Friday, December 30, 2011

One step forward, two steps back.

Try as they might to get people to stop using their cell phones while they're driving, our legislators are fighting a losing battle against the automobile manufacturers.

This is the dashboard of the 2012 Hyundai Veloster.  It features something called blueLink, which synchronizes your smartphone to the car to allow you to navigate and communicate with your fellow drivers as you speed along the highway.

Every day, states are sponsoring legislation to make it illegal to keep drivers from texting while driving and some are outlawing using the devices at all.  Some have said that it is hazardous to use hands-free devices as well.

While lawmakers claim to be looking out for our greater good, it is the duty of the auto makers to provide people with what they want.  Apparently, what they want is a cell phone in their car.

Perhaps our government needs to switch its focus from the driver to the manufacturer?  Why outlaw the use of cell phones when we are buying automobiles that encourage it?  How many accidents will have to be caused because the driver was using his blueLink to find a local pizza place before we stop this nonsense?  Motorists have no respect for the laws and it seems that the companies that they are buying their cars from feel the same.

It started with cup holders and has now evolved to this.  What's next?  Television on the steering wheel?  Why not?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Putting us in our place.

The "social media" thing has been quite interesting.  As a migrant from being "pen pals" and actually speaking on the phone to someone, I have watched this revolution in personal communications and marvelled at the relationship between being personal and impersonal simultaneously.

The most interesting (debatable) part of it is the relationship that us commoners have with the so-called celebrities.  In the Twitter language, we are "followers."  On Facebook we are "friends."  I think that's what separates Twitter from Facebook.  On Twitter you are either followed or a follower.  On Facebook, there is a friend relationship that at least places the participants on a somewhat equal footing - even though one or the other might know it isn't so.

Take, for instance, a recent Tweet (a strange sequence, to be sure) from my "friend" Paula Creamer, in which she discloses her "Christmas present to myself" in Twitpic form (right).  It's a Porsche, of some sort.  To most of us, saying that we had given ourselves a Christmas present, we might be referring to a high-end kitchen appliance or a musical instrument.  To those on the "followed" end of the Twitter landscape, a Christmas present to themselves is a $50,000 automobile.  To most of their followers, that represents a year's salary (before taxes).

Not that we begrudge them this "gift," but the question it raises is the difference between the haves and the have-not's.  We have always known there is a difference, but now that we have this social media, it is on display for us to acknowledge.  The "Politeness Man" among us would say, "Hey, good for you!" but the regular person that is buried deeper would say, "What the fuck?  This is what you do with your money?"  Well, of course it is.  If you earned $17 million a year, you wouldn't spend it on a Ford Festiva.

So, I wondered (quietly to myself) is it better or worse that we know that we are so separated from them?  I suppose we've always known that movie stars, musicians and celebrities live a different lifestyle than the rest of us.  What we didn't have was graphic evidence and the immediacy of the Internet to show us exactly how much different they are from us.

After all, would you rather not know about Tim Tebow's religious convictions or would you just as soon watch him as quarterback of the Denver Broncos?  Recent news would say you'd rather not know all the extraneous junk.

I suppose there are some of Paula's followers who would look at this photo and not think twice about it.  I'm the type of person who looks around at those in line behind me and wonders, "What do they think?" and holds the door for people behind me because I don't want a stranger to question my ethics.  It doesn't make me better, it just gives me what we used to call on the softball field "rabbit ears."

I'm the type who thinks twice about everything.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Where are you going to put all that crap?

Over the weekend, I saw a lot of photos of wrapped stuff under trees (both real and artificial -  trees, not gifts) and wondered about the wretched excess that this holiday has become.  Rather than find that one thing that you think might make the holiday special, you have chosen to over-compensate and grab a bunch of stuff in the hopes that something will hit the target.

We buy people one birthday gift, yet we splurge on Christmas with tons of crap.  Explain.
Perhaps it reeks of sour grapes from my end, since my holiday contained neither tree nor wrapped stuff.  Nevertheless, it seems as though we (you) spend a lot of money on things that people either do not need nor want, and that is disconcerting.
The latest story from the Internet says that this holiday season might set a record for gift returns, costing retailers almost $47 billion.  One of the reasons they cite is that consumers decided that they didn't want to spend as much as they did.  That tells me that, out of obligation, they purchased things that they knew they couldn't pay for or afford, yet did so anyway.  After coming to their senses, the gifts were returned and some bogus reason was conjured.  That's sad.

Some retailers are tightening their return policies in advance of the post-Christmas rush. points out that Target, which used to allow 90 days for customers to return certain big-ticket items, now will only accept returns for 45 days after purchase. Toys-R-Us stores won't take back electronics if the packages have been opened. Both Target and Wal-Mart now only offer limited returns if you don't have a gift receipt. J.C. Penney, Macy's and Express require that "special-occasion" dresses be returned with the original tag still attached, in order to deter one-time wearing, and now has not one, but 30, different product-specific return policies.

They're onto you.  I'd guess that today and Tuesday, stores will be mobbed, not with shoppers, but ungrateful gift recipients who are returning things that they don't want.

One of the lasting memories from the days when I used to partake is the din of wrapping paper being dispensed as boxes were opened and things displayed.  In true "Seinfeld" tradition, the unwanted gifts were met with the exclamation of the name of the gift:  "Oh -- socks!"  In the pile they go.

Twenty-seven percent of people returning electronics admit that they wished they hadn't bought them in the first place. Just 5 percent of the people who wanted their money back said that the gadget didn't work -- but, after testing, two-thirds of those supposedly defective items were found to have been just fine after all.

It's a strange custom that you humans have.  You work yourself into a mad tizzy for a month agonizing over what to get for that "special someone" or that someone who isn't very special that you feel obligated to buy something for because "they always get me something."  I have made a giant leap this year in avoiding the holiday altogether, and I have been able to embrace my ignorance.  I don't have to do what society finds acceptable and I don't have to wear myself thin worrying about what other people think of what I think.

I don't understand you people.