(Editor’s note: This commentary will take time off during the holidays to spend more time with family and friends. I’d like to thank all of you who have read this blog the past five years and particularly to those who take time to comment, whether you agree or disagree. I hope all of you have a very happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year. I will resume Friday, January 4. If you have an issue you think I should explore please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Despite all the nonstop miserablism leaping out at us by shrieking talking heads on cable news, crazed and misinformed social media pundits, panicked radio talk show hosts, and “fire and brimstone” newspaper opinionists, Americans have never had it so good. The rest of the world too.
Two recent books — “It’s Better than It Looks” by Gregg Easterbrook and “Suicide of the West” by Jonah Goldberg — explain why we’ve all won the lottery just by being born or living in the United States in this era. Reflecting back and reading their revelations it’s little wonder there are caravans of people walking across Mexico and others risking their lives on leaky rafts in the Caribbean, desperate to share what we currently enjoy. This is indeed the promised Biblical land of “milk and honey.”
In a nutshell we need to learn to appreciate what we have and successfully contradict those that hate western capitalism and claim that everything about it is villainous and oppressive. These are people who think the only way to provide productive work and equality is by expanding and staffing golden goose slaughter houses and hiring more guillotine blade sharpeners.
People my age realize that everything we currently enjoy came about very quickly and is very fragile. As Goldberg points out in his book almost everything about modernity, progress and enlightened society emerged in just the last 300 years. He says that if we condensed, the last 200,000 years of humanity into one year, then nearly all material progress came about in the last 14 hours. Others are sharing in the benefits too. In the West and everywhere that followed its example, incomes rose, life spans increased, toil lessened and energy and water became ever-present commodities.
Sure, there’s still bad news. For example, despite all our modern marvels we are currently looking for ways to stop our teenagers from killing themselves by eating laundry detergent pods and snorting condoms up their noses (check it out, I didn’t make this up). And because of technological innovation we’ve gone from a society of people gazing up at airplanes, birds, stars, and cloud formations, to one of dead-eyed zombies constantly looking down, tapping away on electronic gizmos. We’re also not suppose to smoke in our own bars or eat a transfat pastry. But we can dispose of an unborn child if that child is an inconvenience. And our collective government has the combined maturity of a horny 15-year old schoolboy while a cabal of unelected bureaucrats are conducting an obvious coup in an attempt to oust a sitting president and nullify 63 million American votes.
But overall, the good far outweighs the bad. In the spirit of the Christmas season and as we approach a new year let’s take a look at the good news and how blessed we are.
Our air is cleaner than ever, our food and medical care cheaper, safer, and better. Just 100 years ago 80 percent of people around the world were illiterate: today, it’s about 15 percent. The U.S. has 21 percent less land under cultivation than it did in 1880, but that smaller portion of land now produces six times as much food and fiber than in the past. And it’s safer. Modern medicine has extended our lives, provided new joints, limbs and organs, and reduced pain. Granaries are not empty, there are no worldwide plagues, and in the U.S. we aren’t choking on pollution.
Rapes, deaths by violence and disease, slavery, illiteracy, and torture have all declined massively while rights for women, minorities, and the disabled have expanded extraordinarily. We’re carrying around supercomputers in our pockets, delivering packages and pizzas to our doorsteps by drone, and working on driverless cars. Good grief , not long ago people refused to get into an elevator that didn’t have an operator. Crime and wars are not getting worse and blood-thirsty dictators like Stalin, Mao and Hitler aren’t multiplying or succeeding.
And it just keeps getting better.
I remember as a newspaper reporter changing typewriter ribbons, bookies calling me at the paper asking which horse won the second race at Hialeah, and my mother handing me the phone when she called my Canadian grandparents and being told not to talk too long because long distance calls were expensive. I vividly recall watches you had to wind, standing in line for a polio vaccine injection, musical instruments that didn’t plug in, radios that weren’t portable, having no television, and thrilled when we got a black and white one, “colored” and “white” water fountains and restrooms, and 45 rpm phonograph records with two songs, one on each side? Those of you that recall the following expressions that have become obsolete due to technological innovation are probably about my age: “Don’t touch that dial”, “Carbon copy”, “You sound like a broken record,” and “Hung out to dry.”
