Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Misanthrope's List

This is the antithesis to my first list. This list will be a short catalog of the things in life that agitate the piss out of me, and for symmetry I have decided to include ten songs that are incredibly aggravating as well. It turned out to be harder than I thought since it seems like everything pisses me off lately. Maybe I’m not as grouchy as I thought. Enjoy.

  1. People. A person has a chance, but people are totally useless.
  2. Lines. Especially when you’re waiting for something that you don’t want to do to begin with. I think we should all have a slave or a convict that can hold our place in line for us while we get other stuff done. At least it would make lines more interesting to watch.
  3. Barking dogs. Or more appropriately…
  4. The owners of barking dogs. Hey, Mac. Do you think you can pull yourself away from “Judge Judy” long enough to train your dog?!? Why do you even have that thing, anyway?
  5. Chocoholics, workaholics, sexaholics, etc. Listen, alcohol is a substance, and the suffix “ic” means “of or pertaining to,” thus, alcohol-ic. I don’t know what sexahol is, but it just sounds gross.
  6. Monica-gate, Iran-gate, etc. Come on, people. The hotel was the Watergate, and that was 36 frickin’ years ago. Are you that lazy? Adding “gate” to a word is not creative. It’s boring and kitschy.
  7. TV. I can’t remember the last time I saw something genuinely funny, informative, useful, or interesting come out of that box…especially since I started watching porn on the computer.
  8. “Macarena” by Los del Rio. What the…? The best part of this song is that it gives me a good reason to avoid wedding receptions.
  9. Dancing. Ever watch a single member of a big choreography number? They look like they have a parasitic worm in their brain. Easily one of the worst things women have ever come up with.
  10. Cats. Oh, Mr. Fluffums is just independent. If by independent, you mean feral, then, yes, Mr. Fluffums is independent. There’s no way that thing knows its name, either.
  11. Tofu. Imagine trying to explain tofu to someone in the 18th century. Can’t think of a compelling argument, can you?
  12. Bad recipe names. Would you order “Cheesy Nutty Bake” from a restaurant? Spend two minutes naming your creation. Your kids aren’t named “Fleshy Bloody Boy” and “Hairy Bony Girl” are they?
  13. Web pages that don’t print properly. We can land a vehicle on Mars, but for some reason the programming geeks can’t figure out how to get information from my screen onto a single sheet of paper. Typical.
  14. Spam. I don’t need another loan, I can get a boner just fine, and I don’t need a replica watch or a foreign prescription for Percocet. Are we clear?
  15. Junk Mail. Unless it comes with a business reply envelope. Then it’s quite fun, actually.
  16. Whiners. I’m hurt. Boo, hoo. Quit whining about it. Pick up your arm, and let’s go.
  17. “Rollin'” by Limp Bizkit. I’d rather have my feet roasted than ever hear that noise again.
  18. Ebonics. Or African American English. Such a bad idea that it’s made a mockery of itself, which is a giant step in the wrong direction, Muthafukka.
  19. Crying babies. I literally can't think of any noise ever made since the creation of ears that is even close to being half as agitating as a crying baby. It makes me want to pull the house down on top of myself every time.
  20. G.W. What is there to say that hasn’t been said?
  21. Ignorance. I don’t mind if you choose not to educate yourself or open your mind, but don’t act like you know what the f*ck you’re talking about. Unless you’re five years old there’s no excuse for it.
  22. Close talkers. Don’t know if you’re a close talker? Look down. If you’re standing on the same tile as I am, someone’s going to get hurt.
  23. Bad drivers. How can you suck so bad at something you do every day? It doesn’t seem possible to me. And why is it that everybody will tell you they are bad at math or that they are clumsy, but nobody admits to being a bad driver?
  24. When people make up what they think you just said, and it usually doesn’t make any sense at all. Example: I say, “I’m going to the car.” They say, “You’re covered in tar?” Grrrrr…{Grinding teeth}
  25. Popcorn. The smell of it makes me want to york.
  26. Baseball. I’d rather drive through Nebraska listening to Alanis Morissette than watch one boring-ass baseball game on TV. If I’m playing it’s another story, but then again I like to take naps.
  27. Political correctness. We’ve already kind of covered this earlier. Don’t fear language, people.
  28. Text messages. I have a hard enough time mashing the numbers on my phone with my fat fingers without trying to hunt down letters on that infernal device. Just call me will ya!
