The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘driving’ Category

ON CHILI, GILBERT & SULLIVAN AND INDISGESTION

There is no food more comforting to me in the dead of winter than a heaping hot bowl of chili – particularly if it’s accompanied with some nice toasty garlic bread.  Not only is it satisfying but making a pot eliminates the need to cook something for the next few nights.  (I’m one of those people who doesn’t have a problem with leftovers).

One of the nice things about chili is that most people seem to like it.  And one of my pleasures in cooking is to share some of my concoctions with people who also are aficionados.  Several of my friends have raved about my personal version of this all-American food and have encouraged me to enter one of those “chili cook-offs” that happen from time to time.  While I’ve been modestly tempted to do so, for some reason I always find out about ones that are local two days after the competition has ended.  Shame on me for not subscribing to the local newspaper.

Cincinnati claims that it is the chili capital of the country.  And while it may be the city most famous for chili, there is no state that can rival the reputation for chili that Texas has earned.  I don’t know if Texas has a state food, but if it did, no doubt chili would deserve that honor.  Texas has another honor to its credit as well.  To my knowledge it is the first state which has legally ruled that “affluenza” is a disease and is a mitigating reason for giving a young man who killed four people and seriously injured two others, a sentence of probation.

Ethan Couch is a Texan who happens also to be a spoiled rich kid.  On a warm June night, young Mr. Couch, while under the influence of alcohol and valium crashed his pickup truck into a disabled vehicle on the side of the road, not only killing its driver and passenger but two good Samaritans who were trying to assist them.  The sentence meted out to him – ten years’ probation.

Why this light sentence?  Young Mr. Couch’s legal team painted a picture of him as a person who was spoiled and owing to his privileged upbringing was not able to comprehend the difference between right and wrong and therefore should be viewed as a “mentally disabled” person – a mere victim of his unfortunate upbringing in an affluent home – a victim of “affluenza.”  Apparently the judge in this case found that argument compelling.

If you remember, “The Mikado,” perhaps you will recall the way in which that supreme ruler viewed justice:

Fortunately for Mr. Couch he lives in modern America rather than feudal Japan.  Otherwise he might find himself missing his head – rather than just being unable to use it in the responsible manner which is expected of the rest of us.

One can only wonder if this novel defense gains a footing whether we should not go to the other end of the spectrum and excuse those who are victims of poverty who hold up convenience stores at gun point because “they need the money”  and are merely victims of “lackitenza.”

Meanwhile, four innocent people died needlessly.  Two others were injured, one possibly crippled for life – all because one spoiled brat was irresponsible.  That is something that Mr. Couch will have to live with for the rest of his life – if he is capable of thinking about the consequences of his actions.  That remains an open question.

Unlike our Mikado, I do not take glee in punishing offenders.  Would that we lived in a world where there were none.  But as a concerned member of society, we realize that some of us take our responsibility as human beings more seriously than others – and when those who act willfully in defiance of the rules of conduct to which most of us subscribe cross the line, for the good of society we need to take steps to protect ourselves from those who would do us harm.

The Texas sentence meted out to Mr. Couch does not make that statement.  And that gives me a bad case of indigestion.

 

 

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THE POLISH DOG

As you may know, Chicago has the largest population of people of Polish heritage, outside of Warsaw.  This makes the city a good place to live if you happen, as I do, to like kishka, kielbasa and pirogues.  The smells that emanate from the  various Polish grocery stores are noticeable a city block away.  What a treat for one’s olfactory senses.

And the neighborhoods in which people of Polish descent live are amazingly clean and crime free.  Perhaps that is because the residents make the effort to keep them that way.  On any given Saturday, taking a drive down the side streets that radiate from Milwaukee Avenue, the heart of the Polish community’s business district, you can see diminutive old Polish ladies on their hands and knees, scrubbing the sidewalks in front of their little bungalow homes.

Of course, having such a large ethnic community it is not surprising that people arrived at stereotypes for this group of people and began constructing jokes about them.  One of those stereotypes concerned itself with the intelligence level of members of the Polish community – which the joke creators determined was rather low.  And they made up their stories accordingly.

( It was not my experience in my dealings with the many people of Polish extraction whom I knew that there was any truth to this presumption).

But here’s a typical Polish, or in the parlance of Chicago, “Pollack” joke:

“Why did the Polish dog have a flat head?”

“Because he kept chasing parked cars.”

Of course, the dog in this two-liner is a canine and is not to be confused with a “Polish” that comes on a bun.  And if you are wondering, ordering a wiener or hot dog, the correct pronunciation and spelling is “dawg”.

If you should be exceptionally gauche and were to order a Polish dawg, which is both an oxymoron and a verbal abomination, you will undoubtedly be confined to the nethermost place in Hell after your demise and fed a diet of nothing other than Campbell’s Cream of Tomato soup through all eternity.  This would be a just and fitting punishment.

