Zen and the art of driving stick

It was 1940 and Oldsmobile introduced the “Hydra-Matic,” the first automatic transmission. They sold something like 200,000 units and it was that same year the very first case of road rage was documented.

Driving automatic

Drivers of these new-fangled automatics began to suffer a disconnect between themselves and their vehicle because they found they had too much time to seethe over every single road incident and perceived wrong.

Drivers of stick, of course, were more zen-like, tranquil in their oneness with their automobile. They were absorbed in the moment, hands, feet, and mind all focused on the very act of driving, and didn’t have time to waste on frivolous external stressors.

That first incident of road rage occurred on Route 66 somewhere between Holbrook, Arizona and Williams, Arizona. 

Pepper McHilheney,  a spitball pitcher returning from a loss that had raised his ERA to an astronomical 37.3, was driving in his brand new black Olds Hydra-Matic, fuming about being tossed out of the game because he beaned the ump with a fastball after said ump had called the 90th ball that inning, when along came Biff Melonmeister, a traveling anvil salesman out of Davenport, Iowa, driving a similarly equipped Olds, but in cream, who was worrying that if he didn’t find a blacksmith soon who needed a new anvil how was he going to make his next car payment, when he inattentively cut off Pepper.

Pepper, of course, beeped and shouted, “Get your head out of you ass!” while making obscene gestures with his free right hand that, had he been driving stick, would have been otherwise occupied.

Biff, seeing the gestures, returned several of his own, because he too had a free right hand.

Soon the two were racing side-by-side down Route 66 cursing and throwing hand gestures at each other until tragically for both Olds involved, they went off the road and crashed into some shrubbery.

The two drivers extricated themselves from the bushes, gave each other the finger again, and fisticuffs ensued.

Meanwhile, Irving Potash, driving his trusty old 3-speed stick on the column two-tone Nash, went by and said, “Dudes, chill.” He then responsibly returned all his attention to driving and made it to his destination safely, on time, and with a smile on his face, proving the adage: a stick in hand is worth two birds in the bush.

There are many more anecdotes about the superiority of stick drivers to automatic, but a recent survey by the prestigious Institutus Ferretatus proves it best.

According to their study, drivers of automatics have a higher incidence of heart disease, hypertension, headaches, and are more likely to die of a heart attack, stroke, or road rage incident. Additionally, they are more hostile and impulsive compared to their stick driving counterparts.

Stick drivers on the other hand, live longer, have significantly lower stress levels, are much happier, and of course, are much more fun to be around.

Stick drivers today are known as “the seven percenters” because only about 7% of Americans drive stick. These seven percenters generally lead healthier and happier lives than the other 93% of drivers.

So next time you’re in the market for a car, consider the stick. Your heart will thank you.
#savethestick

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The Compromise Gap

Tuesday’s elections swung the power in Congress into the hands of the Republicans. Many Democrats, myself included, couldn’t understand why anyone paying attention to what was going on would vote for a Republican.

Many others seem to believe both parties are at fault. There might be some truth in that. One of the biggest complaints is neither party is willing to negotiate. Nobody on the right or left is willing to compromise. But the actual fact of the matter is, both parties have tried to negotiate, but the problem is something called the Compromise Gap.

What is the compromise gap? I’m glad you asked and what better way to illustrate it than with a graphic? Why, with two graphics, of course.

compromise gap

Graphic 1 illustrates how things used to be. The line represents the entire political spectrum; the farther right you go, the more conservative you become and the farther left you go the more liberal you become. In the center lie the America people, mostly moderate, not too liberal, not too conservative, just right.

The GOP and the Democrats traditionally occupied the circled areas, fluctuating along the line from more so to less so year to year, but never really deviating all that much between 4 and 5 for the GOP and 6 and 7 for the Dems.

The fringe groups occupy the farthest extremes on the scale. Representing the right wing extremists are the Christian Right, now joined more recently by the Tea Party. I didn’t bother to make a circle for the radical left, because as I’ll explain, they don’t have much of an affect upon the movement of the Democratic Party as a whole.