  29. “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by Crash Test Dummies. I think this is a rip-off from a Lennon and McCartney song. Oh, wait. Nope, it just sucks.
  30. Clutter. Do you really need nine sets of dishes? How about the ruler you used in fourth grade? And if you can still fit into your baby clothes then maybe you can keep them, but you should see a doctor. If it has been in a box for over 6 months then you won’t miss it.
  31. Knickknacks. What the f*ck am I going to do with a decorative spoon from the Grand Canyon?!?
  32. Faux hawks. When did pretending to be cool become cool? My son likes temporary tattoos, too, but then he’s three. Shit or get off the pot, fellas.
  33. People with bad breath. What did you just have in your mouth? Big Foot’s dick?
  34. "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" by Will Smith. Unh, unh, unh, unh, Hoo cah cah, Hah hah, hah hah, Bicka bicka bow bow bow, Bicka bow bow bump bump...I dunno either.
  35. Saturday Night Live! How is this show even on anymore? It hasn’t been funny since the first cast. And why were they affected by the writers’ strike, exactly?
  36. Muffin tops. I understand that it’s cool to be comfortable in your body, but you’re scaring the children. And I might have to sit in that seat after you’re done sweating on it.
  37. Dumb-ass authority figures. “Because I said so” is not a good reason for me to do anything, ever.
  38. Busy work. Why do I have to stick around if there’s nothing to do, again?
  39. Bureaucracy. Look, I don’t need safety training to know how to use the toilet properly, and I’m certainly not filling out an acquisition request form for the use of the paper…unless you give me a donation receipt when I’m done.
  40. Closed-mindedness. If all you can do is follow someone else’s dogma without question, then crawl into a hole and try not to infect anyone else until we develop a vaccine.
  41. Hippies. I should say fake hippies. The kind you find at Phish shows and Planet Bluegrass concerts. Real hippies actually stood for something other than boycotting personal hygiene products. And they weren’t begging for free tickets all the time either, Dirtball.
  42. Bad food at a restaurant. Ditto bad service. I think if everybody asked themselves two questions about a dining establishment then most of this BS would be cleared up: Why did I come in here, and why would I ever come back?
  43. People that say things like, “That place has the best Chinese food.” Really. The best Chinese food…is in Hog Jaw, Arkansas…thanks Cletus, but I’ll reserve my judgment on that one. And why are you pushing the My Dung Palace Chinese place on me when Fuk Mii Restaurant and the Big Wing Wang Thai place are closer?
  44. Mosquitoes. What, we can wipe out a couple of thousand species a year, but somehow the most dangerous and particularly annoying animal on the planet isn’t on our hit list?
  45. Cattle. These stupid animals are an economic and ecological disaster. You can keep your steak and gross milk. F*ck cows…I do like cheese, though.
  46. Adding compound words to the dictionary. Why is “Bumble-Bee” in the dictionary? “Bumble” is an adjective describing the noun “Bee”. Both words are already in there. There’s no need to add the compound, except to sell more dictionaries when the new edition comes out.
  47. Tangled-up cords/hoses/wires/ropes/etc. Ooh, this gets me going every time.
  48. “Supermodel” by Rue Paul. Where do I even begin?
  49. Inappropriate use of the word “Ironic”. “Ironic” does not mean “unfortunate” or “coincidental”. Rain on your wedding day is not ironic. Saying that a good looking guy with his faux hawk on fire is “hot” is ironic.
  50. People that wear their media players everywhere. Are you so self-involved or socially-inept that you need to have your earbuds in wherever you go in order to shut everyone else out?...I’m talking to you…
  51. Christmas. Mostly, what’s become of Christmas. I love listening to Deano and Bing, watching “A Christmas Story”, and decorating the tree. It’s just that everything gets lost in the over consumption and over commercialization of it all. What should we get for her? What am I gonna get from them? Merry Getmas…
  52. Yard work. Again, this is another good reason to have a slave or a convict around.
  53. Being hot. A hot Dan is a grouchy Dan. There’s nothing worse than a hot Dan. No…you’re right. A hot Carl is worse.
  54. Mothers Against anything. This kind of support group (although well-meaning) usually forces reactionary action on law makers based on bad statistics and emotions. The issues that they deal with are often just too complicated for any realistic solution to be found immediately. Sad, but true.
  55. Bad customer service. Seriously, there are other jobs. If you don’t like dealing with people then become a politician or a teacher. I shouldn’t have to make you cry before I get some decent answers to my questions.