Now the reason that I thought of this old canard about the Polish dog was that this morning on my way with Gracie to the dog park, I was behind a man driving a late model car.  I happened to notice that his passenger brake light had burned out.

As it happened, we both were going to make a left turn at the same street and there were two lanes assigned for that purpose.  We were stopped at a rather long light and both of our windows were rolled down as at 6:15 a.m. it was only about 78 degrees outside.  (We had a rather extensive thunderstorm last night which cooled things off considerably).

As we were waiting for the left turn arrow, I said to him, “Excuse me sir – I don’t know if you’re aware of it but your passenger side brake light is out.”

Gracie pushed her head out of the rear window to see if there were any dogs in the other car whose acquaintance she might make.

The man (whom I took to be in his mid to late 40’s) responded, “Yeah, so what’s it to ya?”

I had expected a response more along the lines of, “I didn’t know that.  Thanks for telling me,” so this took me by surprise.

Before I had an opportunity to formulate and offer a response, the light changed and we both made our turns.

It’s an interesting society in which we live.  Fortunately or unfortunately I was raised to assist others when the opportunity presents itself – and I thought I was doing this guy a minor service by pointing out his car’s problem.  But apparently he felt that this was some sort of intrusion into his affairs.

The habit is so ingrained in me after so many years, that I guess, like the flat-headed Polish dog, I’m going to keep chasing parked cars.  Or maybe it was people like me whom Einstein observed when he formulated his definition of Insanity:  “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get a different result.”

So I guess there are a couple of things you should take away from this story:

1)  Never order a Polish dawg unless you’re really fond of Campbell’s Cream of Tomato soup;

2)  Be a nice person and you’ll get your reward;

3)  You better check your own brake lights because the next time I see that one of them has burned out I might not bother to mention it to you.  (Nah, I will).

I HATE REPEATING MYSELF … BUT

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” – Arthur Conan Doyle

The man who created the character, Sherlock Holmes was certainly on to something in this statement.  But what if you eliminated the impossible and the truth were not improbable but extremely obvious?  Wouldn’t it be clear that we should all endorse this gleefully?  You would think this is kind of a no-brainer.

And that brings me to the subject (once again) of texting while driving.

Here’s the impossible – passing laws that prohibit texting while driving and expecting that they will be obeyed or can be enforced.  One would think we wouldn’t need to pass this kind of law because an intelligent individual would realize that this puts herself at risk – not to mention the possible risk inflicted on innocent people who are in the neighborhood of her vehicle.

Recent stories about two young men, one who suffered a brain injury in Texas as a result of his texting while driving and the second about another in Washington state who narrowly escaped what might have been a fatal accident while engaged in the same activity prove that not all of us pay attention to the law – and even fewer exhibit any awareness of “common sense.”

Currently 39 states have laws on the books which prohibit texting while operating a motor vehicle.  What a waste of time, money and paper.  There is, as I have previously suggested an obvious and easy solution – and it will actually work.

By definition, if you are able to text from your phone you have a “smart phone.”  That smart phone can offer you GPS guidance – which means it knows where you are.  How hard would it be to modify those phones (if they don’t already have the capability) to be able to determine how fast you are moving while you are using it?

If your phone detects that you are moving at faster than 10 mph, if you attempt either to receive or send a text, both screens come up with a warning:  “Accepting (or Sending) this text will result in your being charged a $5.00 Service Fee for texting while driving.”  Hit both the recipient and sender at the same time – thereby educating two people at once.  I guarantee that after one or two monthly billing cycles, these auto-texters will reconsider their ways.

No need to involve the police in the process, diverting them from more important work they have to do.  And it’s not a matter of getting caught – because by your own actions you are convicting (and paying a fine) yourself.

Sounds like more government intervention in our lives.  Well, in a sense that is true.  But in 39 states the government has already intervened.  We are merely making their efforts efficient.

And what happens to the fees collected?  Use them to pay down the national debt or give them to a charity.  (I’m even willing to waive my 10% fee for thinking up this very obvious solution).

TWO WORDS FOR JUSTIN BIEBER

It has to be tough being a celebrity at any age – but at a mere 18 years it is probably more than most teens can handle.

A day ago, Justin Bieber got pulled over twice while driving.  The first time he got a ticket and the second time a lecture.  One Los Angeles City Councilman wants him arrested for reckless endangerment.

The young Mr. Bieber claims self-defense in that he says he was being pursued by the paparazzi.  There is probably an element of truth in that statement.

