The Honk And No-Honk Zones

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia:  the same brands of cars, equipped in precisely the same way, are sold in both the Midwest and New York City.  Even more surprising, there is no difference whatsoever in the configuration, design, or volume of horns in the cars sold in those two areas of the United States.

This seems impossible to believe, given the difference in honking practices between those two areas.  In Columbus, Ohio, you almost never hear a car horn.  Even in the face of the most egregious, selfish driving maneuvers imaginable — such as making a tardy left turn, blocking an intersection in heavy traffic, and stopping all movement on the crossing street — Columbusites will never, ever hit the horn.  It’s as if some prissy Miss Manners long ago declared that the rules of driving etiquette prohibited honking:  it just isn’t done.  And when Midwesterners, in moments of extreme angst, do lightly tap their horns, they will blush and look around to see if anyone they knew saw them commit such an appalling faux pas.  They obviously feel a deep sense of shame at their lack of personal control, like they just farted in an elevator.

In New York City, on the other hand, it’s as if drivers were actively looking for excuses to honk.  I suspect that Manhattan drivers’ training classes teach you to drive with one hand at 10 o’clock and the other positioned directly over the horn at all times.  In fact, I imagine that one full day of instruction is devoted to understanding the different levels of honking responses.  An NYC honk is never a single beep; the mildest option is a full-throated, goose-like triple honk and the scale ranges up to the ear-crushing continuous blast that can only be produced by an enraged, snarling driver who is leaning his entire body weight into hitting the horn to the maximum extent.  There doesn’t seem to be any relationship between the degree of traffic transgression and the appropriate honking response, either:  it all seems to depend on the stress levels of the driver.  If your day has sucked and you’ve been inhaling exhaust fumes forever in those concrete canyons  without making much progress, you might just welcome a mild violation of road rules that lets you unload some of that stress.

If you don’t believe me, take this test.  Go to the intersection of Broad and High Streets in the center of downtown Columbus and listen for a car horn.  You won’t hear one, even in the distance.  Go to any part of Manhattan and do the same thing and you will realize that the honking is so prevalent that it just blends into the cacophony of background noise.

Do drivers in Manhattan have to take their cars in for servicing on their horns?  When people go to buy a used car in the New York City area, do they always test the horn to make sure that it works?

To Tip, Or Not To Tip

Lately, it just seems like they are inventing new jobs that create impossible “tip, or don’t tip” scenarios.

IMG_6557Consider the guy who drives the shuttle bus from the long-term parking lot or the rental car office to the airport terminal.  He’s piloting a vehicle that you’re riding in, so he’s sort of like a cab driver.  He’s often lifting luggage and putting it on the inside racks, so he’s sort of like a doorman or bellhop.  Yet most people don’t give a thought to giving the shuttle bus driver a tip, whereas the cabbie, the doorman, and the bellhop all expect to get a gratuity.  Why?

The shuttle bus driver isn’t alone.  What about the folks who work at a cafeteria-like food line who have a jar with “tips” written on it by the cash register?  Are you really supposed to tip them?  I’m not saying their job is unimportant or unappreciated, but after all, they’re not coming to your table to take your order, drop off food, or clear off plates, they’re just spooning your grub into a styrofoam “to go” container.  Why, exactly, do they deserve a tip any more than the dishwasher or cook does?

What about the guys at the “genius” bar at the Apple store?  If they quickly fix your computer so you don’t need to buy a new one, is a tip in order?  What about the friendly kid behind the counter at Starbuck’s who remembers that you always get a grande with a double shot of espresso and caramel?  What about the woman who grooms your dog, or the service technician at the car dealership, or the guy who comes out to hook up your internet or fix the furnace?  When are you supposed to tip, and when not?  Is it all just convention and tradition, or is there something more to it?

The only tipping situation that makes perfectly good sense to me is the hair stylist.  She’s flitting around your head with sharp scissors or, in some instances, a razor, positioned just inches away from the jugular vein.  Of course you want to stay on her good side.  A few extra bucks to keep the stylist happy, and uninclined to plunge a sharp implement into the side of your neck, seems like a wise decision to me.  The rest is a mystery.

Goat-Blood Government

There are some among us who might contend that a little goat-blood guzzling might be good training for a politician.

After all, if you’re going to be sacrificing your principles on a regular basis, why not sacrifice a barnyard animal while you’re at it, and suck down the lip-smacking, iron-flavored richness of its still warm hemoglobin as you thoughtfully consider the many rewards of your chosen profession?  It kind of makes you wonder whether some of the other significant political figures of our time haven’t taken a nip or two of billy goat blood from time to time after they’ve come off the Senate floor or just finished a contentious committee hearing.

In Florida, a Senate candidate named Augustus Sol Invictus (that’s not his birth name, which he legally changed a few years ago to those rolling Latin words that mean “majestic unconquered sun”) has admitted to quaffing some goat hemoglobin.  Two years ago, Old Sol apparently walked from central Florida to the Mojave Desert — any geography buff will tell you that’s quite a jaunt — and spent a week fasting and praying, and then when he returned home alive he gave thanks by sacrificing a goat to the pagan “god of the wilderness” and then drank its blood.  And really, who among us, upon returning from a week-long visit to California, hasn’t been tempted to do the same?

Sol is a criminal lawyer — do you think he runs ads that say “Better Call Sol”? — who’s running as a Libertarian.  He thinks the government is “waging war on citizens” and citizens therefore have “the right to self-defense on government,” and he sees “a cataclysm coming.”  He admits to being investigated by the FBI, the U.S. Marshals, and other law enforcement personnel, but seems to take some pride in that fact and says he’s flattered that they think he’s a “threat to the stability of the system.”

