Sunday, February 24, 2008

Driving Me Crazy - This Isn't Any Signal

"This isn't any signal. It's a direct statement. If it's a signal, fine." - George H. W. Bush, as reported in New York Times, Mar 10, 1980, p B10

On most cars that I have been in, there is a stick coming out of the left-hand side of your car's steering column which I'm certain is gathering dust in some people's cars. It's the lever that operates the turn signals, otherwise more cleverly - and properly - known as "directional indicators", on account of they're for indicating which direction you intend to take your car next. And that's the whole key right there. Until you use your turn signals (I'll use turn signals if it makes everyone happier, until I have a point to make), people are going to expect that you're going to continue what you're doing, especially if what you're doing is just driving along at a steady speed in the lane you're currently in. [And unless otherwise indicated, and as will be the usual standard for this series, it is assumed that the roads are clear and dry and the weather conditions are favorable for driving. So none of these, "What if it's raining?" retorts. We'll cover that another time.]

And that brings us to a good tip about using turn signals. There's a right way to indicate to the driver behind you (let's call him "Me") that you're about to turn into your driveway, and there's the way too many people who live near me do it. The trick is to remember what the purpose of the turn is signal is. (I'll give you hint: It has to do with "indicating" a "direction".) Here comes the next rule:

Wayne's Driving Rule #2
The proper sequence for making a turn off the main road is:

1. Engage the turn signal (the correct turn signal) about ten to fifteen seconds before you make the turn, but at least five seconds before you hit the brakes.

2. After a pause of about five seconds, begin applying the brakes.

3. Then slow down sufficiently (it's okay if you have to come to a complete stop because of those discourteous people having the audacity to be coming from the opposite direction) to safely make the turn without turning it into the slowest possible maneuver ever made by man and machine.

You see, it really doesn't do anybody any good if you wait until you've already hit the brakes and started turning your wheel to flip on the turn signal telling Me (the driver behind you) that you're about to make a turn, when the fact that you are in the process of making that turn already gave it away. How much help do you think flipping on the signal last is going to do?

And by all means, do use that signal if you're doing anything that would come across as "unexpected" to the non-psychic behind you. (Me, again.) That includes pulling over to the side of the road. That would be one of those excellent occasions where some way of telling the guy behind you (Me) that he can swing around you and get on with his life would be appreciated. It's just like you're turning into a driveway, except you're not actually turning into a driveway. But you still have to put on the signal (I'm guessing it's going to be to the right), then put on the brakes, then slide off to the side of the road, preferably far enough off so that your car won't be sticking out into the lane.

But you know, turn signals aren't just for indicating a complete change in direction (such as perpendicular to the one you were going). They're also good for letting the cars around you driving at speeds in excess of 65 MPH (and the legal speed limit) that you're considering cutting over in front of the car moving up swiftly in the lane to your left. (Me again.) Now, in these cases, it isn't always necessary to hit the brakes, but you still want to turn on that signal a few seconds before you make the actual maneuver. Again, once your car has already swung over in front of mine, causing me to either brake fiercely, swear loudly, crap pungently, or perhaps some combination of all three, what's the goddamn point in putting on your turn signal then? It's not like you're preparing me for something. The best thing is to glance in your sideview (and rearview) mirrors, turn your head to check your blind spot, hit the signal, then wait a beat or two before making your move. And for crying out loud, if you're going to move over into a lane of traffic that's going faster than you were, do remember to hit the gas and speed up. (Remember Wayne's Driving Rule #1.) Otherwise there was no point in moving over in front of the impatient asshole coming up hard on your ass. (Me.)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Nothing Funny About It At All, Karl

Well, if there's one thing about Karl Rove that we know for certain is sick, it's his sense of humor. During a speech at the University of Pennsylvania, Rove said, "History has a funny way of deciding things," he said. "Sometimes history sends you things, and 9/11 came our way." Really, now, Karl? You actually think there was something "funny" about the 9/11 attacks?

