Sunday, March 22, 2009

Y'Know, I Need A Beer Right Now......


Liberty Under the (Wrong) Influence

by Jim Amrhein
“There can't be good living where there is not good drinking.”– Benjamin Franklin
“Good people drink good beer.”– Hunter S. Thompson
I’m writing this on St. Patrick’s Day, a day that’s been my own personal “first day of spring” every year since I turned 21.
And unlike some similar days in my youth, I’ll be in good enough shape to remember it all come Wednesday morning as you read this. Of course, this has more to do with having been born in the century of the automobile than having been installed myself with a large measure of temperance as original equipment…
If you didn’t turn every $1000 you invested last year into 113 GRAND, you really need to give me the next five minutes of your time...As the Dow lost 40% of its value in 2008, one unorthodox analyst steered his readers to optimized one-year gains of 6,635%, 10,838%, and 11,359%.Here’s how to get eight months worth of his biggest gainers for 2009 FREE...
I assure you: If I lived within walking distance of the ersatz Irish pub I’ll spend the better part of tonight in (or been born in horseback times, when I could travel at no one’s peril but my own), I’d likely remember very little of this year’s Hibernian high jinks. Also, what you’re reading now wood bee spelt sumpthing lyke dis — because I would have written it under the lingering enchantments of Harp lager and Powers whiskey, alternating between whichever eye was clearest at the moment.
But since I won’t ride a horse to the pub — nor have I any wish to put my fellow man at risk while behind the wheel of my Jeep — I’ll maintain relative clarity tonight as I raise a wee pint or two. And amid all the laughter and the clink of glasses, the posturing of men for women and the hair-tossing of women for men, the bustle of the barkeeps and the band’s Celtic rhythms, I’ll surely flash on the same lamentable realization I’ve had in many of the thousand or so evenings I’ve spent in taverns over the last 19 years:
Not nearly enough Americans can be charged with DWI nowadays.
Drinking While Informed: A 21st Century Crime
It used to be that taverns were the main venues of everyday political discourse in America. In the days before newspapers issued us our ideologies along with their spin on current events that supported it, the local watering hole was where folks gathered to figure out how to interpret the news of the day...
And decide what to do about it — whether to resist unfair taxation by an overseas monarch, whether to secede from the Union, whether to form a workers’ union, whether to build a bomb shelter or dodge the draft, whom to vote for, whom to give money to, or whom to tar and feather.
It used to be that a lot of people’s opinions about major forces affecting the country and community were formed, more or less, by two things: What newspapers reported, and what folks at the local tavern said about it. Taverns were where people went not just to unwind, play a game of darts or pool, catch up with friends, expand their dating options, or blow their paychecks...

They were places people went to make up their minds about the bigger things.
Taverns are microcosms of the free market — both of liberties and of ideas. And many a pivotal plan, innovative invention, or significant action in American history was launched over pints and drams at the local hooch joint. I don’t have a time machine or anything, but it wouldn’t take one for a person to conclude that the Boston Tea Party was hatched in the dark back corner of some Beantown pub...
And I’ll bet attendance boomed in New York taverns during the dissemination of the Federalist Papers. There was lots to talk about, mull over and decide. And the place to do it, no doubt, was the local pub.
One might not be too far off in saying that America owes its existence to the tavern.
Again, I’m no historian, but I’d bet anything I’ve got that without the proliferation of neighborhood watering holes in the colonies, the American Revolution would never have happened. Taverns were most certainly a place where resolves were stiffened, pacts were made between men to defend their land and neighbors, intelligences about British troop movements were whispered amongst the rebellious — and militias were recruited and organized.
And during Prohibition, I’m sure the main focus of a lot of speakeasy talk among the movers and shakers who still knew where to find a drink and a good time was centered on liberty — and what to do about the swing of America’s political pendulum toward the Puritanical...
But I’m here to tell you, as a habitué of the modern incarnations of such places, the topics that dominate the nightly discourse in most bars today aren’t political anymore. They’re reality TV, sports, the latest electronics, who’s hot and who’s not, or the habits of the opposite sex. The late-night music of the tavern is no longer the spirited debate about where we’re headed, but the latest dance-mix of the latest rap star.
Even in the yearlong run-up to the election of Barack Obama, few bar-goers I encountered talked with much depth about the goings-on in D.C. — or even in the local legislature. This is mind-boggling, especially in the wake of the 2008 ban on smoking in bars here in Maryland, the recent hikes in sales, property and income taxes, and with decisions pending about key gambling legislation...
Sure, there were plenty of people this fall who voiced their support for one presidential candidate or another (especially Obama), but few could tell me why they were voting the way they were. Their decisions seemed knee-jerk or nose-led, rather than arrived at through reflective thought and deep debate.
And lately, though I do hear quite a bit of discussion about the stock market and real estate, I usually get little more than a few grunts or a headshake or two over things like the Madoff scam and the bailouts. Talk of central banking usually draws blank stares...
But bring up American Idol and whoa, Nelly — you’ll have hours of deep “discourse.”
I attribute the tendency among modern bar-goers away from political substance and toward the most vapid and mundane lowest-common-denominator topics to one of four things, or a mixture of them all:
1) People don’t know what’s going on, thus hindering cogent thought about it.
2) They know what’s going on, but believe that they can’t do anything about it.
3) They think the government will look after them, so they don’t care what’s going on.
4) They view the bar as a place to escape what’s going on, not figure it out or change it.
None of these things portend well for our republic, at least not as it was intended to be. This is a real shame, because Drinking While Informed — the combination of people, alcohol, discontent, passion and information — is historically a powerful catalyst for change in America.
And boy, are we ever going to need that now...

The Pint-and-Dram Union: An American Institution
My point with all this isn’t to romanticize drunken barroom debating. It’s to lament the decline of one of America’s most powerful (and unsung) institutions:
The tavern as a safeguard against the intrusions and abuses of government.
Believe me, the power of blogs and newspaper editorials and fringe-press loudmouths like me to protect freedom and sway political outcomes pales in comparison to the might of large numbers of outraged people assembled in one place and with the firm belief in their own righteousness — whether fueled by alcohol or not...
Seriously, a blog or chat room never tarred and feathered anybody.
And yes, I know, drunken mobs have done all manner of bad things.
All I’m saying is that there used to be things that politicians in this country feared. One of them was the archaic life-and-limb stuff that no one today would advocate (like tarring and feathering or being forced to drink hot tea)...
But the other is an informed, thoughtful, skeptical and united populace that sees through their BS and corruption and is determined to hold them to account, one way or another.
This is something Americans can still become — but not if they’re under the influence of the one-party media or cocooned up in their homes ranting in the vast, anonymous blogosphere. And certainly not if they’re obsessed with American Idol...
It takes people getting together, loosening their inhibitions, plainly stating what they know and believe — then building on this knowledge and testing these beliefs against the facts and feelings others bring to the free marketplace of ideas. This is the kind of “influence” that changes worlds for the better.
And it’s what usedto happen every night in American taverns. It still should...
I think it has to, if we want to survive this mess.
Thinking and imbibing,

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