The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘courtesy’ Category

THREE LITTLE WORDS

Unless you’ve undergone a lobotomy, you certainly are aware that our world is a roil with dissension, violence, anger and aggressive behavior.  It is easy to sit back, view the day’s events and sigh, “Ah, for the good old days.”

Of course, the way we define the “good old days” is probably dependent on how old we are.  For those of us who are over fifty we might think back to those far more halcyon days of our childhood and early adulthood.  If  you’re younger than that, you might think of those good old days as the time just preceding the last iPhone release.

Back in my “good old days” I remember a particular neighbor by the name of Mamie Howlett.  She was a widow who lived in apartment 9B – just next door to our apartment.  From my perspective as an eight year old, she had an exceptionally red face which I learned was a function of the makeup she wore.  I never met her husband but I did know of one of her relatives – a nephew by the name of Mike Wallace.  (For those of you who are still unaware that history began prior to George W.’s presidency, Mr. Douglas was a very well respected television news commentator).

For whatever reason, Mrs. Howlett had a special fondness for me.  My family used to invite her to join us for dinner every so often.  I think as I consider this in retrospect, that was because she was alone and my family felt sorry for that emptiness.  (My folks regularly invited orphans of any age to join us for dinner.  They just felt that was the right thing to do).

Mrs. Howlett asked me to join her for lunch in her apartment once every other month or so.  It was always on a Saturday – and she always cooked the same thing – Chinese.  Well, it was about as Americanized a version of Chinese as could be procured.  Lunch always consisted of a heated up meal that came from one of those double cans of Chung King – the kind with the veggies in the larger bottom can and the sauce and meat (normally chicken) in the small top can.  Of course, this concoction was placed atop a layer of crispy fried chow mein noodles.

Well, we continued to invite Mrs. Howlett to dinners and she continued to invite me to bi-monthly Chung King Saturday lunches for about three years.  I had just started the fall school session when I came home one afternoon to be greeted by my grandmother who had a particularly serious look on her face.  She took me aside, put her arms around me and said, “Sweetheart, Mrs. Howlett passed away this morning.  I know you liked her – we all did – and I know she liked you very much.  I’m so sorry.”

I was dumb struck.  I mean, I was aware of this vague thing we called death in a sort of intellectual way.  I knew Columbus had died as had Shakespeare and a lot of famous people about whom I had read in my history books.  But this was the first person I really knew who had died.  Mrs. Holwett’s passing set me back on my heels and caused me to start doing some serious thinking.

The questions I began asking had been posed many times before by many far smarter people than I.  Like so many, I wanted to know, “Where did I come from?”  “Where am I going?”  But to me, the most pressing of the questions I had was, “What should I be doing while I’m here?”  You see the first two of those I realized even at eleven could not be proven – whatever a person’s opinion of the answer.  But that third question … well it was pretty undeniable that we were here and there should be a good answer to that.  Fortunately, my grandmother came to the rescue with at least the suggestion of an answer.

It was several weeks after Mrs. Howlett’s funeral.  After school I came home to the smell of home baked bread.  On the days that Grandma baked bread, she always cut the heel off one end, toasted it and spread it with Land of Lakes sweet cream butter.  She was a simple woman and there was nothing that she found as wonderful as a before dinner snack.  She always accompanied this with a half cup of black cold coffee, left over from the morning’s breakfast meal.

This particular day, she sat down next to me with her bread and coffee as I was about to start my homework and for no reason that was apparent to me asked, “Sweetheart, do you know the three most important words in the English language?”  Because we were a family that expressed emotion quite easily and often, both verbally and physically, I almost immediately replied, “I love you.”

“No,” Grandma said.  Those are the next most important three words.  She picked up the last piece of the bread that was on her plate and as she ate it, a warm glow came over her as she was having what to her was one of life’s greatest delicacies.  She breathed a deep sigh of contentment and then said, “The most important of all are, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You.'”  And having imparted that profound bit of knowledge, she got up from the convertible sofa on which she had been sitting and left the room.

I have no idea what moved her to say what she told me that particular day.  But with the dramatic entrance and exit, I realized that her words were important.  So I began thinking about them – particularly since I was already trying to figure out how to conduct myself as I mentioned earlier.  What I took away from this specific conversation was that being polite to others was the starting point for leading a fulfilling life.  I didn’t see how that was going to make me rich or improve my appearance – but I had a great deal of faith in my grandmother and pretty much took her word as gospel – so I tried to use those three words regularly.  In fact, back in my “good old days” a lot of people used them.

A good friend and I have breakfast together at one of the local casinos once or twice a week.  Monday was one of those days.

I parked in the garage and took the elevator down one floor to the casino and restaurant entrance.  The last barrier to entering the property are three sets of heavy glass doors.

