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.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Bellicosity Curve

In 1943 multiple Pulitzer Prize winning historian Richard Hofstadter wrote the book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life which traced social movements that altered the role of intellect in American society. In it he argued, with extreme success, that anti-intellectualism and utilitarianism were functions of American cultural heritage, born out of our colonial European and evangelical Protestant heritage, and now embedded within our national fabric. He identified the major causes of anti-intellectualism in society as mediocrity in the public schools, and attacks on academic freedom in the universities and a press divided into niche markets.

The entire book was a social commentary on life leading up to the early 1960s, the increasing influence of Protestant evangelicalism, political egalitarianism, and the rising cult of practicality as the new criteria for assessing the private and public worlds. He spoke to the connection of religion, politics and public schools fostering the average person’s resentment and suspicion of intellect and of those who devoted their lives to it. Tracing through history, he then showed how this created a predictable reaction of "righteous" vengeance from a highly susceptible percentage of the population and how that rise is not only precipitated but cyclical.

I mention Hofstadter and his book because I spent this last week reading Glenn Beck’s five books, watching hours of his show and reading through his numerous pieces online. I did so because I’ve been trying to figure out why so many people find him to be a credible source of knowledge on politics, society and life in general. After submitting myself to all things Glenn Beck, I can honestly say that the people who follow this man are clearly not too intelligent. His books contradict themselves, his show is encourages people to isolate themselves, reinforce their predetermined opinions and uses the old trick of repetition to make truth out of fiction.

If virulence destroys an argument, it is only done so when fiction is embraced and civility is abandoned to mob rule. In Glenn Beck’s world, contempt of anything that he cannot understand is marketed like a commodity to a segment of the population who understands the topic less than him. What is more interesting is that his rise and eventual fall will be inextricably linked to both Hofstadter anti-intellectualism and the inevitable normal curve of shock media. Glenn Beck is the new Jerry Springer Show, Howard Stern, The Morton Downey Jr. Show or the practice of bleeding sick people. And the only way to combat his misinformation, thinly veiled bigotry and radical political ideologies, is to just let them run their course. So if you are like me would like to go all Lionel Trilling on the situation, but lack the cerebral firepower, don’t. Anything that you do to encourage either him or his momentary followers simply adds to his credibility as an anti-intellectual leader and extends the time during which he is relevant.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Why is it Always South Carolina?

I’ve lived in a lot of places in my life, but no where have I lived that had a reputation like South Carolina. We moved here a week after Miss Teen South Carolina, competing in the Miss Teen USA Pageant, made national headlines with possibly the worst answer to a question in the history of all questions and answers (video here). Then our intellectually challenged Governor got so lost on the Appalachian Trail that he ended up in bed with an Argentinean mistress, only to then cry on national TV as he tried to explain to the world that she was his "soul mate". This last week our 2nd Congressional District Representative to the US House, Addison Graves Wilson, Sr. (he just goes by "Joe"), who was previously only known for being one of the last holdouts for taking the Confederate symbol off of the state flag, heckled the president in a joint session of Congress. Seriously.

Historically speaking, SC has a reputation for being on the wrong side of almost everything argument since our inception. From the big things, like South Carolina being the last state to sign the Constitution (and only agreeing to join the Union on the condition that the Constitution wouldn't abolish slavery), to SC being first state to secede from the Union and the last to succeed in reestablishing its native white government after Reconstruction, to all of the small things, like South Carolina being last state to abandon a simple money fine for the murder of a slave, last to recognize MLK Day, an educational ranking of 49th in the country, 48th in unemployment, one of the worst states for woman’s health care, one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy, lowest infants birthrate, highest infant mortality, highest stroke death rate (which SC has had for a staggering 5 decades), 2nd highest death rate for oral cancer, one of the highest poverty rates within the US. All of this leads to the third worst life expectancy in the entire country (if there were ever a state in the US that could use health care reform, it’s South Carolina).

