Friday, November 30, 2018

Ask a Middle-Aged Guy

Dear Middle-Aged Guy,

Why can’t I take a pee without having to endlessly shake?

Tom G, Brooklyn, NY

Dear Timmy G,

Assuming you haven’t always had this problem, it’s likely related to benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). You know: prostate enlargement. Essentially the prostate puts pressure on the urethra, which is like stepping on a garden hose. According to this article, BPH can also cause that dribbling at the end, possibly because your bladder just isn’t quite empty even though you think you’re done.

You didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway, how you might deal with this (without resorting to medical intervention). For one, you can just slow down and not try to “pee-‘n’-flee” like a teenager. Another technique is called “urethral milking” which I refuse to try to describe in these pages. Click here for details.

It may be worth noting that the need to shake your unit might only seem like a middle age thing. Maybe as a youngster you just weren’t paying attention to the fact that you were scattering drops of urine all over the bathroom like a priest with his aspergillum. I know for a fact that at the tender age of 17 I was already having trouble with dribbling. I wrote a poem at that time that included these lines: 
Relax, because you’ve earned your potty break;
Unburden your poor bladder of its pee.                       
And when you’re done you’ll shake and shake and shake;
An effort all in vain, it seems to me.
    For urine flow can never really stop,
    Until your undies drink the final drop.
By the way, I’m aware of one other cause of BPH that doesn’t require medical intervention: it can be a side effect of certain cold or allergy medicines. Try going off them, and then decide if sneezing all the time is preferable to dribbling.

Dear Middle-Aged Guy,

I’m only in my forties, but I’d swear my vision is going. I keep thinking the lights are turned down low, but I try the dimmer switch and it’s already all the way up. Everything just seems so damned dim these days! Am I crazy, or could I be getting cataracts already?

Scott W, Phoenix, AZ

Dear Scott,

According to the National Eye Institute, “people can have an age-related cataract in their 40s and 50s. But during middle age, most cataracts are small and do not affect vision.” It’s also possible you have some other issue, like optic neuritis—but don’t take my word for it. I’m not a freakin’ doctor, I’m just a middle-aged guy! Go get an eye exam. (Even if you’re one of those genetic freaks who have 20/20 vision, you should get an exam every year, to screen for glaucoma and other ocular problems.)

Dear Middle-Aged Guy,

I felt grumpy about all my physical infirmities, but then I read about how until relatively recently, the human lifespan was only like forty years. Now I’m just grateful I’m still going strong at forty-six, like I’m defying evolution or something! I guess this isn’t exactly a question, but I thought you and your readers might like to know.

Howard M, Topeka, KS

Hi Howard,

Not to be a dick or anything, but that whole forty-year lifespan notion is kind of bogus. According to this article, the 40-something  life expectancy figure is distorted by the decrease over time in the infant mortality rate, which used to skew the life expectancy significantly downward. With this factored out, the human lifespan has remained largely constant for the last 2,000 years. The ancient Greeks, for example, routinely made it into their seventies (at least, those who achieved adulthood).

This isn’t to say we haven’t made strides in quality of life as we age. I trust your infirmities are well under control and you’re still getting around just fine. Hang in there, Howie!

Dear Middle-Aged Guy,

Why are Brundlefly-like hairs growing like crazy out of my ears and nose these days? It’s unbelievable! I swear I’m wearing out the motor on my electric trimmer!

Daniel W, Bend, OR

Dear Daniel,

What you have observed is the Law of Conservation of Male Hair. Men’s hair can neither be created nor destroyed—only transferred or transformed. This means all the hair that’s disappearing from your forehead has to go somewhere, so it migrates down your back and into your nostrils and ears. It’s completely normal, though also completely annoying.

By the way, you may have noticed your electric trimmer often conks out. It may seem as though it has a short circuit, but actually, it’s just that the blades are getting jammed. Take apart the little blade thingy, rinse it, and then lube the blades up with a little olive oil. It’s like magic!

Dear Middle-Aged Guy,

What exactly does “middle-aged” mean, anyway?

Janet G, Boise, ID

Dear Janet,

I assume you’re looking for something more helpful than the dictionary definition (“the period between early adulthood and old age, usually considered as the years from about 45 to 65”). Middle age is generally considered the time when life stops improving and we start to complain a lot. According to Wikipedia, “Experiencing a sense of mortality, sadness, or loss is common at this age.” On the flip side, according to most middle-aged men Wikipedia is full of shit.

That said, in middle age we men do become more prone to being maudlin, morose, misanthropic, and/or drunk. The Strokes song “On the Other Side” captures all four traits: “I hate them all, I hate them all/ I hate myself for hating them/ So I drink some more, I love them all/ I drink even more/ I hate them even more than I did before.”