For years, the GOP and the Dems haven’t had very far to go to reach the center, where the majority of Americans await. It was easy to compromise on many issues. The two parties negotiated readily and those involved were often viewed as statesmen.

But then, the Tea Party and the Christian Right began to gain political clout, winning elections on their extremist platforms. With each new success, their political reach grew and the GOP was sucked across the political spectrum by their strengthening gravitation field, pulling the traditional Republicans farther and farther to the right.

Graphic 2 shows how things are today. The Tea Party and Christian Right still occupy the extreme right position, but now the traditional Republicans have been dragged over and occupy positions 2 and 3 on the scale compared to their previous position of 4 and 5, whereas the Democrats haven’t moved at all.

So there are several things at play here. First, many conservatives think the liberals have moved farther left, not realizing it is they, and they alone, who have moved.

Second, the Compromise Gap, once easily bridged has now grown into a political Ginnungagap, a vast, insurmountable frozen void that neither party is willing to cross for fear they’ll fall in and be destroyed.

Sure, both parties are still willing to negotiate the same 1 or 2 points left or right on the scale that they always have. And the Dems when negotiating are still crossing to the center where the rest of America as a whole still resides. And the GOP, likewise, is still willing to negotiate the same distance they did before, except for them, they now reside so far right that their attempts to compromise only land them solidly within the conservative spectrum, still many points away from center.

And it is the Republicans who decry the Dems for not being willing to cross the great divide while completely ignorant of the fact that they’ve moved so far right that even centrists seem like extreme liberals to them now.

It is not the Democrats’ fault at all that negotiations have often failed miserably, nor should anyone really expect them to move farther right than they already are.

The best the nation can hope for is a return to sanity on the side of the Republicans. Only by rejecting the fringe fanatical right wing and moving closer to center can we ever hope for the good old days of compromise and negotiation.

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Who really is the worst president evah?

“Obama is the worst president since WWII!” That’s the takeaway from a recently released poll, which, I’m sure, Fox News has been covering gleefully non-stop.

But lets think about that. Earlier today I showed you why you should dismiss this particular poll. Now, let’s consider each president and judge them on their merits, shall we?

Harry S Truman. Here was a man who not only couldn’t afford a middle name, for most of his life he couldn’t even afford a period after the S! That’s right. He had to borrow one from the editors of the Chicago Style Manual. And just try to forget that he dropped not just one, but two atomic bombs upon fellow human beings as the only solution to ending the war. Years later, he was overheard saying, “It never occurred to me to just say, ‘Please.'”

Dwight D. Eisenhower. Great general, bland president. I mean, does anyone have any impression of him beyond the slogan, “I like Ike”? I’m stiflingly yawns just thinking about him. Seriously though, he created the Interstate Highway System, NASA, and despite Al Gore’s claims otherwise, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which led to the Internet. And even though he created the communist domino theory that was used as justification for entering Viet Nam, he redeemed himself by being opposed to Joseph McCarthy and his communist witch hunts.

John F. Kennedy. A war hero (who hasn’t seen the movie “PT109” starring Cliff Roberton). He had a gorgeous wife and still got to sleep with Marilyn Monroe. He was the only President to win a Pulitzer, until President Obama. He created the Peace Corps. He challenged America to put a man on the moon and we did it. He brought a youthful style and vigor to the Presidency that was definately missing from the Eisenhower years. We call his presidency Camelot, for God’s sake. JFK was everything except bulletproof. He was so charismatic the nation still mourns him a half century later.

Lyndon Johnson. The only reason JFK picked him as a running mate was to win Texas. Had he given serious consideration to “a heartbeat away” JFK would have picked someone intelligent. Only two things come to mind when people think about Johnson, if they bother to think about him at all, and that’s how he would lift his basset hounds up by their ears and how he constantly showed his appendectomy scar while saying, “Not as cool as a bullet in the head, but its all I got.”

Richard M. Nixon. The “I am not a crook” crook. Highlights of his presidency include opening communications to China and saying, “Sock it to me?” on “Rowen and Martin’s Laugh-In.” The lowlights include Watergate, 18 missing minutes of tape, and having a running mate in Spiro T. Agnew who was an even bigger crook than he was. Nixon single-handedly destroyed the nation’s faith and trust in it’s government in general and.the office of the President in particular.