I’m not sure about a threat to the system, but he’s proven that he’s a threat to goats.

Fake Philanderers And Just Desserts

The saga of the “Ashley Madison” website — which used the tagline “Life is short.  Have an affair.” and purported to bring together people looking for confidential extramarital liaisons — just keeps getting better and better from a “just desserts” standpoint.

The whole concept of the website is appalling, obviously, but nevertheless a number of people looking to cheat on their spouses evidently signed up.  Apparently they didn’t have any qualms about giving their personal and financial information to a website that existed solely to facilitate adulterous sexual trysts. That’s pretty amazing, when you think about it, because marital misconduct traditionally has been one of the biggest causes of blackmail and extortion in the world — which means any rational cheater would be pretty dubious of entrusting a third party to arrange for their affair.

But a bunch of unfaithful sleazebags nevertheless did so, anyway, which logically would make the “Ashley Madison” website and its trove of data about cheating husbands a prime target for hackers.  After all, if you were a criminal looking to gather information that could be used to extort money from others, wouldn’t a database that collected the information of millions of philanderers whose very participation in the website was self-incriminating be impossible to resist?  And, that’s exactly what happened.  When the hacking incident was disclosed to the website’s users, how many of those cheating spouses who were titillated by the idea of having an affair began to dread the thought of phone calls from unknown numbers and started to scan their mail for anonymous letters?

But the “chickens coming home to roost” element gets even richer.  The hacking revealed that the website’s membership was decidedly male in makeup, by about a five-to-one ratio — and now there are allegations that a number of the “female” members never actually existed.  Data experts have been looking at the “Ashley Madison” data released by the hackers and tracing it back to root IP addresses, and say they are finding that thousands of the “female” members curiously share the very same IP address.  Others are claiming that the website sent out computer-generated messages from fake female members to the scuzzball husbands who signed up for the website — and then those husbands paid the website for the privilege of responding to tantalizing messages from potential sex partners who didn’t actually exist.

So the faithless guys who tumbled to the lure of “Ashley Madison” have been hacked, exposed, become prime candidates for extortion, and now discovered that they stupidly may have been paying for a pig in a poke (so to speak).  Karma is a bitch, isn’t it?

Dire Forecasts Of 2015

This 1975 UPI article has been making the rounds lately.  It predicts, based on then-current usage rates and the reserves of petroleum known to exist at that time, that the “last barrel of oil” will have been pumped from the “last well on earth” in 2015.

Back in the ’70s, these kinds of dire forecasts and disaster scenarios were pretty commonplace — and all of them, incidentally, made predictions of what life would be like about 40 years into the future.  Whether it was oil crises, the “population bomb,” world-wide food shortages, air and water pollution poisoning the environment beyond redemption, or the ever-present possibility of global nuclear war leaving the Earth a dead, irradiated husk, there were catastrophes galore just waiting to happen a few decades into the future.  As a result, some of the popular fiction and movie scenarios of the day were pretty grim, with bestsellers like The Late Great Planet Earth and movies featuring Charlton Heston shouting to the world that “Soylent Green is people . . . people!”

So, here we are in 2015, at about the time when some of the worst stuff — overcrowded people penned up like goats in soulless camps being fed algae as the only reliable food supply, mass starvation, “nuclear winter,” a return to the Dark Ages due to lack of energy sources — was supposed to he happening.  Instead of pumping the last barrel of oil, however, we’ve discovered so much new oil and natural gas that the price of oil is plunging.  Instead of dirty-faced people overrunning the planet, we’ve seen a steady overall decline in global growth rates and, in some countries, concern that birth rates are so low that new citizens aren’t fully replacing those that are dying.  And while there is still hunger in the world, the Earth is producing an abundance of food.

You know, when you compare the calamitous predictions to the modern-day reality, 2015 really is pretty sweet.  Now, if only there were flying cars and cheap space travel . . . .

Another Killer From Australia

Recently scientists announced that they discovered a new species of snake that is native to Australia. And here’s a shocker:  the snake is a killer.

With the warm and fuzzy name of Kimberley Death Adder, the newly discovered species is considered to be one of the most venomous snakes in the world.  It lies in wait, camouflaged to blend in with its surroundings, until an unwary victim stumbles into its area, and then it strikes and bites with its deadly fangs.  Before an antivenom was developed and made available, it killed or paralyzed about half of its human victims.

It’s no surprise, really, that the Kimberley Death Adder is one of the most dangerous snakes in the world.  In Australia, it’s par for the course.  Even though many Americans associate Australia with beer and charming accents, the world’s only country-continent is home to an extraordinary assortment of deadly creatures, ranging from man-eating Great White Sharks to killer crocodiles to venomous, paralyzing snails to huge birds with killer claws that can rip off an arm to loads of poisonous fish, jellyfish, and octopus species.  Even certain species of purportedly cuddly koalas can be deadly.  And, of course, Australia is well-represented on the top 10 deadly snake and top 10 venomous spider lists.  There’s a reason Crocodile Dundee carried around that huge knife.

Even though I’d probably be scared snotless the entire time I was there and would need to keep an eye out at all time for spiders, snakes, and dozens of other potential killers, I’d still like to visit Australia one day:  it just seems like the right thing to do.  I’ve wanted to check it out since Kish and I read In A Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson’s classic and hilarious book about his travels in Australia. Now there’s just one more creature waiting to knock me off when I finally make the long flight to the other side of the world.