I Hate Those “How Am I Driving?” Bumper Stickers

I hereby confess to you all:  I hate those “How Am I Driving?” bumper stickers that you see on so many commercial vehicles.

IMG_3030The point of the bumper sticker, evidently, is to indicate that the company that owns the truck or van deeply cares about the views of the other poor unfortunates on the highway and will take stern action if it receives complaints about reckless or otherwise crappy driving by its employees.  (The alternative explanation — that the drivers themselves are incredibly needy people who crave constant reinforcement from complete strangers about their driving abilities — is too disturbing to contemplate.)

Was there ever an emptier effort by a business to establish a positive civic profile?  Has anyone ever actually called the number shown?  I’ve got to believe you get a recording and a confusing set of different push-button options — if the number is even a real number in the first place.

Are you supposed to call while you are driving, or are you supposed to somehow jot down the phone number while you are driving, as well as the number of the particular vehicle, and then call later?  Either way, the bumper stickers seem designed to hinder highway safety, rather than promote it.  And, even worse, isn’t it awfully presumptuous for the business owner to think that I’ll waste my precious time giving them feedback on their employees?  Who in the world would care so little about the value of their free time that they would spend it calling a number to tell some flunky about about somebody else’s driving?

If a company wants to be a good member of the community, let them treat their customers fairly, pay their employees a reasonable wage, and support civic institutions.  They shouldn’t try to skate by with some meaningless bumper sticker.

Guns, Guns, Guns . . . And Distraction

Your daily newspaper and your favorite news websites have been dominated recently by news about guns and gun control.  Since the awful shootings at the Sandy Hook elementary school, where a heavily armed lunatic murdered more than two dozen children and adults, our political leaders have been talking a lot about firearms and what we can do to prevent another horrible massacre.

In an odd way, the opportunity to talk about guns must be a kind of welcome relief for our politicians, because the gun control debate lets each party retreat to safe, time-honored positions that appeal to their bases.  Democrats understand that most of their voters will support attempts to license gun owners, register all weapons, and restrict or even ban ownership of “assault weapons” or other firearms.  Republicans, on the other hand, know that their supporters will cheer vigorous defenses of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms and stalwart opposition to overly zealous attempts to regulate gun ownership.

I suspect that all of the talk, talk, talk about guns is, in part, a means of distracting voters from other pressing issues.  Members of Congress and the Obama Administration would rather stay snugly in their gun debate comfort zones than deal with the spending, tax, and budget deficit issues that have far more long-term significance for our country.  With all the talk about guns, how much discussion of those core economic issues have you heard recently?  When those issues are in the forefront, and feet are being held to the fire, there are no easy, pat answers and no rote appeals to political bases.

As terrible as the Sandy Hook shootings were, we shouldn’t let our political leaders divert our attention from the federal debt time bomb and other issues that are restraining our economy.  Yesterday we received an unpleasant reminder of these problems when it was announced that gross domestic product dropped in the fourth quarter of last year.  Imagine:  our economy actually shrank during the hottest shopping season of the year.  It’s time we remind Congress and the President of the paramount need to focus on the hard budget and economic issues, before our economy plunges into another recession.

Patterns In The World Around Us

IMG_3024Studies show that the human brain is geared to recognizing patterns.  We see faces in the random dots on wallpaper, or Jesus’s head in the rust stains on an oil tank, because that’s just the way we’re wired.

Our brains reject disorder and crave order — so when you get a chance to feed that craving, as occurs when you look at the delicately latticed, carefully ordered, vaulted interior ceiling of the Hyatt Arcade in Cleveland, your brain is most appreciative.

The Pathetic, Performance-Enhanced World Of Professional Sports

Every week brings new allegations about professional athletes using performance-enhancing substances and odd treatments for injuries.  This week is no different.  The allegations get made, and the athletes issue denials, and the games go on.  Who’s to know whether that great athletic performance you so admired was the result of hard work, careful training, and focus, or the juice of the root of the exotic zub zub tree?

It’s appropriate that the issue of performance-enhancing drugs was raised this week, because it’s Super Bowl Week — the week of the worst wretched sports excess in an America that is characterized by wretched sports excess.  Want to know why some athletes take performance-enhancing drugs?  Take a look at the outrageous trappings of the Super Bowl, the money-drenched parties, and the adulation poured on the participants, and you’ll have the answer to your question.  If you have a chance to become a household name who will be paid tens of millions of dollars to play a sport, wouldn’t you be tempted to take drugs that might allow you to realize that goal?

I’m heartily sick of American professional sports.  I’m sick of the ludicrous contracts, the players who are all about themselves and not about their teams, the blowhard jock-sniffing owners, the celebrity coaches, the athletes who have become cult figures, the luxury boxes, the mindless endorsements, and just about everything else that has to do with professional sports.  Whatever innocence once existed in sport is long gone, and a sick money culture has taken its place.

This week, I’m going to protest by not watching the Super Bowl.  I’ll watch college sports instead, and try to convince myself that the huge amounts of money floating around student athletes haven’t ruined the college games, too.  I know that my little protest will make no difference, and the Super Bowl will set another viewership record, but I don’t care.  I’ve had it.

