Monday, December 31, 2007

Dissent vs. Decent, or, "Why can't we all just get along?"

Can dissent be decent?

Comments made to my post, "Liberty!" got, in my opinion, WAY off-topic. Therefore, in an attempt to save the theme of that post, I'm starting a new thread on the commenters' topic. I'd post the comments and then move them if I could figure out how (I'm new at this), but lacking that, I've pasted the new comments to Liberty! into this post instead, and have included a couple of lines from other comments (each source labeled). I'm hoping this will work better, and that readers who wish to read, and possibly comment upon the subject of "Liberty!" will be able to do so.
Background for this present post:
Phritz, posted Dec 25 to "More on unfair bias"
Anon, posted Dec 26 to "Liberty!"
Dooz, posted Dec 26 to "Liberty!"
Max, Dec 27, sent to "Liberty!", not posted until now:
I'll sign my name and second anon's comments. I don't see the personal attack. I see an intelligent person who's become lost and depairing. Anon's comments are spot on. Democracy requires healthy citizens, not despairing preachers. You've started with that hammer and nails by building this blog- as have I at New Worlds. One of the best things you can you for yourself after building a content infrastructure is to open it up to other voices from whom you can gain insight. Try not to make it an echo chamber- easier said than done. Don't ban dissenters unless they're really obnoxious and only seek to poison the atmosphere.

When I built my blog I invited several close friends to partake and post articles of their own. Some of these were very challenging to me philosophically and artistically. One of my closest friends since college turned out to have deep personal views antithetical to my own in many respects. We railed at each other and left wounds from our sparring, but over time we came to have a better sense of what drives us as human beings. The poster is still my close personal friend, indeed closer in many ways than before the blog began.

As for the ideological divide, I try to stay away from an Us vs. Them mindset, realizing this is often very difficult. I prefer to focus on positive principles of what I believe in and seek allies to help drive towards accomplishing these goals. Often this leads back to the trap of identifying obstructors of my ideal and attacking them as an enemy. The process requires constant vigilance. I could advise you to stay away from right wing media, but I often make the error of indulging in the echo chamber of my side. I do, however, gravitate towards those who speak to my heart with their own positive visions and who give me inspiration to build a better future- not to defeat an enemy as much as to leave them in the dust as I find and build a new world.

I truly hope this is taken well. It's given in good spirit (though without the guidance of God I'm afraid).

Peace, Max
Dr. Zaius, Dec 28, sent to "Liberty!", not posted until now:

I said I'd return the favor of a visit. Here it is (and don't be a stranger to Infinite Monkeys).

Love this post. Well done. And maybe you shouldn't be so hard on Anon. I think his/her heart is in the right place.

[Balance was on-topic for "Liberty!" and thus is posted there.]
My response to the latter two comments:
Max and Dr. Z: Sorry your comments didn't get up sooner, but I've been away, both to finally get my Christmas cards in the mail and to let the first- and second-degree burns I sustained at the New Worlds blog heal some.

I've also spent time considering Matt Crash's farewell post, where he asserts "Blogs have started to make my head hurt.", and deciding whether he was right and I'm trying to enter where everyone else is leaving and I should just give it up. I really don't need the abuse.

Here's the history (not all apparent here): I happened upon a thread at New Worlds re equal pay for equal work, and jumped into the dialog. 3 things happened:

1. There was a pleasant, on-topic interchange for a while.

2. Somebody who read that thread posted a comment (under the name of Phritz) regarding what was being said on that blog over on my blog, on a sort-of-related topic, and after I accepted his comment, he sent 3 more which, shall I say, didn't exactly fit my limits.

3. At least one of the regulars on New Worlds read my blog and flamed me--nay, napalmed me--back on New Worlds, under the thread on equal pay (definitely off-topic!), and his/her friends jumped on me as well.

Having given that background, I'll reply to both Max and Dr. Z at the same time (if I can make that coherent--which, according to byronius I can't simply because I'm too conservative to ever be coherent).

First, to both Anon and Max: I do wish to have open dialog on this blog, but I won't let it become "Friday Night Smack-Down", so I'll continue to moderate. And Max, you know one reason why, since you have moderated in one case.

So Max, in your thankfully civil comment, you're saying I should have my blog open to varying opinions, not let it be or become an enclave of those who believe the same and merely pat each other on the back for being so smart? Are you saying it should be like your blog, where the regulars will hijack their own friend's thread to dehumanize, name-call, and rant at someone whose statements (not even on the same blog!) they disagree with? (And then everybody else will join in the clubbing, kicking, and beating?)

