Thursday, May 26, 2011

T - You Really Can't Cure Stupid

Intermittently humorous comedian Ron White is famous for his "You can't fix stupid" line and the realities of daily life seem to reinforce that viewpoint over and over. Case in point: yesterday I was driving home from the bank and the car in front of me was having a really hard time staying between the lines. It waited almost all the way through the green light at one intersection and then puttered along a 35 MPH road at a screaming 20. Even at that hyper-cautious velocity it managed to nearly rear-end the car in front when that car stopped to make a left turn and sat at a 3-way intersection allowing everyone in sight to go through for several cycles before a gentle beep from the horn of one of the people following inspired movement.

Drunk? Talking on cell phone? Nope - just too busy trying to eat an ice cream cone to properly manage the car! It did, however, get me thinking about distracted drivers and especially distracted drivers and cell phones.

A couple years ago I did some casual research (OK, I stood on a street corner and counted for 15 minutes or so) and found that about one in 10 drivers was talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving. Others have claimed that it was a lot higher where they were, but few had ever actually tried to count and see. That was before all the hands-free laws and about the time that groups were claiming that a driver talking on a cell phone was more dangerous than a drunk driver. The funny thing is, though, that the accident statistics never really bore out the claim. The rather small up-tick in minor accidents was pretty hard to pin on the cell phones and there just wasn't the huge increase in wrecks you would expect if 10% of the drivers were actually driving drunk. The hands-free laws were mostly passed on the basis of lab-type research and common sense, which surely tells us that holding something in one hand while driving doesn't improve your driving in any way, shape or form. The funny thing is that it seems to me that the people I now see driving while talking on a hand-held cell phone really are driving like they are drunk. I doubt that I see even one in 50 any more, but it seems that the ones who still do it are the very ones who never should have.

The sorrowing realization is that there are certain people who probably just plain drive like they've been lobotomized - regardless of whether they are distracted or not. These also seem to, unfortunately, be the same ones who think that they drive just fine while talking on the phone, putting on makeup, reading the newspaper, answering texts, changing CDs, programming their GPS, slapping their kids or even while eating an ice cream cone. Not only can't you fix stupid, but you can't fix bad drivers either.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I - OBL dead - Oh, Big Deal!

Smoking hot headlines and big news this week! Osama bin Laden has been found and killed by Navy Seals at his compound in Pakistan. It really is a big deal in one sense, in that the capture or killing of OBL has been a priority in the U.S. for the last decade, but on a more realistic note, look down the CNN headline picture on the left. Down... farther... just a bit farther... Yes! There it is! Just below the sub-head that reads "Latest News". See that item there? The one that says "Gas could soon top $4 nationwide"? How about them apples, huh?

Sure the killing of OBL probably deserves some big headlines - at least for a day or two - but the real issues are down below the fold. (OK, old newspaper terminology, I know, but it fits.) Down there are the issues with the economy, the flooding in Missouri (and the rest of the Midwest), the twisters across the South and Southeast, and a whole slew of other real problems that haven't changed a bit while we froth at the mouth over the killing of one terrorist leader. You can't even *find* a current article on the nuclear reactor mess in Japan.

Al Qaeda has not really been hurt by this action, and it probably has done more harm than good to the international opinion of the U.S., but the press wants to make it into a huge thing. I have to suspect that at least part of the motivation is to make our president look more presidential, but I think I hear the Nobel committee asking for their prize back. Terrorism will continue (and probably get worse for a while), and the economy will stay in the tank. Lybia will still be a huge challenge and Afghanistan is going to keep soaking up dollars and lives, but the press will feel good about the war on terror. Frankly, I think that Dubya hit the nail on the head back in '02 or whenever it was when he said that he neither knew nor cared where Bin Laden was. It didn't mean that he wasn't interested in getting him if the opportunity presented itself, but it meant that he understood that the real problems of global terrorism went back to nations like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia who support terrorism or provide the economic conditions that drive people toward the radical elements.

When we defeat terrorism, in all its guises not just Al Qaeda, it will owe more to Wal-Mart than the Navy SEALs. We will defeat terrorism when all of the people in these countries have a standard of living that allows them hope for the future and the ability to pursue happiness in their lives right now. Only with the replacement of totalitarian regimes with governments sensitive to the needs of all the people and with diversified economic growth not tied to the elite few will the radical element begin to recede. But that's a process for the decades and doesn't make the kind of headlines that sell papers, I guess.