Ten Things I Learned the Hard Way

  1. When a woman says “It’s nice to be be in a relationship with you,” do not reply “What relationship?”
  2. If you don’t know what something on your plate is, don’t pop a whole big pile of it into your mouth without sampling it first. Especially if it is wasabi.
  3. It is a bad idea to shoot glass bottles with a slingshot. Even more so if you do it in someone’s bedroom.
  4. If you get into a confrontation with a college quarterback, his offensive line will spring to his rescue, even in a crowded bar.
  5. It is a bad idea to attack a giant fire ant mound with a bullwhip.
  6. Playing basketball and running are not, in fact, cures for plantar fasciitis. Similarly, pepperoni and cheese do not cure ulcers.
  7. Do not enter into a communal living arrangement if you find yourself thinking beforehand “It’s only a year . . . how bad could it be?”
  8. A Pontiac Fiero is really not a very good winter car. Nor is it a very good summer car, despite its awesome stereo system.
  9. If you are going to drink under a bridge, it’s best to not wear light colored clothing.
  10. Never tease a semi-wild polydactyl cat when it has a clean shot at your eyeballs.

What about you?

Better Angels

“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend it’ . . . We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Those are the final words of Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, one of the most eloquent and elegant evocations of the sanctity of the American Union ever put to paper. His words resonate with me, 150 years after he delivered them. Like President Lincoln, I once swore an oath as a military officer to support and defend the United States Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and it remains “registered in heaven” all these years later, even though my time of active service is over.

Given that fact, it honestly pains me how glib many people have become in their use of secessionist language within contemporary political discourse, especially when the Confederate States of America (CSA) are evoked and lauded as part of that discussion. It has become fashionable in some circles to dress up and romanticize the Confederacy today in terms of States’ rights or pride in Southern heritage, but the fundamental bottom-line is that the “general welfare” and “blessings of liberty” that the leaders of the CSA desired hinged solely on the disenfranchisement of millions and millions of slaves.

Regardless of one’s political views, I can see no combination of current social, cultural or governmental ills coming anywhere close to the raw evil of a government that went to war to preserve the utter debasement of human life and dignity implied and enacted by institutional slavery. I’m proud to be a native Southerner, I’m proud of my deep South Carolina roots, but I’m ashamed of the role that my ancestors played in attempting to perpetuate and preserve the miseries of human slavery for economic gain. I view the Confederate flag with every bit as much antipathy as I view a Swastika accordingly. I hate seeing it displayed publicly today, no matter what the rationale for hanging it may be. It’s a tarnished symbol, beyond restoration or rehabilitation.

So I grieve for the soul of my Nation when this most shameful chapter in our collective history is often glossed over for the sake of political expediency in contemporary political debate, and the model of the CSA is upheld as a viable, admirable solution to current events. The way I see it, the question of whether or not healthcare should be considered a public good (to cite but one example) is in no way, shape or form comparable to the question of whether or not one human being should be able to treat another as chattel. Media and political operatives who make such romanticized and sanitized connections to the Confederacy as they cry for the dissolution of the Union do a grave disservice to us all. It’s one thing to be educated about and vigilant toward our government’s actions, but it’s quite another thing to call for the sundering of the Nation when the government doesn’t pursue the political agenda we might prefer it advance.

Lest you think this is a partisan screed aimed only at right wing demagogues who use fearful incitement as a blunt instrument to whip their followers into a frenzy, I should note that I hold left-leaning operatives who play to their listeners’ senses of victimization by evoking the specter of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy or the Stalinist Soviet Union in exactly the same disdain. Holding up the CSA as an admirable model is grievously wrong-minded, but so is comparing anything going on in the United States today to the systematic genocide of millions of Europeans. The Nazi exaggeration is just as provocative, and just as incorrect, as the myth of the noble Confederacy. Frankly, I’d be just as happy to see Michael Moore and Janeane Garofalo go away as I would be to see Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck disappear. Propaganda is propaganda, no matter which side of the political spectrum it serves. Discourse doesn’t thrive when you’ve got a waggling finger shoved in your face.

And what we need more than anything else today is discourse. Not ranting, not hyperbole, not finger-pointing, not name-calling, not personal attacks, not insinuations, not skullduggery and certainly not a fantastic rewriting of American or European history to create a sense of fait accompli pointing us toward some particular contemporary outcome.

Dear Weather Channel . . .

. . . have I mentioned, lately, how much you suck, and how much I hate you?