  56. Bad tech support. At the minimum you should know more about your product than the consumer. If not, you suck. I’ll leave it at that.
  57. “Longer” by Dan Fogelberg. I could wear a tutu and an Anne Geddes t-shirt while tampon shopping with my toy poodle and retain more masculinity than this lame-ass garbage.
  58. Anne Geddes portraits. Why is it acceptable to humiliate your child? At what point does this just become sad (as well as idiotic)? I know that if I tried to stuff my son in a flower pot he’d punch me square in the nuts, deservedly so.
  59. Re-sealable packages. Has anyone ever gotten these things to actually close? Why do the manufacturers insist on spending the money to put a non-functional zip lock on a bag of frozen corn? Like everything else, just to piss me off, I guess.
  60. Saran wrap. This is a wonder of modern marketing. Here’s a product that doesn’t work and has never worked for what it is intended to do – seal up containers. Yet people still buy it and try in vain to use it, and they are always amazed when it doesn’t work. I can only think of one thing it actually works well for (see #53).
  61. Bad teachers. Saying a subject is hard is no excuse for your ineptitude. Of course it’s hard. That’s why I’m paying you to teach me, Jackass.
  62. Flat tires on bicycles. Great googly moogly! That gets right under my skin.
  63. Pulling wool socks or sweaters from the washer. Yeech! Sends a chill up my spine just thinking about it.
  64. Wimpy sneezers. You’re never going to clean out a beezer that size if the only noise you make sounds like a sick kitten. FREE YOUR SNEEZE!
  65. 500 miles” by The Proclaimers. I -would -walk -five -hun -dred -miles -and -I -would -walk -five -hun -dred -more -just -to avoid hearing this nonsense ever again. It’s even annoying to read, isn’t it?
  66. Bad sales people. Everyone complains that we’re in an economic downturn, but it’s impossible to buy anything without waiting until Rapture for a sales rep to get their crap in a pile. You know what? We’ll see ya, Smartguy. There are only about 90 other places I can go to get what I need.
  67. Rupert Murdoch. Don’t know who he is? Have a look here and be afraid. Be very afraid.
  68. Guys that try to make everything into sexual innuendo. For example: I say, “I need to change the toner cartridge.” They say, “I’d like to change her toner cartridge.” What the?!? That doesn’t even make sense, Dude. Knock it off.
  69. Elitism. Get over yourself, people. I like to imagine an elitist trapped in their car after an accident. Shall I fetch the diamond-studded jaws-of-life, Madame? Not so proud when you’re spitting out glass and teeth, are you? I’m such a barbarian.
  70. Bad spelling and grammar. Primarily on public documents. I can look past the occasional trip-up (especially when it’s mine), but for my sanity can you run your crap through a spell checker once…maybe even read it first.
  71. Things the spell checker doesn’t catch. Like when I send out a document and I see that I said “you” instead of “your.” (As in: check you email.) OOOH! That grabs me by the pink parts!
  72. The Sun. Whitey burns up unless I’m slathered with enough sunscreen that I look like a member of the Blue Man Group. Colorado probably isn’t the best state for a vampire, but I love it none-the-less.
  73. Pregnancy and childbirth discussions. If I ever have to hear about a mucus plug again, I’m going to loose my shit.
  74. The movie “A.I.” Jesus Tittyf*cking Christ. This movie is about 146 minutes too long. Easily the worst movie I’ve ever seen. I can’t say if it’s the worst movie ever made, but then again I’m smart enough to have avoided movies like “Son of the Mask” and “Pluto Nash.”
  75. Semi drivers that drive 95 miles per hour in a blizzard. I’m having a hard enough time keeping it on the road without them blasting by. They almost always make me spill my beer, too. Maniacs.
  76. Much as I hate to do this – “Kokomo” by The Beach Boys. I know that they are one of the most influential bands of all time, but this song makes my small intestines want to shoot up into my brain.
  77. You. Hey, I told you I was a misanthrope already.
  78. Rap music. When rap first started, the artists had something to say. Twenty-some odd years of saying the same thing in the same way is pretty fekking annoying.
  79. Being lied to. Odds are that I don’t care enough about what you think to warrant a lie. And if I find the lie out, I think I’m technically entitled to burn your pants or something.
  80. The French language. I can never tell if someone speaking French is gagging or asking me where to find the bathroom.
