THE OPTIMISM OBSERVATION

I’m not impressed with optimism when I see it in the eyes of a rich man. I’m impressed when I see it in the face of a poor man, working a job that depletes him daily, facing an endless stream of obstacles and problems. Wealth confers optimism to almost all who seek it; struggle reveals optimism in those who already possess it. – X

Dry Counties In Arkansas

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*This is a truncated version of a social media post I wrote for someone in a dry county a few years ago. It tickled me that after commenting on a post of one of the pages working for a vote in the county in question, the person organizing it asked me to write a post about the basic arguments against dry counties. I removed the arcane historical information that, while interesting, was too cumbersome for many people.

Before launching into my point, I’d like to mention that DUI/DWI and alcohol-related violence has affected my life. I had a family member killed in a DWI incident. Many in my family were affected by violence and many were also affected by alcoholism. It’s a subject that has touched the core of my life. We as humans are immensely gifted at perverting pleasures into afflictions. It is wrong on a moral level to dictate the otherwise free choices of citizens living in a free society. For those who abuse, we should focus on lending a hand without exception.

It’s easy to look at a United States map of wet vs. dry and draw an immediate conclusion: dry counties still exist predominantly in areas in which have a less-developed infrastructure – and residual religious influences at work. Most of us with a rudimentary grasp of history know that the United States attempted to stop all alcohol consumption in the past. It was a failure. Afterward, the federal government left alcohol laws in the hands of states. The South is home to most dry counties.

In Arkansas, many of the counties are dry. The counties with the highest level of economic development and education, interestingly enough, are wet. Studies continue to demonstrate that dry counties are punishing their own economic growth. If you’re interested, the U of A did a study for Independence County in 2016. The conclusions and observations it makes are exactly what one would expect: being dry is a terrible economic indicator. (If you’re not interested in contextual facts – or reading anything contrary to your established opinion, please stop reading now. Reading my opinion will likely cause spontaneous shouts of anger.

To those who say, “But we will gladly lose economic vitality if it means we can restrict alcohol sales in our county,” I’d reply that they are making the decision for everyone else. This attitude tends to come from those who believe that they have the duty to impose a quasi-religious restriction on their fellow citizens. The geographic areas prone to agree with limiting alcohol sales tend to be cloistered and resistant to the idea that other viewpoints have validity. It’s a generalization; as such, it’s generally true in the spirit in which it is cited. Believing that it’s better (or easier) to outlaw alcohol sales instead of addressing any potential problems strikes to the core of an authoritarian mindset.

Some religions ban pork, others caffeine. In a secular society, it is both immoral and ambiguous to allow a specific religious minority to dictate these choices.

I use the term ‘quasi-religious,’ not out of contempt, but rather as an acknowledgment that it would be disingenuous to classify the argument as exclusively religious. To claim it as a religious reason would be in denial of the fact that most people who self-identify as religious have no issue whatsoever with adult consumption of alcohol. That a vocal segment of religion continues to attempt an illogical co-opting of the singular voice for all religious people speaks to the problem inherent in such an ideology. In short, if it were strictly a religious issue, those identifying as religious would overwhelming agree. They don’t.

To further clarify, I have many religious friends who loathe the fact that some religious groups attempt to limit or sanction the choices people of other religions or denominations make. Most people are cautious about using their religious beliefs to justify an imposition of their will on another member of society. This type of circular reasoning leads to some groups dictating behavior to others. When the tables are turned, they shout in protest, alleging persecution or a lack of freedom. It’s troubling to me, as we all walk out our respective doors into a society which we expect to generally leave us in peace unless we are harming other people.

I’m not asking anyone who wishes to not drink to do so. Quite the contrary; I’m asking for those who choose not to, for whatever reason, to respect the adult decisions of those around them. You lead by example, not by pointing angry fingers at those who live their lives differently. For Christians, it’s difficult to reconcile a defiant attitude about alcohol when Jesus himself imbibed.

