Friday, June 13, 2008

The Leaky, Listing Ship of State

This is a real letter sent by me to my (then) Congressman, several years ago while living in Columbus, Ohio. After about three months of no response, I got a very tentative phone call from one of his staffers. Once I reassured him that I was not a dangerous crank I was myself reassured that the people in his office "really, really enjoyed" my letter. By the way, nothing came of my request.

The Honorable Patrick J. Tiberi
2700 East Dublin Granville Rd.
Suite 525
Columbus, OH 43231

Dear Representative Tiberi,

As you are aware, the colorful and varied threads woven into the tapestry of our national character have given rise to numerous holidays, weeks of observance and months of celebration. In February alone we celebrate Black History Month, Creole Heritage Day, Bird Feeding Month, Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month and National Sea Monkey Day.

Having barely survived Oatmeal Month in January, we will next month solemnly observe Women’s History Month. And throughout the coming year we will join our neighbors, friends and families commemorating Columbus Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Labor Day, Earth Day, United Nations Day, Friendship Day, Pickle Week, Asian-Pacific Islander Week, National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month (April), Taiwanese-American Week, Hispanic Heritage Month, Gay Pride Week, Christian Heritage Week, Jewish Heritage Week, National Waffle Week, Ugly Truck Day and Spoil Your Dog Day to name just a few.

Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of good Americans will earnestly and joyously celebrate each of these humble and esteemed occasions. (I actually know a gay, Jewish, African-American who spoils his dog with waffles.) I am proud and thrilled that you and I, Congressman, live in a land that offers each of its citizens, no matter how significant or obscure his/her ethnicity, pastimes, appetites and/or lifestyle, the opportunity to “strut their stuff” and revel in their individuality. I enthusiastically join them in their celebrations.

My problem is that, as a heterosexual, middle-aged, middle-class Caucasian male of mixed European lineage, I feel very much slighted and ignored. There is not a single significant day on the calendar that pays homage to average white men.

And so, I would like you to introduce a proposal on the floor of the House of Representatives to set aside July 15th each year as “Average White Guy Day”. We don’t need a whole month. We don’t even require an entire week. All I ask is that, for one warm, Summer day, millions of proud American men like me be recognized for our ordinariness.

I envision a special day set aside so that Average White Men all across this great land of ours can go unshaven in their baggy shorts, wash their American-made cars, listen to The Beach Boys and Billy Joel, mow their lawns, barbecue, drink domestic light beers and wines, talk baseball, complain about the weather, take an antacid and go to bed early…and be honored for it.

I am absolutely serious about this, Congressman Tiberi. I have conferred with scores of friends and acquaintances of every ethnic, sexual and religious persuasion and they unanimously agree it is a great idea. Most important, none of them found it offensive or insulting in the least.

So, if there is anything I need to do further from my home base here in Dublin, Ohio, let me know. I am ready to draft a petition and take it door-to-door throughout the community, to civic events, to the library, to the media…whatever it takes.

I look forward to working hand in hand with you in making “Average White Guy Day” a reality and I eagerly await your prompt reply. I am sending a copy of this to your Washington, DC office and to your email address, also. Let’s get to work!


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Out With The Old

So, I’m watching “60 Minutes” as usual on Sunday evening, and after Andy Rooney’s turn on the soapbox, I am treated to “a look at tomorrow’s CBS Evening News”

This has been going on for awhile now and I don’t get it. If I walk up to you in the diner and tell you what’s going to happen tomorrow, is it still news 24 hours later? Hardly. By then it’s history.

Obviously I’m aware that it’s all about selling insurance, soap, laxatives, cars, kitty litter, brokerage firms and feminine hygiene products. I further understand that it’s about out-pimping the other guy and grubbing your bucks first. But it has nothing to do with informing us. It’s just commerce. And if it’s not new, it’s not news and they should stop calling it that.

They try to rationalize it by making the distinction between “breaking news” and “continuing stories”. Further confusing the issue are our choices between local news (morning, noon and night), national news (major network talking heads) and the 24-hour news services (redefining overkill.) But above and beyond the wave of phony news and lowest common denominator pandering to our pocketbooks is the question “What is the NEWS?”

Tedious, blaring reminders of plane crashes, massacres, shuttle explosions and babies stuck in wells ten or fifteen years after the fact is not NEWS. As far as I’m concerned, events cease to be news as soon as they are broadcast and then new events move in to take their rightful places in the headlines. I empathize with the people who lost loved ones on 9/11 or in Oklahoma City, but ...holy shit...that is not NEWS and hasn’t been for a long time.

If it’s not late-breaking, or if I was informed of it yesterday then it falls into one of three categories; 1.) Ancient History, 2.) Recent History, 3.) No Longer News. There is no such thing as old news. Tell me what happened while I was asleep or at work. If it’s the same stuff you told me yesterday, why are they telling me again?

