Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hey, You Can't Say That!

Spin doctors go through life trying to make you believe a cesspool is really a Jacuzzi. The misguided legions of the politically correct are on guard 24/7 for any word or phrase that could possibly offend anyone. The sad result has been to dilute and diminish the great English language to the point where nothing means anything any more. Some of it is just silliness, but clearly some of it is motivated by super-sensitive liberals not wanting to give offense. At last year's Golden Globe awards, host Ricky Gervais let the air out of a few over-inflated celebrity egos. When critics suggested his remarks were offensive, Ricky replied: "offense is not given, it is taken."

Here's an example of silly spin-doctoring. We all know what a prune is. For centuries, prune was a perfectly good word. Now, some 14-year old marketing whiz decided "prune" had a negative connotation in that it was associated with old (over 30) people and their inability to, well, you know. To clean up prune's image, they are now referred to as dried plums. In French, prune means plum, but since when did the French ever get anything right. To me, dried plum sounds worse than prune, and the name change doesn't really change the reason we might eat prunes...wink, wink. Dumb idea.

One of my favorite PC words that was introduced by that paragon of integrity, the used automobile industry, is "pre-owned." We all knew what a used car was, but noooo, that sounded too tacky. A used car suggests upholstery that smells of old farts, and has shriveled french fries under the seats. "Pre-Owned" on the other hand means your BMW was lovingly cared for by an older gentleman who looked like John Forsythe and hand-waxed the car while wearing silk ascots and Bass loafers. He only put the car up for sale when his portfolio dipped and he had to sell the house in Aspen. And it gets better when they say: Certified Pre-Owned...are they guaranteeing it was used?  Swing and a miss...used is used.

When corporations cut jobs to save their drowning asses, they were said to be "downsizing." For years this term described exactly what they were doing and everyone understood it. Then, the same 14-year old who came up with dried plum got to thinking that the word had become too scary and gave us the PC term: "rightsizing." The implication here is that the firm had been oversized, and that by giving all those loyal employees the boot, they were now exactly the right size. A rose by any other name...I'm sure the poor bastards who got those pink slips took great comfort in the fact that they were out of work because of rightsizing, and not, God forbid, downsizing.

This last term is far from funny, it is more like scary. The country is no longer being overrun by illegal aliens, but undocumented immigrants you silly goose. America is in a serious economic crisis and one of the reasons is the government's generosity in redistributing (originally called stealing) money from people who work to give to people who don't work. It's bad enough that we do this for our own lazy citizens, but when we do it for people who illegally enter the country, that is sheer madness. To make this insane practice sound less looney, the PC Left came up with "undocumented immigrants." They meant to register with the government when they came through that border fence ten years ago, but darn it, they plum forgot.

On a lighter note, in a Santa Claus training class in Australia, participants were told that Santa can no longer say: Ho, ho, ho because "Ho" is too close to the American slang for prostitute and therefore offensive to women. Instead they must say Ha, ha, ha. Not kidding folks, look it up. When will the madness end?


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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Defensive Driving

Some months ago I passed a school bus discharging kids on the other side of a divided roadway some six lanes away from mine. I never saw it because I don't have the peripheral vision of a chameleon. Long story short, 5 points on my license and a $300 fine. Thank you officer, may I have another. As a result of this debacle, I enrolled in a defensive driving class to remove some of the points from my record and reduce my auto insurance premiums, which are approaching the gross national product of Romania. The class was held yesterday, and I learned some interesting things about the driving laws of New York State.

Did you know that when stopping for a stop sign, the law requires you to: 1) come to a full stop at the stop sign behind the crosswalk; roll slowly into the intersection, and come to another full stop when you can see the traffic flow; 3) look both ways to see if you are clear to proceed and then make your turn or go straight ahead. That seems like a lot of steps. On Staten Island we have a shorter procedure. Because making one full stop, much less two, takes too much time, we slow down to a rolling 10 mph at the stop sign, using the opportunity to change the CD in the radio, and then gun the car into the intersection. We always keep one hand on the horn in case we have to scare the bejusus out of any poor soul who happened to be occupying the lane we were now in. 

