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Thursday, June 30, 2005

A Culture of Violence?

After several well publicized incidents of gun-violence here in the Tyler area, a friend of mine made the suggestion to me that the blame for such violence - and I quote - “should be placed squarely on stupid american's (Tom, read redneck) who promote a "cowboy" mythology that approves of taking the law into your own hands and condones acts of violence.”

The perception that conservative communities condone a cowboy mythology that condones acts of violence and taking the law into your own hands is seriously flawed. Commit a serious enough crime to get prosecuted in this neighborhood and just see what an East Texas jury does to you. See if you believe then that we don't subscribe to the rule of law. We find acts of violence every bit as abhorrent as Yankee liberals do. The gentleman with the AK-47 who shot up the Smith County courthouse stimulated a lot of finger pointed in the press. Most of the conservative community here blames a liberal court system left over from our 'Yellow Dog" Democrat days that should have put this turkey away a long time ago, but kept being "understanding" and letting a seriously dangerous man go with a little pat on the wrist. When you leave a violent person to run around the community unsupervised, you better expect trouble.

Acts of violence are NOT condoned by us cowboys (read conservatives). And by the way - conservatives aren't by definition either cowboys or rednecks. Some of the redneckiest people I know vote straight ticket Democrat out of fear that Republicans will take away their farm subsidies. Rednecks are a culture and just as divided politically as any other cultural group (whether that culture is Cajuns, yuppies, hippies, Yankees, Amish, college professors or liberals). Rednecks don't necessarily beat up gay people, have sex with animals, attend church regularly or pack a gun or any of the stereotypical stuff that Eastern liberal news pundits associate with a "violent" culture.

This was a tragedy, not a result of a violent culture. The guys behind the two recent shootings both had hideous tempers and a history of violence and we're so politically divided on what to do with people like them that all we really do is nothing. So they remain on our streets and fester and fester till they finally explode!

You want to assign blame, blame a system that doesn't take violent people off the streets. I was talking to a Tyler cop today. He was one of the ones that brought down the courthouse shooter. He said, "It's not the guns, Tom. It's the guy behind the gun. And we can't keep them off the streets, even when we know who they are. They just keep letting them go again."

And I really take exception to the idea that Americans are stupid and violent and that every other culture in the world (except for a few aberrations caused by American greed) is basically nonviolent so we should be ashamed of ourselves. Lets look at our peaceful planet!

Guerillas in the jungles of The Phillipines aren't a native part of the wildlife.

Several African nations are catching up with Adolph, Joe and Saddam in the genocide business.

Lebanon has been a war zone for like forever. Palestine, Israel, Iran?

India and Pakistan have been setting off practice nukes and taking pot shots at each other for the past couple of decades.

Russia is torn apart with sectarian violence and internal revolutions.

Cambodia - Pol Pot raised murder to an art form.

Follow the news accounts in France and Germany and see if there's not violence. It just doesn't get reported over here.

The British invented the murder mystery - and according to Dame Agatha happily go about killing each other with a bit of bug spray and teaspoon of ginger tea. Is that fascination with personal death dealing not contributing to a culture of violence - even if the cops don't carry guns.

Sri Lanka is mostly Buddhist (the inventors of meditation) and the country is racked with violence. And hey, you could stick Sri Lanka inside East Texas and have enough surrounding ocean left to hide the U.S. 7th Fleet.

Texas by itself is bigger than like 50% of the world's countries. America is like 50 countries all banded together. Your gonna have a lot more aberrant people because you've got more people here.

Canada doesn't count because it's too cold up there to get into any trouble much.

I've been to Mexico - it was the only place in my life where someone came up to me in a nice restaurant and offered to sell me a young girl. The tour guide warned us not to leave the lighted areas of the town and to travel in large groups.

Columbia - now there's a peaceful tropical paradise for you. Kidnapping is like a national sport. Citizen to citizen violence is an art form.

Haiti - "Necklacing" Nuff said?

I'm sorry. I can travel in America over all 50 states and nobody asks for my "papers". I have never been attacked by bands of rebels. In East Texas a "technical" is a penalty you get for sassing the referee in a high school football game, not an SUV mounted with 50 caliber machine guns that shoots at U.N. relief workers. No warlord has cut off my food recently because I wouldn't pay tribute. No member of my family has ever been kidnapped by drug runners to finance their new cocaine production plant.

