation in the first place.[14]

The second and more effective proposal is to erect farmers’ markets in inner cities in the hopes of improving people’s diet. Activists’ plans included forming projects to distribute good food so they would not be out of reach, such as co-op stores and warehouses, and farmers’ markets.[15] Over the past thirty years, farmers’ markets have emerged in inner cities as inner city people form a community to try to feed themselves.[16] Farmers’ markets do indeed have a positive effect in inner cities. Lower income families are more food secure, and thus have access to better quality food, if they are highly connected to social networks. Over the years communities changed their goals from the vague mission to “feed the hungry” to increasing the quality of food available to people. The result has been an appreciable growth in communities such as farmers’ markets and Community Supported Agriculture.[17]

However, there are inherent race and class issues inherent in farmers’ markets. Historically, farmers’ markets and other forms of alternate food are most available to white, middle class people. This race and class divide is left unsolved by some farmers’ market managers. While most managers believe their markets are universal spaces that appeal to universal values, some managers use that belief to reject reaching out to communities of color.[18] This mentality is nothing new among generally well-meaning white people who wish everyone to have a fair chance in life, regardless of their skin color, but shirk to explicitly identify racial disparities and combat them. Unfortunately for the racial minorities involved, such an attitude does not help anyone. Professing “colorblindness” while refusing to acknowledge racism sweeps very ugly racist realities under the rug while allowing white privilege to exist unchallenged.[19]

As stated many times, urban sprawl drains capital and food away from the inner city and into the suburbs, and farmers’ markets are no exception. New urban space is attractive to farmers because business in the inner city is hard-pressed while the suburbs present a large number of customers who are more able to afford their products. The whole process can be described as the “Greenwich effect”. When affluent housewives organize farmers’ markets in upscale neighborhoods, farmers in the inner city seize the opportunity and set up their markets elsewhere. While the move benefits the farmers it has dire consequences for the inner city. Keith Collins, USDA’s chief economist, documented that the prices of fruits and vegetables rose in the inner city from 2001 to 2006 by 4% a year, and predicted their price would increase by the same amount per year in the future. While farmers’ markets can be and are often beneficial to inner cities they often have an obvious race and class problem. Alternate food is least available to the people who need it most.[20]

The third proposal, urban gardens, is the most effective and the least problematic. Like farmers’ markets, urban gardens are the result of people banding together in a community to provide themselves with good quality food. Urban gardens also hold the potential to avoid the race and class problems in farmers’ markets. Urban gardens do not rely too much on large-scale organization or reliance on institutions. Individuals and small groups can make a huge change in their eating habits and their lives by planting their own gardens.[21] Taking control of what you eat is one of the most profound ways to change your life and what better way than growing your own food?

However, one must not become too idealistic. Urban gardens have the potential to gentrify a neighborhood and cast out lower class people as much as they have the potential to unite them. For example, the NOBE urban garden in Oakland, Berkley, and Emeryville lumps together neighborhoods of lower and middle class blacks and advertises it as an “authentic” new home for young, upper class people from San Francisco. In the process, the lower and middle class blacks are forced out of the neighborhood.[22] In essence, one community that needs the urban garden is destroyed and replaced by another community that uses the urban garden merely as an aesthetic. Ultimately, alternate food sources like farmers’ markets and food gardens are tools to achieve a certain end. Like any other tool, their effectiveness depends on who uses them and how they are used for what purpose.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Obesity is one of many America problems caused by extreme class division and racial discrimination. The main causes of obesity are a combination of supermarket locations effecting the distribution of healthy food in particular and the larger consequences of urban sprawl draining capital from the inner city. The unfortunate inner city people are left with little options on how to live, their lack of options of what food to eat being only one of many examples. Food is one of the most fundamental necessities of life. Almost nothing can effect people’s lives in such a basic way as the food they are allowed to eat and almost nothing can take away people’s rights and freedoms to live more than restricting what they can eat. America’s inner city obesity should remind us how American society stratifies its people, almost to their point where they inhabit different worlds, and motivate us to solve the deeply set problems within its causes.

[1] Agricultural Marketing Service, pg. 1
[2] Winne, pg. 87
[3] Winn, pg. 114
[4] Winn, preface pg. iii
[5] Winn, pg. 64
[6] Alkon and Agyeman, location 2296
[7] Alkon and Agyeman, location 2383
[8] Alkon and Agyeman, location 2124
[9] Alkon and Agyeman, location 2229
[10] Lopez and Hynes, pg. 4
[11] Lopez and Hynes, pg. 2
[12] Rodrick and Deborah Wallace, pgs. 364-371
[13] Whitacre, Tsai, and Mulligan, pgs. 27-30
[14] Winn, pgs. 23-24
[15] Winn, pgs. 13-14
[16] Winn, pg. 155
[17] Winn, pgs. 168-169
[18] Alkon and Agyeman, location 5646
[19] Alkon and Agyeman, location 5603
[20] Winn, pg. 177
[21] Winn, pg. 192
[22] Markham, pg. 1

Works Cited

Agricultural Marketing Service – Creating Access to Healthy, Affordable Food. United States Department of Agriculture, https://apps.ams.usda.gov/fooddeserts/fooddeserts.aspx n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Alkon, Alison H., and Julian Agyeman. Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2011. Print.