Gerald R. Ford. If not for Chevy Chase falling down all the time, we never would have even noticed someone had replaced Nixon. People would say, “Who is Chevy Chase imitating?” “The President.” “No. That’s nothing like Nixon.” “Nixon resigned. He’s no longer President.” “Dude! That’s far out.” Ford’s legacy is his “WIN!” program, which stood for “Whip Inflation Now!” It was a program designed on the wish theory, that if we all wished hard enough, the economy would improve. America did wish hard enough and Ford failed to win reelection.

Jimmy Carter. Carter was a surprise victor in the 1976 election. America wanted a Washington outsider, so they elected an unknown peanut farmer. What they got was a rerun of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” featuring the zany antics of Carter’s drunk brother, which included marketing “Billy Beer,” while the President himself fended off attacks from a killer rabbit while lusting in his heart. And on a serious note, lets not forget the Iran Hostage Crisis and the rescue attempt that went horribly wrong with helicopters crashing and burning in the desert, which was no surprise since Carter had slashed the military budget and everything was held together with bubblegum and bailing wire.

Ronald Reagan. The Great Communicator to some, the Teflon President to everyone else because it seemed no matter what stupid shit spewed out of his mouth, none of it stuck to him. Here is a brief list of the bullshit that happened on his watch: Iran/Contra. Catsup named a vegetable. Nancy running things via astrology. Referring to the Soviet Union as the evil empire and the infamous announcement, “We begin bombing in 5 minutes.” The Invasion of Granada, so strategically important to America. Trying to outspend the USSR in defense, including billions wasted on a pipe dream known as Star Wars. Tripling the Federal Deficit in the process. Nearly 11% unemployment. Giving amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants (you decide if that’s a plus or minus). Funding Islamist mujahidin fighters in Afghanistan in a shadow war against the Soviet Union, and in the process creating the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. Cutting the taxes on the rich from 70% to 28%, which forced him to raise taxes on the Middle Class 11 times to make up for it. Raiding the Social Security Trust Fund and leaving a note that said, “IOU $2.7 trillion, Love Ronnie.”

George Herbert Walker Bush. He was President? Seriously, who remembers this? He got us into the first Gulf War to save our free access to Kuwaiti oil, but it was measured in days, not months or years. If one thing can be said, Bush knew when to pull out (just not always soon enough as we’ll see when we get to the 43rd President.) What defined his presidency was the promise “Read my lips, no new taxes” which became a joke when he broke it.

William Jefferson Clinton. He tried his best to be like JFK, but Hillary was no Jackie-O and Monica Lewinski was no Monroe. He did outdo JFK’s sexual conquests in one regard: Clinton was the only president to ever raise taxes retroactively, thereby screwing the entire nation. Crime decreased every year of his Presidency, while the number of federal prisoners doubled. He inherited the largest budget deficit in American history and turned it around leaving a $127 billion surplus. Came up with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And redefined the definition for sexual relations.

Richard “I’m a Dick” Cheney. Um. Oh. Sorry. I guess he never officially held the office of president, did he? Nevermind.

George W. Bush. C’mon! Obama came in worst ever when this man-child was in the running? Bush II was an international embarrassment. He was a drunken frat boy who couldn’t even swallow a pretzel without choking. He even barfed on the Prime Minister of Japan. There were no WMDs. He bankrupted us fighting two wars we had no business in, one simply begun to finish what his Daddy couldn’t. If someone went to Hollywood and proposed a movie about an utter buffoon rising to hold the most powerful office in America, no one would have taken a chance on it because it was so unbelievable. But we all lived through it! Dozens of comedians became famous doing Bush II and not one of them had to write any skits, they just had to be him; they’d laugh like him, act like him, talk like him, and quote him, and audiences laughed hysterically. They had to, laughing kept everyone from crying at the realization that the joke was really on America because our leader was one big international punch-line. OK, emotions aside, the Bush II legacy is: He took more vacations than any other president in history. Used torture to interrogate prisoners. Wiretapped millions of Americans without warrants. Outsourced the war to contractors who weren’t bound to follow Iraqi or American military laws. Failed to act on an Aug. 6, 2001 White House intelligence briefing called, “Bin Laden determined to strike in the U.S.” The price of oil quadrupled under his watch. He was a Draft dodger. He took Clinton’s budget surplus and spent it like a drunken sailor, leaving Obama a $1.2 trillion hole. Poverty increased by 26.1%.