I am of course not making the argument that alcohol consumption doesn’t come with some serious caveats. Like all human activity, there are undesirable consequences. It’s our job as a society to balance the consequences with our ability to stop encroaching on the lives of our fellow citizens. I’ve learned to distrust anyone who feels competent to judge the acceptability of certain behaviors in others. Once the line is crossed, it becomes all too easy to begin judging many other personal decisions.

“More crime!” some will object. Even if such a scenario is true, the economic gain from alcohol sales c-o-u-l-d overcome the negative impact, especially if we use the motivation and collective intelligence of the people around us to divert money toward enforcement and assistance for problems which may arise. More importantly, though, is that in a nation of laws, it is hypocritical to argue that each of us is responsible for our own actions, yet demand that fellow citizens desist from legal activities because they might misbehave. Abolition of all potential negative behaviors is no way to run a democracy.

We already spend an inordinate amount of our budgets on police and incarceration. I tend to have less interest in the abolitionist mentality of the police for a variety of reasons. Among them is the fact that law enforcement tends to suffer from a greater degree of alcoholism than the general population. Another is that it’s generally unwise to prioritize the complaints of those tasked with enforcing the laws we decide.

“More DWIs,” others will say. It’s as if those saying this believe that adults interested in drinking aren’t already doing so, many after being forced to drive to imbibe in their own homes. Interestingly enough, the argument of a greater frequency of possible DWI incidents echoes that of those who resist any gun control laws, stating that the responsibility for misuse falls on the person misusing them. The same logic, therefore, falls to driving while impaired.

Each of us has the ability to choose to engage in behavior we find rewarding or pleasurable. To participate in a system which gives greater voice to another person’s personal choice, even if based on quasi-religious reasoning, is wrong. If you disagree, I’ll remind you that many people have quasi-religious issues with pork. Imagine if we were to collectively vote to outlaw pork. Bacon is the unofficial salvation of many an Arkansan. Or imagine if we outlawed hunting, citing dangers to hunters and bystanders, or an appeal to ethics toward animals.

Additionally, citizens of today are not obligated to honor the decisions made by their predecessors; laws, like society, change over time. Some proponents of dry counties point to the past as a mistaken indicator of how best to proceed in the future. For anyone interested, take a look at the time frame during which many dry counties measures were passed. Even a casual look back into history immediately reminds us that we’ve made some monstrous decisions, some which we defended despite serious moral foundations. Each generation has the opportunity to examine its laws and to determine their relevancy. To those thwarting the necessary reexamination of past laws, you should remind yourself that no positive social change ever occurs in which people aren’t given a choice.

Even in supposed dry counties, many allow private clubs. This fact provides an anecdote for the contention that many dry counties cater to those with economic clout. The cliché of wealth demanding access to alcohol exists in recognition of the fact that people with political influence will drink regardless of local prohibition laws. Although it is needless to point it out, those who are members of private clubs are generally going to drive away from their private clubs after drinking. Dry counties with private clubs are one of the most perplexing things I’ve encountered.

Dry county laws more adversely impact a person if he or she is on the lower end of the economic spectrum. If you’re about to make an argument in the spirit of “looking after your fellow man,” I’d like you to start by doing so in all aspects of life, not just in those areas in which you feel you have a moral voice to do so.

As for the argument, “I don’t want to pay for other people’s decisions,” I default to my observation that this is exactly what we all do in regards to everyone else. We all pay for issues, programs, or consequences we disagree with. People with no children fund schools their entire lives, those who don’t drive pay for roads, pacifists fund countless wars, and so on.

The reality is that being a dry county simply obscures the fact that a great number of its citizens are still consuming alcohol, whether in private clubs therein or by spending their tax dollars in surrounding communities. Prohibition relies on an illusion, one which most adults recognize as false. Perhaps it helps some people to know that they’ve made another person’s choices much more difficult or that the ‘other’ is the real problem.