This has nothing to do with whether or not you believe the government's version of what happened that day (I don't), it has to do with the fact that Karl Rove must be one sick motherfucker to suggest that there was anything "funny", in any sense of the word, about the most horrific attacks on our shores since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Why would he say that if he felt even the slightest bit of empathy toward the victims of that tragedy? Is it wrong to suggest that perhaps he lacks empathy? I don't think so.

It's time conservatives in this country, of any stripe, wake up to the fact that Karl Rove may or may not be a "political genius" (he sure nailed down those 2006 elections, didn't he?), but he certainly is one of the most inhumane creatures to ever rise to the top of politics. He cannot possibly be thought of as "normal" in any sense of the word. He has no clue what the average American thinks, nor does he give a flying fuck. His whole mindset is about winning power and maintaining power. He does not have the best interests of the American people at heart, only what he believes to be the best interests of the person he works for at heart. He believes that the president is above the law and has full authority to interpret the Constitution of the United States any way he sees fit, including the exact opposite of the plain text and meaning. Why on Earth does anyone listen to this man?

AND ANOTHER THING... "History" doesn't "send" you things, you idiot. "History" is the written record of the past, not the events of the present, or the potential events of the future. Only "Fate" (or, for some, "Destiny") can "send" you things. And I wouldn't speak of 9/11 and what you did with it too much, Karl. It's hard to come across as human when you do.

Bill-O and the Sword of Damocles

His mouth was bound to get him in serious trouble one of these days, and we can only hope it happens this time. Bill O'Reilly has done it again. This time, the thread on which his career hangs, the one holding the Sword of Damocles, ought to be cut. If only his bosses at Westwood One and Fox News Channel had the decency to realize that O'Reilly has stepped further over the line that even Don Imus did. Just because he's back on the air is no reason not to punish O'Reilly for his profane and despicable comments. (And for all you "First Amendment" defenders of his, I'll have something to explain to you later.) In case you missed it, on his Feb 19th radio broadcast, Bill O'Reilly said the following:

You know, I have a lot of sympathy for Michelle Obama, for Bill Clinton, for all of these people. Bill Clinton, I have sympathy for him, because they're thrown into a hopper where everybody is waiting for them to make a mistake, so that they can just go and bludgeon them. And, you know, Bill Clinton and I don't agree on a lot of things, and I think I've made that clear over the years, but he's trying to stick up for his wife, and every time the guy turns around, there's another demagogue or another ideologue in his face trying to humiliate him because they're rooting for Obama.

That's wrong. And I don't want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there's evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels. If that's how she really feels -- that America is a bad country or a flawed nation, whatever -- then that's legit. We'll track it down.

He then tried to apologize for his remarks with the non-apology apology, "I'm sorry if my statement offended anybody. That, of course, was not the intention. Context is everything." That's right, Bill. You said that you wouldn't join any "lynching party unless" (and you did put a lot of emphasis on the word "unless") "there's evidence". So, to put what you said in another, equivalent way, if there's evidence that she feels "that America is a bad country or a flawed nation", you would feel it "legit" to "to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama". And you don't understand why this is offensive? At all? Setting aside, for the moment, the fact that Mrs. Obama is black, it is a horrible thing to say about anyone. That she is black makes it inexcusably worse.

No one, myself included, who is not black and who did not live through that shameful period in our nation's history can know what it was like to live in fear of having it happen to you or a loved one. No doubt there are many alive today who are parents, children, descendents or siblings of lynching victims, and they know the pain and fear that I never could. To have a black person lynched, even in the public square, sent a powerful and frightening message of domination to the black man. "Do not even think of forgetting your place." (And that's putting it politely.) It was a message of intimidation to everyone. It was terrorism. And what made it all the worse was that it was often condoned by local, white-controlled law enforcement. Sometimes, they participated in the lynchings and help stall ot thwart the investigations. There are many outstanding cases today for which there has been no justice, and may never be. To suggest, even in a joking or flippant manner, that you would have anything whatsoever to do with something called a "lynching party", even in the figurative sense, is one of the most insensitive and racist things one could say. Especially when the person in question is black. And a woman, no less. And the wife of the man who may very well be the next president of the United States. And Bill O'Reilly is not being fired? Or suspended? Or even admonished about his poor choice of words? Nothing? You mean his bosses at Westwood One and Fox News Channel are perfectly okay with this? Perhaps we should let them know how we feel. (Those last two links take you to their respective "Contact Us" pages.)

