You’re driving along. You occupy an unyielding metal vehicle weighing a ton, more or less. You overtake a bicycle rider. You have a stripe of paint on the road to your left. You have a human being riding a bicycle on your right.
What kind of mind can’t decide which of these should be accorded the greater degree of inviolability? Whatever type it is, we seem to have lots of them among us. “I can’t cross that paint stripe! It’s a double yellow! I’ll just grit my teeth and take a chance with that human life over there!”
You’d think people could figure this out a little better, yet time after time this odd pattern evidences itself. Not only do we get obscure glimpses into the minds of single individuals this way, we also see how humanity tend to act when in “herd mode.” On the positive side, when one person in a line of traffic swings wide to give the bicyclist some room, the rest tend to follow along. This vice works versa, however, since the opposite pattern is just as likely to appear. One person deciding to “play chicken” with the bicycle rider will lead a string of drivers to engage in similar behavior. Apparently, we are only about as good as the people around us. Read more…
The translation here, 21st century style, is, “I know I did something to inconvenience you, but I don’t really want to have an unpleasant exchange with you, and I certainly don’t want to change my behavior in any way, either, so I am saying this meaningless thing I learned in elementary school so you’ll go away and not say anything unpleasant to me to try to get me to actually take responsibility for my actions.”
Do I sound grumpy? Maybe I am.
But the translation is almost Hemingway-esque, in a way, isn’t it? I mean in terms of sentence structure. Content and meaning be damned. Hemingway nor his characters would have said anything so insincere. Imagine one of Papa’s characters making a false apology. I mean, really. They were more likely to leave a righteous apology unsaid than to make one insincerely. But the compound sentences, Man! Look at the sentence structure!
But back to the issue, I am “apologized” to almost daily in this way. I have occasion to run and ride my bike on a series of paved trails just miles from my house. The trails are marked with a center stripe designed, I suppose, to keep everybody in line. Still, I am constantly coming up behind pairs and groups of pedestrians and cyclists who have arranged themselves across the entire width of the trail, blocking it rather quite completely with their wide, wide, butts, their canine companions, their double-wide strollers, their colorful magnesium bicycles and associated festive costumery. There is a plenitude of what-all out there, believe me. Read more…
Speaking of that whole keep-up-with-the-traffic thing, one situation really screams out for it. Think of the last time you found yourself at the end of a long line of cars at a stop light. Didn’t you wish everybody would just go when the light turned green–I mean, hurry, even? Typically, the drivers at the front know they have a pretty good chance of getting through the light, so they don’t have any urgency about it. But how about the guys at the back? Wouldn’t it be karmicly appropriate for the ones at the front to think of the poor schlubs at the back? Well, of course it would.
That’s sort of banal, I admit, but it gets more interesting. This simple, everyday situation actually involves all sorts of thoughts, beliefs, fears and associated mental/emotional human what-all. Take the simple calculation that every car-length that develops as the cars go through the light equals one more schlub who won’t be making it through. You’d think that would be simple math for most people, and it is in many major cities where the horns start honking three seconds before the light turns green, but it is not the case generally across the country. What happens more generally is that the first car goes, develops a few car-lengths of lead, and then the second car goes, and the pattern continues in its petty pace on down the line. We end up getting about one-half to one-third of the cars through as we would have with a little more adroit behavior–all this as people dimly try to recall some rule or other about following distance they learned in high school. What was it? Something about car lengths and miles per hour? Needless to say, the anal specificity of “one car-length for every ten miles per hour” has a way of leaving the normal person cold–or should I say, confused. Too much math, right? Let me break it down for you, though: If you’re hardly moving, you don’t need much following distance.
In the extreme, this slow-mo approach to driving through lights leads to another unfortunate occurrence–the dreaded sensor-in-the-street gotcha. In this scenario, even fewer people get through the light than might have otherwise, and this is because people don’t consider the fact that lights are set to turn red when it appears no more traffic needs to get through the light. Sensors in the streets oversee the process, and excessive gaps in the flow of traffic set them off. Read more…
There is something that approximately one in five of you could do for the rest of us, something that seems quite easy, and why wouldn’t you want to do something easy that helped many other people? It really would entail no downside for you at all. It’s simply a matter of keeping up with traffic, if you could please. Or getting out of the way. Thanks so much.
See, I began commuting on four-lane, non-Interstate highways recently. These roads have traffic signals rather frequently along the way, and I find myself stopped behind lines of cars several times in my 20-mile trip to work. The really surprising thing I have noticed is how many people continue to sit still when the light turns green. Then, once they finally get going, they allow the cars in front of them to pull even farther away while they maintain a much slower speed, and yes, as you might have guessed, they usually occupy the left lane where they do not belong.
All these people would have to do is depress their gas pedals a fraction more, and they would be right there, a reasonable distance behind the car in front of them; instead, the car in front of them disappears in the distance while they cruise along right beside the car next to them in the right lane. Meanwhile many cars are piling up behind them, and many of the drivers inside them are becoming quite annoyed. Read more…
[Edit: Dang, I missed the 19th by eleven minutes! Oh, well.]
Today is a memorable day in human history, we’re told. The World Toilet Organization has declared it National Toilet Day. The WTO (not that one, this one) seems to want to pull a straight face as they do so, though. They would remind us, rather gravely, of the filth in which we would live were it not for the “porcelain convenience” to which most of us in the western world have become accustomed. Talk about serious; organizers delivered speeches Wednesday on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The U.S. is even using a shuttle mission to deliver a new toilet to the international space station. The toilet is really making headlines (did I say that?).