Dr. Z, you suggested I was too hard on Anon. Maybe so, but I looked back on his/her comment, and as I still read it, it's more rant than coherent assertion; I still don't know what's being said, and for the most part, I don't see how it addresses the topic (as opposed to condemning the whole post). Notice, Max, that I allowed it to be published anyway.

(BTW, from the writing style and content, I'm guessing anon = byronius, although at first I thought anon = Phritz.)

In a second (unpublished) comment (which was much more personal attack than the first), Anon asserted his/her right (s/he used the word "privilege" but with the tone of "right", as in "that's my privilege") to post anonymously. Sorry, anon, you do not have any such right; in fact, since it's my blog, you have no rights on it at all, only privileges as I allow. (In fact, to get technical, I don't have rights, only the privileges Blogspot allows me, and they in turn only have the privileges the Internet allows them.) Maybe, Anon, part of your problem with me is that you have some things mixed up, including this fallacy that you should have "rights" on my blog. (Seems to me an awful lot of people these days think they have rights that are not even rights, but privileges or rewards.)

I not only don't need to allow your rants, I don't even need to allow comments at all! Rights! Humph!

To all readers and commenters including those presently cited: It's my blog, and I'm responsible for its content, and I won't allow others to hijack it. As my disclaimer says, I won't allow personal or group attacks or off-topic (being the relevant issues to this post). I value on-topic input, of whatever perspective (which is more than I can say for byronius!). That is, input that is a part of a thoughtful dialog; rants don't meet my definition.

And, repeating, it's my definition that counts because it's my blog.

(And btw, if you don't like my blog, you don't have to read it.)

And now, one final comment to those who would categorize me:

1. Can't be done, because my beliefs are mine; I have thought them through and reached my own conclusions, and I do not simply fall into some defined group (and such groups may be largely mythical anyway).

2. Byronius, you say (on New Worlds) that what I wrote on my blog is "[p]athetic, anti-historical, freeperesque, backwards [expletive]." And you go on to show your intellectual openness: "You sound like you watch Fox News religiously. From now one[sic], I'll filter your semi-sexist, semi-racist 'reason' through the revelatory essence of this [cited] comment from your blog. At least you're honest, if ill-informed, inadvertently cruel, and half-insane."

Problem with your conclusion is that "Phritz" says (in a rant I blocked), "Hey Dooz---why not respond to my comment instead of simply reacting, and claiming this is "negative" or chiming in with the lame "xenophobic" accusations of one McDyslexic? You sound nearly as PC-liberal and bureaucratic as NW gals do."

So what am I? Am I a "semi-sexist, semi-racist" hopeless conservative? Or am I "PC-liberal and bureaucratic"?

I'll tell you what I think of all this: Neither Phritz nor byronius are doing any good. Neither of you are saying anything which will influence anybody. Both of you are giving all kinds of ammunition to "the other side" by living up to the stereotypes of "your group". My reaction is simply, shame on you both; come talk to me when you have something to say.

Desmond Tutu reports that his father gave him this advice: "Don't raise your voice. Improve your argument."

Good advice for all of us.

End of rant/lecture/sermon. I'll stick with blogging a little while longer and see if it can work.

Dissent welcome, but keep it decent.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?
Thomas Jefferson
A friend sent me an e-copy of one issue of David Jeremiah's "Turning Point" (Nov 10, 11, 2007), in which he acknowledges the signing of the Mayflower Compact, the first time in recorded history that "a group of people freely of their own volition established a covenant to create a new civil government of their own". The start of true democracy, a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" (as Lincoln would later put it).

But as Dr. Jeremiah notes, that Covenant was very explicit about God being the only true foundation of that democracy. This is extraordinarily important for us to notice today because God has been shoved to the side in our society, if we are to believe the media.

Do we need God? Hollywood, the mainstream news media, and many of our political leaders say emphatically no. Well, let's look at the facts:

Now that we have largely freed ourselves from the primitive superstitious beliefs about there being a God, crime and violence are up, big business is out of control and robbing us, industry is all but gone in our country (nearly everything we buy is made in China except cars, and we're not buying Detroit's cars) as we've become a "service economy" (but try and get decent service anywhere!), as people are having "more and enjoying it less". Addiction is up, drug use is epidemic (even Hollywood stars who are rabid anti-smoking do drugs), personal relationships are less satisfying and shorter-lasting. Personal property ownership is up, but never satisfying; even maxing out one's debt can't buy enough "toys" to make one happy.