Heck, I've never even been in a fist fight one single time since I've been an adult.

We see a lot of violence on TV, but how much actual violence have most of us ever witnessed in person - except for if you visit or live in New York City where someone mugged a four month old baby yesterday (and last I checked there weren't a lot of cowboys living up there). The kid's mom just shrugged and said, "Oh, well, he's finally been mugged - I guess that makes him a true New Yorker!"

East Texas gets a lot of nut cases because when people get too crazy for even New York to tolerate, they inevitable go somewhere where there's lots of woods and few neighbors. Hey, an escaped felon held a woman captive for 10 years out here and nobody noticed - it's that isolated. The woods around here are full of serious nuts. It's a trade-off for having beautiful scenery. I figure with our per capita nut ratio, it's a wonder we don't have more incidents than we do. Part of what slows them down is the fact that they know we'll shoot back and a lot of us are packin' heat!

It's easy to blame violence on a culture that supports going to war sometimes and supports the death penalty and tougher sentencing for criminals and to try to make a connection between that and personal violence. But it just doesn't hold water. Texans have to go to New York to be mugged (although since the Republican administration instructed the police chief to crack down on New Yorker crooks, even their crime rate has started going down - and it was jail and heavy handed enforcement that was responsible, not "education" programs and midnight basketball).

So I don't want to hear nobody picking on East Texas "culture". I like it over here. Nicest place I ever lived and lots of nice neighbors. The nuts? We'll eventually get most of 'em salted and canned!

(c) 2005

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Pledge of Allegience - The case for a sacred pause.

This e-mail interchange occurred some time back after the brief furor in the California Appeals Court over the Pledge of Allegience. My friend Ronnie wants "under God" removed from the pledge. This is the conversation we had on the subject.

From: "Ronnie"
Subject: Re: Pledge of Allegiance

Well Tom, it appears you were lucky never to have heard anyone ridiculed for not saying the pledge of allegiance. I myself was not only ridiculed, but literally punished at various points of my elementary, middle, and high school levels for refusing to say a pledge which goes against the doctrine of this great nation.
From: “Tom”
Subject: Re: Pledge of Allegiance

I'm sorry for your troubles. I've seen youngsters not do the pledge before and they didn't have a problem - unless their behavior interfered with the ceremony. Did you refuse because of the phrase "under God" or did you refuse to say the pledge period? I don't believe a child should be punished for either, but refusing to say the pledge at all is rather different than refusing to say one particular phrase within the pledge. Are you saying that if all of us leave out the "under God" part, the pledge would be okey-dokey with you? What happens to my right to say the “under God” part?
From: "Ronnie"
Subject: Re: Pledge of Allegiance

While I fully agree that you have a right to say "Under God", wouldn't you agree that it is unfair to those citizens who don't believe in God to be forced to alter the pledge?
From: “Tom”
Subject: Re: Pledge of Allegiance

No more so than it would be for those who do believe in God to have to alter the pledge to exclude Him! For most Christians, the "under God” part of the pledge, qualifies our allegiance in a very essential way. Without that qualifier, the pledge might be seen to place the nation supreme and above God - a pledge few Christians could in good conscience take. Certain radical Christian sects even refuse to take the pledge at all, even with the "under God" qualifier for that reason. They choose to pledge allegiance solely to God and remain seated during the pledge. They should not be persecuted if that is their conviction.
From: "Ronnie"
Subject: Re: Pledge of Allegiance

Being a free country, allowing free belief, shouldn't the OFFICIAL pledge be one that represents ALL people, not just Christians?
From: “Tom”
Subject: Re: Pledge of Allegiance

But it already doesn't represent ALL people in any case, either way you say it. Our Jehovah's Witness friends and other groups, as I pointed out above, won't say the pledge at all, so you can hardly say it represents them.
Maybe what we need is an official protocol for saying the pledge that allows a brief pause after the words "one nation," to give pledgers the option to insert or delete an "under God, Yahweh” or Allah” qualifier as each sees fit. It's no more just for a small group of nonbelievers to forcibly remove a key phrase from the pledge that makes the pledge workable for Christians, Moslems or Jews than it is for persons of faith to persecute those who leave out the "under God" qualifier.