Any adult living just 20-50 years ago should be as astounded as I am by the speedy social, economic and technological progress we’ve witnessed and currently experience. I don’t need to win the lottery. I won when I was born in Canada and ended up in the U.S.
This is a wonderful time of year to count our blessings. Merry Christmas!
Veeck As In Wreck: In the absence of baseball I make do by reading about the game. Avid Pittsburgh Pirates fan and good friend, Bill Cimino, recently gifted me the 1989 book “Baseball Anecdotes” by Daniel Okrent and Steve Wulf and if you’re a baseball enthusiast this is a fun read, a book you can pick up and open to any page. Bill Veeck, was one of my favorite baseball executives when I was a kid due to his showman style and antics such as pinch hitting a midget. The book does him justice. The authors explain that Veeck was also a savvy businessman known to carefully watch his bottom line. He bought the dismal St. Louis Browns in mid-season 1951 and the team finished the year with a 52-102 record. Members of that team included 45-year-old pitcher Satchel Paige, 3-foot 7-inch, 65 pound, pinch hitter Eddie Gaedel and pitcher Ned Garver, who won 20 games, more than one-third of the team’s total. Garver earned $18,000 in ’51 and asked for a substantial raise for the 1952 season. The thrifty Veeck turned him down with unerring logic saying: “We finished last with you. It’s a cinch we can finish last without you.” I also learned from the book that when the Browns sent in number 1/8 Gaedel to pinch hit that year for outfielder Frank Saucier, Veeck threatened to shoot the midget if he tried to swing at the ball. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway because Detroit Tiger pitcher Bob Cain was laughing so hard he couldn’t come close to finding the plate and walked Gaedel on four straight pitches.
Things I Don’t Get: Democrat party Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said this week that building a wall on the Mexican border is “immoral” no matter who pays for it. Since Ms. Pelosi’s home is surrounded by a wall, is that also immoral? And why didn’t someone in the media ask her?
Sometimes It Does Take A Rocket Scientist: Canadian cousin Bill that sent me this story and swears it’s true, and even if it isn’t I don’t care because it is just too good not to share. According to Bill scientists at NASA built a gun specifically to launch standard four-pound dead chickens at the windshields of airliners, military jets and the space shuttle, all traveling at maximum velocity. The idea was to simulate the frequent incidents of collisions with airborne fowl to test the strength of the windshields. British engineers heard about the gun and were eager to test it on the windshields of their new high speed trains. Arrangements were made, and a gun was sent to the British engineers. When the gun was fired, the engineers looked on in shock as the chicken hurled out of the barrel, crashed into the shatterproof shield, smashed it to smithereens, blasted through the control console, snapped the engineer’s back-rest in two, and embedded itself in the back wall of the cabin like an arrow from a bow. The horrified Brits sent NASA the disastrous results of the experiment, along with the design of the windshield and requested suggestions from the U.S. scientists. NASA responded with a one line memo: “Defrost the chicken.”
Things I Wish I’d Said: “The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and putting things in it.” — author Terry Pratchett.