I was in front of the one closest to the elevators and began to open the right door when I saw a very tall Chinese woman about ten feet away.  I pulled the door back and stood there holding it wide open until she could walk through.  She saw me holding the door and a big smile came over her face and as she walked through said, “Thank you so very much for your courtesy.”  I responded, “You’re quite welcome.  Enjoy your day.”

As I was about to walk through the door I saw a couple I took to be in their eighties about ten feet from the door.  So I stood back behind the door and held it open until they passed through.  The wife was a bit more nimble than the husband who had some obvious difficulties walking and when she had entered the elevator lobby she turned to me and said, “I don’t know you but I like you.  It’s so refreshing to meet someone nowadays who is courteous to others.  Thank you.  You made my day.”

Well, I have to tell you that I might or might not have “made her day” but receiving that compliment certainly made mine.

There are many organizations that claim to be involved in a movement to rid the world of hatred, prejudice and all else that plagues humanity.  Their methodology seems to be going to the source of these inequities, shouting down people whom they believe espouse them, destroying public property in the name of purging the earth from violence and otherwise acting in ways which are generally uncivil.  I don’t see how this sort of behavior is going to effect positive change.  Perhaps that’s just me.

But since we live in an age where movements are afoot and aplenty, I thought I might throw my hat in the ring and advocate for the creation of yet one more.  I’m going to call it the Three Little Word Fellowship.

This Fellowship doesn’t have a complicated structure or platform.  There are no lengthy by-laws which a member should read before signing on the dotted line – as there is no dotted line.  The Fellowship doesn’t accept donations so there is no need for us to seek IRS charitable status.  And because we have no income, we don’t provide membership decals for your car nor will you be receiving a monthly newsletter.

The Fellowship is open for membership to people irrespective of age, race, religion or lack thereof, or any other self-constructed characterization which identifies a person as someone who is “different”.

Needless to say, since we don’t have a staff, we don’t have a website and as we have none of the above there is no opportunity for members or friends to “like” us.  But the Fellowship isn’t seeking a lot of anonymous “likes”.  We’re hoping to make the world a better place by asking those who choose to join us do one simple thing.

The Fellowship encourages our members to use the three little words, “Please” and “Thank you” every time they have the opportunity and to encourage the enrollment (if we can call it that) of people who appreciate their courtesy of becoming members as well.  It is my firm belief that using courteous words can become an habitual behavior, one that becomes as automatic and natural as breathing.  And that kind words often transform their users into doers of kind deeds.  The church catechesis used to describe “Good Works” as “An outward and visible sign of an inward, invisible Grace.”

Don’t worry.  There are no undercover police checking on how well you are fulfilling your terms of enrollment.  And once you’ve become a member, you can leave the Fellowship if and when you want.  But then, why would you want to?

Granted, we might not change the world which is a pretty big place.  But we can change that part of it which we encounter on a daily basis.  And even if no one comes up to you and says that your courtesy “made their day,” you will know you did the right thing and that inner sense of doing the right thing is worth far more than the praise of  pundits and presidents.

 

CHILDHOOD NIGHTMARES

One of our neighbors, Mr. O’Connor had passed away and my family got me dressed up in my best Sunday clothes to attend his funeral.  He was a warm and wonderful man who always went out of his way to make sure that he held the door for any of the residents who were entering the building.  He was a person whom we called a “gentleman.”

Mrs. O’Connor was similarly caring and always made sure to ask all the kids in the building how we were doing at school.  She was a retired teacher and was passionate about her life’s work.   I remember her telling my friend Timmy who was struggling with his spelling that she would be happy to help him if he wanted some extra assistance.

Mr. O’Connor’s was the first funeral that I attended.  His Requiem Mass was a solemn high celebration at St. Jean Baptiste Church, a wonderful, traditional building that inspired awe because of its massive size, its excellent stained glass windows and the many candles that flickered at all the side altars.  But the thing that I remembered most about that funeral was that I would no longer see Mr. O’Connor’s smile or hear his happy voice.  Ever.

Several nights later, mom came quickly into my room and sat on my bed.  Apparently I had been yelling in my sleep.  She asked me if I were alright – but I didn’t want to tell her the subject of  my nightmare.  After a few minutes I lay back down but the rest of the night my sleep was troubled.

From the time I was in third or fourth grade I realized that my interests were different from those of most of my classmates.  Different doesn’t imply better or worse – simply, different.  I would rather spend my free time reading or listening to classical music than playing hopscotch or jacks or softball.  While that didn’t involve me with my classmates in many of their pursuits, I was normally the person to whom they turned when they were stuck on a math problem.

In class I was usually one of the first to raise my hand and was typically one of the last to be selected for a team when we chose up sides.  So I was “different” but I had a voice and I wanted to sing with it.  And then came the nightmare.  I can only believe that the genesis for it was both Mr. O’Connor’s funeral and my childhood experience with my peers.  While I never shared the nightmare with my parents I remember it today as vividly as when I first had it.

