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Jeff Whitten: A Whitman and Mencken day
editor's notes

From the rear lines of the pandemic, part whatever: 

As I drove to work Tuesday in a bit of a bad mood, the first line of a favorite Walt Whitman poem popped into my head.

It’s called “The Beasts.”

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d; I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition; They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins; They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God; Not one is dissatisfied—not one is demented with the mania of owning things; Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago; Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.”

Sorry. But whenever I get fed up with the human race I start thinking about that poem. And then I try to get over it, but sometimes it takes a six pack of beer and a back porch and time to sit alone and think dark thoughts about the universe and trampolines and neighbors.

And then I get over it. Sure, these are weird times, and weird times call for weird measures, to sort of steal from Hunter S. Thompson, the world’s first Gonzo journalist.

Or at least they call for a good dose of quotes from people far smarter than me. I’m talking people like the late journalist H.L. Mencken, who you should look up sometime if you haven’t read him. Here’s a sampling of his work in quotes I snatched from the internet, which is good for something after all.

“On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

“Bachelors know more about women than married men; if they didn’t they’d be married too.”

“No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.”

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

“The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.”

“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”

“Men have a much better time of it than women. For one thing, they marry later; for another thing, they die earlier.”

OK, that’s enough Mencken - though as an aside, Mencken might’ve been the inventor of fake news. On slow nights when he first started out at the Baltimore Sun he’d invent fires and horse thefts if nothing else was going on. Kind of like CNN and the New York Times, come to think of it.

Wait, I take that back about Mencken inventing fake news.

He probably was just doing what everybody else was doing, just better and funnier and more literate.

Onward: I frequently whine about traffic in this space, largely because I spend a lot of time going places and most of the time it is hard to get there. In fact, I am convinced it is no longer easy to get from here to there, or there to here.

Or anywhere in between.

Though I could be wrong, I suspect this is partly because developers and bankers and their friends in governments from where I am to where I go have for years decided that the best thing you can do with a good highway once taxpayers have built one for you - in naive and ultimately dashable hopes it might speed up traffic somehow - is to stick houses and strip malls all over it.

It’s also partly because for a decade or two the Southeast has seen its population grow at about 1,000 times anything even remotely normal due to the migration from up north, and that’s put a Dusty Rhodes-caliber piledriver on infrastracture. But what the heck. It could be worse. It can always be worse. So remember what Baba Ram Dass says about us humans: “We’re all just walking each other home.”

I like that.

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