Trends and how to avoid them…

There was a news report this morning that the number of pedestrians being struck and killed by vehicles is on the rise in America. Frankly I’m not sure anyone should be surprised by this. I drive a 40 mile round trip four days a week and I keep my eyes open for most of that trip. If you’re paying attention, the things you see from behind the wheel of your vehicle might almost be alarming if they weren’t such common occurrences.

The number of pedestrians who roam the roads in the pre-dawn darkness while wearing dark colored clothing is, frankly, a bit staggering. I see at least one and often several of them each morning as they skitter across a four lane divided highway. Sometimes they’re at least doing it at a relatively well lit intersection. Other times they’re crossing without the benefit of light or, seemingly, any concern that there could be a large, heavy, projectile approaching them at a high rate of speed. Sometimes if it’s really dark, you can see the phone in their hand long before you can see that the phone is attached to a person. Personally, if I were schlepping long such a heavily traveled roadway on foot, I’d want to have strobes, reflectors, and perhaps a 1930’s style searchlight broadcasting my location.  I may be slowly eating myself into the grave, but my instinct to preserve myself against such poorly matched contests as those between cars and people is strong.

I see more than just the pedestrians, of course. I see the drivers too – especially the ones who are distracted or entitled or in some way think of the highway as their exclusive preserve. In many ways they seem just as oblivious to their surroundings as their counterparts afoot. My driving record will show you that I’m not without sin as a driver, but I do consciously try to be aware. Admittedly, it’s much easier to focus when driving a manual transmission in my experience. I’ve found that you’re less apt to partake in extraneous activities when one hand is busy steering and the other is grinding through the gears.

Now I’m not a fancy pants big city scientist or demographer or statistician, but common sense seems to tell me that as there are more people in the country, more of them will be walking and more of them will be driving and the chances of those two activities intersecting at some point would also increase. That is to say it would increase naturally in the absence of some concerted measures to offset it. I guess in a pinch you could pass a bevy of new laws calling on people not to be stupid and limiting the amount of allowed asshattery, but as a country we don’t have a particularly strong track record of controlling for either one of those factors.

My guess is this is a trend that’s going to continue indefinitely into the future. In the absence of people acting like they have even the smallest shred of common sense, I think the safest place to be during human and vehicle interface will continue to be behind the wheel. There, even if stupid does happen, I’ve got a more of a fighting chance than the family of three who unintentionally have themselves installed as human hood ornaments. 

The state funeral…

When you look for pomp and ceremony, there are few who do it better than the British. They make state occasions look easy – the opening of Parliament, the sovereign’s birthday, and other moments of ceremony go on as if nothing could be more natural. Maybe that’s to be expected in a country that celebrates a monarchy stretching back a thousand years. 

State occasions are different here in our young republic. They tend to be more subdued and perhaps more egalitarian than those carried out by our cousins across the sea. The exception to America’s tendency towards more low key affairs, is the state funeral. It’s the one state occasion when our long ties back to the old world are most on display – and it’s a thing of real beauty. 

From the Old Guard flanking the horse-drawn caisson in procession along Pennsylvania Avenue, to the riderless horse with boots reversed in the stirrups, and the muffled roll of the drums if it doesn’t make your breath catch, are you even really alive? The casket, lain on the Lincoln catafalque, in state beneath the arching dome of the Capitol, with average Americans shuffling past, unnaturally quiet in such a massive space, is one of those sights and moments that you never forget. 

If you happen to be in the DC are over the next couple of days, do yourself a favor and go observe some of these moments – watch the procession to the Capital, wait for a bit in line to pass through the Rotunda and pay your respects. Even if you had political differences with the departed, its an American experience you owe yourself. 