While I appreciate your right to pledge allegiance to your nation above all and with out reserve, as a Christian, I would like to preserve my right to state clearly - by adding the "under God" phrase - that, while I do love my country and unashamedly pledge my loyalty to her, God is supreme in my belief system. If my country asks me to do what God forbids, I must defer to my Maker. It is this sort of civil disobedience-done in obedience to what many felt was a higher moral law that stoked the fires of the great Civil Rights Movement and has been responsible for many of the great humanitarian movements in US history. This obedience to higher authority over the authority of the state has strengthened this country immeasurably and led our country to eventually renounce evils like slavery that once were supported by the canon of law.

America is remarkable in that whenever her citizens have risen up in the name of God (or whatever higher moral standard you may name - up to and including secular humanism) to oppose the country's laws which were unjust or immoral, America has been made stronger by that opposition. Such upheaval reminds us once in a while that there is a higher authority than the mere law of the land. Whether it's Jesus, Allah, Immanuel Kant or Confucius who guides your moral compass, you probably believe in something like "one nation under God" whether you admit it or not. So long as you believe there is a higher moral authority that is above the law of the nation, you’re in the same boat with the community of faith.

Without the phrase "under God", the pledge seems to say one nation above all; and I'm not sure that represents how most Americans, even those opposed to the current pledge, believe. The "America right or wrong" philosophy has in the past led to some of the most shameful episodes in our history. Pick one - whether it be slavery, the wanton slaughter of native Americans, the forced imprisonment and legal sterilization of the "feeble-minded" and "undesirable", the imprisonment of Seventh Day Adventists for violating Sunday Blue Laws, Jim Crow laws in the South or the long denial of equal opportunity and the vote for women. In each case, the people of this great nation have sacrificed their very lives, fortunes and freedom to strike down such laws and practices because they believed that even the sovereign nation should be subject to a higher moral law.

I would hate to see us lose that part of the American ideal that is represented by the simple phrase "under God" in the pledge of allegiance. I also don't think Christians should fear if some among us choose to leave "under God" out of their Pledge of Allegiance. As we speak the pledge in our assemblies, and we reach "for which it stands, one nation.", if we spoke into that sacred pause a whole rainbow of phrases expressing our diverse faith in something greater than even our blessed nation, I'm sure God would be still be able to recognize His own name in there somewhere.

It wouldn't matter how we said it (or didn't say it for that matter). Each time we repeated the pledge, we would hear ourselves speaking into that sacred pause with ringing clarity, words that tell us that neither this nor any nation may rightly require us to violate our conscience or our duty to whatever God or moral principle we may serve.

I don't believe we should rush from “one nation” to “indivisible” and remove the place where God fits within the pledge if it excludes persons of faith any more than I believe we should exclude those who choose to pause during that sacred interval. The pledge should have room in it for as many of us as possible. You do not offend me if you wish to leave God out of your recitation of the pledge of allegiance. Why, then, should I offend you if I wish to leave Him in it?

Tom King
(c) 2005

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Title IX's Impact on Women's Sports - Viva la' Spandex!

Yesterday, a struggling Phys. Ed student e-mailed a sports discussion group I’m on, asking our opinion about the pros and cons of Title IX. He was obviously trying to whip together a last minute term paper, but he started me thinking. Title IX is a federal mandate that has attempted to level the playing field for women in college athletics by making colleges spend equal amounts of money on women’s and mens athletic programs. It’s a noble idea. Women deserve to have an equal shot at permanently maiming themselves while receiving a college education. In my opinion, without Title IX, women’s athletics would never have made the tiny gains it has made over the past decade.

Let’s face it, colleges have been stuck in a rut where athletics is concerned. They’ve learned over the past 100 years that they can make money on football and basketball games, so they fund these cash cows heavily. Alumni love this stuff and give big wads of cash to schools that have good teams, expensive coaches and the best athletes money can by. So colleges pay heavily for them. Nobody in college athletics has ever been motivated to spend a lot on women’s athletics. Women’s sports has never been able to draw crowds, so they don’t make a lot of money. Without pressure from Title IX legislation, women’s athletics would still be languishing in relative obscurity.

But, I think the colleges have missed something here. I think some of the great spectator sports of the future are being pioneered because of Title IX’s requirements that women’s sports be funded equally by colleges. Even though they have managed to weasel out on that "equal" business, they have had to sink money into women’s sports that they never would have before. As a result, we’re seeing what may become the pro sports of the future generating enthusiastic new support at the college level.