I was in a glass coffin which had been buried in Times Square.  I could see through the sidewalk but apparently the passersby had no idea I was there since, despite my yells telling the pedestrians who walked directly over me that I was underneath their feet, no one took notice.  The nightmare was centered around this horrible sense of isolation and inability to communicate.

As I look at the country and the world today, I am honestly grateful that I lived most of my life at a time when there were people like my parents and Mr. and Mrs. O’Connor.  They were courteous and generous people – not unlike the vast majority of those whom I met on a daily basis.  Perhaps they have disappeared because we took their behavior and them for granted.

We have come to believe that the only proper use of the word “civil” is as a modifier for the noun “litigation.”  We talk incessantly and say very little that is meaningful.  We addict ourselves to media which celebrate the trivial, the mundane and the vulgar and wonder why there is so much rude behavior, violence  and mayhem in our society.

As a child, I realized that I was “different” and that caused me to have nightmares.  The only thing that has changed in that equation is that I have come to terms with my individuality and I sleep much better.   As I view the alternative option, I think I’m in a decent place and am firmly resolved to stay there.  And to those of you who, like me, miss the civility of former years and feel estranged in our new world, take heart.  We may be few in number – but we are not alone.

“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”
― Marcus Aurelius, “Meditations”

MITT ROMNEY’S LOST OPPORTUNITY

The town hall forum for the second Presidential debate proved far more energetic, on both sides this time, than the first one.  I half expected a referee to suddenly appear on the stage and offer both the combatants boxing gloves so they could spar off.

The President had some energy and appeared far more involved than in round one.  I suspect he received a stern lecture from his election staff about the performance he turned in the first time.

Romney was as energetic as the first time – perhaps a little too much so.  He seemed unwilling to relinquish the floor even though asked to do so by the moderator.  That annoyed me.

But his refusal to stop talking annoyed me more because there was one question which provided him the opportunity to do so and put the President on the defensive.  That question was posed by a gentleman who had prepared it together with some of his co-workers.

“Who in the Administration was responsible for ignoring the Libyan embassy’s request for more security?”

That question was addressed to President Obama.  Instead of answering it, he talked about attending the funerals of the four Americans murdered and the grief he felt at their loss.  He talked about how he had been responsible for the death of Osama bin Laden.  He talked about ending the war in Iraq.  He did everything to use his time other than even peripherally answer that question.

If I had been Mr. Romney, when it came my turn to speak, I would have stepped back, addressed that fact and “ceded” a minute of my time back to the President so that he could answer the questioner.

Of course hindsight is 20/20 and as I reflect on some debates in which I have been involved I realized that I might have better responded in a particular situation.  Normally that happens about two minutes after the debate has ended and I have for all time lost the opportunity.

But this debate will not be over until the final ballot is counted in three weeks.  And, I am sure, like the gentleman who asked the question, I would still like to get an answer from the President.

“WHO YOU GONNA BELIEVE?”

With the Vice Presidential debate on Thursday evening now a part of history I found it interesting that the President’s latest ad asks the question, “Who you gonna believe?”

The thrust of the ad is that Mitt Romney, that insidious successful millionaire, is planning on slashing the taxes of his fellow successful millionaires.   He will pass on the cost of the money this saves them to the remaining middle class who have survived four years of Obamanomics, by increasing their taxes $2500 per household.

This is fear in advertising at its absolute worst.

Let’s think about the scenario that the President paints in his ad.  You are already a multi-millionaire and this year you have another decent year.  You earn $10 million for your efforts and on your investments.   Depending on the sources of your income, that should leave you with about $7 million or so in pocket change.  Does any one of my readers know how they would possibly spend $7 million if they were given the opportunity?  And, of course, our multi-millionaire has already accumulated a great deal of wealth that goes beyond this year’s income.

So ask yourself the question.  If you would be hard pressed to spend $7 million on things that you really want, how would you spend the $7.2 million that the ad suggests you would have under the “Romney tax plan?”

Well, that’s all theoretical.  But let’s look at some numbers which are suggested by the ad and which Vice President Biden offered in the debate.

The Veep says that this scheme is designed to benefit 110,000 wealthy tax payers at the expense of all middle class tax payers.  Each of the wealthy would get a $200,000 tax cut – and every middle class family will get a $2500 tax increase.

If you do the math which underlies this statement, here’s what you will find.  According to Vice President Biden, the United States of America, out of our population of 310,000,000, has a mere 8.8 million families who are “middle class”.

I realize that things have been tough for everyone under President Obama but is the Vice President suggesting that is the totality of the middle class that is left in this country?  If that is true, that is sufficient enough indictment to throw the two of them out of office.

Let’ return to the debate for a minute.  Frankly, I was uninspired by both participants for different reasons.