The fact is that we need God. We can't have a democracy that continues to work unless we live a life of belief in God.

Democracy means what? The people are self-governing. But many of us today are not governed; our whole way of functioning is controlled by "Me First". Many people disregard laws and regulations, governed only by "Me First".

If you don't believe me, you haven't been in traffic lately, or you weren't looking. Did we need red light cameras back when we were primitive and superstitious? Were our roads filled with unlicensed, uninsured drivers then? Was driving 60 mph through a school zone epidemic then?

Back before we evolved towards not needing a God-myth, were our jails filled? (For that matter, were our jails places where criminals were treated like heros?) Back then, did gangs completely rule over whole areas of our cities. Back then, were people afraid to walk outside? Back then, did innocent people live behind bars, barricaded against crime?

While we were unevolved and ignorant, were our streets loaded with homeless people? Were our freeway off-ramps occupied by panhandlers?

Before we were wise enough to remove the 10 Commandments from our schools, did students massacre their fellows? Was teen drug abuse and suicide (there's only a slight difference between the two) epidemic? Were eating disorders common? (The argument you'll hear on that is that the problem was covered up back then, but then the propaganda of today is that things were always as they are now, just undercover.)

So apparently, we haven't evolved enough. Or maybe we've gone backwards. I assert that our democracy is doomed, that democracy can't function unless the people govern themselves, and that we're failing to do that, and that thus, we are headed to a "police state" as the only way to keep some sort of order.

Have a happy day!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Bon nadal! / ¡Feliz Navidad! / Joyeux Noël! / Merry Christmas!/ Happy Christmas!

As I post this, it has already been Christmas for up to seven hours elsewhere in the world. If you are east of New York, please forgive my tardiness.

It's amazing how many languages* have a way of greeting/blessing on this day** we celebrate the birth of a baby to a working-class woman in an out-of-the-way place in an out-of-the-way land.

Jesus never traveled more than a couple of days' walk from his birthplace (unless you count his infancy in Eygpt), yet has made such an impact that nearly the entire world uses a calendar based on the date of his birth.

At his death on a cross, a Roman officer said of him, "Surely this man was the Son of God!" Could his life and death have had such an impact on the world if he had not been?

* The 4 languages in the title represent some of my ancestry (Catalan, Castilian, French, English--US and UK). (Not enough room in the title for them all, but I'm also German, Scots-Irish, Original American, and Dutch. I'm a true American.)

** Many celebrate 25 December as Christmas, but many celebrate 6 or 7 January. We actually don't know what date Jesus was born. Our best estimate (based on historic and astronomical events as recorded in the Gospels) is that the year was 4 BC. Yes, our calendar was based on earlier which estimates we now consider inaccurate.

C'est le Guerre.

On Infinitemonkeys Dec 21, there is a discussion of the French and their hatred of the US, and the Democrats and other liberals and their "defeatist" attitude toward the Iraq war (also, there's a link to a National Review article about the French).

Okay, I might as well weigh in.

The French:
Q: How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris?
A: Nobody knows; they've never tried.

I only wish that as the French leaders and media continue to hate us, they would stop a minute and remember where they were without us. Americans liberated France from the Kaiser's occupation. Americans drove the Nazis out. (BTW, if you contact the common people along the coast of Normandy, you will be greeted very warmly as an American.)

Even though American soldiers died to liberate the French and are buried on French soil, our aircraft were not allowed to fly over that same soil in the defense of the same democracy.

Okay, enough of that rant.

The Democrats and liberals:
Okay, so there's differing views on the war. Some believe, like the French, that it's never okay to fight [unless it's with someone who disagrees with your beliefs]. But I have two problems with the Democrats and the liberals, but they're really one problem.

Seems to me the only thing they're thinking about is keeping themselves in office and getting more power. So they want Bush to fail. Therefore, they'll sabotage the war (and bring disgrace on their own nation) if that's what it takes to get the control. (This value system was shown all too graphically when Louisiana Gov. Blanco stonewalled the Bush Administration's attempts to get aid going into Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. Let her constituents drown, starve, die, but don't let the Republicans get any credit for helping! Then after her "mistakes" and those of Mayor Nagin, they both tried to blame Bush. [Backfired though, as their faults came out in the hearings.])

