Just Drive

April 29, 2009

I was that teenager that thought they were the very best driver on the road. I was convinced I knew how to handle every situation and I never listened when people criticized my driving skills or techniques. I KNEW I knew better than they did. I firmly believed if it was worth going somewhere, it was worth going fast. I was constantly pushing the speed limits to at least double, and I figured there was no reason why I couldn’t send text messages while doing so. I was an accident waiting to happen, and everyone knew it but me. Fortunately, when I finally had my epiphany that I was not an invincible teenage driver, I was alone, both in my car and on the road. On a gorgeous early November morning, I was the only car on this particular stretch of the Mass Pike. I lost control of my vehicle, and rolled my car down into the median that separated the East and West sides of the turnpike. My car rolled door over door 6 times before coming to rest (by some mysterious phenomenon) on its wheels at the base of the steep median. Miraculously, I suffered only minor injuries and help came to my rescue almost immediately.
Although my car was completely totaled, I can honestly say that some good has come from this experience. Since that day, my outlook on things has entirely changed. I no longer take driving as lightly as I always did. I have become far more cautious with my life and the lives of those around me, both on and off the road. In the hours that I lay in my hospital bed at Bay State Medical Center, I had time to reflect on how lucky I truly was. I couldn’t believe how stupid I had always been.
It took me five months to overcome my fear of being in control of a vehicle. After my accident, I refused to drive and I elected to walk over even being a passenger nine times out of ten. It was only at the beginning of this month that I began to drive again, and I have noticed that the roads are a much more dangerous place than I ever realized before. There are too many drivers out there that drive the way I used to, and there are many that have even worse habits. People, I’m begging you…learn from me! You are not as good as a driver as you think you are! You are NOT invincible and don’t say it can’t happen to you, because it can. Put down your doughnuts, turn off your cell phones, lower the volume on your radio. You may think you can multitask, but is it really worth finding out if your right? Honestly people, not everyone can be as lucky as I was.

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The United States of America has only had one president that was not Protestant, John F. Kennedy, and he was still a Catholic – although controversial at the time. The similarities among all Presidents used to be drastic, all white, all males, and all protestant. Now the list of characteristics is, thankfully, a bit less rigid: all white, except one; all males; all protestant, except one. But how sure are we of the President’s religious identity. There was a lot of rumors in the most recent election about questioning Obama’s religious background/identity and I doubt it was the first time in history. The first non-protestant candidate, a Catholic running in the early 1900’s, was perceived as a threat – opponents blasted that the Pope was ready to move into the White House as soon as he took office. So clearly, as controversial and important as religion is today, it was even more so historically. That is why, some believe, one President may have slipped through, undetected.

All though it is tempting to say, since Moses was Israel’s greatest prophet that ever was or will be, that another “great emancipator” was a member of the tribe (meaning a Jew, from the 12 tribes of Israel) the evidence is sketchy at best. Abraham Lincoln had a beard, which is traditionally worn by observent Jewish men. However, during his first election campaign and his earlier life he did not have a beard or even side-burns, which are another traditional Jewish practice called payos. The myth is that a young-girl once wrote the President suggesting that a beard would help him look more presidential, and that is a far cry from a myth about his religious identity. Lincoln was also a famous hat wearer, another traditional Jewish practice of covering the head. His name, also, was Abraham, the same name as the fore-father of the Jewish people. These assessments of his attire and grooming practices are anecdotal and amusing connections but hardly constitute proof of his religious identity. Lincoln denied commenting on his religion only to quote the ten commandments and suggest that every American study and take them to heart. Bible study, particularly of such well-known passages was a common practice in Lincoln’s times and was, in fact, taught in school. Although it does not definitively suggest Lincoln was Jewish, it still leaves his religious affiliation/identification unclear.

