Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Mini-Rant and A Couple of Other Things

It’s been written that the definition of Puritanism is “the fear that someone, somewhere, is having a good time.” That was the first thing I thought when I read this (“No Need for Speed”):

SPEEDING is the cause of 30 percent of all traffic deaths in the United States — about 13,000 people a year. By comparison, alcohol is blamed 39 percent of the time, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But unlike drinking, which requires the police, breathalyzers and coercion to improve drivers’ behavior, there’s a simple way to prevent speeding: quit building cars that can exceed the speed limit.

Most cars can travel over 100 miles an hour — an illegal speed in every state. Our continued, deliberate production of potentially law-breaking devices has no real precedent. We regulate all sorts of items to decrease danger to the public, from baby cribs to bicycle helmets. Yet we continue to produce fast cars despite the lives lost, the tens of billions spent treating accident victims, and a good deal of gasoline wasted. (Speeding, after all, substantially reduces fuel efficiency due to the sheering force of wind.)


Because the ticket-them-till-they-stop approach simply would not work, we might consider my initial recommendation: build cars that can’t exceed the speed limit. The technology to limit car speed has existed for more than 50 years — it’s called cruise control. In its common application, cruise control maintains a steady speed, but a minor adjustment would assure that vehicles, no matter the horsepower, never go past 75 miles per hour. This safety measure should be required of every new automobile, the same as seat belts, turning signals, brake lights and air bags.

Sure, it would take us longer to get from here to there. But thousands of deaths a year are too great a cost for so adolescent a thrill as speeding.

Well, check that. Puritanism was the second thing I thought… stupidity… sheer abject frickin’ idiocy… was actually the first. I’ve been kinda waiting for the do-gooders among us to resurrect that brilliant idea from the ‘70s: the national 55 mph speed limit. Gas crisis, conservation of our precious resources, and all that. But even the most controlling of the control freaks haven’t seriously advanced that idea. Yet.

But this lil op-ed took me completely by surprise. The author, Kent Sepkowitz, is the vice-chairman of medicine at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, which is located in Manhattan. That one fact makes me question if Mr. Sepkowitz even owns a car… many New Yorkers do not. And even if Mr. Sepkowitz does own a car, he still lives in NYC, which is in New York state, which is on the East Coast… and which is a totally different driving environment than what we who live in The Great Wide Open know and love. The difference is congestion. It’s pretty hard to speed consistently when you’re on the expressway experiencing the thrill of near grid-lock with several million other drivers. The same thing holds true for residents of other cities, particularly places like Los Angeles. It’s just danged near impossible to speed. Such is not the case in this part of the world and in other, more populated places in the Great Wide Open like Omaha, just to cite one example.

There are other flaws in Mr. Sepkowitz’ “speed kills” assertion, chief among them is the omission of the conditional argument. Speed, in and of itself, does not and cannot kill. Going too fast for conditions… e.g., rain, snow, ice, fog… most certainly can and does kill. It’s a judgment issue. So, in typical do-gooder fashion, Mr. Sepkowitz wants to penalize the majority of us who exercise good judgment to protect the yahoos who don’t. And then there’s the classic example of Germany’s autobahn, world-famous for its lack of speed limits (even though there’s a movement afoot in Germany to end that). The autobahn is, statistically speaking (deaths per mile traveled), safer than any American highway. And one can drive 150 mph on the “uncontrolled” portions if you have a car that’s capable of that speed and the inclination to do so. I know this from personal experience and…amazingly enough… I’m alive to tell the tale.

Which brings up another issue. It’s much more difficult to get a drivers license in Germany and most other countries outside of America. If one would tighten up the licensing requirements in these United Sates, our highway death toll would drop, and drop significantly. Inexperience is a key factor in accidents, probably as much, if not more so, than simple speed. Increasing the rigor of our auto safety inspections would also help. Doing 75 mph on bald tires isn’t exactly a good idea, you know, and the same thing goes for deficient brakes, loose suspension, worn out shocks… yadda, yadda, yadda. I cringe when I see some of the beaters on our roads, no matter what speed they’re being driven.

But noooo… what we really need to do is put speed governors on all our cars. God Save Us from Mr. Sepkowitz and his ilk. Keep working on the cure for cancer, Mr. Sepkowitz, and leave my frickin’ car ALONE, thankyouverymuch.


A couple more from My Bud Ed in FloridaBattle of the Sexes Division:


She's sitting at the table with her gourmet coffee. Her son is on the cover of the Wheaties box. Her daughter is on the cover of Business Week. Her boyfriend is on the cover of Playgirl. And her husband is on the back of the milk carton.


A man walks into a pharmacy and wanders up & down the aisles. The sales girl notices him and asks him if she can help him. He answers that he is looking for a box of tampons for his wife. She directs him down the correct aisle.

A few minutes later, he deposits a huge bag of cotton balls and a ball of string on the counter.

She says, confused, “Sir, I thought you were looking for some tampons for your wife?”