Clark, Clifford Edward. The American Family Home, 1800-1960. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 1986. Print.

Fairbanks, Robert B. The War on Slums in the Southwest. N.p.: Temple UP, 2014. Robert B. Fairbanks. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

Flegal, K. M., M. D. Carroll, R. J. Kuczmarski, and C. L. Johnson. “Overweight and Obesity in the United States: Prevalence and Trends, 1960–1994.” Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord International Journal of Obesity 22.1 (1997): 39-47. Web.

Fogelson, Robert M. Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950. New Haven: Yale UP, 2001. Print.

Lopez, Russel P., and Patricia H. Hynes. “Obesity, Physical Activity, and the Urban Environment: Public Health Research Needs.” Environmental Health Journal, 18 Sept. 2006. Web.

Markham, Lauren. “Gentrification and the Urban Garden – The New Yorker.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 21 May 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

Moses, Robert. “What’s the Matter With New York.” The New York Times (1943): n. pag. Web.

Norris, Darrell A. “Unreal Estate: Words, Names and Allusions in Suburban Home Advertising.” Names 47.4 (1999): 365-80. Web.

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: An Urban History. Dir. Chad Freidrichs. First Run Features, 2012. Internet Movie Database.

Wang, Y., and M. A. Beydoun. “The Obesity Epidemic in the United States Gender, Age, Socioeconomic, Racial/Ethnic, and Geographic Characteristics: A Systematic Review and Meta-Regression Analysis.” Epidemiologic Reviews 29.1 (2007): 6-28. Web.

Wallace, Rodrick, and Deborah N. Wallace. “Structured Psychosocial Stress And The Us Obesity Epidemic.” J. Biol. Syst. Journal of Biological Systems 13.04 (2005): 363-84. Web.

Whitacre, Paula, Peggy Tsai, and Janet Mulligan. The Public Health Effects of Food Deserts: Workshop Summary. Washington, D.C.: National Academies, 2009. Print.

Winne, Mark. Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty. Boston: Beacon, 2008. Print.

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Inner City Obesity (Part 1)

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INNER CITY OBESITY

Obesity is both a massive and familiar issue in modern America, with profound effects on the health of American citizens. Obesity in America rose after World War II, intimately connected with the urban sprawl that happened over the last sixty or so years. Both sides of the urban sprawl coin, the decline of the inner city and the creation of suburbs across America, both contributed to America’s massive obesity rise.

People living in the inner city such as minorities are the worst affected by America’s rising obesity because of a variety of factors. Urban sprawl played a part in causing the economic decline of the city. As businesses were outsources to the suburbs or outside America, new businesses such as rising supermarket chains had little incentive to erect stores in the inner city. Other practices such as red zoning further locked the inner city, preventing transportation and economic mobility. Liquor store and fast food restaurants became food stores in the inner city, leaving the people there with little access to healthy food.

The conventional response to obesity is to take the liberal, individualist route; blaming obese people for poor individual choices and advising changes in lifestyle. While people responding this way may have good intentions, they ignore the historical and socioeconomic realities that shape what many obese people eat. Activists have attempted alternate methods such as farmer’s markets, installing supermarkets in the inner city, and growing food gardens. While they all show promise they cannot deeply change America’s obesity problem unless America’s entire economy is changed.

RECENT STATISTICS

Under conventional body mass index (BMI) measurements, calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by his height in meters cubed, a person is overweight when his BMI ranges from 25 to 30 and obese when his BMI is above 30. According to Dr. Youfa Wang of the Center of the Center for Human Nutrition, 66% of adults were overweight or obese in 2007 while 16% of children and adolescents are overweight. Obesity has skyrocketed from the 1960s to 2004, increasing from 13% to 32%. Dr. Wang projects that by 2015, 75% of adults will be overweight or obese.[1]

Among elderly people in the United States, aged 60 or older, more than 70% were obese. More men than women were overweight or obese.[2] Minority groups such as non-Hispanic blacks and Mexican Americans were especially prone to obesity. With 76.1% for non-Hispanic blacks and 75.8% for Mexican Americans respectively, both groups had 10% higher obesity than whites. The statistics were even more striking among women. Non-Hispanic black women were 20% more likely to be obese than white women, with 77.2% of non-Hispanic women being obese compared to 57.2% of white women being obese.[3]

