Thursday, July 31, 2008

Too Flippin' Slow!

I'd like to add some remarks to Speck's underappreciated blog entry about people driving too slowly ("Stop Driving Slow" on July 24). It's not just the price of gasoline that has people's panties in a wad -- it's also the latest in "protect-my-kids-against-anything-bad" attitudes that makes anyone driving a car in the neighborhood some kind of hazard.

In my neighborhood, they decided to lower the speed limit from 30 MPH to 25 MPH. They did this to make the roads safer for kids. Now I could be wrong, but my understanding is that the roads were constructed and paved for cars, not someone's kids. Your walking on the side of the road with your family and dog(s) is more of an adjunct use of the roads. I'm not saying you shouldn't safely and considerately (to drivers) walk on the side of the road when appropriate - sure, it's for everyone's use....but the primary function of streets is to allow people and their vehicles access to the homes.

So let me address the 30 MPH vs. the 25 MPH speed limit. First - to my knowledge, and I feel I am fairly knowledgeable in this regard, there have not been any traffic fatalities in my neighborhood due to people driving 30 MPH. Seriously, 30 MPH has worked for years. I can easily reach that speed on my bicycle (although maybe not in 100 degree weather). Second, my car is not as fuel-efficient at that speed. Third, watching my speedometer for the speed-Nazis means taking my eyes off the road and your kids I'm about to hit. Finally, to get out of my neighborhood is effectively 1 mile. At 30 MPH that is 2 minutes, at 25 MPH it's 2.4 minutes. Now 0.4 minutes doesn't sound like much, but over a 1 year period, assuming a typical routine like work and other activities, that 0.4 minutes tallies to 6.24 HOURS per year. So to you assholes who think that lowering the speed limit doesn't have any significant affect on my life, please give me 6.24 hours of my life back that you waste every year.

To add insult to injury, there are some condescending pricks who take it one step further and purposely drive 15-20 MPH just to piss me off (seriously, I have proof). They'd be wasting at least 10 hours of my time each year.

Now I can hug trees and be environmentally conscious with the best of people, but the fact is that suburbia is built around automobiles for transportation and there is no reasonable way around that (once you've established the community layout). If you don't like cars, then move to New York City or Washington, DC where they have built the community around a good, well-established mass transit system. Don't give me this bullshit that cars kill people and kill the environment. People on cell phones in the car kill people, and people who drive huge SUVs kill the environment (yeah, those SUVs that cart around my neighbors' overprotected kids).

As for people driving slowly on the highways, consider this: It's not really so much the speed that wastes gas (within reason, of course), but it's the inconsistency of speed. Getting up to highway speed quickly (not jackrabbit fast, but reasonably quickly) and then staying around that speed is the best way to save on gas. Keeping everyone moving means being in the correct lane going at a speed appropriate for the road, which for major Texas highways is 65 MPH. If you're doing slower than that in the fast lane then you're going too slow, for sure. Furthermore, if you're paying attention to the road and not to the person on the other end of a cell phone connection, then you can anticipate changes in road condition that will not only save you gas (less sudden changes in speed) but it is also safer. People don't need to drive slower, they need to drive smarter. Other ways of getting better gas mileage from your car that has nothing to do with speed: Keep your tires properly inflated (the tire and repair shops never fill them up correctly - you need to do that), maintain your engine (change the oil and filters at regular intervals, taking into account "extreme" conditions), and schedule your errands so you do several in one trip (this works because engines work more efficiently once they've warmed-up). I realize these have become cliche, but I've tried them and they do seriously have a substantial impact on gas mileage.

So there ... a rant and some educational commentary. Drive fast, drive safely, and keep your car maintained. I'm out there with you!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Do I belong here?

I just took the "Do You Belong Here? Test" on okcupid.com. It said:

From time to time you may have a feeling of not belonging. you probably have a few very close friends, who find some of your ideas to be quite weird. you seem to have the spirit and wish to change this place for the better, although you are realistic about the odds of succeeding. if you manage to not get disappointed further, you might very well inspire those around you.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bus Stop

It probably isn't entirely obvious from what has been written here that I tend to veer away from what's being called "music" nowadays and am stuck in a time capsule created about 35-45 years ago. That's not to say that there isn't anything new that I like, but my style of choice is stuck firmly in the past. Most of what I listen to in the car is whatever I have around, rather than the radio. I don't miss the commercials and the nonsense utterances of the radio personalities.