Here's another new bit of driving knowledge I picked up. On a highway, driving for any distance in the left lane is against the law; the left lane is supposed to be for passing only. That brought a smile. I'll bet there are people who have taken route I-95 from Brooklyn, New York to Miami, Florida while in the left lane for the entire trip. On the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey, many senior citizens drive from New York down to Atlantic City the whole way in the left lane never going above 55 mph. There are maniacs passing them on the shoulder, narrowly missing the deer grazing there, in an effort to send a message that they might want to move over, but that look on Grandpa's face says: " By God, the limit is 55 and I ain't moving for nobody." Charming.

As I understand it, there are two penalty points assessed against NY State drivers for using a cell phone or texting while driving. This is a joke. I get assessed 5 points for passing a school bus that was stopped two miles away, while these pinheads get a lousy two points! People crazy enough to text in a moving vehicle should have their licenses suspended. They are clearly the most dangerous drivers on the road. As a Christian I shouldn't say this, but in all honesty, I really don't care if they kill would clean up the gene pool a bit. I just worry that they will kill me or some other innocent bystander because of their stupidity. We need to crack down on these morons.

I should correct myself...those who drink and drive are as bad, and maybe worse, than drivers who text. You can probably have a beer or a glass of wine and remain under the legal limit for DWI or DUI, but beyond this is really asking for trouble. Even one drink, when combined with certain over-the counter or prescription drugs, can leave you physically impaired. This is the rule most of us probably break at one time or another. Before doing this next time, imagine trying to live with the reality that your recklessness maybe killed or maimed an innocent person and destroyed someone's family. That's a lot of guilt to carry around for a lousy glass of Merlot. Don't hesitate to surrender your car keys, or to ask for someone else's; drunk driving is just not worth the risk. 

Most people of my generation took their drivers test in the days when the rules for driving buckboards were still on the books. Maybe all NY State drivers, young and old, as a condition for renewing their licenses, should be required to take a defensive driving class. Many new regs are on the books, and we've forgotten half the ones we thought we knew.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Downton Abbey

The second season of one of the more fascinating shows on TV this year appears on PBS. Downton Abbey is a beautifully crafted and acted miniseries set in a fictional estate in North Yorkshire, England. Having missed season one, and hearing that the show was a "must watch", we bought the DVD of season one and became seriously hooked. We are great fans of the old "Upstairs, Downstairs" series, also broadcast on PBS many years ago. For me the key to both shows is the playing out of how different life was for those in class-conscious England at the beginning of the twentieth century. Stories of the landed gentry and those "in service" to them open a window to what their lives were like.

Downton Abbey opens with the sinking of HMS Titanic in 1912. The family in residence at the estate is greatly affected by the tragedy in that among those who went down with the ship is the cousin of the current Earl of Grantham of Downtown Abbey, and his heir who was to marry the lord's eldest daughter, Lady Mary, thus becoming first in line to inherit the title, the manor and all that went with the estate. Having no other heirs, Lord Grantham is duty and honor bound to leave the estate to a distant cousin of whom they know little, except that he is a middle class barrister, a profession for which they have no respect. (Even then, lawyers were considered odious.)

The consequences of this change in the family's fortunes play out in settings as diverse as the opulent 100-room manor house to the trenches of World War I battlefields. The current Earl's family schemes as to how to avoid turning over the title and the estate to the new heir, all that is except for Lord Grantham himself. He sees himself as not the owner of Downton Abbey, but as its caretaker and custodian. Like any good Englishman, Lord Grantham is determined to follow the law which states that all he possesses, including his American wife's fortune which is now part of the estate, must pass to the rightful heir. Lord Grantham's wife and his mother who, up until this new turn of events were enemies, unite as allies to find a way to hang on to everything.