Whatever the motivation for his speeding, driving at speeds that greatly exceed the speed limit is dangerous business and so I would like to offer Mr. Bieber two words of advice:

JAMES DEAN

HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN

It seemed appropriate to drag something out of the musical archives with this song written in 1929.  After all, it was the theme song for FDR in his 1932 presidential win and is also the somewhat “unofficial” song of the Democratic party.  And it is to their current standard bearer, President Obama to whom we turn.  The subject of this post is the price of gasoline.

You may remember an earlier post in which I suggested that I would not be surprised to see gasoline hit $5.00 per gallon during the summer.  I am glad to report that I may have erred to the high side.  The most anyone has reported paying is a friend who has homes both in California and Las Vegas and said that she had paid over $4.50 per gallon.

But the price of both oil and gasoline have declined significantly over the past six weeks.  Oil topped out at $110 a barrel and is now trading in the low $80’s.  The highest price I saw for mid-grade – my car’s beverage of choice – has dropped from about $4.05 to $3.88 or thereabouts.  I expect to see a few more cents’ decline as this week moves forward.

Now what is the cause of all this movement in the petroleum market?  Perhaps you remember that about three or four weeks ago, President Obama stormed out to give a speech on the very subject.  It was an important speech and if you do not remember it that is probably because he has delivered twenty or so more important speeches since then.

Well, to recap the President’s remarks, “We have high gas prices because the market is being manipulated by speculators.”  He went on to promise to put an end to this dirty-dealing by hiring more investigators for the CFTC – the agency which oversees commodities trading – and to root out all evil-doers.

Perhaps you have seen the Federal government in action (or is that inaction).  Surely you realize that an administration which left hundreds of “important positions” open for almost six months after taking office, cannot possibly already have hired these new protectors of our welfare.  So what has caused the decline in the price of oil and the amount we pay at the pumps?

They do say that politics makes strange bedfellows.  I think that the President can say, “Thank you first and foremost to Greece and Spain.”  Oh yes, there’s that other thing called a free market – but I would not expect the President to acknowledge that.

One final thought.  If it were true that speculators drove up the price of oil and gas – why is it not equally credible that they drove it down as well?  I’ll let you know when the President is ready to acknowledge them in another important speech.

In the meantime, we can all rejoice and sing a few choruses of “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

YOU MAKE ME LAUGH

With the exception of the Super Bowl, I believe it is a fair statement that most people watch television for the content and abhor the commercials.  Isn’t that why we invented VCR’s and DVR’s – to be able to fast forward through them?

Since the time devoted to commercials runs between twenty-five percent to a third of the time that a show is broadcast they make up a significant portion of “content”.   Whether we try to tune them out or not, their constant repetition must have a least some sub-liminal effect on us.  No doubt that is the reason that so many commercials are broadcast so frequently.

It’s amazing how the human mind works.  Years ago I began a radio campaign to advertise my temporary help business.  I wrote a number of ads and they ran with a moderate amount of frequency on several Chicago radio stations.  I recorded one of these commercials and two of my employees with great “radio voices” recorded the others.

Within a week of airing the first of these commercials I received a call from an old friend.  He called about my commercial – as he recognized my voice when it was broadcast.  He congratulated me on the commercial (it was humorous and he had enjoyed it) and said that he caught it the other night on television!  I was dumbfounded. as this was an intelligent man, yet his brain told him that he had seen the commercial on television, not heard it on the radio.

He was not the only person to exhibit this confusion.  Truly advertising has a very powerful influence over our thinking and buying decisions.

As we are about to embark on the political mud-slinging commercial season, (I have already seen an Obama ad blaming Mitt Romney for high gas prices), I thought I would devote a little time to exploring the ads that are aired by two industries – auto insurance and pharmaceuticals – which contribute more than their fair share to the advertising we see on television.  I’ll save pharmaceuticals for a later post.

You may or may not know the name, Dennis Haysbert but he is the official spokesperson for Allstate Insurance.  If you’ve seen an ad for this insurer you have undoubtedly seen or heard him.  So let’s look at one of the ads that Allstate Insurance has produced.

“Emily’s just starting out and is on a budget – like an every night Ramen Noodle budget.”  (Implication – we have a young person with limited funds who is trying to stretch her income as far as it can go).

“She didn’t think she could afford Allstate Insurance – until she heard about the ‘Value Plan’.” (Implication – Allstate Insurance is a premium product that most think comes at a premium price.  But there’s good news – there’s an affordable version of it that is available).  STOP AND HOLD THE PRESSES!

If there is a “Value Plan” then there must also be a “Non-value plan”.  Value suggests money-saving – thus Non-value must be over-priced.  Implication – anyone insuring with Allstate Insurance who is not on the “Value Plan” is being overcharged for their insurance coverage.