If not: You do, and I do. Lots.

My family and I live in a part of the country that has lovely summers and beautiful autumns, offset by cold and snowy winters and short, wet, muddy springs. It’s the way things are here. No surprises, really. Only rarely do things get so out of whack that they merit special mention, weather-wise. We understand that snow is part of the deal here in Upstate New York, and when we get to a point where we can’t stand that anymore, we know that we have other options available to us.

We don’t like the winters here, exactly, but we’re used to them, and we deal with them, like a million or so neighbors of ours in the greater (Indie) Albany region do. But I’ve got to be brutally candid with you, Weather Channel: none of us up here appreciate the scaremongering that has become your stock and trade whenever a storm is forecast to pass through the region. It’s tough enough living, working, and driving through these storms, without you fanning the flames of hysteria days in advance of any adverse weather event, for no other purpose other than to generate views at your stupid television station or hits at your stupid website.

I work at the University of Albany, which is one of the largest employers in New York’s Capital Region, and which serves a community of about 25,000 people, when you count residential students, commuter students, researchers, faculty and administration. Our University was closed today, in large part due to anticipatory response to the hysteria that you pitched to our community earlier this week. This has an immense economic and academic impact on our students and the community around us. In my own area of responsibility, I lost income from our campus bank, our campus bookstore, and our campus retail food service outlets. The contractors who work under my supervision had to spend good money to put employees up at hotels near the campus to make sure that we could feed our resident students today. These are big hits, at a time when our national economic narrative dictates that we shouldn’t be sending workers home, and we shouldn’t be shutting down retail venues, and we shouldn’t stop selling the things that we sell, and that our students want (and need) to buy.

As things turned out, I’m guessing that the vast majority of us probably could have made it to campus today. But you made us shut down instead, because you have marketed yourselves to the point where you are viewed as neutral and credible, and we listen to the skewed, biased pap that you feed us. Which is ultimately stupid, on our parts, because you and your ilk spent the past 72 hours putting graphics like this one up on your websites and television stations just so we’d tune in for more (exaggerated for humorous effect, but not by much):

While I totally understand that forecasting weather is an inexact science, and that you are likely to be wrong as often as you are right, what I object to, fundamentally, is the spin you put on weather events, for no apparent reason other than to generate traffic to feed your advertising monster, because a happy advertising monster equates to happy shareholders which equates to happy corporate executives. And we all have to keep the bossman (and his stock portfolio) happy, each and every one of us. So our economic and academic loss here in Albany, in other words, was clearly to your economic gain.

Well played, Evil Corporate Greedheads. Well played, indeed.

I’ve reached a point where every time I see one of your graphics screaming about “storm of the century” or other such twaddle, my gut reaction to such hyperbole is as follows:

Were I King of America for a day, I think one of my dictates would hinge on returning weather forecasting to a place where it could be disseminated as a public, nonprofit good, so that slick corporate shills would no longer have the ability to profit by creating hysteria over routine natural phenomena. (The current “storm of the century” would appear to be, here in Albany, maybe the third worst storm of the current winter. Maybe. It’s nothing special, that’s for sure).

What you are really selling, The Weather Channel, may be best summarized per the graphic below:

We have become coarse and jaded here in these United States, and television shows about sunny, pleasant climes just don’t get us going like they used to. We need ever more stimulation to get us where we need to be, and you, Weather Channel, are always ready with reports of thundersnow or snownadoes or trains blown off tracks by hurricane force winds or whatever the hell other weird, isolated, local phenomena that you can trot out as national news to scare a third of a billion people, most of whom will, at any given time, experience nothing out of the norm for their regions and climes.

One of Indie Albany’s guiding principles is that we offer safe-for-work material at not more than a PG-13 level. Which is a good thing for you, because I could wax really, extensively profane about the irresponsibility of your coverage, and the deep evil associated with profiting from scaring people, while seriously impacting the economy in any number of communities across this great nation of ours. What you do is wrong, fundamentally. And I hate you for doing it.

If there is such a thing as a snownado, here’s hoping with great fervor and sincerity that it strikes your corporate headquarters sometime soon, not injuring any of the your staff level employees (who are just trying to feed their families, like all the rest of us), but wiping out your ability to sell Weather Porn to a gullible, frightened consumer base.

In a just world, this would happen soon. I am predicting tomorrow. Be scared, Weather Channel. Be very scared, indeed.