Forgotten Syria, Powerless UN

People have forgotten about Syria, but not because things have gotten better there.  Instead, Syria has simply been knocked off the front page by the French action in Mali, Lance Armstrong’s confession, and countless other, fresher stories.

Yesterday, evidence emerged of another horrific mass killing in Syria.  More than 70 bodies were found by a river near the town of Aleppo; some had hands tied behind their backs and gun shot wounds to the head.  The UN estimates that more than 60,000 people have been killed in a conflict between the Assad government and opposition groups that has lasted for a year.  The opposition blames the government, and the government blames the opposition forces, and in the meantime Syrians keep getting slaughtered.

Predictably, the news of the latest massacre brought another call for international intervention and action by the UN Security Council.  There will be no UN action, of course, because the Security Council is deadlocked, with China and Russia resisting any action that might be taken against the Assad government.  Even the U.S., Great Britain, and France are just pushing for resolutions that threaten sanctions.  UN resolutions aren’t likely to do much good when armed men are kicking in your door and taking members of your family out for execution.

We’re paying no attention to it, but Syria should be teaching us two valuable lessons and reminding us of a third, sad reality of the modern world.  The first lesson is that the UN is a weak institution that will rarely take decisive action; contrast the French action in Mali to the UN’s dithering about Syria, and you get a good idea of the difference between a nation and an “international institution.”  The second lesson is that the cries of the “Arab street” about mistreatment of Arabs are hollow and hypocritical.  Where are the mass protests in front of Syrian embassies throughout the Arab world when each new outrage is unveiled?  We should all remember the lack of any meaningful Arab response to the murder of thousands of Syrians the next time we hear angry Arab denunciations of claimed Israeli misconduct toward the Palestinians or American unfairness.

And the cold, cruel reality is that the world has only so much appetite for horror and outrage before it turns off the TV.  The BBC story linked above refers to the “Syria crisis,” but that’s not quite right.  A true “crisis” involves a crucial point of decision.  That doesn’t exist here, because the world seems to have accepted that the Assad regime will remain in power and continue to kill its opponents.  If there were a policeman in front of the yellow tape surrounding the Syrian crime scene, he would be saying:  “There’s nothing to see here.  Move along.”

The Penny Chronicles

My name is Penny.

Yesterday I was bad, but I don’t care.

IMG_3018While the Leader was away, I found her boot.  I love that boot.  It smells like the Leader’s foot.  It has fur on the inside, and it’s chewy on the outside.  I’ve smelled it before, but I’ve never chewed it because the Leader takes it away.

This time, the Leader wasn’t there.  So, I sat down and began to chew.  When my tooth finally sank through the leathery outside into the fur, it was like heaven!  When I ripped a piece off the boot, it was even better.  I chewed and tugged, and chewed and tugged, and kept pulling off little pieces of boot.  They all smelled great, because they smelled like the Leader.  After a while, there was a pile of boot pieces.

Then, the Leader came home.  She saw what I did, and she acted mad.  Deep down, though, I know she wasn’t really mad.  She understood that I needed to chew that boot.  That’s why she’s such a great Leader.

I don’t care about the old boring guy’s shoes.

About Those New Disney Bracelets . . . .

The Walt Disney Company is ready to roll out an interesting new initiative.  This spring, at Walt Disney World in Orlando, park visitors will have the option of using new “MagicBand” bracelets.

These aren’t your normal amusement park bracelets that show that you paid the entrance fee.  Instead, they will be embedded with radio frequency identification chips that will allow visitors to enter the park, enter hotels, and buy food and souvenirs.  The bracelets also would tell that approaching Disney character your child’s name before they are introduced and would allow a visitor’s path around the park to be tracked.  They are part of a broader Disney digital initiative to allow visitors to use the bracelets, their smartphones, and other devices to customize their trip to the Magic Kingdom and provide for a better park experience.

00019715Privacy advocates are concerned about the information that is collected as a result of use of the bracelets and whether it could be misused.  The privacy issues doesn’t worry me, however.  The bracelets are optional, and the reality of the modern world is that vast amounts of our personal information is already accessible to corporate America as a result of our smartphones, apps that push data to our locations, Facebook postings, and countless other newfangled devices and contraptions that know as much about us as our family members.  If people are leery about wearing a bracelet that adds to the data mix, they can just say “no.”

I think the bigger issue is that the bracelets allow Disney characters to know your toddler’s name and use it as they approach.  Isn’t that kind of . . . creepy?  How will little kids react if a large plastic-headed creature, much bigger than the delightful character they’ve seen on their TV screen, comes marching up saying their names?  Will they be terrified, or will it feed into the “I’m the center of the universe” mindset that makes some kids intolerable brats?  Or, will it give kids an overly trusting view of the world?  I’m not sure I’d want my kids to think it was normal that some stranger wearing a colorful costume knows their name.

On the flip side, this development has got to make the job of being a Disney character even more painful.  Now, you not only have to wear that stuffy Goofy head and hot, furry costume on those broiling Florida days, you also have to correctly call out the names of MagicBand-wearing tots — all the while keeping a watchful eye out for the brats who want to kick you in the knee or even more tender areas.  How do you think the doting, smartphone-obsessed parents who paid for that MagicBand bracelet to ensure their gifted child has the perfect Disney experience will react if you call their little Timmy little Tommy instead?