He answers, “You see, it's like this. Yesterday I sent my wife to the store to get me a carton of cigarettes and she came back with a tin of tobacco and some rolling papers, cause it's sooo-ooo--oo-ooo much cheaper. So I figure if I have to roll my own… so does she.”

(I figure this guy is the one on the milk carton!)

There were more, but I’m saving ‘em for a rainy day.


Today’s Pic: The first photo of SN1 in The Sandbox, taken sometime yesterday. He assures me more are forthcoming. Note the amazing amount of dust (for a military environment) and the sandbagged window. Interesting, eh?


  1. I always wonder how my husband lived for three years in Germany and drove all the time and here he scares the hell out of me anywhere we go !

    Nice picture of your son,I have tons like that too ..dust dust everywhere !

  2. Nail, head. The "test" you have to pass to get a driver's license in Massachusetts is, to put it mildly, pitiful. If they stopped handing out licenses as though they were prizes from a box of Crackerjacks, we'd not only have fewer fatalities, but fewer traffic jams, less road rage, etc.

    However, the state (and not just Mass.) has a steady stream of income derived from motor vehicle licensing, inspections, ticketing, and all other related areas. So, what's a few deaths when compared to that?

    Excuse the cynicism, Buck, but you hit on something that pisses me off no end. Thanks for letting me add my mini-rant to yours.

  3. Okay, Buck. I admit it. I laughed about the tampon joke.

  4. I live in Folsom, in which people drive like a-holes. Is it the high per capita income? The nice cars with big engines that go with the income? Something in the water? No, I'll tell you what it is. You need to go somewhere 20 miles away, it's gonna be pretty tough to get there in less than 40 minutes. The a-holish behavior you see, is people trying. They're making up the time they've been forced to spend not moving, or moving slowly, by putting lives at risk.

    Two traffic lights will be twenty yards apart. And then the next one will be a quarter mile away. Add to that, the fact that Highway 50 will be of no use to you in going from one place to another. Some, which means "most," trips are all through the backroads. It's not so much a poor design, as an old design, coupled with urban sprawl that wasn't envisioned. And this is true throughout the area.

    I agree with you the person who wrote those sentiments probably doesn't own a car. In fact, I'd really like to see someone who does own a car, and makes a living writing about 'em, do a high quality scrutinizing study about this "traffic calming" stuff we're trying to import from yoo-rupp. I'm told these devices save lives. Well, we have our own "traffic calming" built into the terrain, and what I see resulting from it is the exact opposite. I'm a big believer in personal responsibility...you drive like a MOW-RAWN, you're making a decision to be one, and you & you alone are accountable to that...but there is such a thing as encouraging mow-rawnik behavior. Anyone who wants to see how that's done, come on over.

  5. I'd like to see within that statistics how many of those 13,000 deaths were related to ADOLESCENT drivers speeding.

    In CT, we've had so many notorious accidents with newly minted drivers in cars that are far too powerful for them. In the most notable - which resulted in changes to CT laws about teenage driving - 3 boys went out in a BMW; first day with the license. Last day for all of them. The driver was speeding on a 2 lane country road and lost control on a curve, striking a cement wall. But not before he also hit another car head on, killing the driver - a father of 3. 4 people died because the teenage driver was not even 17, in a car MUCH too powerful for him and lacked experience in driving at night.

    I'm with SulDog on this - big hot button for me. Driving is a priviledge, not a right. It's about time states recognized that and changed how licenses are given out.

    Part of this is parental involvement as well - the parents of the kid wit the BMW should have NEVER let him have that car, period.

    And now they have to live with 4 deaths on their conscience as a result of their lack of direct involvement.

  6. They came for helmetless riders (motorcycles AND bicycles). They came for smokers. They came for the fat people. They came for drinkers.

    They've long been coming for drivers, a little here, a little there.

    Who are "they?" and why'd we give them so much control? Blech.

    What else in Today's Pic? A nice-sized monitor and speakers: sweet!

    AC: Double sweet. Nevertheless that face looks kinda shiny. Fresh in from PT perhaps?

    Push-button generation telephone: rugged.

    Captain Pennington, if you happen by here, what's in the styrofoam leftovers container, and what book is that, both over your left shoulder?

    Whatever you're doing over there, wherever you are, thanks to you and to the folks working for you.

  7. Jenn sez: I always wonder how my husband lived for three years in Germany and drove all the time and here he scares the hell out of me anywhere we go !

    The interesting thing about driving in Germany is the fact that Americans' poor driving skills (a generalization, to be sure, but an accurate one) are in such stark contrast to those of the Germans. The Americans are generally clue-free, compared to their hosts. And the Germans routinely give Americans WIDE berth on the roads, as our cars are easily identified by their distinctive "US Forces" plates... or they used to be, anyway.

    Jim sez: Excuse the cynicism, Buck, but you hit on something that pisses me off no end. Thanks for letting me add my mini-rant to yours.

    We're on EXACTLY the same page, Jim. I could have gone on (and on!) on this particular subject, but brevity... and all that.

    Michelle sez: Okay, Buck. I admit it. I laughed about the tampon joke.