Now, for all you O'Reilly defenders who want to say that I am depriving O'Reilly of his First Amendment right of free speech, let me explain something to you, and I will try to use go slowly so you'll understand. The First Amendment says that the Congress (not private citizens) shall pass no law "abridging freedom of speech." It means that, with a limited number of exceptions, you can't be put in jail for anything you say. That does not mean that as a condition of employment, your boss can require that you not say certain things in public or as part of your job (such as the fact that your bosses are soulless capitalists who are only interested in making a buck, like Rupert Murdoch). No one, myself especially, is suggesting that O'Reilly be imprisoned for what he said. We just want some kind of sign from his bosses that they do not approve of comments like that, nor would they want to be associated with them and thought of as the purveyors of racism. I know I wouldn't.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Perfecto en Nicaragua

Years from now, some older Nicaraguans will look back on 2008 and Super Bowl XLII as the year the New England Patriots went 19-0 to cap off the greatest season in NFL history. Never mind that they'll have no idea what "XLII" means, or what a "Super Bowl" is, but they'll know it happened because they'll have the proof. They'll have the official caps and jerseys issued by the NFL commemorating the historical event. How is that possible?

Well, it's no secret that the only way it's possible for a winning Super Bowl team's members to be standing on the field wearing baseball caps declaring them the victors immediately after the game ends is if the NFL had both possibilities covered ahead of time. The team that wins gets their hats and jerseys distributed, but what happens to the ones made up for the eventual losers? Well, for one thing, they could become very valuable collector's items on e-Bay, and that may yet happen.

Instead, the humanitarian organization World Vision made arrangements with the NFL to donate those hats and jerseys to two small, impoverished villages in southern Nicaragua. Once the game of football was explained to the kids (they know "football" as what we ignorant Americans call "soccer"), they were supposedly thrilled. Thrilled to have a piece of sports memorabilia that could one day be worth thousands of dollars to them. I wonder if they know? And I wonder how many of them will sell their hats and/or jerseys on e-Bay, and use the money to help their communities? I think it would be wonderful if even a few of them made such a selfless gesture. Think of how much money some rabid New England Patriots fan would pay to have one of those jerseys. This has the potential to change a lot of peoples' lives for the better. Not that making a bunch of small, poor children happy isn't a good thing, too. But they could have done that with a bunch of Nerf balls. Someone should tell those poor people how much money they may be holding in their hands.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Driving Me Crazy - The Pacer

Well, lucky you, Dear Readers. Today starts a new feature on Pick Wayne's Brain. It's where I finally start fulfilling my dream of being able to tell you about those idiots out there who don't know how to drive properly. Oh, the things I've seen. Worse still, the things I've heard about. Well, I'm going to tell you where some of your fellow citizens are going wrong. I'll introduce you to the vast array of Driver Types that I've created over the years (well, "created" in the sense that I thought of them myself and didn't steal them from anybody, even though someone else might have thought of them, too) including "The Gapper", "The Pokey" and, today's target, "The Pacer". (By the way, how do I know it's not one of you I'll be writing about? Because I know that you are all smart people, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this blog. And if there's one thing I've noticed about the people of whom I'll be writing, it's this: They're not very bright.)