  81. Bad beer. I’m not chugging beers through a hose and a funnel anymore. When I buy beer I’d like to sit down and enjoy a nicely crafted brew. If I come home with a six-pack of Dog Snort IPA expecting instant gratification and semi-sober bliss, and instead I find out that it tastes like it was brewed inside someone’s fake leg, I get seriously agitated.
  82. The whole boxer shorts / pants hanging under the ass thing. Who ever thought this was attractive or fashionable? And, ladies, why do you allow this to go on? All you have to do is tell the feebs that are pulling this crap that it looks ridiculous, and it will stop the next day. I must admit that I get some pleasure from watching these knuckleheads run and try to keep their pants up…especially when they are being chased.
  83. Improper use of “I” and “me.” Gerald is mad at Kevin and me. Kevin and I burned down his house. See?
  84. Uncooked celery. I’d rather eat a plate of earwax nachos than eat raw celery. As my son would say, “That’s lousy, Dad.”
  85. Comb-overs. This one is a tough one for me…and not because I’m bald. It’s tough because I do get joy from seeing someone that looks foolish especially when they are trying to be serious, but it still just pisses me off for some reason, so here we are.
  86. People that swerve into oncoming traffic to “avoid” bicyclists. So, people are willing to have a head-on collision with oncoming traffic instead of staying in their lane (which is plenty of room)? Is that what I’m seeing? I have a secret desire to witness two of these morons coming in opposite directions and passing bicyclists at the same time. Sweet, sweet calamity.
  87. “Lovin’ You” by Minnie Ripperton. This one makes me want to kick my dog whenever I hear it, and (oddly enough) I think my dog wants to be kicked when he hears it. Jesus, it’s awful.
  88. Hypocrisy. Practice what you preach, Man. Nobody really cares about what you say if you don’t follow it up. See #79.
  89. When you try to nonchalantly pick your nose, and you end up accidentally pulling out something that feels like the other end is attached to the bottom of your lung. Now you have this six-inch thing that looks like a sea slug to dispose of discretely. Too much?
  90. Uneducated voters. Why do people bother voting at all if they are just going to pick the first selection all the way down the ballot so they can get back home and finish watching “Dr. Phil”? The same goes for people that vote strictly on party lines. “Oh, I know that he’s a convicted sex offender, has a drug habit and has an IQ so low that he locked himself out of his motorcycle…but he’s a Republican.” Son-of-a …
  91. Hearing songs that I like on a TV commercial. What nimrod let Target get their hands on The Beatles’ catalog? And The Who!?! The Who!?! On TV commercials!?! Lawdy Lawd, please take me now!
  92. People who talk really, really softly. “Mew, mew mew mew.” WHAT?!? Speak UP will, ya!? “Ah, subba subba mew mew…” COME ON! Use sign language if you don’t want to talk, and stop looking at your feet. You’re making me nervous.
  93. The newspaper “funnies.” How in Hell’s creation are “Cathy” and “Ziggy” around at all. I mean, who’s making the call on this garbage?
  94. Marketing to kids. Not only does this torque me off because children don’t understand the evil marketing forces that are stacked against them, but it pisses me off that I have to talk the kids down from wanting to buy something that they don’t need. This is especially bad if you look at the type of food that is marketed to children. This probably warrants its own topic.
  95. “Shiny Happy People” by R.E.M. Shiny crappy people is more like it. This has to be on the list of songs that the U.S. military plays at Guantanamo to extract information from terrorists.
  96. Bathroom graffiti. Why would someone write “Balls” or “Raymond has a vagina” on a stall door? Worse yet are the people that write their responses below the original junk, “So does your mama.” I don’t get it…unless they are mute…and don’t have email. Then it’s a pretty good form of communication, I guess.
  97. When people say “ATM Machine” or “PIN Number.” Why bother shortening the phrase if you are just going to lengthen it by being redundant? Do you say “ASAP Possible”? Sounds silly, right? I’m not convinced people know what the letters stand for to begin with. Also, “ATM” is not an acronym. It’s an abbreviation. “PIN” is an acronym.
  98. People who prematurely convict others based on media reports. What happened to the right of a jury trial? Innocent until proven guilty? No? “I know she did it” or “He got away with it.” Unless you were at the trial or witnessed the event all you know is what Rupert Murdoch tells you, so knock it off.
  99. When you get out of the shower and you realize that you forgot to rinse the soap out of your armpits. Or worse yet, when you just get in the shower and you realize that you need to drop the duce. No sir, I don’t like it.
  100. Me. I’m such an ar*ehole…