I’d like to point out that regardless of whether you’re in agreement or not, it serves no one to needlessly insult the opposition. Most people simply wish to be able to live their lives without needless restrictions. It’s important to be able to passionately engage yet simultaneously avoid the pitfall of shouting in anger or vilifying those who disagree. At a certain point, though, those who feel the boot on their neck are going to stop being so polite or careful in their choice of words. Although it may sound like it, I am not categorizing all those who oppose their counties becoming wet under the same label. There are many reasons people use to justify staying dry; some are reasonable and more logical than others. For me, all of them fall short. To be clear, it’s important that we define who objects to alcohol sales and why. Not all opposition is created equal and not all arguments are worthy of usage in a free society.

If you live in a dry county and wish it were wet, please accept my apology. That feeling of frustration you experience when you consider the idea that other adults feel capable of limiting your personal choices and enjoyment of life can only be avoided by demanding that it be changed.

Further, if you reside in a county in which there is a concerted effort to thwart such an issue reaching the ballot box, you can be certain that those doing so do not have your best interests as a free citizen in their hearts. Such efforts are an obvious nod to the fact that abolitionist views are in the minority. That’s no way to run government and no way to treat citizens.

 

Screen Door To The World

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*Guest post…

“Hurry up and close the screen door! You’re letting flies in!” If I heard that phrase yelled at one of us kids once, I heard it, by conservative count, at least 32,760 times in my life. If the phrase had to be said more than once, the lollygagger was likely to be threatened with being locked out for a while; a punishment my brother figured out could be short-circuited by popping the door right where the hook went through the eye sending the hook flying up and over to dangle uselessly.

 

Keeping the screen door closed was important. We lived behind a grocery store in a small town. Its dumpster was straight across the street from our driveway and the screen door. My mother hated having the back of that store as the view from her kitchen window. In fact, she hated everything about that store.

 

Store employees and management dumped all kinds of expired food, including meat, in that dumpster. In the winter, it wasn’t so bad. But in the hot summertime, it became unbearable. The stench from rotting meat, produce, and milk could almost gag the maggots that formed on it. It was a common sight to see my mother marching across the street and pouring a jug of bleach all over the bin’s contents. She had talked to management time and again simply asking that they not throw away raw food items until the night before or the morning of the sanitation truck’s arrival. Sometimes, they would do as she asked. More often, they didn’t. As a result, they lost all of our business, as my mother began driving across town to the Kroger store near the interstate. The amount spent by my mother on groceries each week was substantial as she fed our family of five (including a male teenager who could pack away a lot of food easily).

 

Apparently, my mother’s example taught me as a child that not being able to beat them didn’t mean you had to join them. To this day, I will boycott a business in a heartbeat based on principle alone.

 

Aside from the smell in the summer, having a grocery store as a neighbor wasn’t so bad for us kids in the neighborhood. Really, it couldn’t get much better if you could scrape together enough change to buy a fudgsicle or a tiny container of ice cream with its own wooden spoon attached. If that much money couldn’t be found or begged from an adult, sometimes we had enough for a pack of candy cigarettes or a package of wax paper wrapped Now and Later candy (as if any of it was ever left for later).

 

Sometimes when money was scarce but supplies were available, we got our parents’ permission to make lemonade and sell it in the parking lot to earn candy money. Yep, for a kid, the positives of the store outweighed the negatives by far.

 

My mother rejoiced the day the grocery store’s owner closed the store. It stayed vacant for a while but eventually was converted into a maintenance shop and parking area for the school district’s buses. Life became a lot more peaceful – especially on the weekends when the shop sat empty waiting for school again on Monday.

 

Several decades have passed since then. The shop remains though the school district is shrinking as the town’s population shrinks. The house, however, now sits empty, its latest occupant having deserted it for reasons unknown to me. The kitchen windows stare blankly – one window partially broken.

 

It’s not much to look at, that house, but on the rare occasion I do, I can still hear “Hurry up and close the screen door! You’re letting flies in!” And I smile.