Barack H. Obama. A President whose entire presidency, even his life’s history, is nothing but lies and fabrications promulgated by right wing spin doctors, bigots, and conspiracy nuts. The opposition blames him for everything that goes wrong anywhere in the world and discredits him for anything that goes right. An obstructionist House blocked any and all legislation, including jobs bills that would actually help Americans get back to work, in a deliberate attempt to make President Obama look bad. He gets blamed for an economic collapse that was caused by his predecessor’s idiotic policies and he gets blamed because the recovery isn’t happening fast enough (again getting blamed by the Republicans as they cause obstruction to anything that might fuel the recovery). So honestly, how can the man even be judged when he hasn’t been given a fair shake? When he’s had these kinds of odds against him? When an entire political party fully admits their sole goal is to ensure Obama fails?

So now that we know their track records, which president should actually be considered the worst, or best, in the last 69 years? If you were honest in keeping score, the ones at the very top would be Eisenhower and Kennedy. The ones at the very bottom would be Nixon, Reagan, and George Dubya Bush. Obama, at this point, should come out in the middle somewhere. Probably closer to the top than the bottom, but seriously, it is far too early to be making judgments upon his legacy. History will remember him for the Affordable Care Act, eliminating Osama Bin Laden, repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” creating new fuel economy standards, and investing more than any other administration in renewable technologies, while battling against unprecedented personal attacks fueled by ignorance, racism, and bigotry.

And there you have it, a brief history of American Presidents since World War II.

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Worst President Evah?

A recent poll put out by Quinippiac University questioned 1,446 registered voters, 73% of whom were white, over the phone.

The consensus of this poll? That President Barrack Obama is the worst president since World War II. At least that’s the buzz from all the news outlets.

But the news doesn’t analyze these things. They just take the AP feed and or the university’s PR release and run it as is.

In other words, they give you the results while running attention-getting (and website click-through attracting) headlines, like “Obama’s the worst!” “GW Bush better than Obama!” and nonsense like that.

Did any bother to mention that the poll queried only 13% of black voters? Probably not.

Now some news outlets might, in an effort to show fairness in the makeup of the respondents that a 73% white majority lacks, provide the claimed political demographics of Republican 26%, Democrat 31%, and Independent 35% and say, “See? That’s a fair and equitable distribution.”

And at first blush, we might agree, until we read that 45% believe Mitt Romney would be doing a better job as President.

Sorry. I should have warned you. I’ll wait while you wipe off your monitor and keyboard, but c’mon! You should know better than to read this while drinking tea.

Back? Good. Now, seriously? Romney? You have to ask yourself, “How the Hell did Romney get 19 more percentage points than the 26% of those who claimed to be Republican?” Because in all honesty, who but hard-core conservatives would admit Romney was good at anything?

The answer is people don’t align themselves with political parties like they used to. So the pollsters asked the wrong question. They instead should have asked if the respondents were Conservative, Liberal/Progressive, or Moderate.

The results would have been more informative of the philosophical breakdown. For one thing, nobody would answer “Moderate” because no one wants to be thought of as wishy-washy, which is what all Americans think of when they think of Moderate. In fact, a picture of Michael Dukakis in a tank wearing an army helmet comes to mind when we think of a Moderate. Laughable.

For another, many people who claim to be Independent really aren’t. Not in the least. Every Independent, when you listen to them or watch what they post on social media, either skews to the right or to the left, but never ever in the middle. Most Tea Party members consider themselves Independent, not Republican, as do many Libertarians, but both share many conservative beliefs with Republicans.

So combine the 73% white with the fact that 45% actually think Romney wasn’t a complete asshole, and you end up with a poll that has as much credibility as a poll asserting most Americans want genetically-altered food without any GMO labeling only to discover the majority of respondents were actually employees of Monsanto.