So naturally, with such an unhealthy, uneducated population, our representatives are going to be, well, representative. This helps to feed the rhetoric that amazes most of the country. They cannot understand why South Carolina has such high percentage of people who are unabashedly proud of their constantly poor decisions. South Carolina's arrogant backlash against what are mathematically unquestionable statistics, and inverse benevolence towards those who refuse to listen to elementary logic, are what causes the country to take note. Which is why, every couple of months, another South Carolinian makes national headlines for actions that the vast majority the country would categorize as "not too bright."

All of this continuously bad press was summed up by one of Politico’s lead headline this week: "What's the Matter with South Carolina?" The answer to Politico’s headline is simple. We are the most patriotic state in the country. We are the strongest, humblest and do more than any other state to make our country both strong and successful. Don’t believe me? What state would stand up against health care reform when they need it the most? What state would fight against government job stimulus when have skyrocketing unemployment and endemic poverty? What state would knowingly, historically and with full awareness of their actions, crucify themselves over and over again, prostrating themselves on the altar of every bad idea, hypocritical leader and backwards ideology, while still holding their heads up for the world to see? Who will? South Carolina will, that’s who. Without us, the other states would have no example of what not to be. That is our place in this country and we do a damn good job at it.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I’ll see you in the morning,
For now it’s time to sleep.
I will stay and watch a while,
Till you are counting sheep.
Don’t be afraid of darkness.
Don’t be afraid, my sweet.
The night is just a blanket,
That helps the earth to sleep.
Creatures great and creatures small,
Will all be sleeping soon.
Under the same blanket,
Under the same moon.
So close your eyes and go to sleep,
By the light of the moon above.
I’ll see you in the morning,
In the light of the sun my love.
Dream your dreams of moonbeams.
Let the night become your friend.
The twinkling stars will keep you safe,
Till morning comes again.
I’ll be here if you need me,
I’m only steps away.
So close your eyes and go to sleep
And dream of a brand-new day.
Good night, sleep tight and I’ll see you in the morning.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Unnecessary Ingredients or Why I Don’t Eat at Chick-fil-A

When we eat out, which can be quite often, it is either for friendship, freedom or frugality and rarely ever for the food. Add to that, with a couple of restaurant exceptions, most everything that we could eat out, we make better at home. That being said, when we do eat out we’re looking for something very specific: A decent meal, at a fair price, without too much else.

Let me clarify that a bit. Cooking a decent meal, especially in a restaurant setting, is not a hard thing to do. Even keeping the price reasonable is something that is relatively easy. Decent ingredients, proven recipes and reliable methods generally yield a meal that almost anyone could find comfort in eating. With that being understood, it is in the last part of what I am looking for when I eat out that seems to be the tricky part, so let me take a minute to explain.

I don’t eat out for word play. You are never going to be clever enough compensate for average food – so please don’t try it. It is not an organic whole wheat, free-range pork belly, hothouse tomatoes and arugula arranged on a bed of potato wedges. It’s a BLT with fries. I understand the desire to create a higher perceived value because the customer then believes that by consuming that product they in turn have enhanced their own worth, but by interjecting unnecessary attempts at heightened verbiage on something as simple as lunch, it just comes off as desperate pandering. This goes for any cute wordage as well. Here are just a few things that fall into that category: I don’t want to "biggie size" anything, I refuse to "slam it up," and it’s a Large, not a Tall. If you want to sell me a larger size, just ask if I want larger size.

Also in this category are those who attempt to add a social, spiritual or other extraneous aspects to their food (I don’t want to cleanse my body and soul, I just want a smoothy). The worst offender in this category is Chick-fil-A. For those of you who don’t know, Chick-fil-A is a fast food restaurant that serves a mighty tasty chicken sandwich. It is one of the few fast food chains that is both of decent quality and isn’t massive offensive to your digestive track. Also, Chick-fil-A is an organization that prides itself by wearing its morals on the outside. And while most of this is fairly benign (they aren’t open on Sundays), some of it has become too distracting for what they serve.

During the last election all of the local Chick-fil-A’s had political signs up and the employees were encouraged to tell people to have a blessed day. While I’m all for political involvement, such heavy-handed tactics are completely unnecessary and distracting from what they are in business to do: Sell me lunch. Moreover, by trying to create a clique where all likeminded people can gather and shop, they were actively working to create an atmosphere of “us versus them.”

