Wednesday, November 26, 2008


"Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.”
~Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta

I was going to write up a list of things I was thankful for, but it turned out to be too much work. It’s not just that it’s a long list, but that each item on the list has so many facets. For example, not only am I thankful for my sisters, but I am also thankful for the great relationships—friendships really—that I have with them. And I am thankful for how funny Caitlin is and how she is so social and outgoing. And how Jaima always reads the books I recommend, even after I told her at length what they were about and shared every last interesting anecdote. And how Caitlin asks for my advice sometimes just so I can feel like a smart, helpful older sister. And how Jaima knows what I mean when I describe someone as the kind of person who would write “your” when they meant “you’re”. And how one time we were out picking rocks in one of Dad’s fields and the three of us passed tedious hours by making a list of things you could make out of rocks, and when we ran out of things you could actually make out of rocks, we started making things up, like “soup,” “chipmunks,” and “paper airplanes.” And we laughed so hard.

So you see why I can’t realistically make a list of all the things I am thankful for. Not to mention, now that I think about it, I am even thankful that I have so much to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Friday, November 21, 2008

TLaJ Book Review #5

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and what it says about us)
By Tom Vanderbilt

This book was recommended to me by an STA bus driver while on the way to work one morning. I requested it from the EWU Library, but had to wait about two months to get it. Then, when it finally came in, I found out I could only keep it for one week since it was in such high demand. No worries, though; the book is just as fascinating as described; I had no trouble finishing it quickly.

Here are some of my favorite tidbits:

• We should all be late-mergers. You know the situation: You are on a multi-lane highway and there is construction ahead. Signs alert you to a lane ending up ahead. You dutifully merge into the other lane, then watch in disgust as other drivers whiz by in the ending lane and merge ahead of you in line. It feels like they are cheating, but they aren’t. When everyone merges early and gets in line politely, it slows things down for everyone because drivers aren’t using the full capacity of the road (one whole lane is empty long before it ends). Those drivers who are zipping ahead and ‘cutting’ in line are actually speeding things up for everyone. Thanks to them, traffic will flow smoother through the construction zone (and safer! There are fewer collisions when drivers merge late) and you will get to your destination faster.

• It’s not just your imagination--studies have shown that people take longer to leave a parking space when someone else is waiting for the spot. Interestingly, when queried, most people claim that they move faster when someone is waiting for their parking spot, but upon observation, it turns out they actually slow down. It’s as if the space suddenly becomes more valuable because someone else wants it.

• This one is obvious to anyone who has traveled internationally: The culture of a place is reflected in the way we drive. In Japan, a country of politeness and respect, traffic is a smooth and orderly affair. In Cameroon, where there is so much corruption that laws can’t be taken seriously, people drive more erratically. This is true on a more localized basis, as well. A “Pittsburgh Left” refers to left-turning drivers darting in front of oncoming traffic very quickly, just as the light turns green (zipping across before the oncoming cars have picked up speed). A “California Roll” (aka California Stop or a Sushi Stop) refers to slowing at stop signs, but not coming completely to a stop.

• In Finland, traffic fines were found to be unfair and regressive (they take up a larger part of a poor person’s income than a rich person’s) so they changed the laws so that fines are calculated based on after-tax income. This sliding-scale system means that some wealthy speeders have had to pay upwards of $50,000 for going 43 in a 25. Sounds outrageous to most Americans, but the Finns have resisted attempts to put caps on the fines. It is widely-supported there.

• We often think of big-rig trucks as being dangerous on the road, but in actuality, truckers tend to be very safe drivers. The problem is that those of us in personal vehicles drive badly around them. In most cases, when cars and semi-trucks collide, the car (or, rather, the driver in the car) is found to be at fault. One careful study found that in 70% of cases, the driver of the car had sole responsibility in the crash.

• In America, on average, someone dies in a fatal car crash every thirteen minutes. Roads are more dangerous at some times than others, however. In an average year, more people are killed on Saturday and Sunday from midnight to 3am than all those killed during those hours the rest of the week. In other words, just two nights account for the majority of deaths. The Fourth of July is, statistically, the most dangerous day of the year to be on the road. Superbowl Sunday is a big killer too, but only after the game, not before. And the traffic fatality rate is generally higher in the city with the losing team.

