My blog contains a large number of posts. A few are included in various other publications, or as attached stories and chronicles in my emails; many more are found on loose leaves, while some are written carelessly in margins and blank spaces of my notebooks. Of the last sort most are nonsense, now often unintelligible even when legible, or half-remembered fragments. Enjoy responsibly.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Here Lies Misinformation

Misinformation - to give false or misleading information to. (

Lie - an inaccurate or false statement. (

Misinformation sounds more professional, more grown-up, so maybe that is why those in the political world try to use it. A lie is something that children do. Children lie, adults give misinformation. Misinformation is more complex, it involves nuance and delicately - something a child could never understand. So to better understand the subtle differences between a lie and misinformation, I’ve prepared the following example:

Example of Misinformation:
“I did not have sexual relations with that woman”

Example of a Lie:
“I did not eat the last cookie”

Example of Misinformation:
“Iraq has Weapons of Mass Destruction and is an imminent threat to the United States”

Example of a Lie:
“I don’t know who broke your vase. Maybe it was Johnny”

Example of Misinformation:
“I didn’t lie, I just gave misinformation”

Example of a Lie:
“I didn’t lie, I just gave misinformation”

So when someone tells you that what they told you was misinformation, you’ll now know the difference.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

You’re Not Helping the Stereotype

We live in a predominately black neighborhood in the rural south. True, I have not lived here that long, but it has been long enough to see that some people really seem to relish living up to certain stereotypes. Whether is it the people with large trucks with the word “Redneck” plastered across the back or the mid-twentyish mother, adorned with “bling” being trailed by 6 poorly dressed kids as she talks to someone on her cell phone, these people really do exist.

What I currently find interesting is the dynamic between the Old South and the New South. The Old South had clearly defines roles that people played into. Whereas, this New South harbors those same stereotypes and then overcompensates in the opposite direction. Case in point, there are two people living on our street that fit the exact New South/Old South stereotypes.

One is an older gentleman named John (all the names have been changed because they know where I live). John is black, approaching 60 hard-lived years of age, and can tell you stories about picking cotton and the Klan. Mitchell is a young black man in his late 20’s who drives a very nice car, speaks in a forced Midwestern Weatherman accent, and only tends to talk to white people. He attends a white church, votes Republican, and works very hard in a menial job to maintain a lifestyle far outside of his reach. Both of these individuals live on the same street, have about the same financial situation, and are related in some way that I have yet to figure out. The thing that separates them is where they believe that they belong.

My mother loves to tell a story about John, who, after being paid for some yard work, did a little dance and proclaimed with all honest and excitement, “I’m going to get me some chicken feet!” Embarrassing as that was, Mitchell does the same every day when he lives the New South stereotypes. I expect to see him sitting on his front porch in black socks and sandals reading a Jane Austen novel.

John grew up in an environment where he was put in his place. Revolution is hard, especially when you are outnumbered. Mitchell grew up seeing people like John as an example of their own past and rebelled by creating a contradictory stereotype.

It was only after seeing these two people that I realized that we all can all fall victim of creating our own bad stereotype when we try to compensate for who we are most afraid of becoming. For example, have you ever wondered why the middle or lower class (strictly financially speaking) would ever vote Republican? I mean, it doesn’t take much common sense to realize that the Republicans are only going to cut taxes for individuals making over $250,000 a year. Those making less than that will end up paying the difference (there is an equal argument against certain people voting Democrat, but the Republican is a much easier example for what I’m trying to prove).

The Democrats out there immediately think that the person making under $250,000 AND voting Republican is dumb. They are an idiot who does not understand politics and is falling on the sword for people who wouldn’t even talk to them if they met them on the street. This is a huge misnomer that Democrats make (again, there is a similar argument for Democrats) about Republicans. What they fail to realize is that people vote who they think that they are or who they want to be.

