Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Unnatural Selection of Manners

There have been times I have used the space afforded to me by this illustrious publication to bemoan the fact that civility is careening down the same path previously traveled by the ill-fated Dodo bird and the, less celebrated, more fabulously named, but just as dead, Big-Eared Hopping Mouse. I know I sound like everybody’s curmudgeonly Uncle Charlie ranting about how the world is going to Hades in a handcart and when he was young people knew what manners were, chivalry was not dead and it was not nearly so difficult to find a really good hamburger with French fries that weren’t too crispy and also weren’t so limp they couldn’t even support a healthy dollop of ketchup from the plate to your mouth without dropping its tomato-y load on your favorite tie with all the pictures of tiny golf clubs. Really, is that too much to ask? Sorry, I sort of jumped the rails there.

Anyway, I genuinely fear that civility is endangered and will soon be extinct in the wild. We will only be able to experience it under contrived circumstances. Like people can only see the Wyoming Toad in zoos (or in pictures of the Vice President of the United States between 2001 and 2009 – that is an arcane and impolite joke, sorry) we will only be able to see manners in movies starring Cary Grant. I am going to continue the analogy comparing human behavior to animal species because I think there is one chief contributing factor in the demise of both: effectiveness.
Some animals became extinct because the skills and physical attributes they possessed were no longer effective at keeping them alive and procreating. (The Big-Eared Hopping Mouse was no match for the Gigantic-Incisored Sprinting Cat.) That is the problem with civility. Practitioners are not given the kind of evolutionary leg up those who practice greedy selfishness and rudeness receive.

Clinical Study Number One: (Okay, it is not a real study and it was not done in a clinic and it would not stand up to any sort of scrutiny by honest-to-goodness scientists but it is what I believe…so there.) The younger males of the human species go out into the jungle, in this case high school, in search of females of the species. One subset was raised in households in which kindness and courtesy were valued attributes. The other subset gives significance to roughness and disdain for the feelings of others (as well as a disdain for words like disdain which gives you a big hint which subset I belonged to). The first male subset listened empathetically to the feelings, hopes and dreams of the females of the species and couldn’t get to first base. The second male subset forced the females of the species to come running out to their Trans Ams when they honked their horns which were barely audible above the AC/DC blaring from their car stereos possessing enough wattage to power Poughkeepsie and, shall we say, the third base coach was pretty much continuously windmilling his right arm indicating it wouldn’t even be necessary to slide. (By now there are no doubts which subset I belonged to.)

Clinical Study Number One proves the evolutionary advantage of being selfish and if you need more evidence proving the advantages of the me-first-and-everyone-else-can-eat-me-dust attitude simply look at the legislative body of your choice. (We can kill medical coverage for anyone born post 1957 but we are guaranteed free medical services for life because we are members of congress.)

Clinical Study Number Two: (see parenthetical from Clinical Study Number One.) This study shows another aspect of how rude is more effective. Scientists monitored polite soft-spoken people dealing with insurance companies, any sort of phone sales, and guys who just cut in front on line at Dillons. They were as successful in getting their way as the control group of life-sized cardboard representations of Mister Rogers.

I have to say Clinical Study Number Two makes total sense to me. I am often calm, polite and ignored. However, if I become a mash up of Howard Beale and Sam Kinison the outcome is more likely to go my way. I want to go on record saying I do not allow my inner screamer to come out very often at all, unless I am dealing with a certain cell phone company. Suffice it to say they could sure as heck hear me now.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Useless Bits of Information (yes, again)

Not long ago, I learned about a rather odd animal, a fainting goat. These animals are perfectly named. When they become startled their muscles freeze for about ten seconds. Typically this means they stiffen and fall over on their sides. Older fainting goats have learned to position themselves against something so when they are startled they lean rather than fall. Another piece of information which indicates with age comes wisdom and a desire not to do anything uncomfortable.

These goats are domesticated. This cannot be a shock, because animals that stiffen and fall over at the first sign of danger aren’t exactly perfectly designed for flourishing in the wild. Their peculiarity explains the chief purpose for owning fainting goats. They hang out with your flock of sheep. A coyote comes by and starts stalking your investment. There is no sheep dog like the one in the old Chuck Jones cartoons clocking in to make sure the coyote (who also punched in on the time clock affixed to a random tree) does not eat the sheep.

Boo! The coyote jumps out from behind a tree. The sheep shriek and the goats faint. The coyote is then faced with choosing between sprinting after an adrenaline charged ovine or strolling up to the hors d’oeuvres table full of very still goats. Mr. Darwin did not discuss “Survival of the Stiffest” so evolution is not a fainting goat’s friend.

Even if you don’t own flocks of sheep, fainting goats might be fun to have around. You could set a couple dozen of them side by side in the back yard. Then you go up to the one at the end of the line and whisper in his ear, “I just saw a wolf.” He falls over. When he falls over he bumps the next one in line who is startled by his neighbor suddenly falling into him. This continues through the whole line of goats. You have now created bovid dominoes, great for children’s birthday parties and Fourth of July Barbecues.

This brings us to a strange chapter from the history of the state of Kansas. In 1918 John R. Brinkley first started his medical career. He had not graduated from any medical school, but he didn’t let that little hurdle stop him from opening a practice in Milford. He had previously worked at a meatpacking plant and observed the high level of amorous activity carried on by the goats. So when a patient went to him with a complaint about his own lagging amorous activity, “Dr.” Brinkley decided to surgically implant goat glands into the man.

Brinkley became quite rich and famous performing his operations which had no effect on patients. Well, let’s say the promised results were bogus, but the occasional death was a truly nasty side effect. He started the very first radio station in the state. He used it to advertise his medical miracle cure.

Eventually the proper people realized what was going on and revoked his broadcasting and medical practice rights. So, Brinkley did the only thing a reasonable man would do when faced with the destruction of his livelihood. He mounted a massive write-in campaign for governor. That’s what was so great about the kinder, gentler days of the previous century. The candidates for major political offices were much more open about being megalomaniacal whack jobs. He received 29.5% of the vote. There’s another reason to wax rhapsodic about the good old days. The general populace was more than willing to vote for bald-faced megalomaniacal whack jobs. (Although that seems to be coming back into vogue.)

Just think about how the state of Kansas might have gone down a whole different path if Doc Brinkley had become governor. Instead of huge beef packing plants in Dodge City, we might have gigantic goat feed yards. The state motto could have been changed to “Ad Capra per Aspera”, to the goat through difficulty. Brinkley’s radio station (KFKB) could have become the cornerstone for a media empire like the one Ted Turner started in Atlanta giving us GNN, the Goat News Network with the catch phrase, “We report the news good and baaaad, no ifs, ands, or butts.”

Be sure to tune in next week for the next episode of Wild Kingdom (arcane information about something in the animal world) Meets Your Are There (semi-worthless historical information).

Christopher Pyle had a another joke about Doc Brinkley trying to restore a man’s virility with goat parts combined with the information about fainting goats, we decided to err on the side of good taste. If you want to know what it was, e-mail him at