So, Janet, if you have a man in your life, make sure he gets plenty of love and not too much booze. One of the researchers in a famous decades-long Harvard study on happiness concluded that six factors predicted healthy ageing: “physical activity, absence of alcohol abuse and smoking, having mature mechanisms to cope with life’s ups and downs, and enjoying both a healthy weight and a stable marriage.”

A few years ago my young daughter asked me, “Daddy, can a person die of middle age?” All I could offer in response was, “I hope not.”

Dear Middle-Aged Guy,

Everybody keeps telling me I need to exercise as I get older, but half the dudes I know end up maiming themselves—torn rotator cuffs, tendonitis, bone fractures, ACL tears, concussions … is it even worth it?

Spencer T, Los Angeles, CA

Dear Spencer,

There’s no simple answer for this, but I have a few opinions. First of all, if you’ve never been particularly fit, this might not be a great time to take up a new sport … the inevitable newbie mishaps can really injure you now whereas a kid or young adult might walk them off. On the flip side, even if you were a crackerjack soccer or basketball player in your youth, that doesn’t mean your body can still handle all those crazy moves. Stick with non-contact sports. Swimming, yoga, biking (if you already know what you’re doing), and hiking would probably be better than, say, hockey or rugby.

Dear Middle-Aged Guy,

People used to say “forty is the new thirty” and now it’s “fifty is the new forty,” etc. How long will this age deflation continue, and when is it time to cry bullshit?

Buck H, Aurora, CO

Dear Buck,

It doesn’t actually matter how you feel, and it doesn’t even matter how you look. All that matters is how you’re perceived. It’s all well and good that my doctor told me, “You’re not old yet—you’re still young.” Who was he to judge? He’s so old he just retired! What really matters is what the young think of us. And they couldn’t care less whether we’re forty vs. fifty vs. sixty. We’re all just old.

You want proof? I was chatting about the different James Bonds with my teenaged kids. My older daughter likes Daniel Craig pretty well, but complained that he’s too old. Ouch! He’s only a year older than I am! And what’s worse, my daughter declared this after seeing “Casino Royale,” which was made when Craig was only 38! I asked her how old Bond ought to be. She said, “I dunno … like, 22?” Unbelievable.

Dear Middle-Aged Guy,

When I was young, my dad couldn’t stand my music—and I’m talking about good, solid bands like the Clash, Depeche Mode, U2, the Police, the Smiths, Talking Heads, etc. He said it was “just noise,” and blah, blah, blah. I swore I would be more open-minded, and, you know, cooler, when I reached my forties. But now I’m just as disdainful of modern music as my dad was. Is this just an inevitable part of ageing?

Tucker L, Minneapolis, MN

Dear Tucker,

It’s not you—it’s them. The bands. Most of them just totally suck! Look, my dad couldn’t stand any of the rock music I liked as a teen, either … he stopped trying out new music when he hit his 20s, which meant he was stuck with The Mommas & The Papas, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul & Mary. He couldn’t really handle any rippin’ guitars, killer drum solos, or (gasp) profanity. But my problem with modern music is that it’s too weak.

For decades I’ve been listening, on and off, to our local Bay Area alternative station, Live 105. I never loved it but it was okay. But now? They’ve renamed themselves “The New Alt 105” and half the music they play is by these emo weenies who really need to be slapped around. AJR, Twenty One Pilots, Imagine Dragons … even some outfit called Modest Mouse. What kind of name is “Modest Mouse” for a rock band? They’re all shamelessly weak and soft. And when I tour through the radio dial, smacking up against the likes of Maroon 5, I can’t believe how feeble, anodyne, and repetitive most of the music is.

In case you’re wondering if this is just my ossified middle-aged brain talking, my teenagers hate the modern music, too. Their brains are still supple so I trust their judgment … even if they shake their heads at my growing bald spot.

Dear Middle-Aged Guy,

I’m not one of you. I’m a teenager writing in to complain about my dad. He seems to think he’s actually cool, which makes it SO much lamer that he’s totally not. Can you just tell your readers to give it up already? This self-denial is really embarrassing to have to witness!

AA, Albany, CA

Dear AA,

Look, I get it: middle-aged men need to be realistic. But there’s a difference between trying too hard and just throwing in the towel. There is a breed of middle-aged man who is just totally clueless. For example, he may think that anything available from L.L. Bean is automatically a good sartorial choice, even raspberry-sherbet-colored pants. Or he whistles the theme to “Sesame Street” in a public place. He might wear a really nerdy hat—like, it’s the shape of a pith helmet, but is all fabric and miraculously folds up into a little pouch, which actually delights this fellow to the point that he sincerely expects to be admired for it. Or, he’ll decline to update his glasses frames, regardless of any consideration of fashion, to the point that he’s still wearing what Bill Gates gave up on as a relatively young adult.