A Pacer is one of those people who likes to drive down the interstate (or other multi-lane road) at the same speed as the car next to him. If the people in the middle lane of the three-lane highway are going along at 65 MPH, The Pacer will be in the left-hand lane driving side-by-side with him at the same speed, never zooming ahead and moving in front of him, never dropping back and slipping in behind him. The Pacer is the guy who violates Wayne's First Rule of Driving:

Wayne's Driving Rule #1
If you want to drive at the same speed as the people in the lane next to you, then get in the lane next to you.

Is that so hard to understand? I mean, what is the point of having a multi-lane road or highway if you're going to plant your sorry ass right next to the only other person in the lane next you, thus blocking everyone else from exercising their right to go around you and get the hell away from you? Okay, so you don't want to get caught by the cops speeding up just to move ahead of the guy. It doesn't mean you can't just put on your right turn signal (I'll be talking a lot about those folks another day), ease off of the accelerator, and slide into the lane behind the guy you're matching pace with? It's not rocket science! Okay, so, technically, it is rocket science, but it's not like you have to solve for any of the variables! Not precisely, anyway. You just have to know when one is less than the other. In fact, that's the beauty of it. You actually do calculus and rocket science in your head, but you don't do it with numbers. And if nobody hits anybody else, then you did it right.

Just remember to do it in the right order. Signal first, then ease off the gas pedal, then slide over. Signaling first is most important, otherwise if you slow down first, the guy behind you (probably me) might end up ramming into you, or he might have to hit the brakes hard causing a chain reaction of people suddenly braking behind you. Eventually, if the line of cars behind you is long enough (and on the interstate, that could easily be a mile or two), the people near the very end of that bunch of cars begin coming to a stop because the cars in front of them are going so slowly. And that's how you find yourself coming to a complete stop on the highway, for no obvious reason in the world. You expect to see debris or, if you're the ghoulish type, some blood that hasn't been hosed away yet, but there's nothing and you wonder for the life of you why you all had to come to a complete stop. The answer is simple. It's that dickhead Pacer at the head of the line.

Once you've put on the signal, then you ease off the gas pedal. For the benefit of any Pacers out there trying to learn from this, I cannot emphasize the importance of following Step One with Step Two, and not skipping ahead to Step Three. I know it's tempting in this hustle-and-bustle world to want to multi-task and combine two things in one, but this is not the time to be trying that. Remember, there's been a car beside you this entire time, and if you attempt to complete Step Three before you have completed Step Two, you may find yourself suddenly spinning out of control. Oh, sure. It'll be cool for the rest of us to watch as your car flips end-over-end, finally coming to rest on the median before bursting into a ball of fire, and you run from the vehicle, flames dancing from your waving arms and legs, as you dive to the ground in a possibly vain attempt to put out the fire, but how would I know because you're finally no longer in front of me and I can get the hell away from you! Thank you for finally "moving over."

So, having successfully completed Steps One and Two (in that order), you are now ready to move on to Step Three, the Slide Over behind The Guy Next To You. You want to be careful here. He might be a Pacer, too, and his natural instinct would be to slow down with you so that neither of you is ahead of the other. This, by the way and for the record, is why some of us would like to equip our cars with missiles. But that's a topic for another blog. (Or maybe "Car Talk" on the radio.) If, as you are about to execute Step Three, you perceive that you are beside a Pacer, your best bet is to suddenly step on the gas and get ahead of him as quickly as possible and then slide over in front of him this time. (Remember, the original plan was to slip in behind him, but he thwarted that artful maneuver by being a dickhead. Switch to Plan B.) At this point, it's better for all concerned (specifically me, in particular, in the car behind you), that you speed up to get into the next lane rather than slow down because if you slow down, you're more likely to cause an actual fender-bender about a mile and a half behind you.