I have heard Rep. Ryan speak on many occasions and have been impressed with the sincere manner in which he delivers his information.  By contrast, I thought he seemed very “mechanical” in the debate.  Perhaps that is because it was his first experience or perhaps because the main focus was on foreign policy.  I am not making excuses for him because “it is what it is”.  I have heard him do far better and was a little disappointed.

I felt insulted by the demeanor which the Vice President projected.  I thought he was rude, condescending and generally obnoxious.  He obviously has a wealth of experience, (he told us that several times) and I felt he would have better served his cause by simply delivering his message in a forthright and factual manner.  I half expected him at some point to turn to Ryan and say, “Listen, Sonny …”

He also had the annoying habit of starting to answer a question and then, without finishing his statement, change the subject.  This is the typical tactic of the veteran politician who either doesn’t know the answer or doesn’t want to offer an answer to a question.   If you taped the debate, I suggest you watch it again to see what I mean.  I counted six separate instances of it in the 45 minutes that the Vice President held the floor.

Well, according to those who are politically smarter than I, Ryan slightly edged out the Vice President – but it was, in essence, a draw.  But there was one part of the debate that I thought was most interesting and that was the discussion about abortion.

For the first time in U. S. history we have Vice Presidential candidates on both tickets who are Roman Catholic.  It’s common knowledge that the official view of the Roman Catholic Church is that abortion constitutes murder of the unborn.  Both the Vice President and Rep. Ryan are aware of that.

Ryan offered his explanation of why he is opposed to abortion from a personal standpoint.  He referred to his unborn first child’s ultrasound when she was only the size of a bean – but he could see her heart beat.  He went on to explain that because of this experience, he and his wife had nicknamed her, “Bean”.

The Vice President approached his support for abortion in what could easily have been misinterpreted as an almost statesmanlike way.  While he would never personally have a child aborted, he explained that other people did not accept his Catholic theology of life beginning at conception.  Therefore, it would be wrong for him to impose his personal beliefs on them.

There is a problem inherent with that statement.

Some people believe that murdering another adult – if it suits their purpose and is the way for them to attain their personal ends – is perfectly acceptable behavior.  You have only to read a newspaper on any given day to know that is true.  Thumb to the section covering the ongoing violence among members of the Mexican drug cartels.

Civilized societies dating back thousands of years have generally frowned on that behavior.  The Roman Catholic church considers murder to be so serious that it is classified as a “mortal sin”.

But if we take the Vice President at his word, I can only presume that he similarly is opposed to all the laws on the books, in every state and every jurisdiction, which punish adults who commit murder.  Even though  his Catholic upbringing informs him that it is wrong for him to murder someone, he shouldn’t impose that belief on others who hold a different view on the subject, just  as he refuses to do in the case of abortion.  Or is imposing his Catholic beliefs something which he only selectively declines to do?

Of course, the Vice President’s quasi-libertarian view on the subject of abortion introduces an obvious corollary issue.  If it is wrong for those who oppose abortion to impose their will on others, is it not equally wrong for those who favor abortion to require those who find it immoral to pay for it with their tax dollars in contravention to their conscience and right to Freedom of Religion?

Politicians promise a lot of things.  If you’re in your thirties or older and are the least observant, you will have noticed that those promises are very often empty.  While they sound good and encourage us to vote for them, hoping that they are sincere in their statements, the sad truth is that seldom is the case.

We have seen how “Hope and Change” have played out for four years of this administration.  In their ad, Obama/Biden asks the question, “Who you gonna believe?”

And we should all be asking, “Who do you think has the ability, understanding and committment to deliver?”

 

WHAT IS GOOD?

My family taught me certain lessons in childhood which have stayed with me throughout my life.  They taught me the difference between good and bad – not so much through their words but through the way they conducted themselves.  I am grateful to them for their example.  A picture is truly worth a thousand words.

The lessons they taught were not profound or philosophical.  They were simple and practical things  which I could use on an every day basis.  They were predicated on two concepts – courtesy and common sense.

I cannot tell you how many times I saw my father rise from his seat on the subway to ask a lady or an elderly person or an invalid if they would care to sit down.  I learned to do the same thing because of his example.

I cannot tell you how many times I saw my mother holding the tissue in her hand with which she had blown her nose until we came to a garbage receptacle.  I learned to do the same thing because of her example.

As I said, these were simple things.  But atoms are simple until they form molecules and then, all of a sudden you have an amazing universe.  I am grateful for the lessons I learned in childhood.

But just as there were things that were “good” to do, I also learned that there were things that were “bad.”  It was bad to write the date that Magellan and Vasco da Gama had come to the New World on a “crib sheet” if I thought those dates would be on the morning’s history test.

It was bad to take a dime from my mom’s purse because I had spent my allowance but still wanted the latest Superman comic.

