Saturday, August 30, 2008

Locke vs- Rousseau, or should we have traffic signs or not?

I was a political science major for about a minute when I first started college 20 years ago now. One of the assignments I remember was the development of an essay comparing and contrasting John Locke's Two Treatises on Government to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract. In my early polemic days I believed that Locke's theory was that humans are essentially good and Rousseau's theory was that humans are essentially bad.

That's not really the gist of their work, and this isn't really a post about Locke and Rousseau.

This IS a post about whether or not humans are essentially good or essentially bad. And I tend to agree with Rousseau's belief that humans are corrupted by society but good when left to their own devices. So, apparently does the European Union which has been experimenting with the elimination of traffic signs in seven towns over the last two years. The basic rationale is this: traffic signs prevent people from taking personal responsibility for civility on the road, and in fact may cause people to try to game the system and therefore drive recklessly. And, by all reports, it seems to be working. Or at least it isn't hurting.

BMG and I are in agreement that more people need to take more responsibility for their decisions. Blaming McDonald's for making you fat, blaming your parents for not teaching you how to fasten a pair of button fly jeans, and blaming mortgage companies for giving you a loan you cannot pay all indicate some level of irresponsibility when it is likely that all sides of every blame story could take more responsibility for acting in what the state of Montana calls a "safe and prudent" manner.

Which brings me to the point where BMG and I disagree. At least when it comes to Americans. I reminded him, during our discussion, that the state of Montana for a brief period had NO speed limit, and for several years had no daytime speed limit. All they had was an admonition that drivers use speeds deemed "safe and prudent" for conditions. And guess what? Average driver speeds went up, and so did traffic fatalities. Eliminating speed limits in Montana did not restore civility but rather sanctioned recklessness behind the wheel.

Driving can sometimes lead me to feel incensed because it reveals the most selfish impulses of most people (myself included). I long for a society in which it is universally understood that pulling over for an emergency response vehicle is the polite and important thing to do. Whoever is in that ambulance is in a greater rush than you. I long for a society where our reaction when we hear a gentle beep in our direction isn't an avalanche of expletives, but rather an apology for making a mistake. I'm with Rousseau on this one. Humans are corrupted by society, and it seems even more so in the great 'ol US of A. I don't trust my fellow men and women to honor the social contract. In fact, I don't believe most people even know what the social contract is. This is the crux of why I created Smart Town - to imagine a place where everyone knows and respects the social contract, where the golden rule is the prevailing rule of law, and where the needs of others are as important as the needs of oneself. I may have just moved to Hing Ham, but I long for Smart Town, where our Mayor is John Locke and we have no street signs. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Need a laugh? Visit this blog...

Oh, dear GPA! I am so grateful to you for sharing the funny Cake Wreck blog. I now share it with all of you. My only advice is to use the bathroom before you read this because you may end up wetting your pants because of the uncontrollable laughter.

"Why is it so dead around here?"

Saturday afternoon BMG and I settled into a sidewalk cafe' in what appeared to be a trendy part of Providence, RI. We were being served "High Cheese" (wine, cheese, sausage and pate) at a restaurant that adjoined a gourmet food shop. A high end shoe store and home goods store were across the street. It was the kind of retail district that, if situated in Cambridge, would have been bustling 24/7. In Providence, there was no one to be seen.

"Why is it so dead around here?" I asked curiously.

BMG pointed across the street and drew my attention to the following sign. "That may be why," he said sagely, with a twinkle in his blue eyes.

"Oh. It is dead around here, because everyone around here is dead," was my amused reply. I returned my attention to the cheese plate, which featured a Morbier, a soft cheese marked by a thin vein of ash running through its center. Raising an eyebrow I looked up at BMG. He shrugged, raised his glass of beer in a toast, and we ate.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thumbs Down #2 - iTouch

Listen up Steve Jobs (and I know you read my blog while you sit at home in your black turtleneck sipping espresso out of tiny cups). I think the iTouch is stupid. It is supposed to be a mobile web device that is convenient and cool and eminently accessible. But, because it doesn't work on the AT&T data plan, which lets users view the web through the cell phone line (it only works using a wireless connection to plain old cables for accessing the Internet), it makes the web accessible only in places where one can easily bring a laptop anyhow. BMG drew a picture for me while we were gulping chai tea lattes last night at Panera.
BMG says, "Yeah, but you can take it to Panera and access the web through Panera's WiFi network." If I'm going to park myself at Panera to do web work, I'm bringing my laptop.