Case in point: Women's volleyball

Here's a sport that's changing toward the future. I remember when women's V-ball drew a mere handful of spectators down at the community college. Nobody seemed to want to show up to watch a bunch of frumpy looking girls swat a ball back and forth over the net. Now, thanks to the incentive (read "threat" here) of reduced funding under Title IX, women's volleyball has changed. Unable to find frivolous things like scholarships and facilities to spend the extra money on, women’s college volleyball programs have invested in substantive, fundamental change in how the game is played. Well, actually what they did was dump the baggy shorts and t-shirts and bought the girls uniforms made of SPANDEX!

Wow! The gymnasium is now jammed for games (mostly with desperate looking geeks and predatory males to be sure,’s a start). The girls, freed from the constriction of their formerly frumpy uniforms are diving, stretching and (bless 'em) jumping higher than ever before. When the marketing guys catch on, I predict you're going to see a real women's professional volleyball league organized. We've already got semi-pro beach volleyball leagues going right now and they are drawing real crowds and TV contracts. I look for pro teams to follow soon once they realize what money there is to be made in the sport.
Actually, beach style volleyball may be the way pro volleyball goes. For one thing, the beach volleyball "uniforms" for women players are guaranteed to create awesome TV ratings. Soon beach leagues will be running college drafts (if they don't already). Soon college and professional women v-baller's will be compromising their amateur standing, hiring agents, endorsing products and practicing double and even triple "bounce shots" just like their mail counterparts. Just as would-be NBA players practice spectacular "dunk" shots or future NFL tight ends practice end zone dances that skirt the edge of the rules, the women will be creating signature moves, endorsing "designer" spandex fashions and posing for cheesy posters.
Women’s soccer has already found new viewers thanks to the infamous "jerk off your shirt when you win" incident. Guys everywhere are now sitting through hours of international women’s soccer tedium on the outside chance it might happen again.

When you see personal style achieving greater importance than teamwork, when cat fights and temper tantrums are an accepted part of the college game, when we see silicon implants becoming a ticket to professional athletic stardom; then we'll know that Title IX has accomplished its purpose. Women's college athletics will have become as corrupt as men's athletics. Honor, integrity, fair play and sportsmanship will be as obsolete an educational goal in women's amateur PE curriculums as it is now in men's college sports like football, basketball and hockey.

Hey, maybe some of the smaller colleges could start women's wrestling programs. That could be a real crowd pleaser! I can see it now....

"This is Frank Gifford..."

"..and John Madden"

"Reporting live from the 2002 WWF college draft!"

"Well, Frank, were you surprised that 'Sheena the Destructor' went so high in the first round?"
"Not, really John. This girl really stole the show at the NCAA steel cage finals last spring with that signature "double bounce" pile driver from the turnbuckle that she used to beat 'Amazon Queen'."

"I remember that well, Frank. She barely managed to keep that brass brassier on and avoid disqualification..."

"Yeah, but how she ever managed to make that thing jump exactly back into place after she hooked it under Amazon's chin I'll never know..."

"You can bet that one’s gonna be on everyone’s highlight film this year, Frank."
"What an athlete, John! Team Austin has high hopes for this young lady at next year's Thanksgiving Mud Pit of Death Extravaganza!

"We're gonna have to put another dozen legs on our turkey for that one Frank..."

"I hear you talkin'...."

Anybody remember when professional meant something else.

Just one man’s opinion....

(c) 2005

Tom King

Monday, June 13, 2005

The Power of Music

The year was 1956. I was 2 when I picked up the first of what would be a vast repertoire of odds and ends tunes that to this day rattle around inside my skull. The song was Tennessee Ernie Ford's immortal "Sixteen Tons". It was a folk song Tennessee made into a hit on the radio and I’ve never forgotten it. "I was born one mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine. Woke up early, went to work in the mine...."

The song was partially responsible for my love of traditional folk music and my disturbing tendency to pick up guitars and play snatches of "Freight Train" without warning. I learned this from my Grandpa. Grandpa was the second folk musician I ever encountered. According to family tradition, he’d once upon a time played a hot piano, but my Grandmother sold the piano early in their marriage and the subject of pianos was never again discussed. The only musical instrument my Grandmother ever played was a $12 Sears clock radio that wailed Earnest Tubb, Jim Reeves and Hank Williams for a couple of hours a day. It was all the music she ever needed and she operated under the assumption that this was about enough for anyone.