It was bad not to thank grandma for the wonderful dinner that she had prepared and neglect to offer to help with the dishes before I finished my homework.

Interestingly, there seemed to be a greater sense of cohesiveness in what America generally perceived as good and bad at that time.  Most of my classmates had apparently been raised in much the same way.  Whether each of us always held fast to the good and abjured the bad was another matter.  But we did know the difference between the two.

So as I fast forward over decades, I cannot help but feel that things have changed – substantially.  Was I simply the victim of a bygone age – or was I its beneficiary?

Bernie Madoff is currently serving the rest of his life in prison.  He fits the description of a sociopath – charming, witty, charismatic and a fraud.  He bilked thousands of people who placed their trust in him out of billions of their hard-earned savings.  He shows no remorse for his actions which enabled him to live an exceptionally comfortable life.

If this had happened when I was a child, the consensus opinion would have been that Bernie Madoff was a “bad” man.  We still hold that view today.

Mitt Romney headed up a private equity firm called Bain Capital.  Like Mr. Madoff, he also accepted money from other people.  But unlike Mr. Madoff he took those investments and multiplied them many times over, providing his investors with a profitable return on their money.  They trusted him and he rewarded their trust with exceptional performance.  Yet in the eyes of the Main Stream Media and ads being run by President Obama, Mr. Romney’s competent execution of his job at Bain Capital make him a “bad” man.

You’ll forgive me but I would like to make a confession.  I’m not the brightest person in the world and I am easily confused.  So I’m asking for your help here.

If both a thief and an honest businessman are “bad”  – would someone please tell me “what is good”?

THANK YOU FOR YOUR COURTESY

In an earlier post I had mentioned that, thanks to my parents, I was taught that I should be courteous to others. Today I was the recipient of someone else’s courtesy – and though I’m sure the person who was involved in extending it will probably never read this – I would like to say “thank you” to her and let you who are reading this know why courtesy is something in which we should all engage.

 

In mid-August, my wonderful golden retriever, Spenser had surgery to remove his spleen. After a week’s recuperation, he was decidedly improved. Then came the bad news from the biopsy. He had a cancerous condition for which there was no treatment in the handbook of veterinary medicine.

 

After I received the diagnosis I immediately began investigating various forms of treatment that might help his condition. I began on an holistic form of treatment to stimulate his immune system against the cancer – particularly since we had, in the spleenectomy, removed a significant part of that system.

 

For over two months – perhaps as a results of the surgery – perhaps because of the treatment I had implemented – he truly flourished. He acted as though he were a three year old – active and obviously enjoying life.

 

Then, three weeks ago things changed. He became more lethargic. My vet suggested that, because of the cancer, he might be experiencing internal bleeding. The color of his gums faded from the healthy red that he had exhibited and became chalk white – confirming the vet’s diagnosis.

 

Those of you who have companion animals and care for them as dearly as I do for mine know the anguish – separating yourself from the emotional attachment and wanting to do the right thing for your best friend.

 

Spenser became so lethargic that I finally decided that the right thing to do was to call my vet and arrange an appointment to euthanize him. That was the Thursday before Thanksgiving. I showered and was preparing to leave for the vet’s office. When I was dressed, I asked him if he wanted to go in the car. The lethargy departed, he wagged his tail and he bounded down the stairs. He was his old self and I just couldn’t do it. I put him in the car and we drove to the vet where I told her that today was not the day.

 

Spenser went through highs and lows. Then came Thanksgiving. That morning he was again lethargic. Because of the Holiday I called the emergency veterinary hospital and arranged to bring him in for the euthanasia. As I asked him whether he would like to go for a car ride – he once again bounded down the stairs of the house, tail wagging. Instead of going to the vet we went out for a bite at a local Jack In The Box.

 

The worst part of his condition is that his appetite is spotty at best. I have tried offering him a variety of foods which he sometimes enjoys and sometimes spurns. So when I made our Thanksgiving turkey I was pleased that he seemed enthusiastic in eating the giblets which I had cooked – intending to use them in giblet gravy. Because of his appetite for them, I skipped their inclusion in the gravy and fed them to him instead.

 

As a thought, it occurred to me that he seemed to have a preference for organ meats – and that brings me to the subject at hand. I went out at 7 o’clock this morning to see if I could buy some chicken gizzards at a local store. I was reluctant to leave him alone for an extended period and the store is about 20 minutes away in either direction.

 

I was able to find them and got in the checkout line. (There was only one open). A lady of about my age was ahead of me with a very full basket. She happened to look at me carrying my one item and asked, “Is that all you have?” I told her that it was.

 

She said, “Well please go ahead of me. I have plenty of time.”

 

I know that I thanked her several times – and she must have thought that I was a little batty for being so appreciative. But I can’t tell you how grateful I was to be able to get home to Spenser a few minutes sooner.