Let me repeat that because it is important. These individuals, who only stand to be hurt by their actions, do so because they see it as an investment in a group that they will some day be a part of, or mistakenly think that they are a part of now. A fair number of these people live in places where have never been exposed to, or have only seen rare glimpses of, their target group of individuals.

Just like the people who vote who they think they are or want to be, the redneck compensates with his truck so that there is no question that he is indeed rural and not urban, the woman with the kids wants to appear to be young, virile, and not over-the-hill, and the two gentlemen from my street want to be seen as not belonging to the same shared history. We are all guilty of wanting to be perceived in certain ways, but we cannot let those desires turn us into stereotypes.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Very Cool Story from

Mysterious New 'Dark Flow' Discovered in Space
By Clara Moskowitz
posted: 23 September 2008

As if the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy weren't vexing enough, another baffling cosmic puzzle has been discovered.

Patches of matter in the universe seem to be moving at very high speeds and in a uniform direction that can't be explained by any of the known gravitational forces in the observable universe. Astronomers are calling the phenomenon "dark flow."

The stuff that's pulling this matter must be outside the observable universe, researchers conclude.

When scientists talk about the observable universe, they don't just mean as far out as the eye, or even the most powerful telescope, can see. In fact there's a fundamental limit to how much of the universe we could ever observe, no matter how advanced our visual instruments. The universe is thought to have formed about 13.7 billion years ago. So even if light started travelling toward us immediately after the Big Bang, the farthest it could ever get is 13.7 billion light-years in distance. There may be parts of the universe that are farther away (we can't know how big the whole universe is), but we can't see farther than light could travel over the entire age of the universe.

Mysterious motions

Scientists discovered the flow by studying some of the largest structures in the cosmos: giant clusters of galaxies. These clusters are conglomerations of about a thousand galaxies, as well as very hot gas which emits X-rays. By observing the interaction of the X-rays with the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which is leftover radiation from the Big Bang, scientists can study the movement of clusters.

The X-rays scatter photons in the CMB, shifting its temperature in an effect known as the kinematic Sunyaev-Zel'dovich (SZ) effect. This effect had not been observed as a result of galaxy clusters before, but a team of researchers led by Alexander Kashlinsky, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., found it when they studied a huge catalogue of 700 clusters, reaching out up to 6 billion light-years, or half the universe away. They compared this catalogue to the map of the CMB taken by NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) satellite.

They discovered that the clusters were moving nearly 2 million mph (3.2 million kph) toward a region in the sky between the constellations of Centaurus and Vela. This motion is different from the outward expansion of the universe (which is accelerated by the force called dark energy).

"We found a very significant velocity, and furthermore, this velocity does not decrease with distance, as far as we can measure," Kashlinsky told "The matter in the observable universe just cannot produce the flow we measure."

Inflationary bubble

The scientists deduced that whatever is driving the movements of the clusters must lie beyond the known universe.

A theory called inflation posits that the universe we see is just a small bubble of space-time that got rapidly expanded after the Big Bang. There could be other parts of the cosmos beyond this bubble that we cannot see.

In these regions, space-time might be very different, and likely doesn't contain stars and galaxies (which only formed because of the particular density pattern of mass in our bubble). It could include giant, massive structures much larger than anything in our own observable universe. These structures are what researchers suspect are tugging on the galaxy clusters, causing the dark flow.

"The structures responsible for this motion have been pushed so far away by inflation, I would guesstimate they may be hundreds of billions of light years away, that we cannot see even with the deepest telescopes because the light emitted there could not have reached us in the age of the universe," Kashlinsky said in a telephone interview. "Most likely to create such a coherent flow they would have to be some very strange structures, maybe some warped space time. But this is just pure speculation."

Surprising find

Though inflation theory forecasts many odd facets of the distant universe, not
many scientists predicted the dark flow.

"It was greatly surprising to us and I suspect to everyone else," Kashlinsky said. "For some particular models of inflation you would expect these kinds of structures, and there were some suggestions in the literature that were not taken seriously I think until now."