Love, Jerry

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If the first rule is “Don’t negotiate with terrorists,” the second rule is this: “Whenever possible, limit your meaningful interactions with manipulative people.” Even though almost no one does so, it is equally true that we should pay the price as soon as possible with such people. That we’re going to have a go-to-Hell argument with them at some point is a certainty; delaying it wounds us incrementally and perpetually until we lunge toward the chance to pay the price and break the bond.

A friend of mine has struggled for years with someone who masterfully whiplashes people around her. She gaslights and triggers. Rarely, however, does she leave a smoking gun that her victims can point to in protest. The subtlety is akin to a razor blade cutting the skin sufficiently to cause bleeding and persistent minor pain. The accumulation of such cuts, however, turns even the most compassionate person into a cauldron of irritation.

This segues into a post I started yesterday morning.

From Madam Anon, the anonymous commenter who sometimes writes to me.

Madam Anon sent me this list, asking if it would be helpful:

Do you feel like they try to control you?

Do you feel like the person is good for your mental health?

Do you feel like the person lets you be you?

Does the person ask how you are?

Do you feel the person responds to you with enthusiasm or with an obligatory response?

Do you feel like you can let your guard down with them and not think about their response to you?

Do they pop into your head when you hear stories of positive care people or the opposite?

Would you characterize the person in question as “good,” however you define the word?

If you’re otherwise a good person, you should trust your instincts about a person. Ask yourself the above questions. Since all of human behavior exists on a sliding scale and a fluid Venn diagram, you have to take the variables into account and decide for yourself how toxic the person in question is to your well-being.

Above all, if you get a letter or card signed “Love, Jerry,” pour holy water on it. Once it stops sizzling, bury it in the backyard under the light of the full moon.

Life’s too short to endure manipulation, even if it is due to familial obligation. If you can’t beat them, be creative. Their unavoidable presence in your life at least presents you with the opportunity to try unusual methods of repaying them for their unkindness.

The link below is in the same ballpark of observation:

The Salutation Enthusiasm Observation

The Whisper Of The Night Train

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It’s 1:19 in the morning; another sleepless night as Lonely drops in for an unwelcome visit. Lonely doesn’t care if you’re by yourself or with others. It simply shows up when it pleases. As I attempt to put Lonely and the other things bothering me out of mind, I take a deep breath and release it slowly. Then, like a small gift from above, a train whistle sounds in the distance. As it draws closer, it transports me to a place in the past — a place where I can feel the subtle rumble and shake of the train’s cars as they rock to the wheels on the rails.

My sister and I shared a room until I was 10, when she moved out. She was 19 and had never had a room to herself. Nor would she in the foreseeable future. She was getting married. For me, a lot of excitement surrounded her wedding-especially since I was to be the only attendant. She would be a beautiful bride, and I would get to wear a pretty dress and hold a bouquet of lovely flowers.

Excitement surrounded her move too because she would be moving into a house she could decorate and set up completely as she chose. This was going to be fun to watch! Then, it hit me – I was going to have my own room for the first time ever! Wow! Things became more exciting each day!

The wedding day passed in a blur, but the bride was indeed beautiful, and I did wear a pretty dress while standing next to this young woman who was part big sister, part mother to me.

Later that evening, I went to my bedroom excited at the thought of having it to myself. As life often shows us, things aren’t usually what we think they will be. The room felt empty and sad. I had rarely spent a night without my sister, and now I was facing endless days and nights without her. She was the one who held and rocked me when I had a bad dream, she participated in my sleep talking to soothe me back to sleep; she even allowed me to warm my cold feet on her legs when winter nights were icy.

Facing that first night without her was lonely and more than a little scary. As I lay in what suddenly felt like a huge, empty bed, my fear of what might lurk in the dark grew until I wanted to scream for my mother. Knowing she was asleep and would not appreciate a screaming kid disrupting her rest kept me silent.

Just as the fear became completely paralyzing, I heard it. It was faint in the distance, but it was there, and it was coming closer. The evening train was rolling through town. We lived close to the tracks, and, as it approached, the sound of the wheels hugging the rails and the sound of swaying rail cars grew louder until the train was right there – practically outside the window. I could feel the vibrations from the floor up, and it was comforting. For a few minutes, I was conscious of the fact that I wasn’t the only one awake in the world, and relief washed over me. I relaxed and focused on the train’s every sound and movement and drifted off to sleep as the train finished passing the house.