Look at these two middle-aged men, flirting with the camera, trying to do duck lips (or is it sparrow face?) like a couple of Snapchatting teenagers, little realizing how stupid their glasses (okay, full disclosure: their late father’s glasses) look.

My advice? Cut your dad some slack. Things could be so, so much worse. Let him pretend to have dignity, and when absolutely necessary just coach him a little (for example, stop him if he thinks he’s allowed to use words like “extra” the way teens do).

Dear Middle-Aged Guy,

As the actual end of my life grows ever nearer on the horizon, I find myself frequently lost in reflection. And the thing I ponder the most is: at what point did I realize that it is just much easier to roll over and take it rather than put up a good fight?

“AAA-cell,” Bend, OR

Dear AAA-cell,

First off, I hear you. A sense of futility is, I think, a natural reaction to everything being more difficult than it has ever been before. Certain basic actions—such as trying to fold a fitted sheet, searching in vain for your phone charger, attempting to form a complete sentence without losing track of a key word, or even just sleeping soundly through the night—suddenly seem insurmountable.  Needless to say, the difficult things we’re asked to do—fixing a leaking faucet, writing up career goals for the new year, or mastering  a new enterprise software application—are utterly soul-crushing. (A middle-aged manager of mine fought valiantly against an SAP CRM application, grew increasingly frustrated, and ultimately declared, “Maybe I’ll just resign.” Which he then did.)

All this being said, I challenge your suggestion that there was a specific point at which you gave up. I don’t believe middle age is like a tsunami that suddenly overwhelms us. It’s more like a relentless lapping of waves, all these constant and predictable forces that slap against us again and again. So you probably haven’t actually rolled over, at least not for good. Maybe you’re just temporarily curled up in the fetal position while some big waves crash over you, and then the tide will go out, you’ll cough up a bunch of water, and things will get incrementally easier. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.

A Middle-Aged Guy is a syndicated journalist whose advice column, “Ask a Middle-Aged Guy,” appears in over 0 blogs worldwide.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

From the Archives - My Day in Court!


I recently described in these pages, in another “From the Archives” post, how I was busted by a cop for a bicycle infraction back in 1990. (If you missed it, you can catch up here.) Here’s the rest of the story: how I fought the ticket in court.

My day in Traffic Court — September 21, 1990

I used to be a morning person, back when I had a paper route. Not anymore, man … now 6 a.m. feels really harsh. I struggle to keep my eyes open as my roommate, a do-it-all grad student, chats merrily away. His words reach me through a thick haze. I’d still be blissfully asleep, except a dickhead cop gave me a ticket for a bicycle infraction last month and I have to go to court. The slip he handed me had a court date on it, but he said I’d get something in the mail giving me the option to just pay it. He didn’t know how much the ticket was for, and I still don’t … I never got anything in the mail. I’d probably be fighting this anyway, though. That’s just how I am.

The problem is, I have to go to court out near where I broke the law, which means Walnut Creek. I’m not about to bike all the way out there in street clothes so I have to take Bart, which sucks because I don’t exactly have that system dialed. And since they won’t let me bring my bike on Bart (this being the commute hour), I have to walk all the way from the station to the courthouse. And since I have to be there at 8, my morning is starting ungodly early.

Once I get there, I’ll have to be pleasant and obsequious, so I’ve decided to dress presentably. I put on khakis and this short-sleeve striped button-down Oxford shirt. I’m not saying this is a fashionable or even sharp-looking shirt; I suspect it’s actually a bit nerdy.  I bought it at Eaker’s years ago, which was probably the last time I ever went clothes shopping with my mom. I was in ninth grade, and spied one of my teachers in there. I pretended not to see her, and she returned the favor. I’m not sure but I think I’ve seen people smirk at me when I wear this shirt. (Of course, there’s a hundred other reasons people might smirk at me.) 

Naturally, being polite and deferential will just be a pose. Inwardly, I’m bristling at this ticket and at the law in general. So, to get myself in the proper frame of mind (i.e., defiantly assertive), as I scarf a bowl of corn flakes I listen to “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” by Public Enemy:
I got a letter from the government
The other day
I opened and read it
It said they were suckers
They wanted me for their army or whatever
Picture me givin’ a damn, I said never
Here is a land that never gave a damn
About a brother like me and myself
Because they never did
I wasn’t wit’ it, but just that very minute it
Occurred to me
The suckers had authority
It’s a great song, but doesn’t actually fit my situation very well. The military never asked me to serve, and I have no reason to suspect the government doesn’t care about me. That’s the problem with rap music: as much as I love it, it always reminds me how privileged and square and white I am. In my button-down Oxford shirt.

I get to the courtroom just before they start working their way through the docket. At registration I learn why I never got anything in the mail: the dickhead cop got my address wrong. Oh well! The fine is a whopping $81. At this news, I’m not actually that upset about the address screw-up. It’s totally worth fighting a fine this large, even though I might be here awhile. Could be ten minutes, thirty, or all day … it’s all down to luck.