The discovery could help scientists probe what happened to the universe before inflation, and what's going on in those inaccessible realms we cannot see.

The researchers detail their findings in the Oct. 20 issue of the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I Hate "These Days"

“These Days” everything is different and none of this has ever happened before. That is why we’re forced to use the words “these days” - because this is special, different, and unprecedented. We live in a time where what is going on “these days” is extraordinary; nothing like “these days” has ever happened before. “These days” are ours, “these days” are important, and “these days” will never happen again. I hope that “these days” never end so that I will have the opportunity to use the expression “these days” just like all of the people who have come before “these days” have.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Do I You See What I See

I apologize ahead of time for this blog post. This is not a blog post for now, but sometime in the future. When? I don’t know. Why? Because the science for it doesn’t seem to exist yet.

If you are reading this sometime in the future and have a solution or know of someone studying what I am suggesting, please contact me. Thank you.

I have been toying with using semiotics as a teaching tool in the hope of creating neurological synesthesia in my son and am not sure if it should be his intellectual/creative choice as to what represents what, or if I should start introducing base images predicated on a combination of light and depth. I mean, as an example, I can’t just pick fractals based on a number that I believe corresponds with whatever is being represented and hope that since there are Fibonacci sequences built into most everything, they must somehow correspond with mental images used as representations.

With respect to belief that it is the interpretations of the visual mental images that have the defining power, there must be a way to understand the mapping in respect to a higher level of thought. What we currently cannot do in the present, through either limitations in our current communication or inability to think in an illustrative manner, is express these in a similar fashion in both mental models and a knowledge representation (without trying to end up in current debate over scientific realism or, for that matter, logical empiricism).

What I’m not sure of is whether or not one is able to use semiotics for daily life while still being able to lower oneself to the extremely primitive spoken level in which we have become accustomed. So again, I'm not sure if there is a middle ground between a perceived esse est percipi and Moore's argument for a sustentative substratum - and not to just default to Locke’s direct-realist analysis of material object proportions - can exist as a communiqué between mental imagery and the simple base ability of information transference between two people.

I guess that my problem with the current science is that we have yet to explore it as a learning tool or as a communicative evolutionary step. Instead it is relegated to an abnormal cross-sensory perception or, worse yet, an unknown, yet allegedly harmful, educational tool masquerading as bad parenting. I believe that in time we will be able to use semiotics to create a new method of learning and communication. My wish and hope is that someone stumbles upon this blog one day and is considerate enough to drop me a line explaining how it is now done.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Things I Noticed at the Mall

I had to visit the local mall this week and came to a couple of realizations that for some reason I feel compelled to share:

I refuse to purchase a cookie from anyone weighing less than 100 pounds working The Great American Cookie Company.

There is no good reason that anyone needs instant headset communication to sell underwear.

You know that you are no longer in their demographic when you are old enough to remember when the bands on the t-shirts at Hot Topic were actually cool.

Nothing says that you will never make over $12 an hour like a neck tattoo.

There is no amount of lotion or perfume that is going to make you smell thinner.

It probably isn’t going to be the quality of gold he says it iswhen he can’t even afford deal with his unibrow.

Spencer’s Gifts stops being cool when you reach the age of 15.

Seriously, I could give a rat’s ass that the new Danielle Steel book is out. It's still not going to give you back a functional uterus.

There is nothing sadder in the mall then a holiday be-vested woman standing behind the register in an empty Hallmark store.

I understand that Juicy is a clothing company name, but if it said Underage & Willing across your ass it would mean the same thing.

There is no gift from Things Remembered will ever be remember for more than twenty minutes.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bush Trying to Give Iraq Gov Power over US Military

What is happening right now in Iraq is both new and different. New, because it is a possible end to the war and different because it ignores our own Constitution. The article below, from Time Magazine, explains how the president is giving over power of the US Military to the Iraq Government. Let me say that again, our Commander in Chief is giving over power of the most powerful military in the world to Iraq. Fighting, strategy, and yes even funding will be controlled by the Iraq Government. Worse than that, he is trying to do it without consulting either the American people or the Senate.

