Monday, July 4, 2011

My Honeymoon with Kaka

So at this public place where I pour my heart and soul into issues of social significance, I've attached pics of Kaka, hoping to draw the increased traffic of celebrity chasers who are also interested in examining human nature and improving public policy. (One of my many untapped demographics.)

Me and the Mrs. were in Taormina, Sicily for our honeymoon. At first I just thought Kaka was just your average rich guy with a neck brace, seeing through his worker's comp scam in case the Italian authorities saw him living it up on the beach. It wasn't until he played soccer with his son in the square that I realized who he was. I didn't want to bother him by getting too close, but I noticed in my other pics (ones came out much crappier than the one above) that people were standing and kneeling 3 feet from him to take their mementos. So I effed that one up. This other one is from the beach. He seems like a pretty cool guy, even if he looks like he's letting himself go. He was really enjoying the days with his family, playing with his children and what not. Makes sense he has the reputation for being so nice.

I also want to take this opportunity to expound on the importance of a guide book you can trust. Rick Steves is my guy, but he doesn't have a Siciliy Book. So I had to take the Lonely Planet people at their word. And anyone who would describe Palermo as having a "magnificent disorganization" and Cefalu as a "postcard pretty town" is not someone I want planning my trips. These places are dilapidated towns on an incredibly beautiful coast. Most people don't want to travel half way around the world to see Tijuana, Mexico. I wish there was a disclaimer on the cover that said "for pretentious travelers whose enjoyment comes from going off the beaten path just for the sake of doing so." Although it's food recommendations were right on. Anyways, I'm not sure what to do when I next travel to a country Rick Steves doesn't cover. Let me know if you have any recommendations. And I've also attached a pic of my beautiful bride here just to brag.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Freedom Doesn't Mean You Have to Be a Dick: Driving

There's a side character in Jonathan Franzen's Freedom who won't let anyone pass on the highway. It's a revealing anecdote of America's hyper-competitive culture, and reflective of many similar driving experiences I've had. Contrast this to my experiences driving in Germany, where cars move on the autobahn like it's a well-orchestrated ballet. The left lane is left open unless you're passing, and slower cars almost always move immediately to the right. It's a social norm that's rigidly followed for the greater good. And while there are dicks who drive in Germany, there aren't as many who take a passing car as a personal challenge to their manhood.

Part of this American reluctance to let people pass may be explained by the unnecessarily low (and often ignored speed limits). People are probably keeping the faster drivers going accorded to the posted speed limits, or at what they regard as the appropriate speed. But there are better mechanisms for enforcing the law, like cameras. And again, Germany should serve as a good example. In the more congested ares and on the smaller highways and city streets, Germany has a speed limit that's strictly enforced. After being caught by a camera, I got a 25 euro ticket for going 2 km too fast. I was annoyed, but 25 euros isn't too bad. It's an efficient system. They let you drive as fast as you want in certain areas. But where there's a speed limit, it's there for a reason and you better follow it or else a camera will catch you and give you a reasonable fine.

I can think of many Americans who would lose their shit over getting a ticket in the same circumstances: a camera catching me for going about 1 mph over the limit. There was even a ballot proposal in my hometown that preemptively banned the use of red light cameras at intersections despite the increased safety they offer. That second link is a good indicator of the craziness we're dealing with as a nation. People are somehow claiming red light cameras increase red light running. That's like claiming more firefighters lead to more fires. We all know fewer people would run red lights if they got a ticket every time they did. People make up facts to win arguments, but it's insane how easily accepted these crazy facts are in our country and how they can lead to unwise public policy. I now obey the German speed limit a lot better than I used to because I know there's a good chance I'll get a fine if I don't.

So move over when someone wants to go faster than you. Put red light and speed cameras up to increase traffic safety. And make speed limits more rational, because most people go over 55 or 65 mph and enforcing the law when someone is going with the flow of traffic seems arbitrary. Simple steps to a better society really. Maybe then we could use the revenue to fix potholes, put in better mass transit options, or just have safer roads. Or maybe we can pretend red light and speed cameras increase accidents, lead to socialism, and take us away from the laissez-faire paradise where optimal traffic safety is achieved through drivers acting in their perceived self-interest.