The judge seems a lot cooler than the cop was. A 16-year-old kid who was busted for speeding, driving without a driver’s license, not having insurance, and driving with a cracked windshield is sentenced to a $500 fine and no license for two years. The judge asks him how he’ll raise the money, and the kid looks over at his mom. “Don’t look at her!” the judge snaps. Everybody laughs.

Next up is a young man busted for “exhibition of speed.” His defense: “Your honor, I was in a Ford Pinto.” The judge is not amused and gives the guy a good tongue-lashing about every car being dangerous when driven aggressively, etc. The guy loses his license, straight-up. Then there’s a college kid who ran a stop sign on his bike. His argument, amazingly enough, is that he doesn’t think a biker should have to obey all the same rules as a motorist. What a dip. The judge holds firm and says, “Now look here. My daughter just got her learner’s permit. You be more careful out there on your bike!”

I’ve worked a bit harder on my own defense. This isn’t the first time I’ve fought a bike ticket. The first time, my brother and I got popped for running a stop sign, but it was turning right onto a street that was closed down and had been barricaded off, for a bike race. My argument was that the cop wrote us up for doing 25 mph during the maneuver. I planned to say, “If the severity of the fine was based on the speed at which we supposedly did this, I have to question the officer’s estimate. Have you even tried to turn right at 25 mph on a bicycle while threading the needle between two barricades?” But in the event, I only got as far as, “My brother and I were riding to the San Luis Obispo criterium, and—” before the judge interrupted me: “Were you riding there to watch, or to compete?” I told him the latter, he reduced my fine to $20 on the spot, and I was done.

So I think as long as you have something to say besides “the law doesn’t apply to me” or “I was in a Ford Pinto,” you have a chance of getting the fine reduced. Today my argument is that the sign telling me to exit Highway 24 (which I’d failed to notice, hence my infraction) was in the wrong place. It’s close to a mile before the exit, which is great if you’re in a car doing 60, but not so much if you’re pedaling up the hill on a bike at under 10 mph. When my turn comes, I take the stand and the judge says, “I like your shirt.” Caught off-guard, I reply, “Um, excuse me, your honor?” He repeats, “I like your shirt.” I shrug and smile. “How about we lower this to $20?” he asks. Done! I’m going to hang on to this shirt. It’s like gold!

Standing in line to pay, I get to talking with a guy who just lost his license for a year for “minor in possession of alcohol.” I’d say most teenagers drink; this guy happened to get caught. He’s not that bent out of shape, though; in fact, he’s pretty mellow about it. “Yeah, I was sitting by the pool at my apartment complex drinking some beers,” he says, “and some neighbor lady called the cops. So they came out and busted me.” I ask how many beers. “A bunch,” he confesses, “but I wasn’t making any noise or anything, just drinking my beers.” Pretty crazy, huh? Dude’s not even driving a car when he gets busted, but the penalty is losing his license.

On my way walking back to Bart, the guy catches up to me and we talk some more. He’d been pulled over several times, and with the exception of the time he’d tried to outrun the police, they’d usually let him go because he was a Marine. “Put up with fifteen minutes of the cop recalling his glory days in the Corps,” he tells me, “and you’re off the hook.” He had some other alcohol‑related busts, though, so he was relegated from the Marines to the Army.

I ask him if he’s worried about the Kuwait situation, and he replies, “No, not really.” I ask if he thinks they might send him over to Desert Storm. “Yeah, I’m going in a week and a half,” he says. “That’s why I don’t really care about losing my license.” He says it like he’s going off to be a counselor at a day camp or something. But I guess that’s how it goes; he’s in the Army and fighting overseas is his job. Of course I ponder the paradox: he’s too young to legally drink beer, and has been deemed too irresponsible to drive a car, but he’s considered plenty ready to go kill people.

Our school paper recently interviewed some student ROTC reserves who are outraged about actually being called up to serve. In light of that flap, this guy’s attitude seems kind of refreshing. I can’t tell if his willingness is out of respect for authority—which would be ironic for someone who’s been in so much trouble—or because his friends are already there (which he did mention).

He gets my address and tells me he’ll write me about what it’s like on the front. I kind of doubt he actually will—I mean, doesn’t he have more important people, like family members, to write to?—but imagine if he did! That would make this $20 seem like a real bargain…

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Election Follies - A Proposition to Change Daylight Saving Time


It’s common, even typical, to be outraged after Election Day. But don’t worry, I’m not going to get all political on you. Discussing party politics is about as enjoyable as a botched colonoscopy. Either you agree with your confabulator, in which case the chat is pointless and boring, or you don’t, in which case he’s an idiot and you start to hate him.