 

She and I come from the same generation – where courtesy wasn’t an option – it was an obligation. I cannot describe the glow and the warmth I felt because of the consideration she extended me.

 

I got home, Spenser was doing fine and I put my purchase in the refrigerator.

 

A few hours later I turned on the television. Only a few minutes passed and I heard about the pepper spray incident at a Los Angeles area Walmart.

 

If we want to live in a civilized society – courtesy is not an option – it truly is an obligation. And each of us not only needs to think about it but we need to put it into practice. Now.

 

Juwanna

 

 

 

ON LAWS AND COURTESY

 When I started college in the mid-60’s, I moved from New York City to Chicago. Frankly, it felt to me as though I had moved 900 miles and two centuries. In many ways, Chicago was still the pioneer prairie town – though at that time it still held sway as America’s second largest city as measured by population.

 It was in Chicago that I discovered the existence of “blue laws”. These were legislative enactments that probably had some value when they were first passed – but the tradition of keeping them on the books had far outweighed their usefulness.

 Allow me to cite a few examples:

 You couldn’t get a haircut on Mondays. That was something that the barber’s union had accomplished. How this benefited the barbers wasn’t then and isn’t now clear to me – but if it was Monday, you couldn’t get your locks shorn.

 You couldn’t buy meat after 7:00 p.m. Yes, there it was, sitting in the case (which was covered with heavy plastic wrap) but it was illegal for the store to let you pick it up and check out with it. This was something that the butcher’s union had achieved. How this benefited the butchers was a mystery to me then and is still today.

 But, of course, the grandaddy of all the blue laws was that “on days when members of the General Assembly stood for election, during the time the polls were open, it was illegal to purchase liquor – either at a liquor store, a restaurant or bar.” As I became more familiar with Illinois politics, the absolute absurdity of this law made me laugh. When you considered the old political hacks who were constantly re-elected to the General Assembly, the only way a person of insight and conscience could possibly consider voting for them was if he or she were totally inebriated!

 Well, those were a few of the blue laws which I encountered. I’m sure that throughout the various states, there are many that are equally absurd that are still on the books.

 Nonetheless, there are some laws which have been passed which make a great deal of sense – at least to me. Let’s consider some of those – as they relate to driving.

 Growing up in Manhattan, I wasn’t even eligible to get a driving learner’s permit until I was 17. And at 17 I had moved to Chicago for school. Dad had sold the car years before, tired of spending an hour a night looking for a legal space to park. (Manhattan had alternate side of the street parking – presumably to allow for street cleaning – so moving the car every other night was an evening ritual when my father came home from work).

So I was 20 when I enrolled in a driving school and learned to drive.

 Both my instructor and the official Illinois DMV “Rules of the Road” publication mentioned one thing over and over. “Driving is a privilige – not a right.” As a result, I was constantly reminded to stay within the posted speed limit, to use my mirrors to make sure that it was safe to change lanes and always to indicate that intention by either using hand signals (which were common in those days) or using the vehicle’s turn signal indicators. Those were good rules – or “laws” if you will – which I still observe today.

 The result – I have never been ticketed for speeding and have never been at fault in an accident. To me, staying within the speed limit and signaling lane changes is part of enjoying my “driving privilige”. Would that it were so with other drivers!

 For the last several years I have insured my car with Progressive. (You know Flo). I enrolled in their “My Rate” program – intended to reward drivers who utilize their vehicles in a safe manner. The program is completely voluntary – but I felt confident that I could receive a rate reduction by participating. And I did earn their maximum 25% discount.

 Now consider this. My discount is based on my performance relative only to those other drivers who are participating in the program – not the general population of drivers. In other words, my performance is being compared only to drivers who also feel that they are entitled to a discount based on what they perceive their driving performance to be. The fact is that if the entire population were compelled to have their driving evaluated – I truly believe that I would (and should) be paying less than 25% of my current insurance cost – and drivers who drive in an irresponsible manner would be paying two or three times the amount they are currently being charged.

 If you want to see an encapsulation of bad driving – come to Las Vegas! When I lived in Chicago, everyone knew that that the city derived a significant amount of income from issuing traffic violations. It was a part of Chicago’s annual budget. But enforcement of the traffic laws – though sometimes abused by the police – made us conscious of the fact that those laws were there and a penalty would be paid for violating them. The net result was that we reduced the number of accidents and fatalities and enjoyed fairly low auto insurance premiums.

 In Las Vegas there is very little enforcement of traffic regulations – despite the fact that we have one of the highest paid police forces in the country. (One can only wonder what they do with their time since there are only a handful of Dunkin’ Donuts in the city).

