Random Thoughts on the Passing Scene

Ok, so I stole the title from a subseries of columns written by Thomas Sowell

Sowell became a hero of mine shortly after I read one of his columns back in 2002. In some ways he exemplifies how I believe people should think: rationally, patiently, thoughtfully, and plainly. However, his conservatism also spans to the negative meaning of the word, and for this reason Sowell has since fallen slightly out of my favor. While I have not yet found another writer who can provide truly insightful comments on such a wide variety of topics, I find myself disagreeing with him on many occasions despite seeing his intention.

Below is the quote that placed Sowell on a pedestal:

There have always been ignorant people, but they haven't always had college degrees to make them unaware of their ignorance. Some people imagine that they are well informed because they have memorized a whole galaxy of trendy dogmas and fashionable attitudes.
-Thomas Sowell, 26.4.2002

When I read that, I suddenly felt relieved, as if I had been to confession (a big IF!) and the Father had told me what I had confessed was not a sin at all.

The quote that knocked Sowell off the pedestal:

As someone who gets a headache from being around people who are smoking, I still do not see the banning of smoking on California beaches as anything more than the totalitarian mindset of the left.
-Thomas Sowell, 15.4.2004

I have always wanted to write my own, and so now I am giving it a try despite a lack of good material. I hope I'll remember more of my random thoughts for future editions.

Random Thoughts on the Passing Scene
By Brian Godsey

Here in Vienna, I know lots of people trying to learn German. Almost all of them focus mostly on the grammatical rules of the language, when they learned to speak the language they know best (English, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Bosnian, Chinese, Nepalese, etc.) without seeing a grammar book for years.

People are clearly more fit here in Vienna than in America, but somehow no more attractive.

Some people go outside to "get some fresh air" and then smoke.

There are no normal walkers in Vienna. If not running, wearing a backpack, carrying a briefcase, riding a bike, or walking a dog, those along the paths of Vienna are carrying ski-pole like sticks and claim to be doing a sport called "Nordic Walking" that also works the arms. Even if they are simply carrying both sticks in one hand.

People in the U.S. complain about high or rising gas prices, when at the most expensive in history, $3.08 per gallon in September 2005, gas prices in Canada were 28% higher, and gas prices for most people in Europe are regularly well over $5.00 per gallon.

So many regions of the Internet were designed to make friends (Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, etc.) when the biggest effect of these sites is keeping their users at the computer and away from other people.

The internet was built to facilitate exchange of information between people, not substitute for it.

Public transportation systems in larger cities are all-or-nothing. If the system caters to only some of the neighborhoods, people cannot get everywhere they would like using trains, subways, and buses, and most people will buy cars. If I have a car, why not drive it?

The above includes offering some empty routes. The system needs to offer non-profitable (of its own right) public transportation routes in order to keep customers. If a night line is cancelled, and I can't get home from the soccer game without calling a friend with a car, maybe I'll buy a car and stop taking buses altogether.

Vienna has good public transportation. Baltimore does not. Washington, New York, and Chicago are doing reasonably well. Could I live anywhere else in America without a car?

Churches in Austria (mostly Catholic) charge you per year to be a member. They still pass around the plate, but a good chunk of tithing (or whatever you want to call it) comes straight out of your bank account. Only then can you marry, participate in ceremonies, and be memorialized in a church. My girlfriend's dad haggled with the minister of his church over the price before finding a better deal on salvation elsewhere, Armenian Orthodox I believe. One can save money by outsourcing even religious work.


Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Wrath, Envy

What am I doing?

Do I have an attention problem? I spent my years 16-21 stuck in the Dark Ages of personal development, only focusing on competitive running and my own ego, all the while stifling what was to become a seemingly overwhelming need to figure out something. I guess it turns out that that something is also something I need to figure out, but whatever, it doesn't really matter.

I'm a narcissist. I take ordinary things and make them into something enjoyable, or I throw them away. Running is my paradigm. When I ran, and when I was good, my ego thrived off of the success, and wallowed in any admiration of others. It still does. But, I don't think I need to do it forever. Or maybe I do. I pride myself in never having taken illegal drugs, whatever that means. I first drank alcohol when I was twenty and a half, smoked one cigarrette (didn't inhale; will that joke ever die?) when I was twenty-four and drunk, but I got addicted at sixteen to one of those Sensationally Sexy Seven Sins, Pride.

He is the heavy cavalry, the tin-alloy soldier, the reinforcements, and on speed dial on the mobile phones of the other six. Perhaps it was earlier that I began, but I was doing Pride when I started school, and got good grades. People called me smart. I won the geography bee in the sixth grade. I am still embarassed that I misspelled "tortoise" in the spelling bee in the fifth grade, especially when neither of the two kids remaining could spell "mystify". Everybody knows that the second letter is a y. I could have won. Like tracks on my arm.

In German, Sinn means meaning, more or less, and that's what Pride did for me. In my life I've wanted the hottest girlfriend, the most money, to eat the most hot dogs in twelve minutes, the longest nap, and to exact revenge on those who have wronged me. Or, in the last case, more likely those who have embarassed me, because in all five cases, it was a competition. He who wins gets Pride, and the envy of others. Without winning, I am just an Other.

A wise fictitious action-movie archaeologist once said, "Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory." While neither of those are complete sentences, I understand the meaning. It is presented as a goal. Since when do two deadly deadly sins make an admirable goal? I'd say: since Lance Armstrong realized that it was about the bike and decided to win seven in a row; since Christian Bale decided to work his ass off in theatre; or since Takeru Kobayashi thought that maybe he could fit 53.5 hot dogs and buns in his stomach or wherever. What did they earn? Pride. Pride-pride-pride-pride-pride. And money, but then they bought more Pride.

I eat that stuff for breakfast, but lately I've been feeling a bit thin, so I decided to Michael Jordan my way back into competitive running. I was out in 2003, back in in 2004, out and back in in 2005, and then made it three months in 2006, before now. I think I'm on the Wizards now. Well, whatever. I didn't feel like running any more. In other words, I wasn't getting enough attention and my ego was feeling a bit thin. The year 2007 and its goal of learning German hasn't quite paid off in the Pride account. (Who the #@&% cares but me?) And, I'll never win an international German competition in front of thousands of people. I need a new drug. I need to go back to the old drug. I'm in a new city, making new friends, and having what I see as a much better opportunity to astound people with my slightly-above-average endurance (only on my feet).

I run for Pride. I run to destroy the short-term hopes of others. I run... because somebody didn't believe that I would win, and the look on their face when I did fed me for years. Then I woke up in a train station bathroom with a needle in my arm and had to hit the streets again.

It just gets boring. But less boring than anything else I would do for twenty hours per week. So I'm picking it up again and maybe I'll find something to last for the rest of my life. Maybe it's a habit, maybe it's a compulsion, but since my Dark Ages I've been lost. I can't be average, but I haven't found my way yet.

On the back of the American's shirt yesterday, for the first time I've seen it on a runner:

...and miles to go before I sleep.