That's all for this edition. If there's enough enthusiastic support for this column, there may be future editions. (At this point, one favorable comment might be enough.) And be safe out there, there's a lot of pretty stupid fucking people on the roads.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Picking My Brain 08-02-01

So I'm watching the political coverage of the Democrats on MSNBC last night and Craig "Aaaaaa-ggggh" Crawford says that a dream ticket for the Democrats would be "an Obama-Clinton, or Clinton-Obama ticket, depending on who's on top...and who's the running mate." I'm so glad he remembered to add "...and who's the running mate," because it looked for a moment like he might not. And if he left that part off, well, we are talking about a man and a woman here...

If extra-terrestrial beings were in orbit studying our planet and deciding on which country they should make first contact with, do you think that if they took a look at the Bush Administration, the United States would be their first choice? Me, neither.

An old favorite joke by stand-up comedian John Mendoza: I think every car should come with a cell phone, and the phone number would be your license plate. That way, I could call you up and say, "Would you mind getting the fuck out of my way?"

Media Matters has decided to launch a The Matthews Monitor to keep an eye on the often-rambling MSNBC host of "Hardball". Seems he has a "long history of degrading, sexist commentary". He also has this weird tendency to lapse into some kind of man-crush speak on some of the Republican candidates, like Romney and McCain. Anyway, I think it's time someone was paying attention to the things that man says. I'm not bringing this up because I want you to donate money or anything. That's entirely up to you. (I say that because they do have a place for donations there, but you can ignore it.) But Chris Matthews is a very influential Washington Political Commentator, and he represents the so-called "elites" of the political talk scene. If he wants the answer to a certain question, he can be relentless about going after people who might have the answers he wants. But only if it continues to interest him. So he has to be reminded when he strays from the important topics, and when he makes his patented sexist remarks.

That's all that seems to be floating around my noggin to night. If there are storms where you are, please be careful. We had an ice storm pass through here that, luckily, wasn't too severe. Could have been worse. So, as Sgt Esterhaus reminded everyone on Hill Street Blues, "Let's be careful out there."

From Tapper to Drudge to Fox News Channel

You've got to hand it to the Republican Noise Machine for doing it once again. They've taken one segment of a comment Bill Clinton (D-USA) made on the campaign trail and totally misrepresented what was said in order to score more digs at him and, by extension, his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Perhaps you've seen some of them talk about it. Ironically, if they had read the entire post by ABC's Jake Tapper, they would have seen the line taken out of context. I'm surprised Tapper didn't read it, even though he allegedly wrote it.

It started with a blog post by Jake Tapper, in which he claims that Bill Clinton said that we need to slow down the economy to fight global warming. (BTW, Tapper added some updates in which he says he changed the title of his blogpost to better reflect what he meant, but I don't think it helped.) From there, internet gossip and self-styled humanoid Matt Drudge put a link to it on his compost heap, I mean blog. Well, that's all Fox News Channel needed, because later that day, E.D. Hill was leading a discussion on whether or not Bill Clinton was right to say that we need to slow down our economy in order to fight global warming. For the sake of fairness, let's quote what Bill Clinton actually said, and you tell me if he's saying that we need to slow down our economy to fight global warming:

CLINTON: And maybe America, and Europe, and Japan, and Canada -- the rich counties [sic] -- would say, "OK, we just have to slow down our economy and cut back our greenhouse gas emissions 'cause we have to save the planet for our grandchildren." We could do that. But if we did that, you know as well as I do, China and India and Indonesia and Vietnam and Mexico and Brazil and the Ukraine, and all the other countries will never agree to stay poor to save the planet for our grandchildren. The only way we can do this is if we get back in the world's fight against global warming and prove it is good economics that we will create more jobs to build a sustainable economy that saves the planet for our children and grandchildren. It is the only way it will work.

And guess what? The only places in the world today in rich countries where you have rising wages and declining inequality are places that have generated more jobs than rich countries because they made a commitment we didn't. They got serious about a clean, efficient, green, independent energy future... If you want that in America, if you want the millions of jobs that will come from it, if you would like to see a new energy trust fund to finance solar energy and wind energy and biomass and responsible bio-fuels and electric hybrid plug-in vehicles that will soon get 100 miles a gallon, if you want every facility in this country to be made maximally energy efficient that will create millions and millions and millions of jobs, vote for her. She'll give it to you. She's got the right energy plan.