The straight face might betray itself with a few wry creases as the organizers state that the WTO “has been striving to elevate the status of toilets to make them status symbols and objects of desire.”
Or maybe they are not grinning behind this facade; maybe they are sincere. Maybe these fellas just ain’t been around that much. But object of desire? I mean, I have seen some smooth curves on a nicely turned out commode in my time, but I never really had any desire for them, not the way I might harbor lust for, say, my girl Scarlett Johansson . Read more…
It was bound to happen, and it did, early in the campaign so that measures could be taken. I refer, of course, to the calls from various entities that Barack Obama is “tryna ac’ white.” I don’t know exactly what the Obama campaign did to quell this particular complaint, but it seems to have gone away as quickly as it came.
The issue makes one wonder, though. For example, how would a person go about doing such a thing? If he or she did so successfully, how would another person tell if he were doing it and if it were intentional? Apparently, many people see no problem making such judgments. Also significant, though, is whether a person can be judged too harshly for doing it in the first place. I mean, lots of white people do it every day, apparently, and it’s hard to condemn a whole race without coming in for some condemnation yourself.
Another question occurs as a natural outgrowth of the conversation: Assuming that certain behaviors and attitudes still can be recognized as “white” or “black” in 21st century America, why do such racial distinctions still exist after centuries of racial coexistence? Wouldn’t you think, under normal circumstances, that a certain blending and mellowing would have taken place over the centuries? Wouldn’t you think that whatever differences existed historically would have by this time become almost imperceptible? That, clearly, is not the case. Something must be going on here. One wonders how intentional this something might be.
Boundaries and limits. Limits and boundaries. Life is full of these. Why would anyone try to raise a child without a proper grounding in these necessities? We can guess at some of the possible reasons, but people try to do it all the time. Really. All the time.
Sometimes we needn’t guess why certain individuals try to accomplish this trick. Obviously, people exist for whom something went slightly awry in their childhoods, something that made limits and boundaries seem as negative things when they are, rather, quite positive things—when executed properly, that is. It definitely can happen.
My own life provides evidence for how these social constructs can get a bad name. My parents are, as they say, no longer with us, but let’s just say they were no model for how to teach the value and benefit of boundaries and limits. They were inconsistent; they were needlessly harsh from time to time, and often hypocritical, sometimes transgressing the reasonable limits society had placed upon them, and doing so within sight of the kids. To their credit, perhaps, they did so with a certain admirable élan at times, but still, the fact of the violation, in the face of the strictures they applied to the children at home—well, it just didn’t take a juvenile genius to see through it all and come to one’s own conclusions on the matter. One began to see that boundaries and limits could be a pretty fungible commodity, and that is not the most comfortable discovery for a child to make.
And then life went on and put me in a place where, in 25 years as a teacher and coach in various institutions of public instruction, I learned the value of limits and boundaries while dealing with some 3000 young people—other people’s kids, in fact—many of whom had never heard of such a thing as a boundary before and perhaps not even since.
I don’t know what got into me, exactly, but on a whim, I entered “I can haz” into a Google search. I guess I was becoming aware how often the phrase appears as I surf around. I wondered how pervasive it had become, how much cultural penetration it had achieved. Google came up with almost 300,000 references to the phrase, a statistic that gave me pause. (Check it now. Maybe the total has gone up since the date of this post.)
This “cultural penetration” thing is interesting, though, and we’ve all experienced the phenomenon, usually as the uncomfortable feeling that comes from being with someone who is just picking up on something that we have become tired of ourselves. It’s like you got penetrated a long time ago, but this person has just now gotten nailed. What explains that? Perhaps he was hiding in some cultural backwater? Perhaps he has a life?
But ah, the fads: They begin; they gain currency; they end. But not really, huh? Maybe they just keep penetrating like the old television broadcasts of I Love Lucy, which are some 57 light years out in space now. Bless her, Lucy has been hurtling through the galaxy at the speed of light as long as I have been alive. Some far-off alien is just now saying, “So turn off the conveyor belt already!” Read more…
With the Dalai Lama so much in the news lately, I am struck by how many commentators mangle the pronunciation of his title. I mean, he’s a Nobel Peace Prize winner (1989), for crying out loud. Can we get this right?
It seems that many of them pronounce it “DOLL-lee LAH-muh.” The more approved western pronunciation, however, seems to be something along the lines of “DOLL-eye LAH-mah” (see the resources below). The man himself, heard in recent interviews, seems to say something like “dah-LA-la-ma,” almost as if it were one word with the accent on the second syllable.
One particularly frustrating instance of this confusing pronunciation phenomenon occurred in an interview (3/26/08) on NPR‘s Fresh Air. In her discussion with Pico Iyer, author of The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Terry Gross continued to call the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists worldwide the “Dolly Lama” despite the fact that the interviewee, a man acquainted with the Dalai Lama for over 30 years, kept pronouncing it in the approved western fashion.
The natural question is, “What’s going on here?”
This is one “convention” of journalists that could use some some serious reflection. Whenever someone shoots more than one or two victims, members of the chattering class will refer to the incident as a “shooting spree.” The phrase, ringing so close to the more common “shopping spree,” makes it sound as if someone were having just a whole lot of fun killing people.
The phrase is problematic on so many levels. It has become a particularly obnoxious cliché in the vast majority of cases, it is anything but accurate; furthermore, and more to the point, the phrase could encourage impressionable fringe characters by making the actions of a crazy person sound attractive and fun.
I don’t know which is a worse offense, frankly. I hate cliché s, I hate fuzzy, inaccurate prose, but the idea of making a destructive act of utter desperation sound like fun does not strike me as all that useful, either.