Each time that I stood in line at a Chick-fl-A I kept thinking, "I didn’t come to your restaurant for a political movement, I didn’t come to your restaurant to feel that I’m part of some honorable cause and I didn’t come to your restaurant to be blessed for my ability to order, I came for a sandwich," but it still always came with everything else. It is for that reason alone that I stopped eating at Chick-fil-A and probably will not return for a long time. Lunch should never be that complicated.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

I Am Now a Card-Carrying Nanotitanium Visa Member

My new Nanotitanium Visa Card finally arrived in the mail this week and I have to say that it is incredible. With a variable rate of just 32.9%, it has a hologram, is partially clear, allows me to put my own 3D picture on it AND still has room for the words “Exclusive Nanotitanium Visa Member” across the top. Sure it doesn’t allow me to accrue any points, has no benefits, and there is a monthly fee of $27.50, but there is another value that I place higher. When I pull my Nanotitanium Visa Card out and hold it up for the cashier or waiter to see, everyone is immediately impressed. It is my not so subtle way to tell the world that I am better than them, can afford to throw away money and I am part of elite, select, group of individuals put on a pedestal above everyone else. Finally, there is a way for me to express my sheer awesomeness in simple card form. And because I need to spend at least $3,700 a month to retain my Nanotitanium Visa Card, feel free to ask me to buy you something so that you can bask in the exclusiveness that is my good common sense, higher intellect and sound fiscal responsibility.

Friday, September 04, 2009

If I Had Won $260 Million Dollars

(with apologizes to Steve Martian)

There have been several very large lottery winners in the news lately and it’s gotten me thinking about playing the lottery. In the past I’ve only purchased tickets when the Powerball got up to an obscene number. I guess that at some point the potential for winning hundreds of millions of dollars overwhelmed my basic understandings of math, but I have never spent more than five bucks, so the loss was always easily forgettable.

These thoughts of playing the lottery all started a week ago when someone won $260 million dollars. Let me repeat that again, $260,000,000 dollars. Five times my cities 2008 operating budget. But more importantly, think of the good that you could do in the world with that money. An amount that large, used wisely, could make a sizable impact on many needy people.

If I had won the $260 million dollars, I think that the first thing that I would do would be to find the poorest parts of the world and build fully interactive children’s museums to teach them hope and joy. While providing jobs and helping those local economies, it would lift the intellectual level of the most impoverished children so that the next generation would be remarkably better off than the last.

If I had won the $260 million dollars, I think that the second thing that I would do would be to transfer 50 million dollars to an offshore bank account, but my first thing would still be to create the interactive children’s museums to teach them hope and joy.

If I had won the $260 million dollars, in the spirit of universal brotherhood, of course, would be the interactive children’s museums, then moving 50 million offshore and third would be to purchase the ability to command all that live and breathe using nothing more then my slightest thought.

If I had won the $260 million dollars, I would do that stuff for brats, then transfer that money, buy absolute power over people, and then celebrate my gift to humanity by having a weeklong orgy with Megan Fox, Kate Beckinsale and that French girl from the first Matrix movie… ..Moncia something. Of course I would include my beautiful wife too. She’s behind me 100% on this, I promise.

Come to think of it, maybe the wild sex thing should be first. I mean, I could die tomorrow and then I would have wasted all of that money. Don’t get me wrong, whatever that kid’s thing I’m doing is fine, but you need a celebration period to get it out of your system.

Who am I kidding; I could never build all of those interactive children’s museums in the poorest areas. It’s a logistical nightmare and I couldn’t get the political support or land needed to pull something like that off. So let’s reorganize, first: the sex, second the offshore banking – wait, the power over all should be second, then the money and then fourth, the kids. Hold on! I totally forgot revenge against all of those people in my life who’ve wronged me. They should pay for ever doubting me!!!! Make the revenge the fourth thing. And of course, if I had won the $260 million dollars, the fifth thing would be to build the needy a fully interactive children’s museums to teach them hope and joy.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Hyperbolic Rhetoric is Self-Defeating

In an era in which cognitive dissonance has become a national epidemic, news programs, public figures, corporations and some individuals have increasingly turned to hyperbolic conjecture to catch the attention of the public at large. While the policy of ever escalating rhetoric works in the short term, it is ultimately doomed to failure. Everything in the cosmos has a breaking point, and most people’s tolerance for increasingly inflammatory dialog is, while on a stretching scale of acceptability, finite. So when you see someone rise to that level of incendiary discourse, know that you are fully in your right to discount anything that they say from there on out.