• In a highway or freeway, low-speed drivers are more likely to be involved in accidents than high-speed drivers. It doesn’t follow, however, that people who drive too slow are the problem and we should raise speed limits (as many have argued) or enforce minimum speed. That argument assumes that people who are going slowly are doing so because they want to and not because they need to for some reason (congested traffic, about to turn, experiencing some sort of vehicle problem, etc). Nearly half of rear-end crashes involve cars that have stopped--presumably for a good reason and not just to get in the way of people wanting to go fast.

• The “Grand Rapids Dip” is a term that refers to results from a study done in Grand Rapids, MI in the 1960s. The study found that people with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .01 to .04 actually drove more safely than those with a BAC of zero. This is because drivers who know they have had a drink or two are more aware of the possibility of impairment (and punishment), so they are drive more cautiously. Alcohol affects driver performance, but also driver behavior. Which would you rather encounter on the road? The sober driver on his cell phone speeding off to a meeting or a mildly-impaired driver watching carefully for obstacles and obeying the speed limit?

• Crash statistics have shown that more people die in car crashes in America who aren’t wearing seatbelts than those who are wearing seatbelts, even though 80% of Americans wears seatbelts all the time. It’s not just that drivers are less likely to survive a crash if they aren’t wearing a seatbelt. It is also true that the type of person who drives without buckling up is also more likely to speed and engage in aggressive driving behaviors, so their risk is multiplied.

• Feeling safe is a bad sign. If you are in a car that feels safe, on a road that feels safe, you are much more likely to engage in unsafe behavior such as speeding and driving aggressively. This is why roundabouts have turned out to be such a great thing, even though drivers don’t like them. Because we are unaccustomed to roundabouts and because they are fairly complex to navigate, we have to slow down, be alert, and drive cautiously through them (usually grumbling about how dangerous they are the whole time). In a regular, lighted intersection, we pay very little attention to what is going on; we just drive when the light turns green and hope no one else is doing it wrong. So the roundabout feels more dangerous, but is actually much safer. Likewise, when we drive in cars that feel safe (trucks, SUVs, etc), we tend to start to drive more dangerously in reaction to that feeling of safety. Studies have shown that people using studded snow tires drive faster in the snow than those without--though they have some added traction, they more than compensate for that benefit by driving less carefully.

I’ve gone on too long now, I know. There are so many other good points in the book (I didn’t even go into the stuff about why driving in super-congested Delhi is relatively safe and why driving in Montana is so dangerous!), but how about instead of me writing them out one by one, you just go out and get the book for yourself?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Time for a Chill

Been awhile since I posted. It's not just post-election super-delight satiation, either. I'm afraid it's more conventional than that: I've been busy. And so has everyone else I know. I don't know if it is some kind of pre-holiday rush or what, but it seems everyone I'm around these days is running around like crazy, including my dear husband who is heading into finals week at Eastern and suffering from the usual almost-end-of-term-oh-please-god-when-will-it-end malaise.

So, we are all due for a bit of a chill-out. I say, sit down somewhere comfy, sip some chilled white wine (I know it is unseasonable, but you can't properly chill out with red wine, it's too warm & spicy), and listen to this mix tape I made just for you!

Mixwit make a mixtapeMixwit mixtapes

Friday, November 7, 2008

The International Response

"This is the fall of the Berlin Wall times ten," Rama Yade, France's junior minister for human rights, told French radio. "On this morning, we all want to be American, so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes."

"This may be the beginning of a new world. It marks the end of old elites and opens the door for new approaches worldwide," an Israeli man in his mid-50s said in Tel Aviv.

"I want to congratulate you on Barack Obama's victory that really turned a new chapter in the world's history -- that an African-American man, decent and intelligent, became president of the world," one Iranian said. "This was done in America. Your nation has the credit for it."

All quotes from here.

Doesn't it feel like, in some ways, the change we've been hoping for has already arrived? It's a global paradigm shift. I don't know that I ever realized I'd live to see a day when I was not just proud, not blindly patriotic, but actually joyful about our commander-in-chief.

On the other hand, some changes are still to come. After all, my spell checker still wants me to change "Obama" to "Osama".