We all suspected she was a little jealous of the attention my Grandpa got when he played. Grandpa, a large pleasant looking man with an unlimited supply of blue overalls, occupied a tattered Barca-lounger at the center of my memories of their home. He was probably the most hen-pecked individual I ever knew, but even under the relentless domination of my sturdy Scots-Irish Grandma, he had his small rebellions. One of these was his collection of harmonicas. Periodically, under covering fire from the grandkids, he would pull out his mouth harp and rip off an assortment of scandalous old tunes to his delighted audience. I used to watch her peek around the kitchen door and shake her head disdainfully at us. She’d probably heard "Polly Wolly Doodle" and the "Rain Barrel" song thousands of times over the years, but we never tired of it.

The height of one of these sessions was when he let each have a short blow on his precious "C" harp. We always tried to get extra time by catching Grandpa alone and asking him to play for us. You knew you’d get more blow time without the rest of the grandkids there, but it didn’t always work. For one thing there was a sort of two kid minimum audience requirement unless my Grandmother was outside or she was in a festive mood because she had just inherited serveral thousand dollars from a relative she didn’t really like. Since the latter seldom happy, we had to sneak in harmonica time whenever she was outside messing around in the garden and complaining because Grandpa’s weeding left a lot to be desired.

I did manage to get a lot of one to one time, though, because I was the oldest and lived in the same town and was allowed to walk over to their house by myself. Grandpa taught me to make train whistle sounds first and then I picked up a couple of simple tunes. He later tried to explain how to triple tongue, a miraculous technique he used that made it sound like two or three harmonicas were playing at the same time. I’ve never quite managed it despite my wearing out 4 or 5 harps of my own as I grew older.

The old man played a mean harmonica. I learned wonderful tunes like "I Never Loved You Like I Loved You Last Night in the Back of My Cadillac 8" and "Let me call you Sweetheart". His harps often went missing or wore out, but whenever he got without one, one of the grandkids would find an excuse to replace. It got to where someone bought him a new harmonica every Christmas, Father’s Day, Birthday and, in an emergency, Bastille Day. He had a whole drawer full, so that he always had backup harps in case one wore out or got "accidently" tossed by my grandmother. He played "Polly Wolly Doodle" to four generations of children and taught us all to carry a little music with us wherever we went.

At the age of 10, I discovered a Peter, Paul & Mary album in my Grandmother's small record collection (a surprising discovery as this was a woman who considered Ernest Tubb a god and everyone else - well, silly!). I guess someone in the family was trying to encourage her (unsuccessfully) to branch out in her musical tastes. She wouldn't give me the record even though she hated it and I hinted shamelessly. So, I had to sit in her parlor on the stiff green sofa with my hands folded to listen to it over and over for hours on her hi-fi set with the volume turned respectfully low. Even under those conditions I became a hopeless folkie. During my adolescence I bought a battered Mexican guitar for $6 from a friend and rebuilt it. That next summer, I took a job at summer camp. Before I left for camp, I bought a Peter, Paul and Mary songbook and learned to play "Polly Von" as I remembered it from that album. It was the only song that had really simple chords and I played it incessantly all summer. I was known about the camp by my detractors as "Two-chord Tom. Each summer for 5 years I played for campfires and worship services adding Shel Silverstein's "The Boa Constrictor Song", Burl Ives' rendition of "Three Crae, Sa' Upon a Wae" and, of course, "Blowin' in the Wind".

I soon knew Alice's Restaurant (the entire twenty minute monologue) by heart. Just the first three chords used to send people running for the brush. Then I discovered the Clancy Brothers and to the dismay of my roommate in the dorm at boarding academy, I purchased a banjo. Over the next year, I heard approximately 3,000 banjo player jokes (How do you get two banjo players in tune? Shoot one!). I spent my senior year living alone in one of the nicer rooms in the dorm. Dean never did find anyone who wanted to live in my room despite the fact that some of the rooms had three guys bunked in them. A tribute to the power of music!