Drinking, Dinning & Dancing: Joey Ledet who arrived on Amelia Island about three years ago and worked with Amelia Island Hospitality Group and eventually became general manager of the Fletcher Avenue Surf, has announced that he is returning to his New Orleans home, leaving what I thought would be a huge muffuletta gap on Amelia Island. However, while we will miss Joey and wish him the best in his new venture, Lagniappe Restaurant (4810 First Coast Highway) owner and chef, Brian Grimley, has come to the rescue with a creation that Central Grocery — the muffuletta birthplace — in The Big Easy would applaud. This huge and delicious creation (pictured here) was available this past Wednesday and Thursday but may not always be available so if you want one call ahead at 904/844-2634. The half pictured here goes for $19 so bring a friend because it’s a meal for two. If you’re lucky Brian will also have some of his special Louisiana style fried boudin balls on hand and they’re as good as any I’ve eaten at any Cajun eatery in Louisiana. I understand now why Brian named his new restaurant Lagniappe (lan-yap), a Creole term that means “a little something extra.” And speaking of a little something extra, Island Bar-B-Q, 1925 S. 14th Street, told me that on Christmas Day, from 11-2 they will serve a free plated Christmas dinner to all public service men and women — police, firefighters, and medical professionals as well as current military and veterans — and those without homes. They have lined up volunteers to assist them and many of their suppliers have donated food. Dinner will include ham and chicken, mac & cheese, green beans, collards, a drink and more. Call ’em at 904/624-7811. Wednesday is wing night at PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden, 12 South 2nd Street, and this past Wednesday we once again picked up the spicy flappers from Publix but added Island Bar-B-Q’s fried chicken gizzards and livers for something a little different. I didn’t think I’d like chicken gizzards but I did. I ventured over Shave Bridge Tuesday afternoon to visit Tom DeMario’s Coastal Pizza and sample his thin crust pizza and his hot Italian sandwich. The affable Mr. DeMario served me the reasonably priced ($7.25) sandwich with a twist, adding his homemade tapenade to a generous helping of Genoa salami, cappiccola, provolone cheese, shredded lettuce, onions, tomatoes and his special Chianti basil dressing on Amoroso bread he gets from Philadelphia. Go get one! It’s terrific. So was the thin crust pizza that Tom will cook extra crispy of you want. He’ll also cut his pizzas in squares if you ask and sells slices with a drink for a mere $2.50 from 11-3. Tom says his most popular pizza is the First Coaster with sausage, pepperoni, meatballs, bacon and extra cheese that sells for $10.99 (10″), $18.99 (14″) and $20.99 (18″). He also offers an Over The Bridge special white pizza with mushrooms, spinach and bacon for $9.99, $17.99 and $19.99. There are numerous other pizza selections too as are well as calzones, appetizers, salads and even a variety of wings and more. A 16-ounce Bud Light, Yuengling and PBR draughts go for a rock bottom $2.50 all day while a 12-ounce Rolling Rock and a 16-ounce tall boy Narragansett are just two bucks. There is also a generous selection of wines. A third generation Italian, who came to this area from Connecticut, via
North Carolina, Tom knows the food business well having served as a food sales representative before opening Coastal with his wife, M.C., almost four years ago. Finding Coastal is tricky as it can’t be seen from State Road 200. It’s located at 464099 SR 200, just behind the Verizon store in Yulee. Call ’em at 904/491-9998 or go to their web site at www.gocoastalpizza.com. They are open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sundays. This coming Wednesday, December 19, from 5-7 p.m. Main Beach’s Sandbar & Kitchen will conduct a “Bust the Barrel” featuring their own 13 1/2 year-old, 119.2 proof branded Whistlepig rye whiskey for $10 per person for a one and one-half ounce portion and a Whistlepig glass. Whistlepig shots this size normally for $16 and you can’t keep the glass. Happy hour there is also 3-6 p.m. Call ’em at 904/310-3648. I received a card in the mail alerting me that the Amelia Island Montessori School will conduct a chili cook-off February 23, 2019 at downtown Fernandina Beach’s Centre and 2nd Street from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Last year there was no cook-off and no explanation of why not so Pajamadave Voorhees decided to have one at his joint with several chili heads participating. If you want more information about the Montessori event call 904/261-6610. No word yet if PJDave is planning a repeat contest but it wouldn’t surprise me if he held a simultaneous challenge to make things even more interesting.