Due to this lack of clearly appointable religious traditions to Lincoln, many theories and rumors have developed. Research has been made into Lincoln’s history and chain-emails have been spread on the subject. Some of the best evidence suggests that his family name, “Lincoln”, was attributed to an entire Jewish community living in and around Lincoln, England when the Jews were forced to take last names. Traditionally, Jewish men are named with a first name and their last name is “of their-father’s-name.” This event has helped continue the legend or myth of Lincoln as potentially being of Jewish decent. Regardless of whether or not Lincoln was Jewish or an unaffiliated Christian, it is interesting to see the connections and conjecture on the subject. The important thing is that each level of conjecture can and should be responded to, with the “evidence” being critically analyzed. For your own assessment of the debate see the following website:

http://msgboard.snopes.com/message/ultimatebb.php?/ubb/get_topic/f/36/t/000819/p/1.html

Maybe debates like this will make Americans more comfortable with the idea of a non-protestant President, a Jewish President, or even a Muslim President.

So I am really fascinated with this woman that was just discovered on Britain’s Got Talent. At first when I saw the clip, I thought it was a joke just because I didn’t think that she was actually singing. Actually I didn’t even know if it was a she at that point (I know, I’m a horrible person). She is a singing sensation from Scotland with an interesting look about her. Her hair is actually a large part of why she has gained so much attention. At almost 48 years old she went on this show to fulfill a dream that she always had, to become a professional singer. The judges didn’t know what to expect when they saw her some on the stage and neither did I to tell you the truth. She opened her mouth and started singing, and it was amazing. After she was done performing the judges had tears in their eyes, and Simon was speechless.

There’s more to it than just some woman doing an amazing job on a television show, it was a wakeup call to a lot of people, including me. In the society we live in today, focused on looks, weight, and wealth, people have just become accustomed to focusing on those things and judging a person with their first impression. That is exactly what happened to this woman when she stepped on stage. The audience laughed at her looks, and even I had to do a double take because I was judging on a first impression basis as well. She was a great talent and no one thought that for one second when they saw her. I just think that something needs to change drastically. She put herself out there, knowing that she was probably going to be laughed at. Even the show was designed to make it seem like she was going to be horrible before she started performing.
This woman really does show that you have to look beyond appearance, and that is something that this society needs to really work on. Stop reading a book by its cover and I think that a lot of people will feel more comfortable about themselves. This woman had a confidence about her that was hidden in a way, but she knew that she was a good singer and surprised everyone in the end. People need to find their inner confidence like she has, and I have a feeling people will be happier and it will be a different world we live in.

It almost took until May, but 2009 is finally official. As I sipped my coffee the other morning, I turned the news on halfway through the story. It took a couple of minutes before I ever actually heard the words “swine flu”, but I didn’t need to hear it. I could just tell. The look in the anchor’s eye just seemed to scream “pandemic” at me, and I actually giggled a little bit when they cut to an official from the center for disease control.

You see, I’ve got something of a pandemic fetish. It’s actually probably not as bad as it sounds. I just get this bit of glee at the panic these diseases. It all started with mad cow disease. I marveled at the panic and the complete lack of understanding, the fear it inspired and people’s complete refusal to do any research on the subject for themselves. It was something that nobody understood in any terms besides “dangerous”, and more often than not they would ignore all of the tools at their disposal to learn more about it in favor of just being afraid of it. Over the next few years, we’d get a little piece of something here and there, but nothing so dramatic.

I didn’t know just how much I enjoyed these pandemics until SARS. SARS was AMAZING. For a small window, everybody was convinced that they had SARS, even though they’d never been anywhere that would have any contact with SARS, and it was hilarious. Then we got bird flu, and again it was amazing. MRSA was pretty cool too, until I actually got that one myself. It wasn’t as fun when I was sitting in the emergency room waiting to have my face ripped apart by a doctor so that I wouldn’t die. It WAS fun that people were kind of afraid of me afterward, though. I’ll give it that.

Usually these pandemics come early in the year though, following the holidays, and I was starting to think that the best we were going to get this year was some salmonella in the peanut butter. But the year has been saved. Three cheers for 2009! Year of the Great Swine Flu!

I have this fear of being boring. You see, while I have the most loving, caring parents in the whole world whom I love very, very much, when it comes right down to it, I was raised by the television. So over the years, especially throughout high school and college, I can honestly say that I’m rather jealous of a lot of people. People who have talents and certain knowledges and fun little, quirky hobbies. I sit in my room and read. Or play videos games. That’s it, basically.