WHY? To unload what must surely be several warehouses filled to the rafters with Garden Weasels, Chia Heads, gravy injectors and Slim Whitman tapes.

It is undeniable evidence of the pathetic decline of information media into sheer hucksterism. The lines between blatant advertising and real news have finally been erased. The NEWS now exists for the sole purpose of selling more NEWS. There are thousands of stories, quirky, heartbreaking and chillingly provocative, which go untold each and every day. But they just don’t have the oomph to move the Wheaties and disposable douche off the store shelves, and so, they will remain untold.

And that’s the news…

Monday, June 9, 2008

For You Guys Out There...

Voodoo Hygiene

I am a very clean guy. I shave every morning. I shower thoroughly every day, sometimes twice a day in the summer. I use deodorant and aftershave lotion. I brush my teeth twice, often three times, a day. I floss and gargle most days. I keep my nails clean and clipped. I am a very clean guy.

It is from this perspective that I ask you to consider this question; why am I expected to wash my hands after I pee? It is my long-considered contention that a man should wash his hands before he pees and not after.

I know all the reasons for restaurant workers washing their hands after using the restrooms. I understand about teaching our children basic hygiene. And I don’t necessarily agree that Americans have an obsession with cleanliness. What I object to is the assumption that I am unable to avoid peeing on myself.

I mastered the fine points of continence and of not urinating on my hands about 50 years ago. I have had the few, normal “splash-back” experiences that all men have had. I am fully aware that a restroom, private or public, is an inherently unhealthy environment. But 999 times out of 1000, I don’t need to wash my hands after I pee. Let’s be logical here for one minute.

Every day I enter the shower and wash my entire body, top to bottom and all the terrain between, front and back, with good soap and hot water. I dry off with freshly washed towels. I put on freshly laundered, clean underwear and clean clothes over them. At that moment in time, few things outside of a sterile operating room are cleaner than my unit. It is freshly scrubbed, lovingly dried and safely tucked away in spotless garments. Off I go to start my busy day. Are you still with me?

OK, now let’s talk about my hands. As I go about the first dozen or so of my daily tasks, I am likely to touch a daunting collection of filthy, bacteria-infested, microbe-ridden door handles, shopping carts, money, pens, papers, telephones and other seemingly harmless objects. Add to this the number of hands I may have to shake, (and who knows where the hell they’ve been?), and my hands now qualify for an EPA Super Fund cleanup operation. My hands couldn’t possibly be more contaminated and I feel the urgent need to pee.

Logically speaking and from the standpoint of good personal hygiene, does it make any sense to put those dirty, dangerous hands on another part of my body? (Especially one that I know to be absolutely squeaky-clean, nestled in its cozy cotton nest?) Would I put even one fingertip in my mouth or nose? Would I make a sandwich with those crummy, nasty hands? Of course not. My crank is clean. My hands are toxic.

Ergo, according to the accepted rules of hygiene, men should wash their hands before they pee. Touching a clean ween with dirty hands is the very essence of poor personal hygiene. Washing your hands after you pee should depend on whether you’ve touched the flush-handle or the doorknob…or in the unlikely event you have urine on your hands.

And don’t get lured into the pathetic theatrics of turning on the faucet for the sole purpose of making the people outside the bathroom think you’re washing your hands. How many times have you started out of the bathroom and thought, “I better make a show of washing my hands so they don’t think I’m some kind of barbarian.”? So you turn on the water and let it run for 20 seconds while you admire yourself in the mirror or poke around in the medicine cabinet.

You’re not fooling anybody, pal.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Is It Fair?

As you have no doubt noticed by now, there is a sizeable and growing list of things that piss me off, annoy me and otherwise get under my skin. In the last several years one topic rapidly moving up the list is people harping about their lives not being “fair”. Are they serious about this? Really?

To imply that societies are governed or administered in a fashion that guarantees every citizen an equal share of the wealth or justice is ludicrous. That would be to ignore all of recorded history and flies in the face of the reality of our world.

The rich DO get rich and the poor DO get poorer. That we do not always get what we want has nothing to do with fairness. What you awaken to each morning is all you get. But what you do with it is entirely up to you, positively or negatively, for good or for ill, day in and day out.

The fashionable, facile assumption that we are owed “fairness”, the belief that all the events of our lives are meant to fall neatly into place and leave us content and fulfilled is the epitome of hubris. Life is largely chaos and to accept the hackneyed New Age mantra that “everything happens for a reason” is to ignore the element of disorder and to accept that every event is predetermined.

This leaves no room for desire or free will. Personally, I steadfastly refuse to surrender to that principle or to accept the fashionable view that we all are merely some kind of metaphysical marionettes.