Give a little…

It’s Giving Tuesday and despite my well-earned reputation as a Grinch among men, there are causes I feel strongly enough about to break open my wallet. You won’t find any namby pamby feed the starving or house the poor tomfoolery here, though. In keeping with my basic life philosophy that people are generally awful, but animals are amazing, this year’s donations have gone to:

Cecil County Animal Services – Though minimally staffed as an arm of county government, CCAS does phenomenal work as an open-admission shelter. They aggressively pursue partnership opportunities with local rescue organizations and businesses and are supported by a small, but faithful group of volunteers. I haven’t found a way to “just send cash” as this is a government operation, but they maintain an extensive Amazon Wishlist of things the animals in their care need to thrive. This one has a special spot on the list because one of my own herd got his start with them as a failure to thrive medical emergency kitten. 

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) – IFAW operates here in the US and in countries around the world, intervening to protect habitat and assist animals in need. In their own words, “Our vision is a world where animals are respected and protected. With offices in 15 countries and projects in more than 40 countries, we rescue individual animals, safeguard populations, preserve habitat, and advocate for a better future.” 

Chesapeake Bay Foundation – Chesapeake Bay and its watershed is probably the single geographic element that most defines my beloved home state of Maryland. If you’ve never watched the sun come up over the salt marsh, or spent a summer morning working a trotline for blue crabs, or seen a flight of migrating waterfowl drop down on the water, you’re missing out on some of life’s great pleasures that are all too easy to take for granted as a native son. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation describes their work as: “Serving as a watchdog, we fight for effective, science-based solutions to the pollution degrading the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. Our motto, “Save the Bay,” is a regional rallying cry for pollution reduction throughout the Chesapeake’s six-state, 64,000-square-mile watershed, which is home to more than 18 million people and 3,000 species of plants and animals.”

Plumpton Park Zoo – Yes, yes. I know places like zoos and aquariums are controversial. True-believer rabid conservationists will insist wild animals should only be in the wild. That’s a fine theory and if places like Plumpton were sending out expeditions to acquire new exhibits from the four corners of the globe, I’d agree. The fact is, most of the animals in a place like this have never set foot in the part of the world where “they’re supposed to be” and can never be reintroduced to that world. They’re here, now. They need supporters and advocates here, now. In a part of the world where most people will only ever see run of the mill domestic animals and pets, places like Plumpton Park play a key role in exposing a population to animals that they will never see outside of a television program. If we can use that as a base to instill an interest in wildlife and wild places, not supporting them would be irresponsible. 

There are a number of other organizations that I like to donate to throughout the year – as specific needs arise in their programs. Those are usually more targeted donations, aimed at helping one particular animal or program along the way. The point isn’t just to single these four out so much as it is to encourage you to find a cause you can get behind – whether that’s with your time, your money, or you social media platform.

There’s no lack of worthy causes, so what are you waiting for?

Smart…

I saw an article this afternoon calling for the development of a “smart toilet.” Let me leave you with that thought for a moment. A. Smart. Toilet.

It’s not enough that the modern toilet needs to have a heated seat, LED mood lights in the bowl, UV self-disinfecting lamps, and a spritz of water up your backside to give you that perfectly fresh feeling. Now we can apparently look forward to an internet-of-things connected loo that evaluates our leavings. I suppose since it’s wi-fi enabled it can communicate with the web-enabled refrigerator and make sure we’re getting more roughage added to the grocery list. It beggars imagination to figure out why a toilet needs to know when, precisely I get up in the middle of the night to take a leak. But there is is, the future out there just waiting for us to catch up.

When I was a kid the old outhouse still stood on the family homestead. Sure, it was being used to store rakes and shovels, but the building itself was still there. It was young enough not to have been rotted away by time and weather. Jump now 30 years later and we’ve technologized even the simple concept of the indoor toilet.

There is an almost endless array of reasons I find the 21st century largely stupid and abhorrent. That this smart toilet is a thing that could even exist has now rocketed to the top of that list.

I seriously can’t get to my little cabin in the woods fast enough.