It is impossible to relate all the stories that unfold in connection with the events described above, so I won't try. What impressed me about this show was the insights into the attitudes of the wealthy British upper class who presided over the country during this era, and the army of servants who waited on them hand and foot. The nobility believed they were superior to those not of their class, but many felt a sense of "noblesse oblige", the obligation of persons of rank to behave in a way befitting their station. This meant treating servants fairly and taking some responsibility for their welfare. Contrary to what one might expect, many servants came to love their masters and to perform their duties with pride and loyalty.

There were certain distinctions even in the underclass. The butler was supreme commander of the "downstairs" world and often wielded his power more ruthlessly than the lord of the manor. Standards meant everything and were adhered to religiously. All staff members from parlor maids, kitchen maids, footmen, chauffeurs and cooks knew their place and stayed in it. Work was hard to come by, and often the slightest infraction was enough to get some poor soul sacked. As an example of how rigid these standards were, when the war with Germany broke out and male servants were conscripted for the army, Charles Carson, the butler of Downton Abbey was aghast at having to use housemaids to serve dinner, a duty always performed by male footmen. Oh the sacrifices we are asked to make in time of war.

One of the side joys of watching the show is getting to hear the English language spoken properly. Also the understated British sense of humor amuses me. One of the more delightful characters in the story is Lord Grantham's mother, the dowager empress, played impeccably by Maggie Smith. This grand old dame despised the mother of the new heir and rarely missed an opportunity to let her know. She once delivered what she thought was a stinging insult to this woman only to have the woman say: "Well, I'll take that as a compliment." Unfazed, the dowager mutters: "Then I must have said it wrong." Game, set and match. Despite their aloofness and feelings of superiority, I confess to being an incurable Anglophile. The sun never sets on the British Empire.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Monday, January 9, 2012

Pet Peeves, Volume 9

I have my pet peeves cataloged by subject and year. Everything annoys me. I'm not sure when this propensity to complain began. Surely I was much less of a complainer as a younger man, but I think the effects of so many people doing so many stupid things is cumulative. You put up with it and put up with it and suddenly, one day, you snap. It's come to the point where I now expect people to disappoint me...I look for it...and when it happens, I get peeved. I don't know if there's any going back. Once you cross that bridge it's hard getting back to the other side. Here are a few examples:

It used to be that when you picked up an item while shopping, the price was always clearly visible. Many stores no longer mark prices on their merchandise. So you get to the register and the cashier looks at you as if you just pulled the plug on her grandmother's respirator. "Price check, men's shirts" she announces, not even bothering to disguise the annoyance in her voice. Then you find out that the item costs way more than you intended to spend, so you must either be a wuss and sheepishly pay the extra bucks or risk incurring the wrath of Geraldine the cashier by stating you don't want the item. Solution: high school part-timer and a price gun.

I know you have a new Lexus, and I know you value it more than your childrens' eyes, but don't pull that angle parking stunt where you take up two spaces in the lot so that nobody dings your baby. It's hard enough to find parking with all the "handicapped" spaces for fat people who are too lazy to move their tree-trunk legs...don't make it worse. If you're so worried about your car, drive to the back of the lot where nobody parks and leave it there. Even though that means walking your raggedy ass two minutes to the store entrance, your precious car will be fine and you will no longer be a thoughtless a**hole occupying two parking spaces. Solution: an ounce of concern for the other guy.

There are two extremes we face when dealing with public restrooms. The first is that the place is so dirty that going on the floor wouldn't make much difference. The second is that the place is so swank that they feel the need to have a uniformed attendant hand you a paper towel to dry your hands. Now I don't mind tipping people who perform a useful service for me, as a matter of fact I usually overtip. What I don't like is being panhandled in the bathroom. Why should I give you a dollar for handing me a towel? Certainly I can master the intricacies of the towel dispenser, so just leave me alone. Also, this has to be the worst job in the world (after Rosie O'Donnell's masseuse). Why subject some poor guy to Dante's fifth circle of hell. Solution: find him a real job like keying the cars of people who take up two parking spaces.