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Don't Make Me come Back There

NOTE FROM THE BLOGMASTER: I think one thing you’re going to find out about me very quickly is that I don’t tend to believe anything just because somebody tells me that it is true. I am a skeptic to the core, and as such I am going to tend to dig into some of the ideas that many people take as sacrosanct. I am going to question the reliability of certain kinds of claims by subjecting them to investigation no matter how ingrained the idea is in society or how mundane the subject matter. Hopefully the subject matter that I choose to write about here is marginally interesting, but that’s another story altogether. I believe that it is dangerous to accept statements of fact out-of-hand without any investigation. Time, money and lives are often lost by blind acceptance of what is presented as factual, and those individuals that are held in positions of authority (or perceived authority) often use this blind acceptance in order to further their particular agendas. Chemical manufacturers will tell you their products are safe for you and the environment, automobile manufacturers will tell you that 17 miles per gallon is the best that can be done, doctors will tell you that you need a prescription drug to make your spleen shinier, women will tell you that they have a perpetual headache, etc. They will push their agendas (intentionally or not) through fear and ignorance; meanwhile we are left on our backs with our legs in the air. BUT THERE’S NO NEED TO FEAR! UNDERDAN IS HERE! I'll be all around in the dark - I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look - wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build - I'll be there, too. Wherever there is injustice, you will find me. Wherever there is suffering I’ll be there. Wherever liberty is threatened...Alright…that’s enough of that crap…
OK, so what am I writing about on a semi-sober Sunday night after a long weekend on the river? Well, as I have mentioned in past entries, I have two awesome kids. And much to my surprise I spend a great deal of time thinking about their safety and well-being. My wife and I are essentially the only protection that they have against catastrophic injury, illness and destitution, so we have to be there in the trenches looking out for them every day. I’m continually researching “child-safe” medications, toys, media, child care products, and parental aides…I said parental aides, not marital aides…but, now that you mention it, I do a lot of “research” in that area, too. (Nudge, nudge, eh?) The boy is around the age that he’s going to graduate from safety seat to booster seat soon, so I got to wondering what (if any) actual (not perceived) benefits car seats provide. Again, most people accept out-of-hand without question that car seats provide a huge benefit, (my hunch is that they do as well) but I’d like to be a little more quantitative about items that are expensive and mandated by law in some states. And, usually, when everybody accepts something as truth uniformly without question, red flags start going off in my head. I mean, after all, we used to sleep in the back window of our parents’ Caprice Classic on long trips and had WrestleMania matches in the back of the station wagon on the way to the store. Most of us made it this far, so what protection do car seats offer, exactly?