For some reason, Jake Tapper completely missed the point that Clinton was making, which was that this approach is unnecessary and might not even work! He was saying the opposite! He was saying that the rich countries that did make a committment to fighting global warming have created jobs and improved their economies overall. Yet, Tapper puts in his headline that Bill Clinton was advocating a position he wasn't, and Matt Drudge (whose reading comprehension skills I seriously question) sticks the out-of-context quote in a link to tapper's blog.

Enter Fox News Channel. Not content to merely continue mischaracterizing what the man they hate most in the world said, Fox Airhead E.D. Hill decides to have a guest on to discuss it. This is where it starts to get really perverted. After showing a clip of Clinton saying just these words "...we just have to slow down our economy and cut back our greenhouse gas emissions 'cause we have to save the planet for our grandchildren..." (she acknowledged only that this was a "small part" of what he said), Hill invited a gentleman, Charles Payne, CEO of Wall Street Strategies, to discuss the "puzzling" statement by Bill Clinton. From the video clip at Media Matters, it appears that Payne took no time to familarize himself with the actual comments that Clinton made. Instead, the two of them ridiculed Clinton for suggesting that we slow down our economy which, once again, is not what Clinton said we should do. But it gets worse.

This dovetails into a discussion between Hill and Payne about how "the free market" will find a solution to this "so-called problem". (Yes, Payne referred to global warming as a "so-called problem".) In fact, Payne even suggested that our grandchildren "will find ways to make money off this". Friends, global climate change is a very real phenomenon, and every reputable scientist who isn't being paid to say otherwise agrees. At present, we are experiencing an overall increase in average temperatures, and one result of this is that the storms we do get tend to be more intense. And human activities are very definitely contributing to this in a very negative way. (Negative in the sense that we aren't making it better, we're making it worse.) Yes, to fight the effects will cost money, and it is entirely possible that the people who work in the industries that contribute to the problem may some day have to find other work. But there will be other work. There will be plenty of work in the alternative fuel industries. The problem is that right now, oil and coal, two of the biggest causes of pollution, are very profitable, and the kind of people who support George W. Bush (Fox News Channel, etc) believe that financial worth is equivalent to social worth. In other words, if it makes money, it must inherently be a good thing.

This is one of many battles that Liberals and the other Forces of Goodness and Light have to face each day. There are people out there who feel that making a profit is not only the most important thing in the world, but that it is a sign that you are doing something good. (This is why the Military Industrial Complex is so beloved by Wall Street, even though they make equipment designed to kill and maim people. They make a profit doing it, so they must be "good".) It makes no difference to these people how many lives are lost or destroyed, how many jobs are eliminated, or how many children go hungry and homeless each day. If someone has found a way to make money off the problem, that person is the one who is "good. It doesn't seem to matter if what they are doing is helping or hurting the problem, as long as they are making a profit. In fact, if someone were to come along and eliminate a problem that was proving highly profitable by someone else, they would probably be attacked for destroying jobs and ruining the economy, even if they saved hundreds of thousands of lives in the process.

We need to get off this inane ideas that "the free market" will provide the solutions to our problems. The Free Market only supports profitable solutions, not ones that might be costly but necessary, or even (dare I say it?) effective. We need to get off the idea that financial success is equal to social worth. There are quite a few very wealthy people who you wouldn't want your kids to learn from or even go near. Money isn't everything, and there comes a point where, quite frankly, you may have more than you'll ever need. Is there any sensible reason in the world why you would want more? Do we have to continue to support a national policy of greed? I'm not saying that Capitalism should be eliminated completely. I'm just saying that it is not the only way to live.

I do think that we can eliminate Fox News Channel with no longterm harmful effects to our society.