    Good On Ya, Michelle!

    Morgan: I think your point has a lot to do with poor engineering on our secondary roads, right? In which case: agreed. One manifestly GREAT idea we could import from Europe is the roundabout, as a replacement for the ubiquitous stop sign. Much more efficient, and sporting, too ("sporting" in the sense of the timing required to merge into a heavily trafficked one, and the speed and "line" one can take to get through one as expeditiously as possible, in the absence of traffic.). But then again, I've encountered the odd roundabout (or "rotary," as they tend to be known in New England) here and there... and, as usual, us 'Murcans seem bewildered about the concept.

    Digressions 'R' Us.

    Kris sez: I'm with SulDog on this - big hot button for me. Driving is a priviledge, not a right. It's about time states recognized that and changed how licenses are given out.

    I KNOW this is one of your hot buttons, as I've read your posts on the subject. And you (we) are correct.

    Reese sez: Who are "they?" and why'd we give them so much control? Blech.

    Answer: The One and all his friends. Prepare for more of the same if we find ourselves in the unfortunate... no, catastrophic... position of having to deal with an Obama presidency.

    As for Buck's "glow"... he might have just come in off the flight line; he does his PT in the mornings, and not in uniform...AFAIK. I shudder to think about the conditions on the flight line there, and have a lot of sympathy/empathy for those working there. OTOH, the conditions are probably a lot better compared to any dogface or jarhead (said with loving respect, and I mean that) walking a patrol or cooped up in a non-AC'ed humvee for hours at a time.

  8. Oh hell, I had zero problem getting my license in Germany and yet... I had to take drivers ed here...and the Germans...yeah they paid like 2k to get theirs....and I did drive over 130-140 mph NOT KPH, MPH...and lived to tell the tale...of course returning to the US posed problems...I had issues being on the roads 15 hours later and not doing the 120mph thing.... When there is an accident in Germany on the autobahn, you die...you simply do not walk away from an accident where you hit much going 120mph....and so, most KNOW how to maneuver a vehicle at those speeds...you drive 30mph here in the states and most idiots on the road can't figure out how to check a blind spot, much less know they have one, because at age 18 they are exempt from having to take a driving test....but in Germany....people USE public transportation for a reason, they don't have the 2k to shell out for their licenses.....it is going to cost me 10.00 for the packet to certify me as the teacher of my children to drive...YAY MOM....and then they have to have 40 hours behind the wheel and wallah, congrats you can drive....some great driving tactic...I mean, really I could lie on the affidavit and swear they have done the driving, couldn't I....and then I'd put a couple more idiot women drivers on the road who would, hurt themselves or someone else. You don't have to speed to be dangerous.....you just have to hit someone else. Now as far as the speed limits go...yeah, the highway that goes through out city (gotta love this state)...it allows you to stay off the side roads and make it from one side of town to the other in about 5 minutes, is 65 mph....get on the highway, highway and it goes up to 80mph....and dude wants to limit it to 75mph....he needs to get out more...last time I was in NYC...now granted it was in 92, right before the WTC was bombed the first time, and I was walking faster then the traffic...so I'm thinking his vehicle wouldn't make it over 7.5 mph much less 75mph...in MD, the speeds just went up to like 60mph and they fought for years to get it raised, my whole life it was 55 and they ticket you at 56.....

    But heaven forbid you make anyone go back and get a new test if they are older....here if you have to have your license renewed, at a certain age, they really start looking at your ability/inability to be a good driver....every time I've been hit it's been by someone young enough to be my kid or my great grand parent...goes to show you what generation seems to have the better driving ability (well unless you add in road rage, back hills drinking and my husband's hick extended KY family that lives in a dry county :D)

    Great photo, looks all settled in, with standard 15 pads of post it notes and all :D

  9. Did you get one of those international drivers licenses while in Germany, ASW, or a USAREUR/USAFE license? My ex gave the auto club five or ten bucks in the states before we went to England and got an international license... no questions asked, other than "show me your current license."

    I hear ya about adapting to our traffic laws when returning to the US. It's kinda hard to get used to driving on the right side of the road again, after spending three years driving on the "proper side," as our Brit friends say. Same thing after coming home from Japan, too.

    But heaven forbid you make anyone go back and get a new test if they are older....

    I renewed my TX license last year and I'm good to go until age 68. Not sure what happens then... but I'm ALL up for re-testing, as long as I can drive MY car, LOL.

  10. Reese,

    Thanks for the nice comments! Always appreciated!

    The content of the styrofoam was a nectarine from the chow hall, which I enjoyed a lot. I just cleaned the office today and for the life of me can't remember what book was on that shelf. All I know is there isn't anything there anymore. I'm happy to say the office is much more representative of my "normal" operating environment.


  11. Good Rant! :-) These mouthbreathers don't care about anything but their little personal space and assume we should all kow-tow to them...

    Personally, I like all the Prius drivers, they save fuel so I don't have to!

    Thanks for your service.


Just be polite... that's all I ask.