While obesity increased since the 1960s, it sharply role from 1976-1980 in particular. Children and adolescents were the most effected during this period. Obesity rates of children ages 6-11 tripled while obesity rates for adolescents more than tripled.[4] Obesity rates also correlate with education levels. 27.4% of people with less than a high school education were obese, 21% of people some college education were obese, and 15.7% of people with above college education were obese.[5] Obesity rates even varied among people of different races depending on their citizenship. Only 1-4% of Asian American women were obese while the national average of obese Asian American women was 15%. Asians born in America were four times more likely to be obese.[6]

Dr. Wang is not the only researcher to discover such trends. Russel Lopez and Patricia Hynes of the Environmental Health Journal, for example, discovered that 39.4% of inner city men were obese compared to 35.5% of suburban men. Similarly, 20.6% of inner city women were obese compared to 19.1% of suburban women.[7] Dr. Flagel and his colleagues in the 1998 issue of the International Journal of Obesity concluded that among 50-59 year olds 72.9% of non-Hispanic white men, 80.6% of Mexican-American men, 78.1% of non-Hispanic black women, and 62.8% of non-Hispanic white women were obese.[8] Dr. Flagel and co. also discovered that differences in obesity prevalence by race was among women was more extreme than among men. Obesity was much higher for non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American women than for non-Hispanic white women.[9]

Dr. Wang’s and other’s research shows several overall trends in American obesity. The most notable trend is the prevalence of obesity among racial minorities and people with little education. This suggests that obesity may correlate with poverty, since racial minorities in America tend to be much poorer than whites. People with little education also tend to be poorer than people with high levels of education since poor people do not have the education and mobility to access higher education. In addition, older children and adolescents are more obese than younger children, which suggests that the older someone is the more they follow an unhealthy lifestyle. As it turns out, many socioeconomic forces played their roles in shaping different people’s access to foods and lifestyles.

HISTORY OF URBAN SPRAWL LEADING TO AMERICAN OBESITY

America’s obesity among poor people in the inner city may strike skepticism in some people. Poverty is usually associated with starvation. Our stereotypical image of a poor person is a hoary old man with nothing but skin and bones. However, as the statistics suggest, obesity is a massive health problem for America’s poor, which is verified by sociologist literature. Historically, the rise of American obesity for the past sixty years is linked to the urban sprawl that has been taking place since World War II. Urban sprawl, with all of its numerous causes and manifestations, has caused both the decline of the inner city and the creation of American suburbs. The decline of the inner city in particular caused the most damage for America’s most vulnerable people, lower class people and racial minorities, leading to their massive rise in obesity.

It is difficult to define the exact start of urban sprawl. Most academics generalize its fruition as happening in the 1950s and 1960s though historians can pinpoint its beginnings as far back as the turn of the century. The causes of urban sprawl are many. The invention of automobiles allowed middle and upper class people who could afford them to flee from cities full of lower class squalor.[10] Automobiles and telephones both decentralized the business district of the inner city in the first half of the 20th century, as customers could live farther from their place of work and businesses could expand their offices outside the city.[11] The drain of both middle and upper class people and businesses from the cities into the suburbs took away much of the wealth and commerce from the inner city, leading to its decline.

People did not merely follow the path new technology led them towards. Public servants, business owners, and politicians actively changed the inner city in pursuit of modernist ideals. In pursuit of a new, modernist city, with wide spaces and large, angular, identical buildings, they declared the slums to be “blighted” in order to demolish them.[12] Thus, they demolished the slums and replaced them with public housing. While a noble effort, public housing eventually degenerated into a new form of slums, arguably worse than the first. Private interests routinely hampered government maintenance of the projects, forcing their tenants to pay from their own pockets, which they could not. Politicians further exacerbated the problem by reviling government support and social justice movements as socialist and antithetical to the free market. [13]

Meanwhile, new businesses arose to satisfy suburban consumer needs such as the rise of the chain supermarket. Though chain supermarkets existed since the 1930s, replacing chain grocery stores from earlier, they rose to prominence in the suburbs after World War II. They could accommodate industrial amounts of processed food with their massive size and allowed customers to purchase all their food with only one car trip. By the 1960s more than two thirds of all grocery stores were supermarkets. As time passed, chain supermarkets drove smaller, independent stores out of business. By 1975 chain supermarkets controlled more than two thirds of the food retail market.[14] With the rise of massive supermarket chains and the decline of smaller food stores, the location of healthy, good quality food shifted further away from the city into the suburbs where people needed cars for transportation.