Seven guitars, four banjos, a dulcimer, 3 recorders, 43 jaw harps, 8 harmonicas, a mandolin, bodhran and two sets of bones later, I've been happily married for 25 years to a beautiful Scotch-Irish Indian woman and fellow folkie with a lovely voice and a passion for sad Scottish songs about suicide and betrayal. I am, at present, resisting a sudden urge to buy a set of bagpipes (since I like my current roommate and am well aware that most of those banjo player jokes can be equally applied to pipers).

When my grandpa died, my grandmother gave me most of his mouth harps. "That one there, you might as well throw away," she told me as I examined the collection on their kitchen table. "It got clogged up or something and he tried to put 3-In-One Oil in it to make it work again." she turned away from me and pretended to wash dishes. "The thing tastes like oil. You can’t play it. I don’t know why he even kept it."

I examined the harp; blew on it tentatively. It left an oily taste in my mouth. Then I remembered how once he’d been playing for the grand kids some years back, before we kids started keeping him supplied with fresh harps. He played a couple of bars, then stopped, frowned, licked his lips and made a face. We urged him on. He played another and another, just as long as we kept hounding him and then he played "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" to finish off the set. He must have tasted oil for a week. Now that was a dedicated musician!

(c) 2005
Tom King

Sunday, June 12, 2005


Our mothers worry that we are too impulsive.
Our psychiatrists say we have A.D.D.
- a mysterious and widespread mental disorder.
Our teachers have rapped our knuckles time and again
because we wouldn't sit still in class.
Still, in spite of everyone's concern
for our disordered mental state,
We keep on staring out the smudgy windows
of our classrooms and offices,
Squirming in our seats,
impatient to be on our way.
We are American to the soles of our feet
- a part of the world's most robust, energetic,
And impatient culture.

The United States of America has A.D.D.. Our citizens have the highest rates of diagnosed A.D.D. of any civilized country in the world. Here are the symptoms according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association:

ADD is a disturbance of at least six months during which at least eight of the following symptoms are present (From the DSM-III R).

1. Often fidget with hands of feet or squirms in seat (in adolescence, may be limited to subjective feelings of restlessness)

America was settled in the beginning by restless young men and women from every civilized country in the world. Unable to cope with the constraints of Old World society, they risked life and limb seeking a place where they might be liberated from the constraints placed on them by well-ordered and ancient cultures. When they landed on America's east coast they quickly fanned out across the countryside and began farming, hunting and building with tremendous energy. Soon, as civilization began to encroach upon the wilds, cities with regular ordered societies sprang up in what was once pristine wilderness. Percolating off from burgeoning well-ordered communities, streams of restless folks flowed westward. "Go West, young man," said Horace Greely. "And get out of our hair," he might have added. This westward movement continued until the human wave of hyperactivity crashed up against the Pacific Ocean and California was born. That the movie industry would spring up in California was inevitable. All these hyper people had no place else to go but off into worlds of fantasy.

2. Has difficulty remaining seated when required to do so.

Patrick Henry leaped from his seat and shouted, "Give me liberty or give me death." He couldn't sit there and wait his turn. In fact, both of the Continental Congresses were a veritable cacophony of folks jumping out of their chairs, shouting objections, suggestions and complaints at one another. The number one reason Americans give for not wearing seatbelts in their cars is that they don't want to be trapped in their seats. When Americans check out chairs, sofas and settees at the furniture store, the majority of us will reject a chair that is too hard to get out of. We even put chairs used in business meetings on quiet little rollers so that if we can't get up and leave without losing our jobs, we can at least roll around a little should we experience subjective feelings of restlessness. We build chairs for the elderly that allow them to push a button that will eject them from their seats (to prevent their being trapped there, unable to rise because their offspring have wandered off in an A.D.D. fog and forgotten to come check on them).