Please read the article and contact your local Representative. Our Constitution, its checks and balances, and our system of government is too valuable to be given away some secretly and callously.

Contact your local Senator here

Contact your local House Representative here

What Bush Will Surrender in Iraq

By Bruce Ackerman & Oona Hathway
Thu Sep 11, 2:00 PM ET

Determined to shape his own legacy in Iraq, President Bush has cut Congress out of his negotiations with the Maliki government. Despite repeated requests, the Administration has refused to share with congressional committees the text of its negotiating draft, even on a confidential basis. But elements of the proposals under negotiation have steadily leaked out from the Iraqi side, and now an Arabic-language newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat, has published what it says is the full draft agreement.

The draft agreement published by Asharq Al-Awsat would clearly contravene the U.S. Constitution. It will not be a treaty, requiring the consent of two-thirds of the Senate, or a congressional-executive agreement, requiring the approval of both houses of Congress. Instead, the President asserts the power, as commander in chief, to commit the nation to his deal with Iraq without seeking the consent of the legislative branch. The provisions of the published text, however, decisively refute his claim to unilateral authority.

The breadth of the President's powers as commander in chief is one of the most controversial issues in constitutional law. Nevertheless, there is one point on which everybody agrees: The President can't unilaterally surrender his command over the military to somebody else, and tell the troops to treat this outsider as commander-in-chief. The authority he has as commander-in-chief is not his to transfer.

The published draft agreement violates this bedrock principle by creating a joint U.S.-Iraq committee and giving it, not the President, the authority to coordinate military operations, to resolve operational disputes, and even to "determine the tasks and level of the troops that will focus on training and supporting Iraqi security forces." The agreement creates only one exception: American troops can act unilaterally in self-defense without obtaining the committee's permission.

The constitutional violation is plain: The agreement would cede the President's authority over U.S. forces in the field to a committee, on which the Iraqis would have veto power.

All this may or may not make sense, but it is up to Congress to decide. There have been occasions when foreigners have been given some control over American troops in connection with NATO and U.N. peacekeeping operations. But these delegations of command authority occurred under treaties ratified by two-thirds of the Senate, not by presidential fiat. Worse still, the agreement would govern military relationships well into the next administration. President Bush is proposing to give away not only his own powers as commander-in-chief, but also those of his successor.

The published draft agreement also usurps congressional power over the Treasury. It obligates the United States to pay for the construction and modification of military installations that will revert to Iraqi ownership when our troops leave. This is an open-ended commitment that goes beyond the funds already appropriated by Congress. By taking this step, the President seeks to remove the most fundamental check on the abuse of executive power - the power of the purse.

The reason that the questions of authority over future U.S. military operations in Iraq has not received the attention it deserves is simple: The Administration has cut Congress and the American people out of the loop. The media discussion of the negotiations between the Iraqi and U.S. governments, fueled only by leaks, has focused on more sensational topics such as a timetable for withdrawal of our troops, and the Maliki government's efforts to prosecute American contractors for crimes committed on Iraqi soil. These are important matters, which should also be submitted for congressional approval, but the precedents set by the President's unilateral use of power will have greater long-term consequences.

It is past time for the President to provide Congress with a copy of the draft agreement, and ask for its consent. Senators and Representatives should not be forced to rely on translations from foreign newspapers to learn what their government is up to; there should be no secret deals on the most important issues facing America.

As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden, has co-sponsored legislation demanding that the Administration submit the Iraq agreement for congressional approval. Now that he is the Democratic nominee for Vice President, he should take the initiative and reach out to Senator John McCain, who understands perfectly the questions of principle at stake. Both Democratic and Republican candidates should join together to make it clear that, whoever wins the election, the next President will put the Constitution first in his dealings with Congress.

Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway are professors of law, at Yale and the University of California, Berkeley,

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Slow Blinks

There is something wonderful in watching a child fight sleep. The way that they feel their eyelids closing and struggle to open them for one last frantic look at the world. How they are always searching for just one more bit of information to consume before their head nods forward again.

I often wonder what my son dreams about when he finally succumbs to sleep. I wonder if his brain is yet advanced enough to dream about the people around him and the scenarios that have touched his life, or if he only dreams of colors, movement, and shapes. I long to have him wake, smile at me, and tell me where his mind has been. Was it an adventure? Could he fly? Were there monsters? Was he the hero or villain?

Seeing him do everything that he can to stay awake a little longer for more of our world before retreating to build his own, inspires me to better use my own time. Inspiration comes not from those who have used their time to achieve greatness, but in the smallest of us who do everything they can just to see what we’ve achieved with our time.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Don’t Know Much About Geography

This week I was asked to read over a paper reviewing the short stories of Anton Chekhov’s from 1883-1910 and came upon a vague statement as to its size of Russia leading to the social isolation of it’s people. Taken a bit back by the line, I asked the people around me what they knew of Russia between the years of 1800-1900. The only thing I received from anyone was blank looks and hunched shoulders.

That got me wondering what the public school system teaches children about the other countries, especially ones with which we’ve had such an intimate relationship over the last 100 or so years. Likewise, what do we teach our children right now about China, Mexico, or even Iraq? Do they learn history, geography, and culture - or is it just left up to the soundbites on the news to fill in the vast gaps of unlearned knowledge?

The ever sardonic Ambrose Bierce once said that “War is God's way of teaching Americans geography”, but I fail to see it doing even that. How many people do you know who could come within 100 miles of locating Baghdad in Iraq? What percentage of people could even find Afghanistan on a map? Bosnia and Herzegovina? Panama? Grenada? How many of those locations do you think that the average American could find on a map? How many could you find?

My point is that, how could we possibly be expected to understand another people, their history, culture, beliefs, religions or lack of, foods, and trade if we can’t even locate where they are on the planet? And for that matter, how could we expect them to know about us and our history? We’ve only been a country for 232 years - about the same time as the Mongol Empire, half the time that Roman Empire, one twentieth the amount of time that Egypt has been a country.

We must take it upon ourselves to learn our shared human history and the cultures that have evolved before and with our own. If we are successful, maybe the schoolchildren of the next country to dominate the globe will be able to locate us on a map. Or maybe they will know enough about history in general so they won’t have to make the same mistakes.

Yard Food

One of the nice things about living back in the South is the plethora of food growing in and around most older neighborhoods. Now I know that in this age of supermarkets and drive-thrus, it seems strange to be eating something that hasn’t been touched by someone else first, but I love eating from the garden and the yards around me.

This week I was proud to find a couple of apple trees in a field down the street. The older gentleman who lives in the adjacent house said that I could pick as many as I wanted because most of the apples just fall and rot before he can pick them up. So we’ve now struck a deal where I pick a basket for me and one for him too. Add this to the garden full of tomatoes, herbs, and lettuce, PLUS the farmers market that is open twice a week with locally grown everything, AND on Saturdays there is a large flea market with small regional farms, and a good portion of what we eat is almost out of people’s backyards!

My favorite thing from the garden is something that we call Herb’s Salad. It is a combination of whatever vegetables have been culled from the garden, with a generous handful of whole-leaf thrown in. When you add things like full basil leaves, a large sprinkling of tiny thyme leaves, and cilantro leaves, the aromatics are enough to flavor the salad more than and heavy dressing ever could impart.

I don’t think that we as a country take advantage of the areas in which we can grow a stable of our own food. During WWI and WWII the American people were asked to grow Victory Gardens because of the increased pressure on the countries food supplies. An unexpected outcrop of these gardens was a large increase in countrywide moral. Everyone with access to some sunlight and enough room for a pot could grow most garden vegetables. During WWII 20 million Americans had a Victory Gardens and they accounted for 40% of all the vegetable produce being consumed nationally.