To prove this theory, simply flip on your TV and tune into one of the latest pundit shows (it doesn’t matter what side, they’re all the same) and take a look at what is believed to be acceptable banter. Outrage is normal, loud conflict is routine and vulgarity is expected. People choose sides and virulently attack each other in the spirit of absolute reckless abandon. Inevitably, someone will compare someone else to Hitler and the whole thing becomes a who-is-worse-than-who argument. Being that this is TV, we should expect it to be filled to the brim with the flashy, substance-lacking, pseudo-intellectuals that can pass for free-thinking as long as they stick to their script. This type of televised conversation is nothing new and only seems to ooze into more of the media as the years go by.

What bothers me the most about this ever-increasing trend of focused verbal degradation is the fact that it is spilling over into our daily lives at an alarming rate. Otherwise normal people, not being paid to make an ass of themselves, are now comparing others to Hitler, telling jokes about their political adversaries dying and generally being horrible examples of the simplest forms of civility. Sure it’s easy to get sucked into a heated discussion, but we all need to have a line that we will not cross for the simple reason that no argument won through that much hatred is worth winning.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Excuse Me, But I Don’t Care

Even though I’ve lived in the South for many years now there are some things to which I cannot acclimate. Most of my grievances emanate from individuals who find it appropriate to start complete conversations with random strangers without following any conversational protocol. I’ve had this happen in other parts of the country too, but the sheer quantity that it happens here in the South is almost overwhelming. Being a native Northern boy, I never know how to handle someone who just starts talking and refuses to yield the floor. I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t want to talk to them either.

Case in point: This morning I went to check the post office box and had the following conversation. Quick tip: there was no conversation before or after what is written. Below is the entirety of our exchange and for ease of storytelling I’ve named the random old guy Otis (because it seems to fit).

Otis: I just bought me some of those forever stamps.
Me (finding key for box): Um… ..ok
Otis: I remember when they were just flag stamps – I liked them the best. It seems to me that the Post Office should do more flag stamps if they want people to mail more letters.
Me: (interrupting while pulling mail out): I’m just here to get my…
Otis: People mail letters because they have stamps and they buy stamps because they like the design. So if the Post Office would put out more things people like on their stamps, more people would talk to each other through the mail.
Me: Sure . Sounds good. Listen I’ve got to…
Otis: Instead, people just talk to each other through the computers. My granddaughter talks to her friends through the computer all the time, but I can’t get her to write me a letter. She just keeps telling me to get a computer and that we could talk through there. Well, I don’t know about that. I mean, I was a naval officer in the war and we use to communicate through….
Me: (starting to walk towards the door): I’m really running late today, I’ll be seeing you….
Otis: Let me ask you a question.
Me: A long as it’s…
Otis: Do you think that the naval officers of today use computers to talk to each other or do you think that they still use the box?
Me (opening the post office door): The box?
Otis: I’m glad you asked, the box is….
Me: (faking that my phone is ringing) Sorry, I’ve got to take this. Nice talking to you. Hello?

And this is how I would have liked to handle that conversation:

Otis: I just bought me some of those forever stamps.
Me: (finding key for box): Siggghhhh.
Otis: I remember when they were just flag stamps…
Me: Let me stop you right there. Baring you telling me about how you’re giving away your winning Mega Millions Lottery ticket to the next person you see in the Post Office, there probably isn’t a thing in the world that you could tell me right now that I would be interested in hearing. Sure I might listen and nod, but really I’ll just want away from you. It’s nothing personal; I just don’t want waste a couple minutes of my life listening to you babble or complain. It’s not fair to just pin people down with a forced conversation because you’re lonely or bored. So now that I have my mail, I’ll be wishing you a good day.

But I can’t, I just can’t. These people are generally older, abandoned and just in need of a conscience or semi-conscience mammal to talk at. I have to, because some day I may be Otis.