Okay, so it is an iPod too. But, why not just buy an iPod at 1/2 the price? I mean, if the Internet capability is limited to WiFi hot zones and you really just want it for the iPod function, spend 1/2 the money and get an iPod. Paying extra money for functionality you aren't going to use doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

The only way the iTouch would be attractive to me is if it could interact with a cellular data plan so I could use the Internet anywhere I can get a cell signal.


Drowning in deadlines, packing and unpacking as I slowly move in with BMG, spending computer time managing Weight Watchers and reconnecting with friends and family on Facebook - all of these activities have distracted me from my "being". GPA recently asked, "How ARE you?" "Uh, I have absolutely no idea how I am. What I do know is I am 100% disconnected from myself right now."

What does it look like to be so distracted from the very fact of "being" in this world?

I woke up sans alarm this morning and headed straight to the kitchen to make a small pot of my precious espresso. ("Oh Bialetti! Is there anything you CAN'T do?") Instead of starting the coffee, a 90-second process, I started putting away the groceries that had been sitting on the counter since Thursday morning at 6:30 AM when Peapod delivered. But I needed to put some excess PowerAde (BMG's drink of choice - flavor "blue" is the fave) into grocery overflow on top of the fridge, and I needed to rearrange the mound of stuff on top of the refrigerator in order to make room for what looks like 20 oz. bottles of blue energy drink. So I head into the pantry to grab the step stool. Oh, right, the pantry is a mess. So I pull out (a) an industrial sized package of aluminum foil, (b) a wiffle bat, (c) and the garbage can with a 1/2 cup of dog food in it from good 'ol days now 2.5 years passed when a Black Lab puppy lived here and start rearranging things to make room for the food processor and crock pot that now live here. "Oh, I should start my coffee!" I head out of the pantry and remember the point of the pantry rearranging was to get the step stool so I could put away the PowerAde. So, I pull the step stool from the garage sale pile and start putting away the PowerAde. When that is done I think to myself, "I guess I'll just finish putting away the rest of the groceries" which involves clearing off the counter. To do this I consolidate two cups of pens on the counter, put cookbooks I don't use in the garage sale pile, and start the dishwasher (Whoops! Forgot to do that last night!). Then, and only then, do I start my coffee.

And with the coffee started, I head to the couch, turn on my iTunes, and start listening to my informal break-up play list created three years ago when GO and I called it quits. "Why am I doing this?" I think to myself as Big Head Todd and the Monsters tell the melancholy story of living with someone you don't love any more. (At least not in that giddy or comfortable way.) "Do I need to cry?" I probably need to cry - there is no doubt about that. But this isn't why I'm listening to break-up music. Hmmm. I keep blogging.

I take a blogging break and head into the bathroom, where my eye catches a disparate montage of silly creatures and vacation mementos and displayed on a shelf above the toilet. Wooden ducks, rubber ducks, Eiffel towers and ninja figurines are among the characters who populate our bathroom. BMG and I frequently rearrange these items, hiding them around the house in unlikely places to surprise one another. (Imagine the gales of laughter when someone finds an army of plastic ninjas hiding in the center tube of a roll of toilet paper, or opens the refrigerator and finds a paddle of ducks waddling towards the beer.) On the shelf today I see a German egg cup in the shape of a boy. He wears a knit cap (ostensibly to make a fashion statement while keeping the egg warm) and is very cute in a retro kind of way. Next to him, like a faithful companion, is a troll dressed as an angel. I start crying. More with relief than sadness. Seeing those toys on the shelf, BMG and me side by side, reminds me that I want a genuine life with BMG, an honest life, a silly life, a loving life. GO and I had a good life, and we had all the trappings of our cohort - the right vegetarian cookbooks on the shelf, the vermicompost bin as coffee table that was the envy of our hippie friends, and the outdoor gear neatly stowed away for quick get-aways to the mountains where we would pack-in, pack-out reliant only on our hip and expensive Nalgene bottles to get us through. But it wasn't a genuine life, at least not for me.

I looked at the angel troll again and thought of the Hindu goddess Kali - the mother/destroyer. "That is more like me," I think. Loving, nurturing, murdering, fierce - and everything in-between. I am a whole package - not just environmentally conscious camper. I like to watch TV shows about morbidly obese people and I recycle (almost) religiously, I trance dance and ride on the back of a scooter wearing a pink helmet, I am a conservatively dressed professional and a gal who likes to show off her best assets, I long distance bike and I play Nintendo with great abandon. I am everything. I am not MIA. In fact, I am everywhere.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Two of my favorite words

Drunkle = A drunk uncle (Drunkle Alfie got sloshed at family Thanksgiving AGAIN this year)
Shrinkles = Wrinkles that have been shrunk ("You look fabulous? What has changed?" "Oh, you might be noticing my shrinkles. It's the botox treatment I had on Friday.")