That being said, on the recent California ballot there was one Proposition (a non-partisan one, I hasten to add) that was unspeakably moronic and had me gnashing my terrible teeth, roaring my terrible roar, and rending my garments—even before (gasp!) it passed by a wide margin. In this post I will explain what makes the argument for Proposition 7 so stupid; what a reasonable argument could have looked like; my conjecture about how it managed to pass; and why it will never come to anything beyond a waste of time for the California Legislature.

Why should we care? Because the victory of this Proposition suggests that maybe democracy isn’t such a good idea after all. Maybe we’re too stupid to vote and would be better off with a benign dictator.

What is Proposition 7?

Here is the title of Proposition 7 (the full text of which you can read online here): “Conforms California Daylight Saving Time to Federal Law. Allows Legislature to Change Daylight Saving Time Period. Legislative Statute.” Right off the bat, before the first word of the Proposition proper, we’re already being mislead.

“Conforms California Saving Time To Federal Law.” This is exactly the opposite of what Prop 7 seeks to do. California already conforms to federal law. Prop 7 seeks to pave the way for an exemption.

“Allows Legislature to Change Daylight Saving Time Period.” No it doesn’t. Only the federal government can allow this. Prop 7 merely allows the Legislature to ask the federal government to change its laws. And this Proposition is not trying to change the period, per se; it’s trying to do away with the concept of period entirely, by having the same time year round.

Later in the Proposition, the “Argument in Favor” says, “A YES vote on Proposition 7 allows California to consider making Daylight Saving Time or Standard Time our year-round time.” Again, this is not the intent of Prop 7. States can already choose to be on Standard Time year-round (as Arizona and Hawaii do). Prop 7 seeks to adopt Daylight Saving Time year-round. Why don’t the authors just state this outright? Who knows. Maybe they cynically hoped that confusion would help their chances.

The arguments for Prop 7

Whether or not permanent Daylight Savings is a good idea (more on this question later), the arguments provided by its proponents are complete bullshit. Let’s look at them.

University medical studies in 2012 found that the risk of heart attacks increases by 10% in the two days following a time change.” What university? How were these studies conducted? Why should anybody take this utterly ridiculous assertion at face value?

In 2016, further research revealed that stroke risks increase 8% when we change our clocks. For cancer patients the stroke risk increases 25% and for people over age 65 stroke risk goes up 20%.” Again, what research, by whom? Published where? Why not tack on some more groundless assertions? Like: “For people with more than two vowels in their names, constipation went up 79% in the 18 hours following the time change.” The fact that like 60% of Californians seemed to buy this crap makes me want to move.

If changing clocks presented this significant a health hazard, people who travel on business would be dropping like flies. When I fly to the East Coast, I’m changing my watch by three hours when I get there, and changing it again a few days later. That’s way more disruptive than changing my clock by one hour twice a year.

Meanwhile, if humans are so delicately tuned that changing the clocks presents significant health threats, what might be the effects of California being an hour ahead of the rest of the Pacific time zone for four months out of the year? Well, guess what: I just did a university study that found the risk of heart attacks will increase by 15% whenever the rest of our time zone changes its clocks and we don’t! For people who routinely attend conference calls, that risk increases by 30%! And when athletes from Washington and Oregon compete against those from California, concussion risk will more than double!

Changing our clocks twice a year increases our use of electricity 4% in many parts of the world, increases the amount of fuel we use in our cars, and comes with a cost of $434 million.” Okay, whoa whoa whoa. How does changing clocks increase our use of electricity 4% “in many parts of the world?” I spin the hands back on my clock, and the electricity going to my home increases in, like, China?

Look, Prop 7 assholes, the amount of fuel I use in my car varies only with the distance I have to drive and when I need to get where I’m going. This doesn’t change with DST.

And where does this weirdly specific $434 million figure come from? Wouldn’t any extra cost be at least marginally different when we spring forward vs. falling back? The Prop 7 authors don’t differentiate between springing forward and falling back, but they should. I am not alone in enjoying falling back. We get an extra hour of sleep, for one thing. Meanwhile, for a few days after this time change, when my body feels like it’s an hour later than the clock says, I have an easier time falling asleep at night, which is a real boon. And in the morning, when my circadian rhythms get me up before my alarm? That’s glorious! I’m up and around, I’m getting shit done—it’s like a better me! Contrast this to typical mornings when you’re snoozing your alarm again and again and feeling weak and worthless. I always find it a shame when I get used to the fall time change.