3. Is easily distracted by extraneous stimuli.

America the distractible. It took stimuli like the Stamp Act, the impressing of American Seamen by the British Navy, the Alamo, shots fired at Fort Sumter, the sinking of the Maine, the sinking of the Lusitania, the bombing of Pearl Harbor to get Americans focused enough to get a war going. So many other things capture the American notice that it takes something really spectacular to hold the collective attention long enough for us to get organized. The Japanese, prior to World War II, thought we were passive and peace-loving and would accept a little defeat in order to avoid war. Hitler didn't think we had the collective stomach for war. They were wrong. In truth, we just weren't paying attention. Once we did, Americans got hyper all over the Axis Powers, burying them in a flood of American industrial energy. News events like the Lindberg baby kidnapping, the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings or the O.J. trial grab our notice and we rally as a nation around the victims. The next week we are back to squabbling and fighting among ourselves over local issues. One thing after another, the topics changing week after week. We get bored after a relatively short time and we move on to some new distraction. According to the best research by aggressive American advertising agencies, you have exactly 7 seconds to capture our attention before we get up and go fix ourselves a sandwich or scratch something extraneously stimulating. MTV video makers know that's a way too optimistic figure. A good rock video must alter the image, color scheme, tempo of the music or the amount of clothing being worn by the shaggy blonde in the leather skirt at least every 1 or two seconds or young Beavis has drifted off and is fixating on his growing collection of belly button lint.

4. Has difficulty waiting his turn in games or group situations.

The 1849 California Gold Rush, the Oklahoma Land Rush, rush hour in any American city, Rush Limbaugh with his finger on the cutoff button if you try to talk over him. American business rushes products to the market in order to be first. American news people rush to get the big scoop. The only way you can get people to stand in line, as the folks at Disney have discovered, is to provide some extraneous stimulus along the way to get their minds off the fact that they are standing in a line waiting their turn. Something unusual like a man rushing at you dressed as an enormous black rodent. Eastern Europeans often have difficulty identifying American grocery stores due to the lack of lines. Americans, on the other hand, would likely starve to death in Eastern Europe rushing around looking for a store with a short line.

5. Often blurts out answers to questions before they have been completed.

The American television game show industry makes millions each year as people compete to see which person can answer the questions before they have been completed. Millions of Americans, out of work because their bosses considered them rude and impulsive, watch these shows hoping to bolster their sagging self-images by blurting out the answers to the questions asked by the host and doing it faster than either the aerobics instructor from San Diego or the sales manager from Dayton.

6. Has difficulty following through on instructions from others.

Americans have an intense, collective dislike for being told what to do. They get mad if you boss them, they ignore instructions and run stop signs that they don't personally feel are appropriately placed. When the British told us we had to pay for and put a stamp on all tea imported to the American colonies, we got mad long enough to dump all the tea in Boston harbor (using the occasion to dress up in colorful Indian costumes so that we could blame the whole thing on someone else). Who even reads the instruction book that comes with your income tax forms or the tidy numbered sheet that comes inside the box containing your newest modern appliance on which is printed "some assembly required"?

7. Has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities.

The clearest evidence of this symptom occurs in American sports. Popular games in the U.S. characteristically take place in spurts of intense action, followed by a period of reorganization after which the action starts all over again. Soccer never has caught on widely in The States. The action is too fluid requiring too sustained an attention span. You can sit at a soccer match for an hour, run to the bathroom for 5 minutes and miss the only score of the game. Americans would never stand for that. American football on the other hand, is a series of short violent melees followed by a cooling off period, during which the fans can go buy hot dogs, don funny hats or gawk at the cheerleaders through binoculars without fear of missing much of anything. Baseball, the quintessential American game allows brief respites between batters or innings during which fans can get pizza or buy big foam fingers. In Los Angeles, Dodger Fans check into their seats every 10 minutes or so to find out how the game is going. The rest of the time is spent wandering around the stadium in fog, purchasing supplies of the aforementioned items. This is California, after all, and one could hardly expect them to remain in their seats. The essential thing is that the action is broken up into a series of relatively short segments. Hockey, which is similar to soccer has only developed a strong following because the fans expect an occasional bloody fight to break up the monotony of the game. Basketball has seized national attention because, although also like soccer in that the action is continuous, there is more frequent scoring (with the relatively recent innovation of the flashy slam dunk which plays to the American fascination with the spectacular. American basketball fans can duck out for a hot dog and still not miss much. If they do miss a particularly nifty dunk, there is always the instant replay monitors which repeat the climactic moment over and over until they are sure no one has failed to catch it if they were out buying foam fingers or hot dogs.