First of all it should be said that I had a Hell of a time tracking down this information. You would think that something of such high importance as child safety would mean that data is readily accessible. It isn’t. Also, there are relatively few studies that relate the effectiveness and use of child restraint devices, and those studies that are available are done by either polling individuals or by searching a single insurance company’s accident report database in selected states. However, all is not lost. The data that I was able to track down did supply some valuable information.

In the US in 2005 there were 43,443 fatalities from automobile accidents when all vehicle types are counted. We traveled around 2,990 billion vehicle miles on our highways and byways, which puts the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) at 1.45. For passenger vehicles (no motorcycles, bikes, busses, or commercial vehicles) there were 31,415 fatalities in 2005 and 2,750 billion VMT, which makes the fatality rate 1.14 per 100 million VMT. If the average person drives about 15K miles per year then they would have to drive for about 6000 years in order to be involved in a fatal accident. I think I was driving behind an old lady today that was only a couple thousand years away from that. There were 2,581,000 non-fatally injured people involved in accidents in 2005 (286K incapacitating injuries, 698K non-incapacitating injuries, 1,545K “possible” injuries). With 2,990 billion VMT that puts the injury rate at about 86 per 100 million VMT. So you’d have to drive about for about 77 years to be assured that you will even get injured in a crash. Per mile traveled, the odds are two-times better that you’d get a royal flush in poker on the first five cards dealt (649,740 to 1 times 2) than be involved in an injury accident. So drink up and hit the road! (Only joking of course.) These numbers are for the entire population, but I am only concerned (for the sake of this article, and in general) with children. So I’ll try to focus my attention on kids under 9 years old, which is when they can usually graduate to normal seat belts.

In the age group made up of children 0-3 years old, there were 370 deaths in 2007. Motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) were the #3 cause of death behind congenital anomalies (462) and drowning (437). What’s the #4 cause of death in infants? Homicide (328). Sick fucks. For children aged 4-7, there were 449 deaths from MVAs which made it the #1 cause of death followed by malignant neoplasms (390) and congenital anomalies (205). Interestingly, almost one-fourth of all children between the ages of 5 and 9 years who were killed in MVAs were pedestrians. They could be removed from this car seat discussion, but I’ll leave them in to bolster numbers.
Let’s set aside the unlikely odds that you or your children are going to be killed or injured in an accident, and let’s assume for now that the unlikely event has happened - that you’ve just been in an accident. What are the chances that you are injured or dead? What benefit does a child restraint system have? Why is your armpit in the glovebox? Really, I’m just looking for what matters, what really improves the chances of walking away. In my digging I found an excellent document that was published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis dealing with child passenger fatalities and injuries. It’s a 56-page study that is packed with great info about vehicle types, age groups, restraint use, seating position, and basically everything that you could ever ask for…except for the actual formulas that they used to calculate some of the relative numbers. Putting that last tidbit aside, the conclusions of the study are very useful.

In many of these studies the term relative risk is thrown about a lot, so I’ll briefly describe it here. A relative risk is defined as a ratio of two probabilities, P1 and P2. For calculating relative risk here, P1 can (for example) refer to the percent of unrestrained children that were fatally injured in a fatal crash. P2 can refer to the percent of restrained children that were fatally injured in a fatal crash. So for example, P1 for 4 though 7 year olds in a single-vehicle fatal crash in a SUV was 26.9%, and P2 was 12.5%. P1 divided by P2 equals 2.15, which means that for the specific type of crash described, an unrestrained child was 2.15 times more likely to be fatally injured than a restrained child. Note that this says nothing about actual numbers of fatalities. An increase from 3 to 6 fatalities would show the same relative risk increase.