So in a time where we are all looking to reduce our carbon footprint, eat healthier foods grown locally, planting your own garden (even if it is a pot for tomatoes or some herbs near a window), is an easy, cheap, and deliciously rewarding way to make a real difference.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Excuse Me But I Ordered the Chef Boyardee

I need to stop watching TV. Truth be told, I only turn it on when I don’t want to think for a while, but I always end up just thinking anyway. Today it was a commercial in which people at an Italian restaurant are enjoying pasta only to have some guy walk in an announce that the pasta, that they all believed to be restaurant grade food, was actually provided by Dominos Pizza as something to the effect of “these are not actors” scrolled across the bottom of the screen. This is where my mind kicked back in and I was forced to turn off the idiot box so that I could think.

Could people really be convinced that pasta from a pizza delivery chain could somehow equal the quality and taste from a nice restaurant that specialized in Italian food?

The answer came to me at lunch at a new café that just opened down the street. My rating system for all restaurants is the same: I could do this better at home, Not worth the price, and I would order this again. This new establishment came in at I could do this better at home - which is what I rate most restaurants. Now it’s not that I’m a world class cook, because I’m not. I am a good amateur cook with excellent cookbooks and a discriminating palate - and I think that there are a lot of people like me out there.

On the other side of the culinary landscape are people who almost always eat out, even though they have a kitchen that is the envy of 3/4 of the world. I have yet to meet an American who didn’t have a full size fridge, four burner stove, large oven, microwave, pots and pans, and a couple kitchen gadgets (KitchenAid, Cuisinart…) and some decent knives.

But these people have chosen to eat out due to either convenience or a lack of will to cook. Either way, they are missing what food can taste like when it is prepared at home, by you, for you. When you get to choose the quality of ingredients, make it to exactly how you like, and sit down still smelling of the kitchen, the enjoyment of what is on your plate will almost always beat something created in a most restaurants.

Don’t believe me? Think of something that you cook well. Do you cook that thing better than just about anyone on the planet? Why is that? Do you think that you could cook anything that good if you just put forth the effort? Why don’t you? Is it because it’s easier just to settle for something that is okay done by someone else? What does that say about the rest of your life?

Food is more than what keeps us going. It is our cultural differences, our heritage, our way of life, and primary source of connection to the world around us. Treat it well, get involved, and for Mike’s sake, start eating at better Italian restaurants.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

To the Gentleman Eating the Steak Across From Me


I’ve been coming to this pub for several years now and have ordered that same Guinness and medium-rare steak more times than I care to count. I know Julie, your server, because I’ve given her rides home when her car was in the shop and when Dave, her husband, was sick. Yes, I know your precise predicament well. So please allow me to give you a couple bits of advice.

1. Slow down. From the sloppy clothes and both your casual lexical and careless syntactic elaboration of your speech, I could tell that you're not accustomed to eating a steak like that in an environment like this. That’s All right; we all had to start somewhere and this is a better place than most.

2. Actually taste the steak. You just paid $25 dollars for a hunk of meat that is now being shoveled carelessly into your gullet. So let me tell you about what you are eating. It is a steak cooked by, in my opinion, the best chef for a hundred miles. It is a hand-selected, aged, prime cut of organic meat that came from a cow that was slaughtered humanly in less than an hours drive from this very restaurant. It’s a good steak. When you take small cuts into your mouth, chew slowly and let the juices flow around your tongue. Feel how it gives back when your incisors cut through it? See how you instinctually roll the shredded meat back to your molars to finish the job - that’s 200 million years of mammalian evolution. You would be wise not to ignore the process. Savor every bite.

3. Enjoy the experience. You are obviously here for a reason. I personally don’t care if a good day or a bad day has fated you to be sitting across from me, but you are here and should try and take in everything that you can. The ambiance is excellent, the service is always superb, and the food never leaves me wanting. This is a place to let time move at your speed. Sip your Guinness and let the world bow to you, for tonight it is yours.