8. Often shifts from one uncompleted activity to another.

Americans are constant innovators, creating a veritable flood of new ideas, products and technologies. Then we lose interest, sell these ideas to the Japanese, Koreans or Germans who turn them into products to sell back to us. Meanwhile, American industry is already hot for some new idea that has caught the collective capitalist fancy. Economic pundits have, for instance, been pointing out the necessity of finding a common standard for the U.S. computer industry. Neither Apple nor IBM was willing to sit down at the table and discuss it. Both giant corporations were entirely enamored of their own ideas and unwilling to consider a compromise (compromise is not an ADD strong suit). The techno-dweebs driving the computer wars were too busy jockeying to be the first to develop major new technologies. No one wanted to lock themselves into a common computer architecture when something more exciting might be developed next year. Only an ADD culture would create an industry based on the premise that the $3,000 worth of stuff you buy from them this year will be obsolete next year (and everybody is excited about how fast their equipment is becoming antiquated). It is likely that had everyone managed to agree upon a common operating system, chip architecture or hardware parameters, the strictures would only have served to stifle everyone's creative juices and limited progress. Computers would have become boring and we'd have sold the whole mess to the Japanese and taken up something else.

9. Has difficulty playing quietly.

Worldwide, people think Americans are loud. Our music is loud, our sports are loud, and our children are loud. Deafness is a major health problem in this country. Vacuum cleaner manufacturers have discovered that if they make their machines quieter, people think they don't work as well and won't buy them. Our movies are loud. There is a huge American industry devoted to placing speakers in every corner of human society. You can hardly go into an elevator without being serenaded. Silence is anathema. Some operator puts you on hold and some electronic huckster comes on the line to sell you something. If you want silence, you can buy CD's that offer the peaceful sounds of nature (with piano and flute accompaniment). Even Mother Nature requires a soundtrack in America.

10. Often talks excessively.

Talk shows. Enough said.

11. Often interrupts or intrudes on others

The answering machine is a gift from God. A lot of people in this country hate answering machines. This is a symptom of the disease. It is monumentally frustrating for them not to be able to reach me when I am bathing and to force me from my nice warm tub to take another message for one of my teenagers to call Mandy or Julio or Spud. I love answering machines. These wonderful devices let you choose whether or not you want to pick up the phone. No longer do you have to interrupt love-making, a good movie or an interesting book to deal with a jangling telephone. The phone takes the message and you can return it at your leisure (if you even want to return it at all). Recently some unhappy American who couldn't dial fast enough to intrude on as many other Americans as he felt he should in the average hour, came up with the idea of having a machine call you on behalf of a real person. Thanks to my answering machine, his machine tells mine to "Please hold the line for an important message". My answering machine is far more patient than I and will do this cheerfully. This angers this type of person, so to counteract this threatened resurgence of privacy, the forces of intrusiveness came up with the cellular phone and convinced everyone they needed one in their car (where people used to be alone with their thoughts and some nice music). Then, someone made them fully portable, so that now you find yourself fishing around in your pants pocket down on the floor of some toilet stall in which you have taken refuge, trying to stop the damn thing's happy electronic chirping.

12. Often does not seem to listen to what is being said to him or her.

Examples: The surgeon general has determined that cigarette smoking can be hazardous to your health. If you drink, don't drive. Buckle up for safety. Just say no to drugs.

13. Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities at school or at home.

The U.S. computer industry lost the microchip industry to Japan. Our computers won't run without them. Televisions, invented and developed in the U.S. are now made elsewhere. We need televisions to see the programs our entertainment industry produces.

14. Often engages in physically dangerous activities without considering possible consequences.

The Nuclear Arms race. Hang gliding. 50,000 paralyzing neck injuries each year from diving into shallow water without looking. Tens of thousands of people killed each year while speeding on highways.

One of the things you learn about ADD from your therapist is that you can't make it go away. It's a part of your makeup. You have to learn to play to your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses. You look for jobs that require quick thinking, adaptability and energy. You avoid jobs that are repetitive, require sustained attention to detail and a restrained social persona.

In the same way, America must play to its strengths, its energy, creativity and rugged individualism. Many economists, political commentators and management mavins would like to find ways to control the American economy or at least to reduce it to predictability. Elaborate economic theories and computer models can describe what is happening, but do not predict well. Picking trends is still pretty much a crapshoot and it should be. The American economy's strength is its adaptability, its energy and its healthy respect for the independence of the components of that economy. Government attempts to manage and regularize industry and business often only result in the loss of the very characteristics that make America the richest, most vibrant, resilient economy in the world. It is possible to be hyperactive with a short attention span and still come out well.

Just one man’s opinion…
Tom King
(c) 2005