Cuts in government spending in inner city infrastructure also played a role, such as the Reagan administration’s cuts to many food programs. One example are the cuts done to the Community Renewal Team, its services plummeting from giving 380,000 meals per month to only 30,000 meals per month.[15] With the food safety net compromised, lower class people could not get enough food stamps to feed themselves during the month. Instead, they resorted to soup kitchens provided by charities and churches[16], or to spend what little money they had on cheap but unhealthy food sources such as fast food chains and liquor stores. Government subsidies and state infrastructure function to allow lower class people to keep up with the volatile movements of the market, even if only by its coat tails. The movements of the market, which generally makes goods and services more expensive for everyone while less accessible to the poor, combined with the eroding of government services, pushed lower class people further away from the market, including what supermarkets provide.[17]

How does all this history lead to inner city obesity? It does so through two ways. Firstly, urban sprawl gradually drained money and profit from the inner city into the suburbs. As people living in the inner city become poorer, it becomes harder for them to buy good quality food. Instead, they must purchase worse quality food in fast food chains, Chinatown stores, and liquor stores, which are laden with fat and grease. Secondly, as chain supermarkets rise and independent stores decline, people in the inner city lose more and more alternate options for buying good food. In the process, the aforementioned fast food chains fill in the void left by the independent stores. Ultimately, people in the inner city are left to eat bad food as part of their daily diet, which drastically increases the prevalence for obesity.

[1] Wang and Beydoun, pg. 1
[2] Wang and Beydoun, pgs. 4-5
[3] Wang and Beydoun, pg. 5
[4] Wang and Beydoun, pg. 10
[5] Wang and Beydoun, pg. 7
[6] Wang and Beydoun, pg. 6
[7] Lopez and Hynes, pgs. 1-2
[8] Flegal, Carrol, Kuczmarski, and Johnson, pg. 7
[9] Flegal, Carrol, Kuczmarski, and Johnson, pg. 6
[10] Fogelson, pgs. 28-29
[11] Fogelson, pgs. 106-107
[12] Moses, pgs. 1-3
[13] “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth”, mins. 20-22
[14] Alkon and Agyeman, location 2276
[15] Winn, pgs. 23
[16] Winn, pg. 32
[17] Winn, pg. 23

YGO COP 2: Duel 14 – Pack Attack!!

Twilight happened twice per day, every day, just before the sun rose and just after the sun set. It was something so common yet felt so rare and precious. This was how Maya saw it, now wide-awake at five AM. She was always an early bird, even when she went to bed late, dead tired. Her body seemed to have a mind of its own.

But whatever. She turned on a small reading lamp and read the small black book Jiao gave her four years ago. The book was a lot like the horizon and the city of Assiut she saw for she was on the balcony: wide-open, infinite, uplifting and awesome but unknown and dangerous at the same time. Perhaps this was what “great thinkers” were, brave explorers who wouldn’t shrink from anything whether sailing to the icy poles or climbing inside infernal volcanoes.

According to Jiao, Bakura wrote the small black book, but at this point it could be called Maya’s book too. She wrote hundreds of her own notes on the pages and even talked to the book. The ghost of Bakura that lurked in the pages would answer her questions or make a comment, and she would respond in kind.

BAKURA: Still worried about your future. It’s a big, big world out there after all.

MAYA: Of course. Even two college degrees are hard to find a job these days. I don’t feel capable of compromising myself with my music to fit modern tastes that I don’t like. I don’t know if I can ever succeed in becoming a professor. And as an activist, will the world change at all?

BAKURA: You hid something from Mathias and his group, didn’t you? You flirted with other paths, more exciting and dangerous paths. Why not go into crime? Selling heroine and cocaine will cure your troubles and you are smart enough to avoid arrest. Worried about illicit money? Laundering does wonders with that and you’re hands will be relatively clean.

MAYA: No. It’s wrong. I don’t want to ruin people’s lives.

BAKURA: Really? Down this old path of conventional morals again? You are a stubborn fool. Your virtues are really vices. I will fanatically stress it again: Name me a single human act that was ever universally condemned in all human history. You can’t. Even the most sordid acts from murder to rape to genocide have been not only tolerated in other areas of the world but celebrated. You studied anthropology in college diligently. It’s more than easy for me to draw examples from your mind…

MAYA: You don’t need to tell me. Even “my” culture celebrates murder and rape while pretending to otherwise. I’m well aware of our moral hypocrisies.

BAKURA: I’m sure you are. The very leaders of “your” nation dictate our moral creeds: free trade, merit, equal opportunity, equality before the law, no undue aggression, but they violate their own principles all the time. Their “free market” is aided and protected from collapse by the government, the wealthy inherit their fortunes, dirty bankers are excused from their crimes while the desperate poor turn to crime and are punished for it.