This is a long lead-in to what I really wanted to write about.

I was listening to a CD I made recently and heard some songs that really "spoke" to me, for lack of a better phrase. These are songs that would form a good soundtrack to my life and explain kind of what I'm thinking. With that being said, here are some that immediately come to mind:
  • The Hollies - "Bus Stop" -- This is how I see romance happening to me, figuratively speaking of course. It's two people doing their usual thing, stumble upon each other, and start taking an interest in each other's activities and sharing in their own eccentricities.
  • Mason Williams - "Classical Gas" -- No words, but the way that the song builds from a slow solo guitar to an up-tempo full instrumental back down at the end is the way things seem to be for me. Things go from simple to complex and chaotic back down to simple again. I always though that Classical Gas would also be a good soundtrack to a slide show starting with the vast undeveloped ranches around Texas building up to the mass development of the land as has taken place over the past 10 years.
  • Aaron Tippin - "You've Got To Stand For Something" -- Nothing more needs to be said here. Anyone who knows me or who has read this blog realizes that this is core to how I believe.
  • Boston - "More Than A Feeling" -- This is how I felt 20 years ago and for a long time afterward.
  • LeAnn Rimes - "The Light In Your Eyes" -- I often wonder if this song was meant to have a more religious meaning, but I saw it as more of an inspirational song encouraging one to be one's self even when things are going badly.
  • Jann Browne - "You Ain't Down Home" -- This is what I would like to have said to a lot of people who were more interested in material gain and having the latest stuff to impress everyone. There's a big difference between technology and stuff for the sake of having technology and stuff, and having it to actually accomplish something. There are too many of the former out there.
  • Jane Olivor - "One More Ride On The Merry-Go-Round" -- One could say that this is the result of those who "ain't down home," but this song says so much more. Even with accomplishment and success, sometimes life can get so complicated that you lose sight of the simple things that once gave you happiness.
  • Liz Story - "Wedding Rain" (solo piano) -- I'm not sure the title fits the music, particularly in the context of a soundtrack to my life ... but when I listen to this, it just sounds like how I'm feeling.
  • The Seekers - "A World Of Our Own" -- This is what happens after the "Bus Stop." It's a simple, folksy song and pretty much describes how I'd like things to be.
This is a small list and there are so many other songs that may not be in the "soundtrack," but certainly have meaning in some way.

The picture of the cat doesn't have much to do with this whole posting, except that I liked it. I failed to keep my quota of 60s songs in the list above, as well. This was an interesting introspective, though. Back to the rat race...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Couples Institutionalized

Since I seem to somehow be stepping into controversial topics as of late I may as well continue with the series...

Today a friend made me aware of an article in the Austin American-Statesman regarding a bill in the Texas legislature spearheaded by Rep. Warren Chisum that would require Texans to "wait two years to get a divorce — unless they take a class designed to save their marriage." The article goes on to say,
State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, sought to get a similar measure passed in 2007. He said he's planning to bring it back as one of his priorities for the legislative session that begins in January.

"The deal is, we need to take marriage more seriously," said Chisum, who in October will celebrate his 51st wedding anniversary.
This is yet another of a pile of legislation that is being introduced to "save the family." First it was to continue to deny same-sex couples the right to marry, and now it's trying to attack the ability for married couples to divorce.

At what time did the United States of America switch from a democracy (or at least a constitutional republic) to totalitarianism? Seriously - what's next? Next thing will be that the government will start arranging who I can date and dictate how many children I must produce in order to provide healthy offspring to support the empire. Good grief. I'm not much for socialism or communism, but somehow given the choice between that and fascism I'll take the lesser of two evils. Decisions like the ones our government are making regarding marriage should make you mad as hell (I certainly am).