Joy suckers…

I was served up an article today listing the “10 costumes you must never ever wear for Halloween” unless you want to risk being branded a privileged cultural appropriating racist. Having worn a few of those costumes as a kid, I can only say I’m incredibly thankful to have grown up before everyone started being offended by everything and all dissent can be silenced by simply branding the other person racist. The ideological lock step with which certain segments of the population seem to believe must be adhered to without question or deviation is chilling. Especially when you remember a time when that same group rallied regularly in support of radical free expression in the arts, in public forums, and on the airwaves. Then again, perhaps that really just meant freedom for those enunciating approved, doctrinaire ideas.

Here’s the neat thing about being a grown ass adult: I’m old enough to not have to ask anyone’s permission before wearing anything, especially not when the point of the day is to dress up in such a way as to come as you aren’t. I’m also old enough to remember when the ending of a popular children’s poem was “But names will never hurt me,” though that’s probably a topic for a different post. In any case, I heartily thank the gods I haven’t gotten a cease and desist letter from the punk rockers, or the new wave kids, or the grunge bands demanding that I give up my beloved Doc 1640s. Surely, based on how the idea of cultural appropriation is being applied in the early 21st century, I’m guilty of absconding with late 20th century English heritage, no?

Maybe you won’t hear it anywhere else this year, but you’ll hear it from me – if you want to dress as a samurai, bandit, cowboy, cop, biker, construction worker, sailor, Indian chief, or whatever else happens to tickle your happy place, go forth as you will and enjoy your Halloween festivities. My advice to you is to not let the fact that some small segment of the population wants to act as judge and jury of a self-appointed inquisitorial hurt feelings goon squad get in the way of your enjoying the day. They’ve clearly managed to suck the joy our of their own lives already and you’d be well served not to let them do the same to yours.

Not a sermon, just a thought.

Most problems in the world come down to people…

One of the things I’m not is an expert on the causes and tactics of terrorism. With that said, randomly blowing up people and/or things has never struck me as a particularly effective method of delivering a message or winning converts to your cause. Of course that’s relevant only if your intention isn’t to just get a little mayhem and chaos going for the hell of it.

We’ve got a bit of a history with sending bombs to our political “enemies” here in the States. Some few of you will remember names like Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, the Weathermen from “recent” American history. There are others stretching back well into the 19th century and earlier depending on how far you’re welling to stretch certain definitions.

My point is, if you want to be involved in the process, be involved. The kid knocking on doors and handing out flyers in my neighborhood last night was involved. Want to make a difference? Do something that contributes. Want to be slowly be forgotten by history as a crackpot sociopath worthy mostly of being drug out into the street and shot like a rabid animal, drop a few pipe bombs in the mail and hope for the best.

100% American…

Look, so here’s the thing about Senator Warren and President Trump… I just don’t care. Arguing the finer points of an Ancestry.com DNA test makes you both look even more ridiculous than usual. That’s no small task given the two pols in question and yet the two of them have managed to yet again exceed exceptions… or is it that they found a way to nudge the bar just a little bit lower?

It doesn’t matter a lick to me if you’re 1/2 Sub-Saharan African, or 1/3 Anglo-Saxon, or 1/4 Pacific Islander, or 1/1024 Native American. Sure, I guess those are all fun factoids to trot out at parties but beyond that they’re mostly irrelevant. It’s the kind of differentiation that feeds into my general eye-rolling when someone defines themselves as Irish-American, or African-American, or Japanese-American. While interesting from the historian’s perspective, or for those who study mass migration, knowing where your 12x great grandparents came from is largely a “so what” kind of declaration. Congrats, your ancestors were Welsh shepherds. Here’s a cookie.

If you say you want to live in a country where people don’t judge or make assumptions based on your background, heritage, skin color, or ancestral place of origin, trying being “just” a plain old American. No hyphen needed. No percentage necessary. Just tell me you are an American and that’s all I need to know.