My posts were getting a bit too cerebral, even for me, so I figure it’s time to vent my spleen like, well, a curmudgeon.   I’m not getting paid to provide these brilliant insights, so the only reward is in the fun.  For me.  Here goes.

Reasons 321+/infinity to hate Alabama

I like beer.  I try to drink at least one or two a day, around dinner time.  It anchors the day, allowing for a little mental relaxation and reflection on whatever it was, good or bad, that might have that day been endured. 

Alabamians have a real problem with alcohol consumption.  For this buckle of the Bible belt, whether or not one drinks draws a line between good and evil.  Enjoy a few drinks–even responsibly–and you’re over the line.  You are evil.  So I didn’t like the snooty look from the convenience store clerk (!) late this afternoon when I dropped in to pick up a sixteen-ounce beer on my way home from picking my daughter up at volleyball practice.  But I understood.  I’m evil.  I had just sweated out about two quarts of fluid in the Alabama heat and I craved that most profound evidence of God’s love for us (as Ben Franklin observed of beer).   But to the clerk, I was another of those bums that buy their liquor in paper bags.  It’s really something when a convenience store clerk communicates through body language and haughty sneers her pious opinions on customer’s purchases.  (She was smart enough (!) to leave her thoughts unsaid).  Maybe I’m just paranoid, but living in the South has taught me that behind the patina of gentility lies fiercely judgmental and craven hearts that always seek to assign a person to a place in the stratified hierarchy that still characterizes the society, even a hundred fifty years after the big deck-reshuffling known as the Civil War.  

God, but I so often hate this place it’s hard to remember if I ever loved it.  No, I take that back.  It’s hard to imagine that I voluntarily ever came back after escaping it as a young adult.  I’ve always hated it.  But then I remember that I came back when we had our first kid so he could be closer to his family than was I to mine.  But then I remember that I left because I hated my family almost as much as Alabama.  And I thought having a kid would change all these things because?  Damn.  The song line of my life seems to be an endless melody of stupid decisions.

July and August are particularly brutal in Alabama for a Scots-Irish descendant like me.  My genes evolved in a place where the average high temperature in summer is about seventy degrees fahrenheit.  No matter how much nurturing I do, I can’t seem to get them to come around to enjoying a hundred and three.  Of course, those same genes–ones that I share with a significant cohort of red-haired, blue-eyed Alabamians like myself–are probably why the state so despises that demon whiskey.  The Scots-Irish settled a large portion of Alabama (they got the lousy land that the English didn’t want) and have always struggled (whether here or back home) to wrest control of their lives from the bottle.  At least until the Baptists showed up.  Then teetotaling became the prescribed solution.  Unless you took  a Baptist fishing.  Then the only way to keep him from drinking all your beer is if you invite another Baptist.

But the haughty attitudes may have come from the sternest of faiths that settled the land–the Presbyterians.   They knew full well that anyone enjoying much more than a moment of their earthly existence, such as might be found in a bottle of whiskey, could not have been “chosen” according to their strange predestination theology.   The way to recognize a chosen one was in their earthly piety, which, of course, included abstinence of all types, including alcohol.   The Presbyterians were actually able to transform a theology of impotence (you either are chosen or you aren’t) into one of rabid allegiance and piety in attempting to prove earthly evidence of your heavenly status.   Since salvation was predestined and therefore impossible to acquire by the fruits of one’s labors, people tried really hard to show it had already been granted them.  You couldn’t make this up if you tried.

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the Methodists that devised the good/evil demarcation line along alcohol consumption.  Their demarcation line goes something like this:  checkbook open–good/checkbook closed–evil. 

It’d be hard to imagine that the cute little girl behind the check-out counter was Presbyterian.  They long ago got so rich from so much work and saving, what with their earthly prohibitions of everything enjoyable, until it would be hard to imagine that one of the pious ones worked at a convenience store.  

Sh couldn’t have been Methodist either.  She’d sorta worn her religion on her sleeve and the only way you could know somebody is Methodist is if you caught sight of ’em crawling into their SUV after going to church, where presumably, they’d made a hefty donation to buy their little slice of heaven.  How big a checkbook might a convenience store clerk have?  No, she was definitely not Methodist. 