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Times They are a Changin'

Thinking Ahead

I found this comment posted on and thought I'd share it:

I am 22 and I'd like to capture my thoughts before America either elects a president who its first 26 presidents could have legally owned, or brazenly subverts the very ideals it was founded upon by manipulating numbers in a final embarrassingly overt goosestep towards corporate totalitarianism.

I am nervous. And not night-before-the-swim-test nervous or even night-you-lose-your-virginity nervous, it's a low rumbling primal panic which I can only liken to Star Wars panic. Disney panic. The edge-of-your-seat-terror that makes you wonder if Skywalker's doomed after he refuses to join Darth Vader and drops down into the abyss, if the wicked octopus or grand vizier or steroid-pumping-village-misogynist is going to wed/kill/skin the dashing prince and then evil people in dark funny costumes are going to take over the world... if it wasn't a movie of course.

And tonight it's not. It's not a movie and yet I feel like Obama might as well be wearing an American flag cape while a decaying McCain, in a high-tech robotic spider wheelchair wearing an eyepatch and stroking an evil cat, gives orders to a sexy scheming Palin who marches back and forth through their sub-terranian campaign lair in four inch thigh-highs and full-body black leather catsuit bossing around the evangelical ants with a loooooong whip... umm... is this just me?

Anyway, the point is that things feel weird folks. I have friends who have peed in waterbottles to keep from interrupting a Halo-playing marathon who got off their asses/couches to volunteer for the Obama campaign not once, but many times. Friends so cheap their body content is at least 1/3 Ramen Noodle who donated a good deal of their hard-earned cash to the campaign. People have registered to vote in record numbers, and yet, something just doesn't feel right. I think we should stop congratulating ourselves for just voting. To vote is a privilege which people have died for, and I think there's a whole lot more to be done for the country than to simply help win an election every 4 years.

Hundreds of millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of man-hours spent on both sides by good-intentioned people who want to make a difference in an historic election, so many resources and voices and energies devoted to a single day. After tomorrow, half of that is going to have been a waste. And I can't help but wonder what could have happened if all that muscle had been put towards something else, and what will happen to its momentum after the election has come and gone. Shouldn't we be donating our money to good causes whenever we can? Helping people who don't have? Dedicating some of our time to contribute to making the country which provides for us a better place? Of course a power shift is a hugely significant step on the path to great reform, but worrying about this election has been a wakeup call for me:

Even if Obama wins, we have not "won." This isn't a movie and we can't toss every greedy lobbyist oil fatcat bigot down a reactor shaft. I think if we dedicate ourselves to the ongoing welfare of the country as much as we have to the outcome of this election, we'll have a much better shot at coming closer to the overwhelming good the liberals hope Obama will usher in, but which no mere mortal could fully realize alone.

Which brings me to the other side. I've heard a lot of people claim that if McCain wins, they're leaving. I heard the same thing about Bush's reelection, and his unelection before that, and nobody seems to be leaving. And that's fine. Because as much as I complain about certain political happenings, atrocities, etc., I really do like it here and I suspect most other people do too. We have New York and Hollywood, purple mountain's majesty and sea to shining sea, we created jazz and country music and baseball and cars and lightbulbs and computers and that movie with hundreds of animated singing Chihuahuas! I mean who among the shivering Plymouth pilgrims ever imagined ordering hundreds of animated singing chihuahuas onto a magical box from an invisible information superweb?

The point being, if things don't turn out the way I want tomorrow, I feel compelled, as a college-graduated adultish-type-person, to take a stand. And if I'm going to leave I'm going to leave. But if I'm going to stay I'm not going to sit around whining like I have for the past 8 years. It's like when I don't clean my room because it's dirty and then I blame the dirt. So in my very indecisive way, before you and your screen, I'm declaring my intention to make some kind of stand in the event of -(Ican'tevensayit)-, and encouraging you to consider making one too...

Jump the ship or grab a bucket?
Wasn't everything so much easier back when the worst possible affront to your values was a PB&J sandwich cut diagonally with crust?

Anyways, I guess what I'm saying is that if we're going to stay on board, we should probably be generous with our time and resources when times are tough even more than when the hero saves the day. Because what if he doesn't? And what if he can't? "Yes we can" should mean more than just winning an election if we're really committed to change.

Hannah Friedman

Read more from Hannah here.