Remember also, polls are just a snapshot in time, so you have to ask yourself, “What was happening from June 24 to June 27, 2014?” The answer is: Obama gave a talk on working families and said women of newborns should get paid leave (Gasp! That’s socialism!) there was escalating violence in Iraq which led to discussions of sending more troops (OMG! Bush had that won, now look!) the IRS commissioner was being grilled on the Hill (Obama is giving them marching orders to investigate everyone in the Tea Party!); to name just a few news items that would skew opinion against any standing President.

Given the apparent bias in the sampling, this poll needs to be taken with a large helping of salt. If nothing else, this poll and the furor surrounding it, is worth a good laugh.

Don’t take it seriously. But how could you when it came to the conclusion that Ronald Reagan was the greatest president since 1945?

Am I right?

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An American Guide to Understanding Soccer

The World Cup begins today. If you’re like most Americans, that phrase is meaningless, as it should be. But if you’re curious, I’m here to help.

The World Cup is like our SuperBowl, only nowhere near as exciting. That’s because the sport involved is something called soccer, a sport the rest of the world made up because they were jealous we had all the good sports, such as baseball, football, basketball, dodge ball, wrestling, roller derby, curling, and hockey, which we share with Canada. And because they were jealous, they even named it after our game of football to cause confusion, hoping some unwary Americans would tune in and inadvertently boost their television ratings, which they already claim are in the hundreds of millions.

But they measure viewership, like they measure everything else, in those weird metrics, so if you were to convert that into American television Nielsen Ratings it actually equates to 15 viewers.

If you’re curious about the game’s history, read on. Soccer was invented in the 1950s by a couple of bored Germans who only had a basketball and a hockey net to play with. They tried shooting hoops, but that proved rather unsatisfying as neither missed so their game of Horse would have gone on forever until one of them in frustration kicked the basketball. The other German yelled, “Hans, stop!” Fearing the basketball would destroy their hockey net he made a spectacular leap, catching the ball just before it went in.

Hans said, “Hey, Fritz, that was fun!” And then they each took turns kicking the ball while the other tried to block it from going in. And thus, soccer was born.

It quickly took off because everyone could play it and you didn’t need any equipment other than a ball, two nets, and your mom’s knee high socks. Heck, even today the game hasn’t advanced very much equipment-wise. They don’t even own cups, which is why they stand in front of the goal covering their dicks.

A side note here, no one has ever fully explained why they needed this new sport in the first place when they already had one of the most exciting, balls-to-the-wall, manly sports ever in rugby. But that’s neither here nor there.

Americans first heard of soccer in the 1960s because of the exploits of one Brazilian player known as Pelé and because of the table game many taverns had known as foosball, which is what many Americans call soccer even today. “Hey look, Billy Bob, there’s a foosball game on the television machine.”

Sadly, soccer has only produced two famous players in the last 50 years, compared to the hundreds upon hundreds of stars American sports have produced. These were the aforementioned Pelé and more recently David Beckam, who was really made famous because he married a Spice Girl and a movie was named after him then his actual playing ability, as proven by how poorly he performed when he came to America. Now you’d have thought someone of his supposed soccer prowess would have been like Wayne Gretzky or Michael Jordon playing against children, but no, he bombed worse than “Ishtar” with Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman.

This lack of talent is one of the reason the rest of the world hates America so much, because we just naturally ooze athleticism but we choose to ignore their sport. They know if just one American made it big in soccer, then their sport would finally be accepted here and Americans would watch it. Sure, when pigs fly and America goes metric. Don’t hold your breath, bucko.
The rules of soccer are simple. Everyone runs around like chickens with their heads cut off kicking a speckled ball until some announcer yells, “Gooooooooal!” There is a clock that keeps counting up, not down as in the majority of sports that make sense, so they never know when to end the game and usually stop when all the fans have fallen sleep and its too dark to see the ball. One other thing about soccer, if you recall, the game was created by Germans, who have lousy hand-eye coordination. You know this from watching any John Wayne World War II movie; the Germans couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. And that is the reason they aren’t allowed to use their hands and why most Americans, who have the greatest hand-eye coordination in the world, can’t play soccer.