 There seems – perhaps because of the educational system – to be some confusion about the meaning of the term “speed limit”. Most drivers apparently confuse “limit” with “suggested minimum”. If motorists are aware of the fact that their vehicles are equipped with turn signals they respond in one of two manners. First, they ignore the fact and never use them. Second, they turn them on and leave them on with the idea that at some point in the next several days, they may be turning in that direction. And, of course, there are the famous “STOP” signs – which most people seem to interpert as “slow down a bit – if you’re so inclined.” The net result of all this is that Las Vegas has at least 20 vehicular accidents a day – which the local auto repair shops appreciate. By contrast, Chicago with three times the driving population and five times the number of miles traveled by automobile drivers, has about ten accidents a week.

 The point is that most driving regulations and laws do make sense – but no matter how good those laws are, they will not be observed unless they are enforced.

 The other day I was driving with a dear friend (another Illinoisan – though from downstate) and I pointed out that she was going 10 miles over the speed limit. Her response was “there are no police around.” That justified her speeding – at least in her mind. I posed the question, “If there are no police around and you think that it’s unlikely you’ll get caught – is it okay to murder someone?” She looked at me as though I had been smoking an illegal substance. The point is – if you or I choose to ignore laws regarding speed limits, observing stop signs and using turn signals – how then do we have the right to be outraged when someone murders someone else? If we have the right to disregard traffic laws which we find “inconvenient” – then by what right do we have the nerve to fault someone else who considers the interdict against murder to be inconvenient?

 What this all boils down to is very simple. It is about taking personal responsibility and setting a standard to which others might aspire. I do not suggest this in the interest of “setting yourself up as a moral standard-bearer.” Rather, there is a simpler and more rational reason to do so. It is something that grandma understood very well. It’s just pure and simple common sense and courtesy.

 We are dealing with the worst economy since the Great Depression. Unless you’re Warren Buffet or Bill Gates or a sports or Hollywood celeb – you’ve proably felt the pinch and strain of it all. Well, speeding while you’re driving wastes gas. And that translates into more money to the big oil companies and less for Christmas presents.

 If you’ve ever been involved in an accident – whether of your fault or the other driver’s – it’s not only a time-consuming event – but it costs you money and has potential physical consequences. Not a fun experience.

  We could cut our accident rate by 80% if we all simply followed the “Rules of the Road”. Well, of course, that is in an ideal world where everyone is rational, uses common sense and is courteous. That Earth probably only exists in an alternate universe. But if each person who reads this entry takes personal responsibility for her own driving, we can start a movement and teach by example. Things aren’t going to change by next Tuesday – but at least we can make a start. And doing so will help the consumer leave more money in his pocket and spend less at the pump – and in that way we can help the economy (both personally and the country’s) start heading in the right direction.

 Your friend, hoping you have a more pleasant and courteous driving experience,

 

Juwanna

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

On Laws and Courtesy

 

When I started college in the mid-60’s, I moved from New York City to Chicago. Frankly, it felt to me as though I had moved 900 miles and two centuries. In many ways, Chicago was still the pioneer prairie town – though at that time it still held sway as America’s second largest city as measured by population.

 

It was in Chicago that I discovered the existence of “blue laws”. These were legislative enactments that probably had some value when they were first passed – but the tradition of keeping them on the books had far outweighed their usefulness.

 

Allow me to cite a few examples:

 

You couldn’t get a haircut on Mondays. That was something that the barber’s union had accomplished. How this benefited the barbers wasn’t then and isn’t now clear to me – but if it was Monday, you couldn’t get your locks shorn.

 

You couldn’t buy meat after 7:00 p.m. Yes, there it was, sitting in the case (which was covered with heavy plastic wrap) but it was illegal for the store to let you pick it up and check out with it. This was something that the butcher’s union had achieved. How this benefited the butchers was a mystery to me then and is still today.

 

But, of course, the grandaddy of all the blue laws was that “on days when members of the General Assembly stood for election, during the time the polls were open, it was illegal to purchase liquor – either at a liquor store, a restaurant or bar.” As I became more familiar with Illinois politics, the absolute absurdity of this law made me laugh. When you considered the old political hacks who were constantly re-elected to the General Assembly, the only way a person of insight and conscience could possibly consider voting for them was if he or she were totally inebriated!

 

Well, those were a few of the blue laws which I encountered. I’m sure that throughout the various states, there are many that are equally absurd that are still on the books.

 

Nonetheless, there are some laws which have been passed which make a great deal of sense – at least to me. Let’s consider some of those – as they relate to driving.

 

Growing up in Manhattan, I wasn’t even eligible to get a driving learner’s permit until I was 17. And at 17 I had moved to Chicago for school. Dad had sold the car years before, tired of spending an hour a night looking for a legal space to park. (Manhattan had alternate side of the street parking – presumably to allow for street cleaning – so moving the car every other night was an evening ritual when my father came home from work).

So I was 20 when I enrolled in a driving school and learned to drive.

