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Sunday, July 13, 2008


I recently made a terrible mistake. I was curious about how to describe the average American. It seemed like a simple question. Of course I knew there is no such animal, but I had hopes. So I looked up the word. Immediately I was confused. “Average” comes from the Arabic word “awarya” translated through the French “avarie”, meaning damage to a ship’s cargo. ???????
Some how over the centuries, that morphed into a service owed by a tenant to his lord, then a tariff or a freight charge, then a divided share of damaged freight, then the median of something, and finally a representative sample of something. Or, to put it mathematically, the sum of all elements in a problem divided by the number of elements produces either the “mean average” or the element that shows up most often, which is the “mode average”, or the middle point, the value of a term when expressed as a variable, or the hatch back vegetable fuzzy face constellation, which is how the words in the dictionary started to look to me.
So in desperation I just went to the census page. Google the U.S. Census and I guarantee you will find enough numbers to prove damn near anything. 49.2% of all Americans are male and 50.8% are female and yet 61.3% admit to having worn a dress at lest once in the last two years.
According to the Census people, 12.6% of all Americans are Black, and 66.2% White. Meanwhile 50.4% of all Americans are married, but not necessarily to each other, because 30.5% never married, 18.5% are divorced, 2,2% are separated, 6.4% are widowed and 22..9% are contemplating killing their spouse if he doesn’t stop talking right now!

And here’s something else to think about; seaweed, future fuel or food for all. Either way it doesn’t help us here, so instead think about this; right now there are about 302 million Americans. We’re choking on our own exhaust fumes. But, on the bright side, pretty soon we will run out of oil, and thus run out of exhaust fumes. So we are now in a desperate search for new exhaust fumes. Will we ever find enough? Is there some way out of this mess before we have exhausted ourselves?

We have faced a crises like this before. In 1790, right after we won our independance, there were less than four million of us, and our biggest problem was that there were not enough of us. And we had no cars. Nobody wasted time doing studies on the problem. We were a “can do” nation in those days. We just went right out and drilled for more people: by 1800 there over five million of us. The 1860 census found 31 million Americans, and by 1900 there 76 million of us: problem solved
But then a new problem arose: out of those 76 million Americans nearly 10% were annoying, and that was up from just 8.3% in 1860. By 1950 our population had topped 152 million, and over 20% were annoying, with 6% qualifying as “Very Annoying”. The trend has continued to worsen. In 1990, out of 250 million people total, “Very Annoying” had reached 6% and “Simply Annoying” was approaching 16%, and, in a truly disturbing sign, 3.1% had achieved the new level of “if she doesn’t shut up I’m going to shoot myself!”
In 1900 only 3% of American homes had electricity, and only one third had running water. So the chances of being electrocuted in the shower in 1900 were very low. Today the average American spends ten minutes every day in the shower. Not only was the denizen of 1900 less likely to be electrocuted, but they had an extra 70 minutes every week to waste at the computer.

The average life expectancy for males in 1900 was 47 years, making Social Security a really good idea. (Why is it we never think of these things while they are an easy fix?) Interestingly, also in 1900, most Americans lived within one mile from where they worked. And even more interestingly, in 2008 the average commute (by internal combustion engine) took just under thirty minutes, or about the time it takes to walk a mile: I think somebody is trying to tell us something and I think that somebody is us. But are we listening to us? I doubt it. Who would ever listen to a bunch of know-it-alls like us?
According to one new book the average American lives within twenty minutes of a WalMart. For some reason I find that factoid really depressing.
The average American buys 800 gallons of gasoline a year, or did we did when we were complaining about $1.80 a gallon gasoline. At $4.00 a gallon we are putting less gas in our tanks but complaining more. The United States has 116,855 gas stations, or about one gas station for every 2,500 people. Almost a million people work at gas stations, but the average income of a gas station employee is just $16,449.00 a year, or about $12,000 a year less than the “average” American makes. This helps explain why Exxon Mobil made $40 billion in profit last year, and Chevron made $19 Billion. Clearly, when dealing with addictive substances like heroin or oil, the higher up the chain of distribution you are the more money you get to keep and the less often you get arrested.
So, after all of this research, I can now say two things about the average American. First, anybody who plays state lotteries knows nothing about mathematics. And the average American knows nothing about mathematics. Or Chemistry. Or Sociology. Or spelling. And the second thing was said by H.L. Menken almost a century ago: "The truth, to the overwhelming majority of mankind, is indistinguishable from a headache. After trying a few shots of it on his customers, the larval statesman concludes sadly that it must hurt them, and after that he taps a more humane keg, and in a little while the whole audience is singing ‘Glory, glory, hallelujah,’ and when the returns come in the candidate is on his way to the White House."
Are you listening, Barak? How about you, John?
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