The nightly train became a trusted and reliable friend. I counted on it each night to lull me to sleep and, later, when fears and worries woke me in the early hours, I found that another train would come through and provide that distinctive rhythm that told me everything was on schedule and okay.

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P.S. This is a guest post written by a reluctant writer, counted among my favorite people.

 

 

 

 

It’s Just a Song

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A couple of nights ago, I was scrolling YouTube on the FireTv app. I tend to discover a trove of songs in other languages. When I began to learn Spanish enough to discover nuance, music in Spanish opened my mind and heart to other styles I hadn’t appreciated. There are many words that I still associate with the first time I understood them through music. Artists with clear voices gave my dubious English-oriented mind the opportunity to understand them.

If I’ve heard it before, I don’t remember it. A song titled, “¿Quién Dice Que No?” by Oscar Cruz played. The video was overly dramatic but the song in its simplicity hit me in the face. Listening to the song again, I was struck by the simple majesty of Oscar’s voice.

As I do with all such songs, I listened to it several more times the next day.

Curiosity overtook me. I discovered that Oscar Cruz won the first season of the Mexican version of “The Voice.” And rightly so. The show and his judge/coach failed to return Oscar’s contribution by helping him afterward. After all, people like Oscar are what makes the judges million dollar salaries possible. While Oscar plays several instruments and has a booming voice, his advancing age make stardom an elusive goal for him.

While there is a lot of his music I’m not partial too, I will always remember the first time I heard this song. Oscar plays several instruments.

After reading about Oscar’s story, I realized I had seen his performance of Piano Man in Spanish on La Voz Mexico a few years ago.

I wonder what he thinks of his momentary fame a decade ago.

¿Quién Dice Que No?

What Kind Of Tree IS That?

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My friends Maya and Juan invited me to visit their house. They bought it in February before covid. Because Juan had more free time due to the virus, he spent a great deal of time building a patio area in the backyard of his house. He’d told me a lot about it. After months of avoiding seeing it due to an abundance of caution, Maya called and asked me to drop by after work for lunch. She promised to make a huge helping of pico de gallo, regardless of what she prepared for the meal.

When I drove up, I could see that Juan had indeed gone out of his way to make the house the way he wanted it. Plants bordered the front and a single magnolia tree stood in the middle of the front yard. Along the far edge, a series of lush bushes and flowers stood.

Just as I was about to walk around the side of the house, Maya opened the front door and beckoned me to enter. “Juan will be out in a minute. Always late for everything!” she said and laughed. She gave me the tour. As we stood in the kitchen waiting for Juan to emerge, she pointed at the large tree to the left of the brick patio and seating area. “Look at that! Juan was so proud to get that tree. His friend Marcos got that tree from a yard that was completely redone. It’s too bad that they brought the wrong tree. It’s caused some problems with the neighbors.”

Before I could inquire, Juan exited the end of the house I hadn’t seen during Maya’s tour. We bantered and joked for several minutes.

“X, take this glass of tea and sit under the transplanted tree.” Juan handed me a glass filled with tea and ice cubes. “Maya and I will bring lunch in a minute.”

I exited through the French doors and walked across the hand-laid brick patio. Juan had spent a lot of time out there. It was impeccable.

I plopped down in the chair under the branches of the tree. I couldn’t tell it was a transplant. As I took a drink from my glass, a voice said, “You could lose a lot of weight, buddy.” I looked around and saw no one. I turned to see if a window was open. As I turned my head back to examine the area around me, I heard the voice again. “Who bought those clothes for you? Stevie Wonder?” I stood up immediately and slowly did a 360 under the tree. No one was around. Before I could get seated again, the voice said, “Don’t use a bowl to cut your hair the next time!”

I took my glass of iced tea and went to the French doors and entered the kitchen, out of the bright sun.