 

Both my instructor and the official Illinois DMV “Rules of the Road” publication mentioned one thing over and over. “Driving is a privilige – not a right.” As a result, I was constantly reminded to stay within the posted speed limit, to use my mirrors to make sure that it was safe to change lanes and always to indicate that intention by either using hand signals (which were common in those days) or using the vehicle’s turn signal indicators. Those were good rules – or “laws” if you will – which I still observe today.

 

The result – I have never been ticketed for speeding and have never been at fault in an accident. To me, staying within the speed limit and signaling lane changes is part of enjoying my “driving privilige”. Would that it were so with other drivers!

 

For the last several years I have insured my car with Progressive. (You know Flo). I enrolled in their “My Rate” program – intended to reward drivers who utilize their vehicles in a safe manner. The program is completely voluntary – but I felt confident that I could receive a rate reduction by participating. And I did earn their maximum 25% discount.

 

Now consider this. My discount is based on my performance relative only to those other drivers who are participating in the program – not the general population of drivers. In other words, my performance is being compared only to drivers who also feel that they are entitled to a discount based on what they perceive their driving performance to be. The fact is that if the entire population were compelled to have their driving evaluated – I truly believe that I would (and should) be paying less than 25% of my current insurance cost – and drivers who drive in an irresponsible manner would be paying two or three times the amount they are currently being charged.

 

If you want to see an encapsulation of bad driving – come to Las Vegas! When I lived in Chicago, everyone knew that that the city derived a significant amount of income from issuing traffic violations. It was a part of Chicago’s annual budget. But enforcement of the traffic laws – though sometimes abused by the police – made us conscious of the fact that those laws were there and a penalty would be paid for violating them. The net result was that we reduced the number of accidents and fatalities and enjoyed fairly low auto insurance premiums.

 

In Las Vegas there is very little enforcement of traffic regulations – despite the fact that we have one of the highest paid police forces in the country. (One can only wonder what they do with their time since there are only a handful of Dunkin Donuts in the city).

 

There seems – perhaps because of the educational system – to be some confusion about the meaning of the term “speed limit”. Most drivers apparently confuse “limit” with “suggested minimum”. If motorists are aware of the fact that their vehicles are equipped with turn signals they respond in one of two manners. First, they ignore the fact and never use them. Second, they turn them on and leave them on with the idea that at some point in the next several days, they may be turning in that direction. And, of course, there are the famous “STOP” signs – which most people seem to interpert as “slow down a bit – if you’re so inclined.” The net result of all this is that Las Vegas has at least 20 vehicular accidents a day – which the local auto repair shops appreciate. By contrast, Chicago with three times the driving population and five times the number of miles traveled by automobile drivers, has about ten accidents a week.

 

The point is that most driving regulations and laws do make sense – but no matter how good those laws are, they will not be observed unless they are enforced.

 

The other day I was driving with a dear friend (another Illinoisan – though from downstate) and I pointed out that she was going 10 miles over the speed limit. Her response was “there are no police around.” That justified her speeding – at least in her mind. I posed the question, “If there are no police around and you think that it’s unlikely you’ll get caught – is it okay to murder someone?” She looked at me as though I had been smoking an illegal substance. The point is – if you or I choose to ignore laws regarding speed limits, observing stop signs and using turn signals – how then do we have the right to be outraged when someone murders someone else? If we have the right to disregard traffic laws which we find “inconvenient” – then by what right do we have the nerve to fault someone else who considers the interdict against murder to be inconvenient?

 

What this all boils down to is very simple. It is about taking personal responsibility and setting a standard to which others might aspire. I do not suggest this in the interest of “setting yourself up as a moral standard-bearer.” Rather, there is a simpler and more rational reason to do so. It is something that grandma understood very well. It’s just pure and simple common sense and courtesy.

 

We are dealing with the worst economy since the Great Depression. Unless you’re Warren Buffet or Bill Gates or a sports or Hollywood celeb – you’ve proably felt the pinch and strain of it all. Well, speeding while you’re driving wastes gas. And that translates into more money to the big oil companies and less for Christmas presents.

 

If you’ve ever been involved in an accident – whether of your fault or the other driver’s – it’s not only a time-consuming event – but it costs you money and has potential physical consequences. Not a fun experience.

 

 

We could cut our accident rate by 80% if we all simply followed the “Rules of the Road”. Well, of course, that is in an ideal world where everyone is rational, uses common sense and is courteous. That Earth probably only exists in an alternate universe. But if each person who reads this entry takes personal responsibility for her own driving, we can start a movement and teach by example. Things aren’t going to change by next Tuesday – but at least we can make a start. And doing so will help the consumer leave more money in his pocket and spend less at the pump – and in that way we can help the economy (both personally and the country’s) start heading in the right direction.

 

Yours friend, hoping you have a more pleasant and courteous driving experience,

 

Juwanna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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