But right now you are still sitting across from me. Not following my untold advice. Not reading this letter that I’m writing instead of finishing the work that I came in here to do. Distracting me from my own Guinness. All I want to do is yell at you.

So for Mike’s sake, will you please stop wolfing down that perfectly good steak already!!!

Thank you,

Brian (the guy at the table across from you)

PS Make sure that you get the cheesecake for dessert - it’s wonderful

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The South (Part I)

Welcome Back to the South

I lived in the South many years ago, have just moved back and am reliving some discoveries I found when I lived here years ago. First and foremost is that most everything is easy to understand and intentionally uncomplicated to the point of obscurity. The people here are simpler. And by that I don’t mean dumber, just simpler. If a girl wants to look pretty she puts on heavy makeup and makes her hair as big as it can be. If a guy wants to talk to someone about his new truck, he will find somewhere very public, like a grocery store, and stand next to it until someone stops to ask him about it - which someone invariably does. Plus, they have an annoying habit of constantly stating what it is that you’re doing as a question. It’s an uncomplicated place. Think the 1950s with less racism and better technology.

What I don’t remember from my years living here previously is the overwhelming peacocking that is so prevalent. To me, when you go out of your way to show the world something that you have just acquired, you are telling people that it is something nicer than you are used to having. Whether it’s a new cellphone, a shiny car, or money, nothing says that it’s something you’re not used to having like showing it off. When it comes to finances, this is known as being nouveau riche (literally, “newly rich”).

Now I know that these people shouldn’t have any bearing on my life. Lowered Hummers with chrome rims or t-shirts that cost more than laptops really amuse me. And I love when people have tricked themselves out with the latest horrible fashions or have gone completely over the top to look either trashy or expensive (usually the same). I am forever pointing out the ridiculously obscene to friends and family. But it is the sheer abundance of these people in the South that is amazing.

My hope over the next couple months of living here is to teach random Southerners the fine art of subtly. I do not know when it will happen, but I will make sure that I explain exactly why they look ridiculous and how to be a bit deeper than they really are. Barring that, I will mock them relentlessly while feeling jealous of their ability to be so easily pleased.

The South (Part II)

"So, ya writing a blog post?"

Since I’ve moved back to the south, not a day has gone by where I am not reminded of an article in Mad Magazine called “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions”. The section, written by the legendary Al Jaffee, had one character asking a stupid question and another responds with an insult or sarcastic remark. I feel like I’m constantly living in one of those jokes.

For instance, this morning I was standing in the front yard with a large bag labeled “Ant Killer” and a gallon jug that said “Ant Killer” in my hands as I sprayed a mound that had risen out of the front yard like a hand out of a grave in every cliché horror movie. And along came Bubba Everybody walking down the sidewalk on his way back from buying Skoal and Sweet Tea (one assumes). Now where I am from, someone in his position would just walk by me and, at the most, we would exchange a nod or some other minimal vocal recognition, but not in the South. In the South, I believe that he is required to stop and ask me the stupidest question possible. Cue Bubba and, “Ya got an ant problem?”

“Yes,” I said - hoping that would be the end of it. But alas, there he stood. Affixed to the ground waiting for me to turn and have a conversation about said ants. I sighed and turned to him. “They just showed up this morning and I’m trying to get rid of them before they get too comfortable.” Quickly adding, “so I need to move pretty quickly to contain them before they spread”.

Thinking that this would give him a subtle clue to move on, I went back to my spraying. Undeterred, he addressed my back as if it was looking at him with an eager gaze longing for a tête-à-tête. “Yep, we get them from time to time. I’ve tried damn-near everything, but they still keep coming back. Been thinking that this year I’ll hire one of those companies that they show on the TV. Gotta be cheaper than all them chemicals that I halfta buy all year.”

“Uh huh,” I grunt noncommittally.