Concerning the War on Terror, seems to me that the actions and statements of the Democrats would in other times (say, WWII) have been considered treason.

At least the French are outsiders. No excuse for the Democrats.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

More on unfair bias

A lot is being said (including by me) against bias due to racial, ethnicity, gender, etc. But I don't hear much about bias due to good looks or the lack thereof. Yet we have widespread discrimination against the less-than-lovely, and stereotyping galore. And this has been going on for ages, and continues unabated even while we're protesting against other forms of bias.

What's wrong with ethnic or gender bias? Isn't it that we're judging people by superficial factors and depersonalizing them into groups and stereotypes? Well isn't that exactly what we do with the pretty and unpretty?

We start as children, and adults do it to children, too. Cute babies get oohed and aahed over, but not-so-cute babies get a polite "positive" comment. Children choose up teams and pick first the big and strong (although to be fair, this usually settles in to picking on the basis of performance--still not nice, but at least that's based on something relevant).

I'll have to yield as well that whereas we have no choice whatsoever what ethnicity or gender we are, we have some choice in whether we'll be attractive or not. In a scene from "Legally Blonde", Elle describes Vivian as "not altogether unfortunate"; here was a basically pretty woman who was doing little to be attractive. I have seen women who were not very pretty be very attractive by having good posture and poise, wearing flattering clothes, hairstyle, and makeup, by exercising a great smile, etc. (Pardon my gender bias here, but I look at woman a lot more than I look at men.)

Still, the normal way it works is that the less-than-lovely are told they're not pretty, and they tend to grow into the role (just as the classic Negro lack-of-eye-contact, when making eye contact with a white could get you lynched).

I encourage you, in this "good will toward all men" season and as a New Year's resolution, that you look into the persons you come in contact with, and show caring for the person, rather than a mere response to the outside appearance.

My definitions:
Prettiness: The outward appearance; that which a person has genetically.
Attractiveness: What the person does with his/her appearance.
Beauty: That which comes from within, from the heart and mind, but can and does show on the outside through appearance, animation, and action.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Is the Bible true and authentic?

On La Shawn Barber's blog, there's quite a discussion going about how one lives as an atheist or agnostic. It has gotten a little OT, so I decided to post here on a side discussion, the issue of whether the Bible is myth or fact, authentic or a bunch of fables.

I'm not an expert on this subject, but there is no shortage of those who are. I'll just hit the high spots here, and if readers want to comment, you're very welcome.

Basically, as independent research has shown, the Bible was written by about 40 different authors, and was written over a period of about 1400 to 1800 years. Many of these authors claimed to have had an encounter with a deity, whom they identified as God.

The content of the Old Testament (as Christians call it--pretty much the same as the Torah as the Jews know it) includes, among other things, verifiable history and prophecy. Some of the history has an intriguing story; it was doubted for centuries, then found only post-WWII to be accurate).

All the prophecy which foretold events which should have occurred by now has proven to be accurate; the events foretold actually happened, and happened as they were predicted.

The authenticity of the various books (that the claimed writers actually wrote them) has been shown by many evidences over the years.

Early manuscripts of the Old Testament/Torah do not exist from before about the time of Christ because as they were copied the old and worn copies were carefully destroyed. However, the copying process was so elaborately careful that we can trust the copies. Besides, we have enough copies from different transcription trails that all agree, that we can say for sure, on hard evidence, that what we have is very much what was originally written.

Early copies of the New Testament do exist (although not the originals). The letters to individuals and to churches which are a part of the accepted books of the Bible were much-copied and widely-distributed, so we have many different copies, and again, they agree.

In fact, we have many times as many manuscripts of Bible books as we have of the Greek classics, and the Bible copies are earlier.

I'm going to stop with this. I highly recommend Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell as one of many books which does a very full, scholarly, and fully documented discussion of this topic. It's listed on Amazon, and if you search on this title, you'll find some books by other authors on the same subject.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How do we get fair?

La Shawn Barber has some good comments about the black firefighter who set up a phony racial hate incident. I'm so glad she said this stuff, because as a white male, I can't (not and be heard). But with her starting this, I'm going to jump on board with some random comments of my own. (See her comments, and those of her readers, including mine. Excellent reading!)

This incident has evoked a lot of heat and little light, as usual. One issue coming up again is the pressure on local fire protection agencies to hire more minorities, with the usual debate over "dumbing down" the tests. This has already long ago been settled in enlightened jurisdictions. I'm only going to address one sub-issue, "job-relatedness".