Why do you follow morals that are not even respected by your rulers? By doing so you fall into their trap and do what they want. No one has ever got their way in the world through good deeds. People achieve their goals and rise above their peers through sinister behavior and luck. Why play by the rules when the rules don’t even exist in the first place? Well, they really exist but are enforced on everyone else but a select few. As someone who studied political philosophy, anthropology, and urban studies, you know that understanding this is true enlightenment.

There are no rules except the fake ones the powerful in society create to herd in their flock. Why shouldn’t you commit crime when the very CEOs who sponsored the tournament you’re in right now commit it on a daily basis? All of the hardships and unfairness of your life and the lives of your friends boil down to the moral hypocrisies I described above. You all feel the same desperation, insecurity, and anger without truly knowing why. You know you’re playing a game that has been rigged by cheats before you were even born. You have every right to have hatred and want revenge. It is foolish to restrain yourself for such stupid reasons.

MAYA: I’m not interested in wheedling through your sophistries, Mickey Mouse de Sade. You’re very right what Pegasus, Kaiba, and “our” world leaders do, but I don’t want to sink to their level. Killing out of cruelty will debase me on every level: intellectual, creative, and spiritual. You don’t need conventional morals to figure that out.

And please stop trying to tempt me to the dark side, Darth Bakura. It’s not working. Seriously, you’re like, “I can feel your anger. Let you’re hate flow through you. I can feel it swelling. Yessss… Growing bigger and bigger… – Oh shit! Sorry, that was my dick the entire time. Never mind! Never mind! I get off on this shit! Don’t judge me!”

BAKURA: Laugh at me all you want, but you know I helped you grow. You once held a twisted mirror you thought you’re true reflection, with shards given to you by a society that hates you for who you are in every level: you’re beliefs, your race, your gender. For the longest time you thought that was who you really were but I helped you shatter that mirror.

I gave you the strength to no longer give credence to the words of rich liars like Matthew and thus no longer show obeisance to their absurd laws. I showed you how every major part of the society you live, comes from an amoral struggle, and how every belief its people have are delusions created from that war. You refuse to truly let yourself free, to put your desires in the center, but instead you follow chimeras. Your values of fairness, aesthetics, reason, social justice are as false as Yahweh, or Allah, or the lies tyrants like Matthew and JC say.

MAYA: No, it was never you. It was me all along. You’re just a figment of my imagination, a dark part of me. I helped myself the entire time. The struggle was mine from the beginning. The enemy I fight is myself. The doctrines I followed in Jiao’s book are only doctrines at the end of the day. They helped set me free but they can also trap me in a selfish and destructive life. If only I knew how to find a balance somewhere or find a way through…

A very small noise startled Maya and she quickly jerked her head to see what it was. Yukio had just woken up and set his laptop on the hotel room’s small circular table. Oh. Maya put the small black book away and sat next to Yukio. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Yukio touched her gently and smiled at just the right time, just when the sun was breaking through, announcing the morning with its golden rays. Just as darkness banishes the light the specter inside Maya’s head dissipated. Maya looked at Yukio, then Sophia, and found tender feelings in her heart for them. Yukio was so brave, noble, strong, incorruptible and Sophia so beautiful, sweet, sensitive, sinless…

Maya huddled on Yukio. “Whatcha’ doin’?’

“Boring shit. Checking my emails, checking on our friends back home, tweaking my deck, getting ready for my morning wank.”

“Shut up!” Maya punched him and laughed as hard as she could while suppressing it at the same time so she wouldn’t accidentally wake Sophia up. Yukio pretended to block her mock-punches, laughing back. After all, laughter is contagious. Yukio put his hand on Maya’s thigh and for about an hour they sat close together, randomly surfing the web for funny pictures.

Sophia woke up and rubbed her eyes. She looked like hell. Not even her dark red hair, soft dark eyes, and full lips could save her. But she didn’t mind. She snuck a few pictures with her camera. Everyone was only wearing a shirt and underwear.

————————————————————————————————————

Heishin cracked his knuckles and formed a pyramid with his elbows and fists. He sat behind the desk of his office, eying the two people in front of him. One was a young man with tan skin and brown hair, his short and strong body covered by the black cloak typical of the Ghouls. The other person was the petite young woman he saw before, Gernand’s apprentice.

Heishin’s mind was once again on his son, Hassan. He wondered where was he and how to retrieve him back to the homeland, which is what he did everyday. Using his soldier’s discipline, he effortlessly returned himself to the moment at hand.

He cleared his throat and said, “I am generally in favor this tournament. All the duelists coming here and media attention brings tourism back into full swing. This helps my country a lot. I need to repair the damage from the revolution and help my people. The Ghouls, they also build the economic back of Egypt. But now we have a conflict.”