Oftentimes, however, I run into certain urges, usually when I’m with my best friend, although sometimes when I’m alone. During these instances, I develop an acute need for spontaneity. So I’ll walk back to my home from Stop-and-Shop with one of its grocery carts, or randomly pierce my ear with a sewing needle, or ask the manager of Papa Gino’s for his autograph, because every time me and my best friend go in there, he greets us with the warmest “Hello, how can I help you today?”

Being stupid helps me feel like I’m unique. But I don’t think I’m being stupid. I just think I’m having fun. It isn’t hurting anyone, (except maybe myself; I suggest using lots of ice if you’re going to pierce your body. Ouch). But there are some people who would find these antics idiotic and annoying. I wouldn’t mind as much, but these people are supposed to be my friends, and when I tell them that I just read this amazing book about the human hand and its development throughout the ages, they look at me and call me a bore with nothing better to do. Yet, when I break out of my shell and pierce my ear, simply because I wanted to, they call me crazy.

Some advice that I’ve been giving myself for some time now: don’t live for others. Live for yourself, and those select few who truly care about you, the real you. Do not trust those who try to change you. I do the things I do because I want to do them; because I’m afraid of being boring to myself. I’m not afraid to die, but to live a life of regret.

As sit here, doing my research papers and being generally annoyed by the fact that I am missing out on this beautiful day, (the price of procrastination; what’s that saying? Procrastination is like masturbation – it feels good at first, but in the end, you’re just fucking yourself), I’m eating Reese’s mini cups. Apart from trying to trick myself into believing that I’m actually having fun, this small act has now got me wondering. What am I doing?! How can I continue?! So I put the bag away, disgruntled and chocolate-depraved.

What’s my problem with the consumption of these fun little bite-sized treats, you ask? The packaging. Before you can bring the taste of chocolate-y, peanut butter-esque salvation to your lips, you must first reach your hand into the plastic bag, pull out one of the confections, unwrap the colorful foil, and discard the black paper doily-thing. This is a ton of waste produced in mere seconds. As soon as you’ve found the meat, the shell is thrown away, to become part of the trash heap.

Not only do Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups use a LOT of resources, now, they make mini versions of their product. This means that per peanut butter cup, more resources are getting put into production, and are being thrown away. Maybe Strong Bad has a good reason to hate “Miniaturized versions of already bite-sized food”, besides just hating things to annoy others. “ell-oh-ell”.

I guess I wouldn’t care as much if I knew that these bits of non-edibles were going to be recycled or re-used somehow, but I just don’t see people being that conscious of their actions. I mean, until I really thought about it, I was just tossing them into my trash bin. And it’s only so that I know I’m not a complete hypocrite that I find myself fishing through, trying to find all the paper bits to through them into the blue recycling bins found around my residence hall.

Pixar’s The Incredibles is a movie which has had me thinking quite a lot over the past couple of years since I first watched it. Relaxing in my family’s living room, the lights all off, the covers drawn up around me for warmth, my fingers buttery from the popcorn, my mind was racing from the adrenaline rush of action-adventure mayhem. Then suddenly, my mind was racing from something else. The movie features one theme which has always baffled and impressed me: personality hierarchy.

There are several moments throughout the movie that feature characters saying that, either people can be allowed to exercise their true potential, and shine above the rest, or everyone should remain on the same playing field, because then, people’s feeling don’t get hurt. The arch nemesis, Syndrome, as he “monologues” to his once-revered hero, states that “when everyone is super, no one will be.” This is a powerful statement to make, I think.

Sometimes, some people are better than others. And this is okay. He cooks better, she swims faster, and this is okay. We don’t all have to measure up the same in the things we do collectively. Let people have their talents count.

This rant comes from a feeling I’ve had all my life. As a child in elementary and middle school, I used to be on a bowling league. And at the end of every season, the people who ran Ficco’s Bowl-A-Drome would purchase an award statuette for every little-league bowler. Everyone. Everyone got a trophy. Just for participating. So when I finally started getting good, really good, to the point where I started winning trophies that read “Third Place”, “Second Place”, and finally “First Place”, I wasn’t too excited. Why should I have been? I mean, I’ve been getting this dumb plastic things for years. Sure, these newer, bigger ones have a niftier thing on the malleable, metal plaque than “Summer 2008 Participant” engraved on ‘em, but by then, I was jaded. It’s like, even if I don’t do all that well, it’s okay, I’m going to get something. So why bother trying?