Since 2000, 14 countries have stopped changing their clocks. And now 68% of all the countries don't do it.” Okay, first of all, “stopped changing their clocks” doesn’t necessarily mean they went to full-time DST as this proposition aims to do. In many cases it means they stopped observing DST altogether. So it doesn’t even matter if the authors of Prop 7 pulled these numbers, too, out of their asses. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting which countries observe DST, isn’t it? I mean, should we blindly mimic whichever behaviors are the most widely adopted? Here’s a map (from Wikipedia) showing which countries observe DST:

Virtually the entire developed world observes DST only part of the year. Most of the countries abstaining are in the third world—hardly an ideal role model. The main exception is Russia, which tried out full-time DST from 2011 to 2014 before abandoning it, based on the people not liking it. Now they don’t observe DST at all (i.e., they do the opposite of what Prop 7 seeks to do).

Opponents of Proposition 7 can't dispute the scientific and economic facts showing that the changing of clocks twice a year is hazardous to our health and our economy.” What do you mean we “can’t”? I just did!

A legitimate argument for permanent DST

Oddly, there is at least one reasonable argument for switching to DST full-time: lowering violent crime. As cited here, “A study by the U.S. Law Enforcement Assistance Administration found that crime was consistently less during periods of Daylight Saving Time than during comparable standard time periods. Data showed violent crime down 10 to 13 percent. It is clear that for most crimes where darkness is a factor, such as muggings, there are many more incidents after dusk than before dawn, so light in the evening is most welcome.”

At least this factoid says who did the study. Not that it’s clear this study is legit; when I googled it, all I found were three different sources all trotting out the same three sentences you just read, verbatim, with no citation given. (Plagiarism increases 25% whenever we change our clocks!)

But at least the notion kind of makes sense. You’d expect a mugger to be a night owl, wouldn’t you? A lot more potential victims would be up and around at, say, 9 p.m. than 6 a.m. Violent crime just doesn’t seem like something a morning person would do.

So why didn’t the writers of Prop 7 advance this argument, which at least passes the sanity test? Beats me. Perhaps it didn’t occur to them … which begs the question, why would they want permanent DST to begin with? Another mystery.

What’s wrong with permanent DST?

Okay, I’ll grant you that the assortment of lousy justifications the Prop 7 folks gave for permanent DST doesn’t automatically mean it’s a bad idea. If a dumb kid touted Hawaii as a good vacation spot because you get to watch movies on the flight to Honolulu, you might not be swayed by his argument—but that doesn’t mean Hawaii isn’t lovely. So, could permanent DST be a fine idea, whether it prevents heart attacks or not?

Well, I’d prefer permanent DST to opting out of DST altogether. If we didn’t do DST at all, the sun would rise at 4:46 a.m. in mid-June in the Bay Area. That isn’t doing anybody any good (except cyclists who love to get in 80 miles before 9 a.m., but who cares about them?). On the flip side, having the sun set at 8:35 p.m. in late June is highly useful.

But what would we gain by adopting permanent DST? Well, the sun wouldn’t set until 6 p.m. instead of 5 on December 31. Yeah, that’s not bad, but consider how late the sun would rise. For two months—from early December to early February—my kids would be biking to school before sunrise. That means they’d have to be responsible about keeping their bike lights charged up—and what teenager was ever on top of details like that? Sounds like an accident in the making. When Russia tried out permanent DST, the late sunrise was the biggest complaint.

Now, in asking “what would we gain,” it’s crucial to be clear about who “we” means: if Prop 7 passed, and the federal government decided to follow suit and allow California to adopt full-time DST, we’d get our later sunset, sure—but we’d also have to endure a huge lot of hassle being out of sync with the rest of the Pacific time zone. I have written about this type of problem before, in my first Daylight Saving Time post:
Today, Monday, was rough. At work, an 11:00 a.m. conference call threw people into a tailspin because the recurring appointment had been set up in the e-mail/calendar program by somebody in the Arizona time zone, where DST is not observed. For those outside Arizona, the call automatically jumped forward by an hour on our electronic calendars. For example, in San Francisco, Pacific Standard Time switched to Pacific Daylight Time so the call was bumped to noon; even past iterations of the call show up in our calendar software as having been at noon. To the person who set up the call, everything seemed normal, but we had to decide whether to move the call or not. After a dozen instant messages among colleagues across three time zones, we compromised on rescheduling today’s call for 11:30 a.m. PDT. We do this little dance twice a year.
I think opting out of DST makes more sense for Arizona than full-time DST does for California, for two reasons. First of all, Arizona is hotter than blazes, so having a really early sunrise gives people a chance to get outdoors for some exercise when the weather is nice, before starting their workday. (I used to travel to Arizona on business quite a bit, and loved me some early morning hikes.) Second, in terms of interstate business, Arizona just isn’t as important as California so their stubbornness doesn’t affect as many people. I know that sounds harsh, but it is what it is.

How did this absurd Proposition pass?

I’ve talked to a number of friends about Prop 7 to try to figure out how it passed, and they all fall into one of three categories: 1) they were completely against it; 2) they didn’t understand it and didn’t try very hard to; or 3) they ignored it and didn’t vote one way or the other.