For children from 0-3 only 6 out of 1000 kids that are in MVAs are seriously injured. That is about .006%, or 1 to 167 against getting injured if they are in a crash. This is about the same odds as getting audited by the IRS sometime in their life (175 to 1). For 4-8 year-olds this number increases to around 17 per 1000 in accidents. Still pretty damn low. If the child is restrained at all the numbers drop 38%, and if they are in an “appropriate” restraint (booster seat) they drop 59%. Research on the effectiveness of child safety seats has found them to reduce fatal injury by 71 percent for infants (less than 1 year old) and by 54 percent for toddlers (1-4 years old) in passenger cars. For infants and toddlers in light trucks (like I drive), the corresponding reductions are 58 percent and 59 percent, respectively. Also, I think it is worth noting that although only 5.7% of these crashes occurred with drivers 16-19 years old, the children involved in them are 6 times more likely to be injured than if driven by someone 20 years or older. There could be a lot of reasons for this (speed, inexperienced drivers, the shite cars they drive, etc.), but I think it’s because teenagers are dumbasses. They are most likely too busy texting their friends about who Justin Timberlake is dating, painting their toenails, and dicking with their iPod to ensure that their passengers are strapped in properly and seated in the right position.
O.K. So what did I really learn? It seems obvious not only logically, but also quantitatively that child restraint systems have some benefit. I mean, speaking as a parent, having the kids strapped in where you can see them, control their movement, and reach them if necessary makes driving anywhere possible. Otherwise it would be like turning a squirrel monkey loose in the car. You’d be dodging a constant barrage of Hot Wheels and YoGos. Now, I threw a lot of percentages around here, and it is apparent to me that they are statistically relevant. Even if they weren’t statistically relevant, saving even one child from death or debilitating injury is positive. However, I believe that it is important to realize that the numbers are very low even though relative risks change by significant percentages. If we drop teen drivers and pedestrian accidents out of the equation the chances of injury or death become quite literally astronomically low. Why do I mention that? Well, I think that the stress that is heaped upon parents overwhelms common sense in many cases. And I believe the almost primal fear of child injury or death has been played expertly here by the manufacturers of child safety products to their benefit. You shouldn’t feel like a bad parent if you don’t strap your child into a five-point harness if you are just pulling the car into the garage off of the street. You should, however, feel like a real f-up if you have ten kids loose in the back seat of your Volare` with a 15 year old driving as you crack a beer and have a smoke while screaming down the interstate. There’s a middle ground somewhere in there that I hope you can see.

Oh, yeah. Not to kick the beehive on my way out the door, but in two of the major studies that I referenced 69% of the drivers in these accidents were women…

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Meet my Big Brother

I was at a party yesterday and as often happens when everybody has had too much to drink, we started talking about things that none of us could articulate in our drunken state. One of the topics dealt with why it isn’t appropriate for women to go topless everywhere, another dealt with how to grow peppers in our shitty soil. I think at one point we were talking about how the CIA uses cats to spread a virus that makes us want to buy more things at Wal-Mart. Things got a little weird. One topic that I do remember has come up a lot in the past, so I thought I’d think about it a little while I’m sober. We were talking about words and language. About weather some things should or should not be said.

I guess I’d like to start out with a quote; "It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought…should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.Many of you will recognize that from George Orwell’s 1984. If you haven’t read the book, you should. It’s one of the few important works that are actually well written. To sum it up, it is about a totalitarian regime that controls all aspects of life and has a figurehead called Big Brother. Not only does the quote fit the discussion at hand, but it is also the opening quote in The Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook. I wish I were making that up. The idea of politically correct speech is essentially the same as Orwell’s dystopic view. According to PC advocates, defusing linguistic triggers helps social stereotypes on their way out. In other words, if you stop calling black people niggers or gay people faggots, then the societal view towards the subject at hand (sex, religion, race, age, disability, etc.) will change. This idea comes in part from something that’s called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which holds that language influences our worldview and powerfully conditions all our of thinking about social problems and processes; it is the major force in constructing what we perceive as reality.
Going back to 1984 for a second, Orwell’s totalitarian state-controlled language is called Newspeak. The limited vocabulary of “Newspeak” helps to keep things simple. Since thoughts are formulated in words, there are no synonyms or antonyms, just words bereft of emotional expression. Nothing to incite or illicit emotion, and, inevitably, society becomes a reflection of that. Traditionally, when society changes language follows suit. What PC is trying to do in today’s society is the opposite: use language to change the way society thinks. Starting to see a pattern? I don’t really have a problem with some of the tenets of PC. I’m pretty sure it’s not appropriate to tell racist jokes during a Power Point presentation at work, or during a press conference. I understand that neutering of some words like chairman, postman, policeman, and the like are part of addressing how society has already changed, but we shouldn’t be calling the boogeyman the bogeyperson in order to force change on our imaginary demons.

Political correctness has become a mockery of itself and thus has diminished the importance of what it has tried to accomplish. For example, imagine you were having a conversation with someone that continually referred to women as bitches, hos, and cum-catchers. You politely ask them to tone it down because you think those words aren’t appropriate for the audience at Shady Hollow Senior Center. They say “Well! Aren’t you just soooo PC.” PC has become so over the top that it has become an excuse for not being PC. The real problems of prejudice, racism, inequality, and powerlessness, cannot be significantly tackled without honest, open dialogue, however messy and hurtful it may at times be. Forbidding or discouraging certain terms or certain kinds of speech won’t help the process, and may instead drive another kind of wedge between groups which must deal with other issues that already divide them. To me, politically correct language is nothing but a cover up which hurts language in the process.