EEOC standards/guidelines/case law say that a test which yields an imbalance along racial lines must be "job-related" (and if the employer can establish that, the imbalance is permissible). (My view is that job-relatedness is important whether there's an imbalance issue or not.) The job-relatedness question is, using firefighters as an example, does the testing process for becoming a firefighter accurately predict who will perform satisfactorily as an actual firefighter?
Does a firefighter need to read and write well and take written tests well? Not all that much.
Does a firefighter need to be able to instantly comprehend and obey verbal orders? Yes.
Does a firefighter need to be able to climbing many flights of stairs while wearing 35 lbs of protective gear, breathing through a mask, and carrying a hosepack? Yes.

Okay, then the test should focus on these latter skills and others, not on paper testing. If the test is job-related, it's fair, and you get the best candidates.

Then, let the qualified get the jobs. (Mr. or Ms. Activist, if you're needing to be rescued from a burning building, do you want to see the best possible firefighters or a "correct" racial representation chosen by Affirmative Action?)

(Just a thought: Affirmative Action is racist in that it deprives the minority person of achieving on his own merit, of truly succeeding. If he makes it, he and everyone else gives the credit to AA.)

Second issue I have thoughts about: To the thinking employer, there are only two kinds of people in this world, good workers and unsatisfactory workers. Period. But there continues to be pressure to label people into groups. And there are, in various quarters, organizations of black ___ workers or hispanic ___ workers, etc. Does that mean I can start a group of white ___ workers? And can somebody please, PLEASE, explain to me how being black, white, "or periwinkle" has anything at all to do with your job [unless you're an actor playing, say, Kunta Kinte]?)

I am SO TIRED of "groups". I believe there is nothing more racist and segregating than "multiculturalism", which is taking us two giant steps backward, back to stereotyping, labeling by race, and dividing us into "us" and "them". I believe this is the root of rising racial incidents on the most "liberal' college campuses.

And BTW, I don't think it's a coincidence that there's a rising hatred of whites in the ghetto. You hear the rhetoric long enough (and have "issues" of your own, e.g. lack of skills, lack of responsibility, lack of respect for authority), you begin to believe that you have cause to hate.

(My daughter was in a classroom discussion in middle school wherein a black girl asserted, "All whites hate blacks." My daughter answered, "That's not true. I'm white and I don't hate blacks, so that proves not all whites hate blacks." That about sums it up.)

(BTW, my kids all went to public school where 80% of the students were non-white. They got pretty good educations and also learned how to relate with the people who are actually out there in the real world. They had friends "without regard to race, religion, or creed" [where'd that concept ever go to?], and still do. A pretty good education if you ask me.)

(See my separate post about Oprah and Obama, and politics of race generally.)

This incident has also generated more shouting about "hate crimes". I just can't comprehend "hate crimes" as a legal definition. If you murder someone, can you do it without hate? If you hate for reasons other than race is it not still hate? If you vandalize someone's (or "nobody's") property, is that not a product of hate of some kind? If you commit an armed robbery, is it a hate crime, or only if the victim is "a protected minority"? Where do we place gang conflict? Okay, Supreme Court, that's your assignment for the next decade--or century!

And finally, a word or three to the various "advocates": Ladies and gentlemen, PLEASE don't keep telling "your people" they have rights and entitlements when you got where you are by (weird but true) actually working for it. PLEASE don't keep telling "your people" that they're victims of discrimination when you know full well that you achieved despite REAL racism, the likes of which just don't exist anymore, not even in Jena (where back in your youth the black kids would have been strung up for merely going under the whites' tree and nothing would ever have been said about it). Ladies and gentlemen, you're not advocates, you're inciters.

An incident which makes this "then and now" clear: When I was volunteering at my son's elementary school, I was writing tardy slips one morning when this student came in even later than the bulk of the tardies. When I asked him his last name, he answered, "Robinson, just like Jackie Robinson." I sure didn't let that get by!

"No, you're nothing like Jackie Robinson! He didn't come to school late; he came on time or early, and he always worked hard. Back then there was discrimination--I mean real discrimination. Jackie Robinson had to work harder than all the whites to do as well. And he worked so hard and got to be so good that even though the major leagues didn't want blacks, he was so good that they had to have him. No, you're nothing like Jackie Robinson. But you can be like him. Start coming to school on time and doing your work. You won't have to fight discrimination like he did, but you WILL have to succeed by working for it."