One friend thought Prop 7 backed out Dubya’s extension of the DST period. Another thought it simply did away with changing the clocks, but never considered what downstream implications this would have. But you know what? The positions my friends took are not the point. My friends do not comprise a representative cross-section of California voters. For that, I’d need to go to traffic school or something (and I don’t need to, my recent flap with a traffic cop notwithstanding).

I will never know what, if anything, went through the minds of the millions of Californians who voted YES on Prop 7. My best guess is that this outcome resulted indirectly from a previous initiative from the last election: Proposition 64, which legalized weed in this state.

Will Prop 7 have any effect?

Okay, so regardless of whether or not Prop 7 makes any sense, it’s the political equivalent of pissing into the wind anyway—it will never have any effect on voters’ lives.

How can I so confidently assert this? Well, think about it. Only Congress can change the federal law that prohibits states from adopting permanent DST. And who is in Congress? Well, it’s representatives and senators from all 50 states. Sure, California has a lot of representatives—53 out of 435 (about 12% of the total), but we only represent two votes in the Senate. Whatever benefits we might think we’d get from full-time DST, it would be a hassle for 49 other states. What possible incentive would the vast majority of non-Californians have to change the federal law and allow California to be a pain in everyone’s ass? Zero incentive. So what’s the plan here … we just ask really nicely?

Okay, fine, Prop 7 gave the California Legislature the authority to pursue permanent DST … but who cares? Whatever effort is made now will be a complete waste of time and energy. I truly hope the Legislature lets this die on the vine.

Epilogue - one year later

As detailed in this follow-up post, a year after this passed nothing has changed. Nor will it. As I said, Prop 7 was a total waste of everyone’s time...

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Busted for Jaywalking!


During a recent business trip to Irvine, in southern California (motto: “The other, lesser California”), I was pulled over by a motorcycle cop—while walking. He gave me a long, brain-freezing lecture and a ticket for jaywalking. The fine is close to $200. I’m going to fight it via a written testimonial. This is my rough draft. Very rough.

Appeal to Citation #[———], Superior Court of California, County of Orange

I humbly request that my citation for Section Statute 21955 VC (Jaywalking) be dismissed, on the grounds that it’s complete nonsense.

First of all, $200 is really steep for a victimless crime. If I’m driving a car in an unsafe manner, I’m endangering others—I get that. I understand that driving a car is a privilege, and that by obtaining my Driver License I am agreeing in advance to follow the vehicle code. Walking, however, is not a privilege. It is a God-given right, pre-dating all laws and societies, and I never agreed to anything when I first put one foot in front of the other at age two. What right do you have to fine people for not walking how you’d like them to? When’s the last time a pedestrian hurt anybody?

Moreover, holding my Driver License or Vehicle Registration hostage if I skip out on this fine is totally baseless. How can you restrict my driving privilege on the grounds of any misbehavior I committed when not driving a motor vehicle? What’s next, suspending my license due to moral or intellectual turpitude? And if you actually make it impossible to register my car, which my wife shares, you are punishing her as well, along with our two kids. Why stop there? Why not go after my brothers, my cousins, nieces, nephews, and our parents? It’s insupportable and absurd.

The motorcycle cop who came after me—long after I committed my misdeed, which suggests you’re using video cameras to crack down on errant pedestrians, which is bizarrely inappropriate—has already subjected me to a long safety lecture which was, I feel it safe to say, humiliating to the cop and me both. So haven’t I suffered enough? The lecture insulted my intelligence because the cop said, “Safety is a two-way street. I can’t protect you if you don’t obey the law.” Protect me? When’s the last time a cop protected a pedestrian? There is nothing a cop can do to protect a pedestrian except perhaps block an intersection, which he would never do. Pedestrians are utterly defenseless in an era of increasingly distracted drivers.

Since when do cops protect anybody, for that matter? They only show up after an accident and occasionally assign penalties, and maybe call in the actual paramedics who try to mitigate the bodily damage. When’s the last time you saw a cop and thought, “Oh, thank goodness”? The vast majority of the time, seeing a cop approach you is a basic “Oh, shit!” moment. But this was not always the case. Cops used to be respected members of the community. They walked their beats, got to know the citizens, and built up some rapport and trust. That all changed when they started driving cars. Now they are just faceless badges, ensconced in vehicles, that go around busting people. (This is not just my own supposition. A college history course I took devoted a couple of weeks to the subject of law enforcement, and presented this as a widely accepted assessment.)

The other totally absurd thing about the cop’s safety lecture is that he delivered it while stopped on a six-lane thoroughfare that had no shoulder. I was up on the sidewalk at least, but he was right out there in the road, absolutely at the mercy of the cars whizzing by. Anybody drunk, texting, or otherwise distracted could have just wiped this guy out. As annoying as the cop was, I did not want to see him get run over, so I was cringing the whole time. And you wanna talk about reckless? This guy is riding around this congested megalopolis on a motorcycle forty hours a week! What, is he fricking crazy?! Who is he to lecture me about safety? I was tempted to ask him, “Does your mother know what you do for a living?” But of course I couldn’t, because you just can’t mouth off to cops.