Now if by “value”, Allstate means that the consumer who is on a budget can select low levels of coverage and still be insured, what’s the big deal?  Virtually every auto insurer offers different levels of coverage from which the consumer can select.  The lower the levels of coverage the smaller the premiums.  Is this what Allstate means by value?

As a consumer, if that is the case, I would call this border-line deceptive.  But I am sure that Allstate and its vast number of corporate attorneys have cleared this commercial so that they do not violate any Federal Trade Commission regulations.  That is the Federal agency that is supposed to protect consumers from false advertising claims.

Moving on to another insurer we have Esurance which is admirably represented by their delightful avatar, “The General”.

One of their commercials shows a band practicing when The General enters and begins speaking with one of the members.  “Richie, why don’t you have auto insurance,?” he asks the young man in the forefront of the commercial.

Richie responds, “I have far too many moving violations and the rates are just too high.”  Implication – we have a young man who has exhibited poor regard for driving rules in the past, is a poor corporate citizen because he is violating the state requirement that he carry at least minimal levels of insurance and is one of those people who contributes to the little item on your auto insurance and mine called Uninsured/Underinsured drivers that costs each of us about $50 or more per year.

(By the way, with over 250 million registered vehicles in the U. S., this little item brings in over $1 billion per year to the auto insurers).

Well, I do like to do comparative shopping so I thought I would get a quote since they advertise their rates being as low as $39 per month.  With the spotless driving record that I have maintained for twenty plus years, I should certainly qualify for their best rate.  So I did my little on-line thing and wound up with a rate that was twenty-five percent higher than the one I am paying to my present insurer for the same coverage.

Now if Richie with all the tickets would qualify for a great rate – why shouldn’t I with an impeccable driving record?  Clearly, Esurance is appealing to the sub-standard driver who is more likely to file claims.  Logic would suggest that they would like to balance that portfolio by attracting drivers who are far less likely to be involved in accidents.  Apparently that is not the case.

Is this deceptive advertising?  I’m sure that Esurance also has a battery of corporate attorneys who have cleared these commercials – so I doubt it violates any rules the FTC has established.  But these two examples clearly point out that if we really listen to the commercials to which we are subjected, we might hear something different than what is being said.

Sadly, I did a brief check of the FTC’s advertising regulations and found that they do not apply to political ads.

Stay tuned for some good laughs this summer and fall.

DEATH BY VEHICLE

Yesterday was clearing out the house day in anticipation of the coming of spring.  I always enjoy getting “uncluttered” and am always surprised at how many things I  accumulate in one year.  (Much of this is owing to the kindness of people who give Gracie and me stuff during the Holidays – though this year a greater number of friends and neighbors seem caught up in my idea of giving something home-made,  thus there was a bit less than usual.)

I had decided to divide my donations between a new place which opened called Savers that benefits a shelter for battered and abused women and children called Safe House and Goodwill Industries.  Because it is still cool I am taking Gracie with me on virtually all my trips so that we can enjoy each other’s company – but she is not comfortable when she has to share the back of the wagon with lots of packages so I confined my donations to the front passenger seat and floor area.  This required making two separate trips.

As we returned from  the second of these trips we found ourselves in a traffic jam – at three in the afternoon.  I have learned after ten years of living in Las Vegas there is only one reason for that – an accident.  The police had closed off one of the three lanes on the major street that we were travelling and had set out flares to allow the paramedics and the people on the fire truck to do their job.  I could see them a few blocks down the street.  (It is never good to see a fire truck at the scene of these accidents.  It is certain proof that it was more than our typical fender-bender).

As we crept by the scene of the collision I could see that one of the drivers was being moved by the paramedics to the back of their truck.  That individual was lying on a stretcher – his or her body covered with a sheet – a fatality claimed by the actions of a reckless driver.  One of the firemen held a little girl – I presume the now-orphaned daughter of the deceased driver.

Although I am no Monk or Jessica Fletcher it was obvious what had occurred.  The deceased driver was proceeding  on her way and the other driver had gone through a red light in her desire to get to her destination a minute sooner than had she observed the light.  The result was tragic.

Death is a tragic event.  Senseless death is even more so.

I have often raised the issues in these posts, “Can we change the world?”    The answer is, “Yes we can.”

The world changed yesterday for the young parent who died in the collision.  The world changed for her child and spouse and any other children that might have been at home or school.  The world changed for the driver who was at fault and who now faces possible criminal charges and most importantly the lingering feeling of having been responsible for this needless death which will follow her through her lifetime.

Although each of us can change the world, this is not the way we would choose to do it.  I hope that each of us who paraded by the macabre scene learned something from this tragedy.  Being responsible when we get behind the wheel of our vehicle is worth far more than getting to your destination a few minutes early. Had the irresponsible driver employed common sense and common courtesy I would not have written this post.

Frankly, I would rather not have shared it with you.

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