Matthew eyed the small woman by his side. Her very presence made him feel uncomfortable. “What is the conflict of interests?”

“The conflict is with your master, Gernand. I want stability in my country, for the tournament to peacefully run its course, and to find my missing son. If Ghouls keep attacking the tournament it will cause more chaos and unrest and I don’t want any of that.”

“Be honest.” The woman said. “Tourism may give you a bit more money the Ghouls we united under your charge build the backbone of Egypt more than tourism ever can, and they will continue to do so long after the tournament goes away. We’re the real force that keeps you in power and you know it.”

“Perhaps,” Heishin had to admit it. “But I know you and Gernand have an ulterior motive behind all this. You want something from the tournament. I don’t know what it is but know this. I am the authority here.”

Matthew then spoke, “I have a plan of action. The Ghouls will attack key major cities tonight. They will leave out Cairo and Alexandria while going after cities deeper inland like Assiut, Luxor, and Aswan. Duelists have spread out throughout Egypt since the tournament began and there won’t be as much media attention there. You know the drill. The Ghouls attack, then you bring in your army and pretend to stop us. Rinse, lather, repeat.”

“You don’t need to tell me how to use a military.” Heishin snapped in anger and stress. “I own both the Egyptian militia and the Ghouls. I know how to use both to keep Egypt relatively peaceful. I am against this plan. I refuse to have it done. The chain of command begins at my desk. I tell the Ghouls what to do. Do you understand?”

The woman countered, “Sorry, but you don’t head the Ghouls. Gernand does, and you’d better remember it.”

“I don’t care about your obese, decadent master. This is my country! In this land, I am commander!”

Heishin would have gone further but his blackened hand, his claw, felt like it was burning uncontrollably. He tried to lift his arms up but couldn’t and collapsed on the ground behind his desk. It was as if his claw weighed hundreds of pounds. Before he fell down he saw that the woman had only lifted a single finger.

This small woman kneeled over this large, mighty man and looked down on him as if he was the lowly scarab beetle. “My master’s word is the last word. Remember that.”

“You won’t humiliate me and take away my dignity!” Heishin vehemently spat what he could while under the extreme pain. “I am not a slave! I am a man!”

“Man is but a worm.” The woman said matter-of-factly. She stood up and left for the door. “Matthew, proceed with your plan.”

Matthew followed her and the office door shut. The devilish pain tearing Heishin’s arm apart ceased as abruptly as it began, leaving Heishin on the floor wheezing, gasping for air.

————————————————————————————————————

“Ghouls, report!” Matthew commanded, reclining back on a large, golden-coated chair near total darkness. During the reign of Malik Ishtar, the Ghouls carved out an abandoned tomb in the Valley of the Kings, turning it and the landscape into their base of operations. When Malik fell during the first Battle City, the Ghouls dispersed and the base fell into disarray. But now that they were drawing together once more, their base once again became active and it was just now revitalizing.

Matthew enjoyed his privileged, golden seat, and let it sink in that he was now the king of the world’s greatest crime syndicate, and sat on the same chair as the immortal duelist Malik himself. Except he wasn’t. The mysterious Gernand and the young woman who imprinted him with the magic of the gods were the true masters.

The hand-sized charred mark on Matthew’s chest burned. Matthew winced and clutched it. He imaged the great dragon spirit, Horus the Black Flame Dragon, looming over him so vividly he almost hallucinated. Horus called his name from somewhere deep in his heart, a power that was inside him his entire life, waiting until the right moment to awaken…

“Master?” One of the anonymous Ghouls asked.

Matthew shook his head violently, trying to bring himself back to the here and now. “Report again.”

The Ghouls told him of their tactical situation. They were poised to attack the cities of Assiut, Luxor, and Aswan. As Matthew looked at the Ghouls more closely he realized for the first time how sinister they really were. It wasn’t just their ominous black cloaks. Each Ghoul wore a cheap mask. Some were classic black ski mass while some were more elaborate, whether because they looked like Halloween masks, or because plain masks were decorated with red and blue paint, making them look like monstrous clowns. The plain white masks were the most unsettling at all. They were so expressionless and looked like death at the same time.

“Did you capture the prisoner?”

“Yeah.” One of the Ghouls wearing a plain white mask answered. Each mask the Ghouls wore had a vocabulator that distorted their voice by lowering the pitch. It was the final touch in making them absolutely disturbing.

“Bring him in!”

The Ghoul disappeared but soon returned, along with two other Ghouls, very high in rank. One of them was tall and lean yet brutish while the other was short and plump yet surprisingly fast and agile. They even wore complimentary masks that were elaborately decorated as if they were celebrating a Day of the Dead festival in Mexico, the former’s black and red, the latter’s white and blue. They were a strange pair, a Laurel and Hardy of sorts, but their comical appearance belied their fearsome powers and their brutality.