Most diner owners abide by the golden rule of breakfast management: keep the customers' coffee cups filled. Either waitresses or busboys go around refilling the coffee cups of people who are still sleepy and need the caffeine to kick start their hearts. As an alternative, they will leave a pot of coffee on the table which is my preference. In some places, usually outside of New York City, getting a second cup of coffee in a diner is a major challenge. Your waiter or waitress serves your breakfast and then leaves on a European vacation. Empty cup held aloft, you search for them, politely at first but then more frantically as your eggs begin to get cold. You seem to have become invisible to anyone with responsibility for serving customers. Solution: fill the cup or you'll be looking for your tip the way I was looking for my coffee.

I was going to add a pet peeve about people who park so close to your vehicle that you can barely open the door, but that issue is covered in Automotive Pet Peeves, Volumes 4, 5 and part of 6.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association  

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Goodbye 2011

Hard to believe another year has passed. There is a sneaky law of life that states: the speed with which a calendar year passes is directly related to your age; the older you get, the faster it goes. That's kind of a bummer because older people need more time to do things, not less. Maybe we should adopt the plot to that movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, where he was born old and grew younger as time went by. That sounds nice because as we got wiser, we would also get physically stronger...youth would NOT be wasted on the young!

2011 was an interesting year. The world is trying to recover from decades of reckless spending, and we have some serious debt to work down. Whether it's nations providing ridiculous benefits to their citizens with no revenue to fund them, or the families who put five grand down on $800,000 houses, and mortgage their future, sooner or later the piper must be paid. It would be bad enough if only those who engaged in this folly had to suffer the consequences; at least they would reap what they sowed. But why do I have to reap their whirlwind? It's called liberalism, socialism or any name you can give to the stupid idea of income redistribution. Instead of occupying Wall Street and blaming others for our failures, we should be occupying schools and employment offices to claim our share of the American dream.

We got rid of some serious bad guys in 2011 including Osama Bin Laden, Moammar Gadhafi, and Kim Jong Il. Good riddance to trash. These despotic men kept their boot on the necks of their people for too long. Maybe the time has finally come for the Middle East to step out of the Middle Ages. It will be a long and probably bloody process with no guarantees at the end. We can only hope that the human rights long due these people will finally be theirs, and that they don't wind up with yet another power-mad fanatic to beat them back down. The area will be in flux for a while, especially with the U.S. pulling out its troops. We need a more stable world so resources might be spent feeding people instead of killing them.

Weather extremes continue to be a concern. 2011 saw earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and other natural disasters claim too many lives. The debate rages about how much these events are due to man's polluting the environment and changing climactic conditions. Depending on whose studies you read, we are either not at all responsible, or totally to blame. I'm no scientist, but I tend to side with those who say that man is arrogant to believe that his activities can alter weather patterns that have remained essentially unchanged for millions of years. Yes, we should be careful where we build structures like nuclear plants, and do what is reasonable to keep our air and water clean, but the loons who live like it's 1820 to reduce their carbon footprint need to dial it down a bit.

Finally, we need to demand more of our leaders. It's frustrating to watch while a once third-rate power like China takes over the world's economic reins. We have exported too many jobs and technologies. American labor unions have painted themselves into a corner and are now fighting for their lives. Health care costs are spiraling out of control with no real solutions in sight. Politicians are so busy fighting among themselves that they forgot that they are supposed to be making the country better and not worse. President Obama had his shot, no doubt did his best, but he's failed. We need a leader with a plan who will not waver with every poll result. I know there's another Ronald Reagan or Harry Truman out there...please step up and save us.

Hope 2012 is a good year for my wonderful family and friends. May good health, happiness and prosperity be yours.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association