To complain that your situation is “unfair” is childish. You are where you are and that’s all there is to it. It has nothing to do with diet, predestination, karma, astrology, eye color, shoe size, penis size, breast size, or whether your parents took you to Disney World or fed you too much cheese. And it most certainly has nothing to do with whether you are getting a “fair” deal or not.

I am convinced that you will vastly improve the quality of your life by simply removing the word “fair” from your vocabulary and replacing it with “convenient”.

Friday, June 6, 2008


“The Greek word most often translated as ‘love’ is eros. But ‘desire’ is much more accurate in most cases. Eros is a passionate feeling of attraction for another person. Or for one’s city, or for food. When Plato uses eros in his dialogue for the Symposium to express the highest philosophical longings for the Good Itself, longings which transcend the physical and seek the fulfillment of the soul’s deepest needs and capabilities, it’s easy to see why ‘love’ has usually seemed the right translation. And many Greek lovers use eros for their most profound and melting sensations.

But eros is not like ‘love’ in a Romantic or Christian sense. In a sexual context, it is most often described as a sickness, a burning and destructive fire, which is not wanted by the sufferer at all. As a social force, it can be highly destructive. According to modern song lyrics, ‘love makes the world go round’, or ‘love is a many-splendored thing’. For Aeschylus, the tragic poet, ‘Eros destroys and perverts all the yoked bonds of society,’ and for Sophocles, ‘Eros drags the minds of just men into injustice and destruction.’ Tragedy loves to show the violence and misery caused by desire in society. That Eros destroys is a general truth which tragedy displays to the citizens of the city. You can cherish ‘love’, but you should always beware eros.”

From Love, Sex & Tragedy; How the Ancient World Shapes Our Lives by Simon Goldhill

Thursday, June 5, 2008

All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace

I just spent forty-five minutes on the phone. I talked to eight different people. I know less now than I did when the first person answered. I have visited the belly of the beast.

Four months ago some cretinous mutant got access to information about one of my credit cards and ran up several charges. Luckily, the extent of the miscreant’s stupidity was such that they made a dozen or so small charges instead of making a down payment on a Land Rover. The company that issued the card (one of the mega-monsters of finance whose name you would instantly recognize) left me four feverish messages to call them about “unusual activity” on my card.

In the subsequent months this bloated institution (in response to my numerous inquiries) has told me:

1. These charges will be removed, the card canceled and a new card issued.
2. These charges have been removed, although they still show up on your monthly statement.
3. These charges will not appear on your next statement.
4. These charges should not have appeared on your new statement and they will most certainly not appear on your next statement.
5. (See #4)
6. (See #5)
7. The person you first spoke with should not have told you the charges would be removed. You first must fill out an affidavit, which we will mail to you in three weeks.
8. You haven’t received the affidavit yet?
9. We will mail your affidavit immediately.

And then the long siege on the phone today with a collection of alarmingly inept automatons who made no attempt to even feign interest or express dismay at my problem.

Here’s my theory; there exists in this country a small, elite core of perhaps five hundred people who have the energy, insight and intelligence to get things done. And the larger the company, the fewer of those people you are likely to encounter, at any level. The bigger, the more complacent.

The rest of the workforce at the huge corporate monoliths is made up of buck-passers, career coffee-drinkers, confused temps, narcoleptics, fresh graduates and an army of chronically disinterested dimwits.

I just checked my mail. No affidavit.

Cynicism is not Skepticism

The contemporary definition of a cynic is “A person who is bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous or pessimistic”. Whereas, the definition of a skeptic is “A person who questions the validity, authenticity or truth of something purporting to be factual…”

We never hear of a person’s “healthy” cynicism, but a healthy skepticism is an agreeable quality.

I am admittedly and proudly skeptical. But I take issue with anyone who interprets as cynicism my innate reluctance to blindly follow the herd, to swallow all I see on the network news or to dumbly queue up to be spoon-fed the latest, enlightened corporate dogma. I have a fairly quick mind and a hair-trigger nonsense alarm which goes off every time I hear “To be honest with you…”, “The consensus of opinion seems to be…”, “No strings attached…” or (my personal favorite), “One hundred and ten percent…”

There is no shortage of people and situations in your day-to-day life abundantly deserving of your distrust and contempt; lying politicians, thieving preachers, power-mad warlords, fraud, fakery, starvation, ignorance, bigotry, the avaricious destruction (and destroyers) of our planet. Pick one.

Being a skeptic without being cynical is tricky. For most of us, the difference is the ability to smile and shake your head at the truly ludicrous, while not fearing to raise your voice to protest the truly evil.

Be skeptical of anything that purports to hand you The Truth.