“Report, Umbra and Lumis!”

Lumis, the short, fat man with the white mask, was all too happy to chime in. “We caught the little boy easily by surprise! He was a tough cookie but as predictable as a bull in a china shop, I tell you! A simple Mask of Restrict blew him over like a stack of cards!’

“That’s right.” Umbra, the tall, lean man with the black mask, was softer spoken than his partner but gloated no less at their victory. “I present you with Japan’s National ‘Champion’!” He kicked the prisoner in front of Matthew and removed the prisoner’s mask, exposing the bruised and bloodied face of a boy barely fifteen years old.

“Akira Ryu.” Matthew spoke to the prisoner with distain. “Japan has really lowered its standards if it’s picking little boys for champions. At least I had to enforce my privileged position in America.” To the Ghouls, he said, “Well done. Now I want you to use Akira to draw out Team Baby Blast Furnace. Isolate the duelist named Marina Bozovic and defeat her. Kill her if necessary. If she dies, our mission to ransack all duelists for what they’re worth and find the Book of Isis will be much easier.”

“Y-you won’t get away with this, you bastards.” Akira stuttered, utterly terrified yet trying his best to mask his fear for the sake of his pride. “You Ghouls are the sc-scum of the earth, with no d-d-duelist’s honor.”

Lumis smacked Akira’s head with his duel disk, planting his face on the ground. “You’re actually dumb enough to believe that shit! ‘Duelist’s honor’ is nothing more than a marketing catchphrase to sell children’s trading cards to stupid, bug-eyed little brats like you! Kids these days, I tell you!”

Lumis was about to smack Akira in the head again but Matthew quickly raised his hand. “Do not harm him!” And Lumis stopped instantly. “You want this kid to beat Marina, right? Stop manhandling him like a sack of meat. He is a strong and competent duelist in the end of the day.”

“Now listen up, all of you: Umbra, Lumis, Akira. I’ll only say this once. Maya is a cunning and inventive duelist, but see past that. At heart she is a blood knight. She loves a challenge, loves to tackle the difficult and dangerous and come out on top, loves to solve the toughest problems with brilliant solutions. And the challenges that give her the biggest kick are ones that let her overthrow a perceived injustice and convention. She is a deeply angry, unstable person and has a score to settle with Akira. Use those fact to your advantage.”

“Got it! Got it!” Lumis nodded enthusiastically.

“I’m not done yet!” Matthew interrupted. “Akira, you can use our card treasury to upgrade your deck. I suggest you make it into Turbo Towers. Lumis, Umbra, stack his deck before the duel to make sure he wins. Don’t take any chances. And Akira,” Matthew knelt before the kneeling, frightened man, lifting his face so he could look Matthew in the eye. “If you defeat Maya, we will set you free and never bother you again. You have my word. I’m giving you every advantage I can to set you free.”

Akira had no choice but to silently nod to Matthew’s terms.

“Ghouls, you are dismissed! You are free to use any means at your disposal.”

Umbra tossed two metal collars in the air that looked like medieval torture devices. “We haven’t played with these toys in a long time. This is going to be fun.” Matthew couldn’t see his face but his voice was so thick with smugness, even through the vocabulator, it was almost unbearable.

Umbra, Lumis, and Akira obeyed their master and silently left.

————————————————————————————————————

DAY 3 : 3:31 PM : ASSIUT

Maya, Yukio, and Sophia spent too much of the day already sightseeing but they now regretted it. Many duelists flooded the city, so much so they saw a duel every half an hour, but no one wanted to challenge them. Word got around about their duels with Team Stella and Team Buffalo Chicken, and so no one wanted anything to do with them. Most teams declined their challenges entirely and some even fled upon seeing them. They were becoming one lonely group of duelists very, very fast, and they only had four Millennium Item cards.

Funny. Being lonely in a crowd of strangers was global.

“Come on! These cowards are going to have to challenge us sometime!” Maya was as exhausted as she was annoyed.

“I couldn’t agree more, honestly.” Yukio jugged down an entire bottle of water.

They were so desperate for a duel Sophia even suggested they go to a marketplace. Maybe they would find a team obscure enough to duel them. And so they went, and what a terrible trip it was. At every angle poor marketers who were desperate to sell their cheap knock-offs harassed them from every angle.

“Come get alabaster souvenir! No hassle! No hassle!” A storeowner with shady sunglasses shouted from the corner. It goes without saying his “alabaster” trinkets of Egyptian cats and pharaohs were fakes. “Come on! Buy my cloths! Only five dollars! No hassle!” Another storeowner, with a smile on his face and fraud in his heart, hassled from another corner, flashing one of his dresses, which he decorated with beads so fake it would shame even Mardi Gras party animals. When our protagonists hurried away, uninterested, he shouted after them, “Come on, man! You won’t get this stuff anywhere else!”