I would try anyway, just for the mere satisfaction of doing the best I possibly could. But at the ending ceremony, as I went up to receive my statuette, I would think of how best to dispose of the mockery. In the end, I would just give the damn things to my mother, who got more enjoyment out of them than I ever could.

I’m not saying that people who excel always need gratifications separate from the rest, or gratifications at all. They should always do the best they possibly can, regardless of whether or not they’ll receive glory. But let’s not dish out praise whenever we see an opening. Let’s work for our 15 minutes of fame, and avoid making compliments into trite platitudes.

People, people, people, why is it so hard to accept the idea that maybe, just maybe, the police are your friends?

Because I don’t want to be responsible for spoiling any appetites, I’m not going to link to the video in question. If you’re feeling brave, go ahead and google “naked wizard gets tased”, but really I think the title says it all. This video is not safe for work. Go ahead, google it. We’ll wait.

Did you watch it? It’s OK if you didn’t, I’ll just give you the details. A ponytailed, unfortunately endowed man who was once dressed in wizard garb doffed said garb in favor of showing everybody within eyeshot at the Coachella festival a little bit more than they ever wanted to see of the man. He is clearly under the influence of one or more drugs, declaring the scene the most beautiful thing that he has ever seen, as he is surrounded by three police officers. The police talk to the man for several minutes, trying to convince him that he’ll have an even better time at the festival if he’ll just put his clothes on. The officers very clearly understand that this man is intoxicated and will be hard to reason with, but they give it a good shot. The man repeated refuses to put his clothes back on, tossing them all around himself as he grabs one of the officers by the shoulder and yells “It doesn’t have to stop!” Of course he’s mistaken, though, because it does indeed have to stop. This man is exposing himself to a crowd, creating a scene, and refusing to cooperate with law enforcement. So what’s the next step for the officers? If you had “throw on some rubber gloves and detain the man,” you’d be correct. So, naturally, the man resists arrest, as if anybody expected him to do anything different. The officers are then forced to move on to the final step, which is to subdue the man with a taser as they put him in handcuffs. The video goes on for four minutes before the tasers are brought out, and only after the man broke several laws and then resisted arrest. Still, that does nothing to stop the crowd surrounding the scene from yelling at the police officers such things as “He didn’t do anything!” and “The whole world is watching!”

Personally, I’m glad the whole world was watching. One of the great things the proliferation of digital cameras have given us is the ability to hold our law enforcement officers accountable for abuse of their power, and this practice has certainly done it’s share of good keeping crooked cops from getting away with unnecessary force. However, it’s had an unfortunate side effect of using the worst of the worst to represent the whole. Being the nephew of two former police officers, I’ve always been a bit sensitive to hearing people talking about how much they hate the “pigs”. Maybe that’s why my reaction to seeing this video was “Ha, look at this idiot. He got what he deserved.” That’s why it shocked me to hear the people at the end of the video, calling out what they saw as police brutality. That’s why it shocked me to see to see many of the comments in the blogs covering the incident calling the scene “shocking”, “disturbing” and “another example of the police brutality”.

Brutality? Really? That man had every opportunity to put some clothes on, and he refused. He then resisted arrest. If the police did not detain that man, then they would not be doing their jobs. They exhausted all of their options, and in truth, they were  probably more patient with that man than he deserved. He was belligerent, creating a public disturbance, and was completely nude in public. You can’t just let that go.

I’m all for the people become police watchdogs. There are crooked cops out there, and now that we have a way to hold them accountable, I’m thrilled that it’s being used and that it’s been effective. Pick your battles though, people. The police did nothing wrong here. Just let the men do their job.

Do you remember the Smashing Pumpkins? (“Of course!” – well, at least that’s what I hope the response would be). It was my band of the ‘90’s, and it still is my band. There is this song called Porcelina of the Vast Oceans (off of the album Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness) and it is absolutely one of my favorite songs ever. It has a perfect mixture of rock and roll with beautifully melodic and soothing undertones.