“You know what you ought to do”, he says without pausing and still to my back, “you aught to make a circle around you house of that stuff. Bet that’d work.”

I turn to face him and say, “I’ll give that a try” and “Thanks!” in my most upbeat, this is where we part, voice.

Again, he stands there. Staring at me with what can only be described as the same look that my dog gives me when I try to explain to her that bacon isn’t for doggies. So on went the conversation for another ten minutes. He finally departed after we discussed the roof, the azaleas, As Seen on TV items, and, of course, the ants.

This entire exchange is something that is very foreign to me. Where I am from, people just don’t do this. You would never randomly start a conversation with someone unless you a) had some sort of incredibly expertise in the field, and b) were properly prompted for a conversation. Which is why, after having numerous run-ins with people like this, I want to start with the Snappy Answers part of that comic from my youthful reading of Mad Magazine.

“Ya got an ant problem?”

“Nope, just feeding the Mole People.”

“Yes, I can’t seem to attract enough of them into the yard.”

“Why, have they been talking to you too?”

But I can’t. I’ve tried, and I just can’t bring myself to be mean to someone who is both following the local culture and is honestly trying to be cordial. Instead, I’ll just go on mucking my way through forced conversation after conversation looking forward to the day when I get to move back up north and never feel obligated to speak to anyone ever again. Just me, alone, day after day with no one new to talk to…

…hmmm ….

So, reading my blog huh?

Monday, September 01, 2008

God, Please Spare Us From You

I was reading the news this morning (an update on the hurricane that my Mother and Edgar are headed through on their way to Texas) and something struck me as absolutely bizarre. In an article titled (Hurricane) Gustav’s eye closes in on Louisiana Coastline, there is a paragraph where someone is describing their thoughts before the storm hits: "We're nervous, but we just have to keep trusting in God that we don't get the water again," said Lyndon Guidry, who hit the road for Florida just a few months after he was able to return to his home in New Orleans. "We just have to put our faith in God."

Now what struck me as odd was not that she looked to her faith for solace, but how blatantly one sided that relationship is. How could she place her faith in a God that destroyed the city, killing 1,800 men, women, and children a couple of years ago?

I see these same comments all the time and never know how to respond. Cancer patients praying to the same God who gave them the cancer, parents praying to the same God who let their baby be stillborn, and people praying that friends and relatives will recover from whatever it was that God had done to them. What kind of fucked up, abusive relationship is that? It’s really along the lines of trying to justify staying with someone who physically abuses you. “He only hits me because he loves me” and “It’ll be different this time” are no worse than “It is all part of his plan” and “Praying to God will help”. To paraphrase Epicurus, if God is willing to stop evil, but can’t, then he is not all powerful. If he able, but not willing, then he is cruel. If he both able and willing, then the evil came from him. If he neither able nor willing, then he isn’t a God.

There are only two reasons that I can think that blind-faith believers justify the callous actions of a God like that. One is to say that “he does everything for a reason”, like that is supposed to excuse sending natural disasters that slowly drown babies in floods of water. Also, if that were true, the lesson that you need to learn is that he is cruel. The other excuse that comes to mind is when people insist that God does these horrible things to remind us that he is all-powerful. Which I truly can’t fathom because if really is a God, he wouldn’t be as shallow as to be offended by those who doubt that he existed.

But getting back to Lyndon Guidry, essentially she is asking a deity, with the presumed power to create and destroy the universe, and who has sent another storm to ravage Louisiana, for leniency. I’m sure that if it does no harm they will thank him for sparing them. But if it kills another 1,800 people, Lyndon will only see that as God’s will. All of this left me with the question, why don’t people blame God for the evils in the world? Why not a quote from Lyndon saying, “We were just fine until God decided that Louisiana needed to be flooded again” or one from a cancer patient who declares, “God gave me cancer because he thinks I deserve it”, or maybe even “we were winning the game until God made me miss that 3-pointer”. Maybe then, those bizarre statements asking God for help would make a bit more sense.