She might have been evangelical, but that’s sort of something new to Alabama, and they let all comers, more or less, come, so judgmental piety is not their bag.  I figure she’s probably a backwoods-Baptist that drove a good thirty minutes from her meth-addled, semi-rural, white community in order to work at the store every day.  Meth is the new whiskey for rural Baptists.  As indeed it should be.  Have you  seen the teeth meth-heads sport?  Scots-Irish teeth were bad enough before.  If this meth epidemic continues, my genetic brethren will likely die of starvation. 

But please, let alone us old farts that just want a beer to wash away the day.  There won’t be any explosions in my basement from anything other than maybe some oily rags that occasionally and spontaneously combust (or at least that’s what the warnings on the gas cans stored down there tell me).  I’ve not been mixing any cough medicines down there and I’ve still got most of my teeth.  

It’s time the backward state grew up.  Beer is good.  In moderation.  I know, I know.  Understanding that something can be good or bad depending on usage is a nuanced view that is probably far too subtle for my Alabama brethren to grasp.  Whatever.  I’m not gonna quit enjoying my beer just because Alabamians can’t understand nuanced morality

The illogic of stickers on cars

What is it with these stupid little oval stickers on cars that say 26.2 and nothing else?  Yeah, I get it.  It means somebody that has some relationship to the vehicle sporting the sticker knows that a marathon is 26.2 miles and perhaps may have even traveled that far on foot in one day.  Who cares?  I mean really, who the hell are they trying to impress?  And how many people who see that stupid sticker recognizes the person to whom it might apply?   And if they recognize them as a friend or acquaintance, wouldn’t they probably already know that the dipshit ran a marathon?  If he’s putting a sticker on the back window of his SUV (probably where the “W” sticker used to be), you know he’s already bragged about his exploits to his friends.  So, who is the sticker meant to impress?  Me?  I’ve run one marathon and a ton of half-marathons and I don’t have any stickers on my truck.  Which reminds me–the ones that are really hilarious and pathetic are the “13.1” stickers, as if running/walking/crawling thirteen miles in something less than about six hours (which is when they usually close the course) is a big deal.    Go back about a hundred fifty years, and thirteen miles was just a regular day.  Perhaps our ancestors were not always running, but neither are half the people I pass at the races.  I’m pretty sure they’re the ones putting stickers on their SUV.

Unless you’re good enough to get paid for it, running is just exercise.  The first half-marathon I ran was to show up a bunch of self-righteous metrosexuals I knew from the neighborhood and church.  Before that race, the farthest I had ever run, even though I had been regularly running about four or so miles every day, and always for exercise, not for the glory of putting  a stupid sticker on my car, was eight miles, and then only once.   I did the thirteen point one (maybe putting it like that would look better on a sticker) averaging about eight minutes and forty-five seconds per mile.  I beat most of the metrosexuals my first time out.  I was forty years old at the time.

I sort of got addicted to running after the first half, doing a full marathon a couple of years later (under four hours), and running my local half every year in a row for eight years.  But I didn’t kid myself like all those runners that think they were running to solve a cure for cancer or something.  I ran for me, and I knew I was running for me.  My son’s leukemia never factored into it.  I ran to forget about death for awhile.  Running is a life-affirming event, because life is pain, and so is running.   But still, it was just for exercise so that I could face the day with a body that was in decent enough shape to endure it.  I’ve never lost sight of that simple truth.

Obama’s victory tour

Obama has been cruising around the country in preparation for the fall elections, doling out money and taking credit for anything good while blaming Republicans for anything bad (which is to be expected–he is a politician and it’s what they do).  He’s been lately visiting several automobile manufacturing facilities to tout how prescient and efficacious was his Administration’s rescue of the UAW domestic automobile industry.   Like Bush’s banner across that aircraft carrier six years ago, “Mission Accomplished”, he  might be a bit premature.  So long as the UAW holds a monopoly grip on providing labor to the domestic automobile manufacturers, the domestic automobile manufacturers are doomed.   Besides, Obama didn’t rescue the domestic automobile manufacturers.  He rescued the UAW.  I’ve noticed he hasn’t visited any foreign manufacturers’ facilities here in the States.  Perhaps because none are unionized.  Which is also why the foreign manufacturers will win in the markets.  At least they will unless  until Obama rigs the game against them.   Then we’ll all pay for crappy cars that cost too much. The UAW will certainly be out in force (and with its pocketbook) in November to support Obama’s candidates, and Obama himself in 2012.  It won’t be enough, but that’s what you get with short-sighted politics.  Obama’s courting of the UAW is about the same as if Teddy Roosevelt had tried to pin his electoral college hopes on the buggy-whip lobby.