How about it, advocates? How about telling it like that, telling it like it [really] is?

"Can't we all just get along?"

Big news last weekend was Oprah's big deal for Obama. I'm afraid I'm not enthused. People, isn't it time we got away from this racism? Here was Oprah saying, essentially, that she's supporting Obama because he's black. And there's much being said about Hillary being a woman.

I'm not impressed by either of them. If they were white Protestant males, I wouldn't be impressed with them. (I am not now nor have I ever been impressed with Jimmy Carter.) I don't like their views, I don't trust Hillary as a person. I don't want either one or anyone like them to be our President. (For the record, I wouldn't object at all to either Colin Powell or Condoleeza Rice as President.)

But that's not what this rant--er, post--is about. Should Mayor Giuliani be boosted by Italian-Americans? Should Senator McCain be touted as the candidate of the white male population? NO!!!!!! RACIST!!!!!!!

But where are the cries of racism following Oprah's blatant statements?

My favorite story about ethnic politicking: LaGuardia was running against a candidate who was Jewish, and who told the Jewish voters that LaGuardia couldn't represent them. LaGuardia challenged the Jew to a public debate--on the condition it be held in Yiddish. He knew something his opponent didn't: LaGuardia, the non-Jew, spoke fluent Yiddish; the Jewish opponent didn't.

The point I like most about this story is that LaGuardia shot down the appeal to racism. Can we PLEASE see racism shot down more often, in politics and out?

Meanwhile, I predict that Oprah's racist support will hurt or kill Obama's campaign. People who have been trying to see him as an individual and evaluate him as candidate without regard to race are going to see him now as black. That is, as a black person being black and running as the representative of the black population, i.e. as a racist candidate.

And Oprah is in jeopardy too. People have now seen a different Oprah, one who appeals to race, who supports a candidate because he's black, and touts him as the candidate of the black population.

Can you say "backlash"?

And one other point: Oprah is only the most recent and highest-profile I've heard cite Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and then act totally opposite of what he dreamed: "...that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. That is NOT what Oprah is proclaiming!

Let's start looking at the "content of their character"! Are you hearing me, Oprah? Are you hearing me, Michael Vick? Are you hearing me, all you rappers? Are you hearing me, Hillary?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Road Rage

A road rage incident sent 3 people to the hospital, our local news is reporting today. This road rage phenomenon is very interesting. Why has this become so commonplace?

Here's what I think. I've long held that when we drive, we become "real", that is, all our masks fall away. When I was counseling, I sometimes thought that maybe I should take clients out in their cars and let them talk as they drove. I guessed that I would have seen the real person really quickly. So if this is true, if people really are more "real" while driving, perhaps road rage is an indication of what's happening in our society, that we're becoming more violent.

Okay, once you've gotten your "duh!" out of the way, realize what I'm saying. I'm not saying the obvious, that there are either more violent people (a growing criminal class) or the violent people are getting more violent; I'm suggesting that we are ALL getting more violent.

But now hang on, because I'm going to take a sharp turn: Here's what I think is the root of road rage: Poor driving. Over the last few decades, drivers have become less skilled and less trained in the basics of driving. In my experience in different states, it has become easier to get a driver's license. In California, once one of the toughest states, the driving test doesn't even require parallel parking! (Another fact: In California, as in most states, the law states that to get a driver's license, one must demonstrate the ability to read English. But the written test is given in like 10 different languages!)

Several years ago, a local transit bus service started having a rash of collisions. My belief as to the cause is this: After decades of the drivers being almost exclusively white males, the service made a real effort to be more diverse. The problem with that was that in this country, the white males had grown up learning to drive (as a four-year-old, one night I asked my father to turn on the under-dash light, so I could see what he was doing with his feet as he drove--that's not altogether atypical, I don't think); by contrast, the minorities had not had those years of background, and yet the transit service training had always assumed that background.

I tell you about that because it's totally relevant. Drivers today, having not been taught to drive by people who knew how to drive, don't know how to drive. They've learned, more or less, how to start, stop, and steer a car, but that's all. They haven't been taught an attitude of driving, they haven't been taught how to think clearly about driving (or, for that matter, how to think), they haven't been taught the physics of driving.