So there you have it, my friends, a brief history on the game of soccer. Now as we head into this weekend of World Cup festivities, you are fully armed with the facts so when some nerdy guy requests they put soccer on the tele in your favorite tavern, you can shout down the little freak with “Soccer sucks” knowing your opinion is now an informed one.

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Phub You

There is a grassroots movement out there to shame you for daring to use your smartphone in public settings.

It was started by a kid in Australia, Alex Haigh, who — and this is only speculation on my part — must be so boring, everyone around him would rather interact online than have to deal with his self-righteous indignation and highly distorted sense of right and wrong. Because he has such low self-esteem and thinks everyone around him is showing bad manners by not hanging on his every golden word, he has launched a campaign called “Stop Phubbing.”

And the campaign, it appears, is going viral because, as you know, the world is full of blow-hard busy-bodies who believe they are more important than anything you could possibly do on your
Mobile phone. News of this month-old cult has already reached the mainstream media and we know how slow they are to picking up trends.

Phubbing, if you don’t know yet, is one of those cutsie morphemes where you blend two words together to get another word that causes people to scratch their heads, like blog (weB LOG) did for years. The mashing of words (SMoke and fOG became smog) is called portmanteau. So as you’re reading this on your smartphone and someone accuses you of phubbing (PHone snUBBING) tell them you’re increasing your vocabulary and they can take their snooty opinion and shove it up their ass.

They even have a website: http://www.stopphubbing.com but if you go there on your smartphone, you get a message, “Get off your mobile and view this website on your desktop.” Then, if you try to click through it calls you a “Mother Phubber!”

Name-calling? Really?

Since I am writing this on my mobile device and will publish it from my mobile device, I can’t view their website and take in their pearls of wisdom about the evils of phubbing. So I really can’t warn you against their storm-trooper tactics or post a description of their jackbooted thugs, but be prepared for anything. Maybe they’ll attack us like Mitt Romney in high school but instead of cutting our hair, they’ll tattoo a big red “P” on our foreheads.

So phubbing, by their definition, is the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at their phone instead of paying attention to whomever they are with.

The assumption being, of course, is that the person or persons that are with you in the social setting are so much more important than what’s on your phone.

It has never occurred to them that it is they who are being rude by demanding all of your attention. They are being selfish, controlling, and possessive. They think they are all that and a bag of chips.

But they aren’t all that or even just a bag of chips. If they were, we wouldn’t feel the need to pull out our phones, now would we?

I admit, there is a small minority of so-called phubbers out there who, when their phone beeps, have to check and see what the latest celebrity tweet is. But those people are assholes in all aspects of their lives, not just this one area. I mean really, who gives a shit what the Kardashians think?

On the other hand, many of us are doing business. I write on my phone. I do research for my writing on my phone. I check emails for submission responses to my writing on my phone. And, of course, I have eBay alerts that must be checked or I could lose out on my bid for that mint Silver Age copy of DC’s first publication of “Tarzan of the Apes” by Joe Kubert. You wouldn’t want me to miss that, would you?

To the anti-phubbers, phubbing is rude behavior, but maybe the rude one is actually the accuser, trying desperately to draw attention to themselves while we’re concentrating on our online communications.

Anti-phubbers are just jealous and resentful of our online popularity. The “Stop Phubbing” movement is full of contemptible, loathsome wretches who think it is their duty to pass judgement upon others. To shame us. Instead, they should be ashamed of themselves for trying to make their petty opinion the prevailing one.

When they call us mother phubbers, what they are really saying is, “Damn. I wish I was popular on the Internet, too. Instead, I’m just as boring a loser there as I am in real life.”

Stop Phubbing? How about Stop Being Judgmental? (Or should I call it “Bedgemental?”)

The problem with the world isn’t too much Phubbing, it’s too many people telling us what we can and cannot do, trying to dictate when and where we can Phub. They’re trying shame us from Phubbing in public, but we won’t be denied! Raise your mobile device proudly and say to Alex and his cult of bullies: Phub you!

It’s my smartphone and I’ll Phub if I want to, Phub if I want to, Phub if I want to…

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