I think the real scoop is this: some people want to tell you how to talk – to tell you what you can and can’t say. Political activists, anti-bias groups, special interest groups, and some individuals want to control your language. Government agencies will tell you saying something is against the law, against regulations or secret. Religion has things that you can’t say because they are sins. As we said before, they want to control information and control language because that’s how you control thought. By changing the words we think with they change the quality of our thought, and ideas can only be as good as the quality of our thoughts. Remember, there is nothing wrong with the words that are targeted in and of themselves. Words are neutral until they are put into context. It’s the context that matters. If some ignorant, bigoted troglodyte jumps into a conversation and starts dropping n-bombs all over the place ask them to tone it down (or distract them with a Dixie flag and a NASCAR hat), but don’t vilify the word. And certainly don’t make it illegal to say those words because it would make a lot of jokes really crappy. It truly is the user that puts the intent behind words that make them good or bad. I get tired of people talking about bad words and bad language. It’s the context that makes them good or bad. This may offend some people, but, frankly, (to paraphrase George Carlin) this type of language was created by smug, greedy, well-fed, white people in order to conceal our sins. I think that what it boils down to is that there will always be some portion of society that is ignorant, and no amount of dicking around with words is going to change that.

"The destruction of words is a beautiful thing." Geoege Orwell, 1984

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Don't Look Down

I was driving to work the other day, and while I was in traffic I saw some jaggoff flick a cigarette out of his car window. That may not seem too unusual, but that's exactly my issue. So I got to thinking, "Why don't they ever get in trouble for littering?" Why is it socially acceptable to chuck these pieces of garbage wherever the Hell they want? It's because a cigarette butt is so small, right? That's the same type of logic that people use in discussions about animals. Save the ones that are cute, furry, and moderately-sized, but nobody gives a rat's ass about squashing bugs, mice and the like. Well, maybe it's not the same logic, but it agitates me anyway. Sorry, where was I? I thought I'd apply a little simple math to the butt-generators to see what falls out. I don't smoke, so I had to scrounge up a cigarette butt off of the street. Then I took the gross-ass thing to work, weighed and measured it, and this is what I came up with after a little number crunching.
I grabbed some background information from a National Heath Interview Survey cited by the American Lung Association. The article estimates the number of smokers in the US to be about 20% of the population, so I estimated low at 55 million smokers. It further states that around 75% of those smokers smoke at least a pack-a-day. Again, I estimated low saying 70% smoked that much, giving me 38 million smokers. For the non-smokers in the audience, there are 20 cigarettes in a pack. Each cigarette butt has an average mass of .192 grams and a volume of 1.042 cubic centimeters.

The number of butts per day generated by pack-a-day smokers is 770 million. This is 396,211 pounds, or 200 tons - around 28,323 cubic feet of cigarette butts per day. Now, let's assume that 1 out of every 2 butts end up on the ground (50%). This number is undoubtedly going up since smoking is getting black-listed from most public places: less ashtrays + lazy slobs = more garbage that I have to look at (among other things). The mass of butts that end up as litter every day is 100 tons. The volume of this crap is 525 cubic yards, or enough butts to fill up a 30x30 three-story building every day. That's 57,750,000 linear feet, or 11,000 miles of butts per day. In 2 1/2 days they would reach around the world. In 20 days they would reach the moon. Keep in mind that these numbers are from the US only, and my estimates are low, as well. Also, I just counted the pack-a-day bums. I didn't count the chain-smoking grandmas with corn teeth or the posers that only smoke when they drink.

Don't look down. They're all over the place. Add this to your list of things that you never noticed before that will annoy the shit out of you (like real estate signs or the “cigarette burns” that signify a reel change at a movie). Next time you see someone drop a cigarette give them a ration of crap for me, or just hope that the gods of heart disease and lung cancer catch up with them like I do. OK, that's a little mean...maybe just call on the gods of moderately persistent cough and yuck-mouth...