I do suggest taking about 8 and a half minutes away from your time to listen to this whole song, whether or not you are a fan, or even if you have never heard of the Smashing Pumpkins.

In terms of style, the song lyrics are highly ornamented. Here is a little blurb of the song lyrics:

“As far as you take me, that’s where I believe
The realm of soft delusions, floating on the leaves
On a distant shoreline, she waves her arms to me
As all the thought police, are closing in for sleep
The dilly dally, of my bright lit stay
The steam of my misfortunes
Has given me the power to be afraid
And in my mind I’m everyone
And in my mind
Without a care in this whole world
Without a care in this life
It’s what you take that makes it right
Porcelina of the oceans blue”

The following is me trying to take the same song lyrics and strip them down from their ornamentation into plain style. If you wish to, please let me know if you think the meaning remains the same.

I personally think that the song is about the initial feeling we get when we are all about to fall asleep and what we experience, with a girl named Porcelina (who represents “the daytime”) that the lyricist is waving good bye to.

So here it is:

I’ll believe in where you take me.
As I fall asleep I start to experience things I wouldn’t normally experience.
Porcelina waves good bye to me as I start to fall asleep.
All of my thoughts are slowly leaving me now.
The daylight is bright but as I begin to fall asleep,
I am losing touch, which can make me afraid.
In my mind, I’m everyone and everywhere
I don’t have a care in the world when I’m about to leave the day.
Porcelina of the oceans blue.

I recently was in the audience of a Professional Writing presentation on childhood obesity.  As an obese (30lbs or more overweight) person I found the presentation fascinating.  I have probably been overweight (20lbs or less more than you “should” weigh) my whole life, but only recently discovered that I am officially obese. I discovered this because of video-games.  The Wii Fit system which measures you, weighs you, calculates your body mass index or BMI, and then tells you if you are overweight, underweight, obese, etc.  I was alarmed when my dashing Mii (sporting a green shirt, green hat, and beard – so you know it’s me) ballooned to the size of the fattest available character.  I wasn’t alarmed enough to continue using Wii Fit or alarmed enough to actually start exercising, but I was alarmed.

The presentation mentioned that Wii Fit and Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) are used in school gym classes as motivation to get kids involved and active.  Video-games are no longer to blame for our children’s obesity.  Call me cynical, but I think that is just a marketing campaign – and those schools that use it fell hook, line, and sinker.  You don’t actually become encouraged to run after playing Wii or to go dancing after playing DDR, in fact, you really only want to play those games more.  So are kids becoming more fit?  Are they excited about exercise, thinking that it may now be fun?  No, they’re running home begging mommy and daddy for a new Wii or Playstation etc, etc, etc.  Best part of all is that they can use its health benefits as a justification for them to get it.  Of course, the health benefits of Wii Fit or DDR are lost when the kids pick up Star Wars Battlefront or Raving Rabbits or whatever else of the millions of non-active, not exercising promoting games that are available.

I’m not going to say that it is the parent’s fault their kids are obese.  It certainly was not my parents’ fault.  My parents fed me family dinners, we rarely went out, and I wasn’t allowed sugary cereal.  My problem was laziness and late night eating.  I’d run around the neighborhood but more often we’d sit on the curb and tell jokes.  I’d eat “healthy” food like cheerios but more often at midnight (a very unhealthy habit).  Making healthy choices when eating is important.  Having a more active life style is important.  These things have to be done as part of life’s balance.  Not all salad, all the time.  Not no chocolate ever, no sugar ever, no nothing ever.  Balance!  The best presentation, at the end, demonstrated that eating healthy is simply recognizing what we already eat that is part of a healthy well-balanced diet.  The example was a cheeseburger and watermelon.  No one is gonna say a cheeseburger is healthy, right?  Wrong.  Sure, McDonalds isn’t ever likely going to be a diet option but a homemade piece of hamburg with lettuce, tomato, on a whole-wheat bun with watermelon for dessert is not only well-balanced, but a delicious enticing way to show kids that it isn’t what you don’t eat that makes your diet but what you do eat.