One seller kept trying to wheedle Sophia to buy a beautiful scarf. “You Russian? You can wear lovely scarf over your head or on your neck. Only five dollars!” Sophia wanted to say no, but couldn’t. Her shyness and politeness prevented her. “How about three dollars? Three dollars good?” He then said, “You are so beautiful! If you marry me I’ll give you ten thousand camels!” Sophia, laughing, beamed a smile as bright as the rising sun. Exasperated, she finally satisfied him and Maya came out of nowhere to yank her away, admonishing the seller as if he was some creep.

– From nowhere a small, swift, dark-skinned man swiped Maya’s duel disk clean from her hand! He unlocked the duel disk from her arm and took it so swiftly she couldn’t react on time! Maya, Yukio, and Sophia instinctively ran after the thief without thinking twice!

They twisted and turned through the narrow, winding streets and alleys between stores. Sophia tried keeping up with them but fell in exhaustion. “Guys! Wait up!” A dark-cloaked, masked man leering at Sophia from the shadows took advantage of her fatigue. He swiftly leapt from the shade and grabbed her…

Maya and Yukio kept losing the thief in the alleyways, made even worse by the fact they were carrying backpacks with them, yet for some reason always somehow caught up to him. “Is it me – huff! – or does he want us to follow him?” Yukio gasped during a brief moment of respite.

“He’s leading us into – huff! – a trap but we have no choice.” Maya said in between wheezes.

Yukio nodded and they went after the thief again. Maya couldn’t lose her deck! She couldn’t afford to lose the tournament! She would be broke with nowhere to go! Her fear and desperation sped her heels. She launched her body and crashed into the thief. She wrenched her duel disk free from his grasp and smacked him on the head with it for her troubles.

The thief grabbed his head and limped away, moaning in pain – then a small, fat man wearing a black cloak and a white mask flashed out of nowhere, running so quickly his feet didn’t seem to touch the ground. He threw two metal collars at Maya and Yukio and they locked into place on their necks. Maya and Yukio desperately tried to wrench the devices off their necks but it was useless.

The man brandished a switch from his cloak. “Notice the tiny counter on your collars? It is a bomb! If I press this switch at any time your heads will go KABLOOIE! But there is a way out! Maya must defeat a rival! Right now, the bombs on your necks are set to explode at 5:30 PM exact! Meet your rival and me at 5:00PM exact by the Meer Necropolis at the west side! You have one hour! Got it?” And he vanished with his blinding speed.

Maya and Yukio were left stunned, as if frozen. They were now in a game to the death. Their hearts raced inside them, beating so violently they felt they could erupt from their chests any second now, but they were powerless to do anything. Though the sun hit the dessert with sweltering heat, Maya and Yukio felt deathly cold.

Yukio broke the silence with a small thought, which became a small word. “Sophia…”

Maya looked around. She was nowhere to be seen! She only saw more black robed men running everywhere. She heard the whirring sounds of holographic summoning and the clashes and yells of dueling. The Ghouls had struck again.

Maya trembled with rage. “I’ll kill them…” She screamed. “I’LL KILL THEM!” She slammed her fists unto the street until they bled.

Yukio grabbed her and shook her until she calmed down. “Sophia has to stay strong! We don’t have any other choice right now!”

They concocted a plan to find the Ghouls and beat them. Yukio sprung his duel disk into action and slapped the Millennium Puzzle Card. “Show us who stopped dueling since the morning!” The holographic Millennium Puzzle materialized and projected from its eye about a dozen images.

“Akira!” Maya deduced. “They wouldn’t challenge me with anything les than a National Champion!” She opened her bag, taking out a few cards.

“What are you doing?” Yukio said. We have to go.

“We talked about how we always carry a lot of cards, antimeta or otherwise, that we tech in so we can beat our opponents. You know, having a hundred card side deck of sorts? Akira uses Qliphorts and knowing how staid and snobbish he is I doubt he’ll change. I need to retool my deck, actually, rebuild it. I know how to make it better.”

“We don’t have time!” Yukio shouted angrily at her.

“I know!” Maya shot back. Her anger was still near the blowing point. “We’ll do it while running! Well, try to!”

And they headed off, somewhere between a walk and run, forced to multitask under the incredible pressure the Ghouls imposed on them. But Maya felt exhilaration too. What an incredible challenge it was! What an adventure! They were getting closer to helping Hassan liberate Egypt from the Ghouls!

She wasn’t alone. Yukio felt the same feelings. It was time to burn away villainy with the blazing torch of heroism! In front of him was a real wild ride far better than concert he ever performed or any high he ever chased!