We’re getting ever more daft every day

The Discover magazine has an article on how evolution is decreasing the size of our brains, and our intelligence along with it.  If this surprises you, stand on your head.  Wait, don’t take that literally.  Your head is probably already too small to balance on.

The idea is that our hunter/gatherer ancestors had bigger brains because they had bigger survival challenges, and were therefore, smarter.  Well, duh.  How many theoretical physicists do you imagine would be required to change a flat tire?    An infinity wouldn’t be enough.  They’d all be arguing about the position of the tire relative to the position of the train traveling down the adjacent tracks, and trying to imagine whether the tire’s failure was cosmically determined by the vibrations of the strings comprising its core.  The effect of dark matter and energy on the rotation of the tire as the air escaped it would have to be considered.  Perhaps in one of a multitude of parallel universes, the hole in the tire did not cause it to go flat, but instead sucked air into it.   The tire would likely be flat for an eternity, which would present further difficulties for the physicists, who would continue arguing endlessly about what the flat tire means to the spacetime continuum in the corner of the universe in which it happened.

Specialization has made us utterly stupid.   We learn about whatever our specialization in life concerns–medicine or particle physics or law, whatever–and trust others to have done the same in their fields.   Trust is a dangerous thing.  What happens when the person you trust to fix your automobile loses on a big weekend in Vegas?  The average theoretical physicist probably doesn’t even know where is the engine in his car.  As smart as he is, do you think he might still end up paying for his mechanic’s gambling losses in Vegas?  Does a heart surgeon really know how to evaluate the claims of his financial advisor about which investments to choose in which to plow his outsized income?

But the real tragedy is at the everyday Joe level of specialization.  Joe, a mid-level administrator in a large corporate bureaucracy doesn’t know much about anything.  He just tries to show up at work and not get fired.  He depends on his job to buy the residence in which he lives, the car that he drives, the food that goes on his table.   He knows next to nothing about how any of these necessities are derived.  All he knows is how to manage his affairs well enough until he can acquire from others what he needs for his survival.  Truly, he lives at the mercy of strangers.

His hunter/gatherer ancestor Gor knew the rising and setting of the sun, and the angle at which it penetrated the atmosphere and what that meant for the flora and fauna he needed to sustain him.  He knew where the rivers ran and how deep and what time of year their tributaries dried up.  He knew what lay over the next mountain range and how to get there if getting there enhanced his survival prospects.  He had no writing to speak of–only symbols and pictures on cave walls–so he intimately held in his head literally thousands of facts about the world around him and how the world worked.  He had no specialized skills like a heart surgeon.  His specialty was survival, and on any given day he knew that the slightest misstep might cause him to fail at the one and only thing upon which the sinew of his being was permanently focused.  He was under constant pressure to produce–food, shelter, protection–until the pressure seemed as natural to him as the turning of the seasons. 

So it should come as no surprise that Gor is a whole lot smarter than everyday Joe.  What surprises me is that we really believe this uber-specialized society in which we and Joe live, where men spend whole lives hoeing the same row without knowing much of anything why, is a better way to live than did our ancestors.   We really believe that Joe, with his dead-end days filled with meaningless work, has it better than Gor.  Yet, Gor truly knows what it is to live, surviving by his wits and strength and will, all of which were designed by a ruthless nature for just that purpose.  Joe fills his empty days with meaningless diversions, filled with existential angst, never using any of the survival tools inherited from Gor.  The course of Joe’s life is one of slow drift into oblivion, staring blankly into a television screen at the nursing home, dribbling oat meal down his chin at breakfast.  Gor adds wisdom to his wit and cunning with every passing year, and spends his latter days passing on what he’s learned to his descendants.   So far as we believe that Joe’s life represents an improvement over Gor’s, we conclusively prove that our capacity for rationalization knows no bound.