Before I even said a word, Maya smiled at me. “I see you found out why we wish the trees hadn’t been mixed up when we got them.”

Seeing that I was still a bit confused, Juan added, “Yeah, we forgot to tell you that it’s a SHADE tree.”

Run Past

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I sprinted past the moment, though it didn’t truly exist in the way that things do.

I had looked forward with such intensity and anticipation that it had condensed into an impossibly small point in time.

Because I’m older, I now see that this is how most of us manage the span of our entire lives: increments, milestones, and anticipated moments.

There are labels for this sort of thing. “Futurizing” is one of my favorites.

Though covid fleetingly slows us from careening as carelessly as we once did, even its lesson of mortality will soon enough become a vague memory.

Each of us will step back into the tide of normalcy, whatever that might be, and pace forward.

Birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, achievements, all seemingly without terminus – although undeniably connected by an invisible strand.

I predict we’ll be more feverish postcovid. We’ll collectively feel the pause button click free and begin our mad dash to collect what we thought we missed while the world held its breath. People do not like to feel like they are missing out, even if what they have fills their lives.

Weirdly, I feel that we should take a breath and slow down. Sit and stare. Read and contemplate. Look within and around. We were not prepared, despite having history’s best medicine, technology, and logistics.

Our failure wasn’t external, however.

It lies within us where, in reality, each of us lives.

The Constitution Is Imperfect By Its Own Admission

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This post originally appeared on a social media page. It garnered a huge amount of anger, after someone shared it on a conservative forum and asked that it be flooded with trollish commentary. The unintended consequence of that trolling resulted in a lot more readers than it ever would have received absent the trolls.

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I wrote this as a simple appeal, one devoid of the complicated and dense language employed by so many when addressing one of the most basic parts of our system of governance.

Another brilliant person vehemently argued that we have no business changing the constitution. Further, he insisted that those who wrote it knew what they were doing. It disturbs me to hear people argue that the law is a closed and perfect system. Obviously, it is not.

The process of amendment aside, I always go for the easy point by pointing out that those rich white men thought that slavery was an excellent idea, as well as failing to include half the population in the right to vote and full participation. The constitution contained several ideas which are reprehensible, undemocratic, and unworthy of continued regard. Even a bit of scrutiny demonstrates that many of the founders wrote the constitution with their own best interests in mind. Those interests were not in favor of much of the population.

Either of those two points is sufficient to derail a thinking man’s reverence for the law. The constitution saddled us with several institutions which do not achieve the objectives for which they were designed.

More importantly, of course, we have the right for self-determination. We owe no total allegiance to those who founded this country, no more than the founders did toward the Crown when they declared war on Great Britain. Circumstances change. Society advances or declines in ways never imagined by the Founders. Even if such changes had been in their minds, it’s irrelevant.

We have just as much right to alter our course now as we did then.

For all the groups deliberately ignored in the original constitution, I apologize. Most people who defend the legitimacy of the original constitution aren’t deliberately endorsing the misogyny and racism of its contents; they are focusing on the idealism allegedly behind it.

Given that the founders also included a method for amendment to our fundamental framework, it’s ridiculous to insist that we should blindly continue allegiance to the parts of our past system which don’t further our evolving values and views. Strangely enough, I’m surprised constantly by how many Americans don’t know that our constitution allows a vote of the states to reconvene another constitutional convention, one which could conceivably rewrite our entire system of governance without oversight.

We do not need to discard our entire constitution to change it. The Founders at least managed to get that part right. As circumstances change, we can alter our framework without the needless waste of revolution.

Many scholars want us to complicate the issue to the point of absurdity.

They employ distracting arguments to have us look away from our ongoing and permanent ability to determine our destiny as a nation.

If we choose to dissolve ourselves from the obligations created by an elitist group of rich white men, we have that right. We can do better. We will do better, or suffer the consequences at our own peril.

You can pontificate all you want to say otherwise. You’ve already lost the argument, however.

You don’t get to frame the issue.

We do.

By law, by necessity, by will.