It's not just the trampling upon of civil rights that pisses me off, it's the kind of attitude these pricks in government are trying to stir up that is far worse. Instead of addressing the real problems with marriage as an institution, these pious bastards in government are trying to make everyone think that marriage is threatened by people living alternative lifestyles. As I said once before, gay marriage is not any threat to the family. If it does anything at all it should strengthen it. The real reason why people are against gay marriage is because it's different than what they have been told to believe. They take the perverted interpretations of a book written a couple thousand years ago as an excuse to promulgate bigotry against a group of people who actually support the institution of marriage and are working hard to be accepted into society. So now that the right-wing religious zealots have succeeded in their gay-bashing agenda they're now addressing the subject of divorce. Will denying a couple a divorce fix the institution of marriage? That's like saying that reviving prohibition will produce a drop in the crimes associated with alcohol use. Making divorce more difficult will only revert us back to a time when divorce was socially unacceptable and people quietly lived a miserable life in a miserable (or abusive) marriage. Instead of determining why marriages are failing in the first place, our elected officials have decided that we'll just go ahead and prevent people from separating. Sounds to me like a good reason to not get married in the first place. Score another point for good old fashioned family values.

Yeah yeah yeah, I know that they said that you could go to counseling to bypass that two year waiting period. Obviously Mr. Prick Chisum has never dealt with a spouse who was so manipulative or nasty that they would refuse to go to counseling. So what if they did? Will that really repair a union of two people that should never have happened in the first place?

Identifying problems before couples bond in marriage is the real way to address the problems with marriage and good family values (I hate even typing that phrase). To get you started, here is my list of those issues:
  1. Parental and/or religious pressure to marry and produce offspring needs to stop immediately. It needs to be acceptable to remain unmarried and/or not have children. Many marriages are made because of pressure to have children, and children do not cement a marriage together. Children add additional challenges to a couple that will only weaken a marriage on an unstable foundation.
  2. Rather than requiring counseling and/or a waiting period for divorce, instead consider a two-year waiting period and/or counseling before one can get married. Frankly I'm not sure how effective the counseling will be given that the church would likely be allowed to do the counseling. That's like asking the cat to take care of the bird while you take a quick trip to the supermarket. The church will continue to encourage marriages that will not work. Ideally it should be done by a qualified licensed professional counselor or psychologist who leaves their religious bias at the door.
  3. As I've stated before, couples need to consider their financial, emotional, and personal requirements of children before reproducing or adopting. If our legislators are really concerned with children and family (and that's what I think they're really worried about), then they would be far more effective in assuring that those critical resources are available prior to starting a family.* Ironically, the very same group of people they are fighting (the gay/lesbian community) are the same people who (because they're under such scrutiny) have much more carefully considered those requirements.
    * I mean the couple should assure that the critical resources are available, not the government.
  4. Even when the most intelligent of people make the most careful of choices, there are times when it becomes necessary to break the bond of marriage. Keeping people married who have no business being together only weakens the institution of marriage. It is a bad environment for any children in the relationship.
Government cannot reasonably legislate most of these things. Truly the fix needs to come from society, and we're in a time when traditional values are being challenged. The laws of physics apply here: Any action will result in an equal and opposite reaction. Not all changes to traditional values are good, and some traditional values are antiquated and even bad. Using government to mandate a faith-based value system is dangerous as we discovered again and again throughout history. Maybe everyone should be required to repeat and pass grade-school history before they assume political office, or wait two years before they can be elected.

Finally I'd like to again put a plug in for a most excellent television program, 30 Days. The last episode had a woman who was strongly against people in same-sex unions raising children living with a gay couple who had adopted three children. As I said in my previous posting, Morgan Spurlock likes to present both sides of the issue, and he did so in this program as well. By the end of the program it was obvious that the woman staying with the gay couple refused to consider any point-of-view other than her own, and she supported that refusal based on her religious beliefs. I cannot do the episode justice writing about it here - I strongly recommend that it be viewed by anyone who is interested in this subject.

We live in interesting times. I'm really sorry to say this, but it feels like another civil war is approaching.