Therefore we have people racing from signal to signal, we have people not aware of where they're going or that they have to focus on driving, not on cell-phoning their friends, we have people tailgating at freeway speeds and speeding into zero-visibility areas (which is why there were at least three many-vehicle pileups in one week in the US recently). How many drivers have you seen recently who seemed to actually know what was a block, or a half-mile ahead? Name one.

Now couple all this skill deficit with another phenomenon of our time: The number-one rule of today seems to be, "me first". This is manifest on our roadways in two ways, the person who gets in the way because s/he doesn't think about others (such as the woman ahead of me in the drive-through yesterday who stopped a half-car-length out of the ordering spot and thus held up the whole drive-through part of the restaurant) and the person whose way the first type is in.

We get, then, the clash between "I'm totally oblivious of others while I'm doing my own thing" getting in the way of "I can't wait around for you ordinary people"*. "Can't wait" gets all upset with "Oblivious" and we have road-rage-liftoff. Sometimes that's the whole story, but as often, "Oblivious", being oblivious not only to others but to his/her offense, gets mad back at "Can't wait", and now we have a firestorm-type self-feeding chemistry.


1. Return to solid driver training (and while we're at it, to actually demanding performance before we give reward--are you listening out there in education?). Teach drivers the rules, the reasons why it's necessary to obey the rules, how to look ahead, etc. AND require a demonstration of the necessary skills to get and keep a license.

2. (MUCH harder challenge) Stamp out the selfishness pandemic that is blighting our society.

Well, I doubt if this treatise will cause anything to change, but at minimum I have the satisfaction of having said this in (sort of) print.

*For the "Can't waits", I've thought I'd like to say, if only I could make it concise enough to fit on a bumper sticker, If you're so much more important than me, where's your Secret Service escort?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Gas Prices Going Up Again!

Here we go again! I'll be paying more for gas (and so will you--so pay attention).

What annoys me is that I've done everything I can do to save fuel. I combine trips, I'm easy on the gas and brake pedals, I even try to take the inside lane on curves. And of course I'm driving a high-efficiency vehicle and keeping it tuned up. And yet the U.S. demand for gasoline doesn't diminish as the price rises.

Why? Because of all the clowns who are still jack-rabbiting away from the light (as I take off nice and easy) and racing to the next light (including weaving in and out), only to stop and wait for me because I know the timing on the lights, and then they zoom away again.

So what's happening is that there is no control on the upward pressure in the oil market; the sellers can demand whatever they want. There is a limit on the downward pressure; the consumers are not acting in any kind of concerted way to reduce the market. Too many of us complain about the prices as we're filling our tanks, but jack-rabbit away from the pump. We complain, but we still drive to the store 6 times a week, or go to Point A for one thing and later go to Point B (right next to Point A) for one other thing (can't wait, need it now).

So I'm thinking more and more that rationing is the only answer. I know no one likes the idea. I know that it will necessarily generate more government bureaucracy. But I also believe it is the only way we'll ever see a downward pressure on oil prices. Public education hasn't done it. CAFE* hasn't done it. Hey, fuel prices 10 times what they were before the Arab Oil Boycott of 1973-74 (and twice what they were only 3 years ago) haven't done it!

So here's my idea: Set up a rationing program similar to that used in World War II: Each vehicle is rated as to usage and allowed a certain amount of fuel per month. (In WWII, there were 3 categories--we might be able to be a little more diverse now, what with computers to assign and monitor.)

The vehicle owner gets a mag-stripe card (like a credit card), which serves as key to the gas pump, and may also be fixed to serve as a payment method; if that can be done with an ATM card or a credit card--and it can, why not with the ration card. When your allowance is gone, it's gone; see you next month.

In WWII, there was a window sticker, and your ration book had to match the sticker. Back then, all gas was pumped by attendants, and they had to check the coupons against the sticker. Very awkward in today's environment of self-serve and pay-at-the-pump. So maybe that level of control would just not be possible--just issue the card to the vehicle or to the owner and if s/he chooses to lend to someone else, s/he has less, and let that fact be the control--bottom line is that fuel is limited.

Now with my utility bills, when I go over certain limit points, my price-per-unit goes up. We could have a deal like that, too. If you go over your limit, you can get more, but at, say, triple the price. I don't know if that's a good idea, but it's possible.

So what do you think? Ready for another card that you can't leave home without?

*Corporate Average Fuel Economy: Federal requirements that automakers meet a certain average fuel economy for all cars sold. This has been largely negated by the popularity of SUVs, minivans, and trucks, which are not limited.