And that’s the most degrading part of all. I had to try to be all contrite and docile, in the vain hope that he’d let me off the hook. I tried my best, but I’m sure he caught a whiff of contempt—even if he didn’t catch mine. I’m sure he didn’t feel this was his finest moment, pontificating to this hapless pedestrian, sensing the passing cars snickering at both of us. I’m sure when he dreamed of being a motorcycle cop—a dream based on watching CHiPs, needless to say—he was thinking he’d be catching bad guys, solving actual crimes, and being a hero. He’d watched Erik Estrada in that one CHiPs episode dancing onstage to “Celebration” and thought maybe he himself also had what it takes. I doubt he figured he’d one day find himself taking his life in his hands merely to slap the wrist of the only person stupid enough to try to walk somewhere in southern California.

By the way, the cop was apparently unaware of how egregious your fines are. I asked for an estimate and he said, “Well, the ticket itself is only like $20, but then you get all the local and state governments piling on, with all these extra fees, so it ends up being like $85.” He acted like this was a real shame, the result of a bloated government apparatus that was a hindrance to us both, when of course he had the option to let me go with just a warning. Maybe if he’d known it was $200 he’d have spared me the ticket, or at least the lecture.

Now, let’s get back to this safety-as-a-two-way street business. You, the so-called Superior Court, see fit to fine me for behavior that put my own safety at risk, but actually, you are going after the wrong party. If you really want justice, challenge a road and sidewalk layout that discourages walking, and seek out the city planners that make walking legally in your county a unreasonably inconvenient thing to do. The setup of your roads and sidewalks is actually putting pedestrians like me in far greater danger than we ourselves ever could.

Yes, I crossed a street in the middle, rather than at an intersection—I admit it. You know why I did it? Well, I was walking along the sidewalk, which was unpleasant enough because all your streets are like highways—nothing even slightly resembling a residential street seems to exist in Irvine—and suddenly the sidewalk just ended. I found myself walking along in the plants growing alongside the road, literally off in the weeds, with nothing between me and the cars. This is not only unpleasant, but unsafe. Why provide a sidewalk for like half of a long stretch of roadway and then suddenly end it? What city engineer masterminded that design? Or did the city or county just run over budget with the sidewalk half built? Or maybe the construction guys got sick of building it?

(Here is a photo of what I’m talking about. No, it’s not the scene of the crime, which location I’m not sure of because your cop pulled me over far away from where I committed my transgression. Meanwhile, I didn’t know I’d be ensnared in your legal imbroglio at the time so I didn’t photograph the civic inadequacy. I snapped the below photo later, in another location which was equally representative of what I’m talking about. One more thing: I jaywalked in broad daylight, not at night.)

So yeah, I could have turned around and walked a quarter mile back to the previous intersection, but to be honest, I just didn’t feel like it. I was not enjoying my walk whatsoever and just wanted to get it over with. I was like, “Okay, Irvine, you win! I won’t walk anymore! I didn’t understand before! I get that you hate pedestrians!” I had come to understand why I was almost the only pedestrian in the entire city, unless you count the quasi-homeless-looking woman I saw herding her small child the day before. But as it happened, an instance of amazing fortuity presented itself: in both directions, all the traffic was stuck behind red lights off in the distance, giving me ample time to cross the road to the other side where there was a sidewalk. I calculated that no believable rate of acceleration could bring either wall of cars in range of hitting me. I was in a position to manage my risk very effectively.

Crossing a road in this situation, I believed in the moment and continue to believe, is a safer scenario than crossing at an intersection, where motorists are allowed to turn right whenever they deem it safe. It’s up to them to look for pedestrians in the intersection, and in SoCal the motorists do a very poor job of this. Why? Because there are hardly ever pedestrians in your sprawling, poorly planned so-called community! We’re about as common as space aliens! In pretty much any intersection in your wretched county, I am putting myself at the mercy of people who have all but forgotten pedestrians exist. Your jaywalking law essentially mandates that I outsource my safety to complete strangers who routinely neglect to use their turn signals, fail to pay attention, and have been taught to believe cars are “the heartbeat of America” and that driving is some kind of game.

When I ponder the fact that you’re slapping me down for my measly infraction, in support of a civic engineering apparatus that demonstrates not just incompetence but practical contempt for safety, I almost throw up in my mouth. You know what’s dangerous? These labyrinths of asphalt, more than driveways but not quite roads, that connect the giant boulevards to the scattered buildings within the bloated office parks dotting your sprawling landscape. Even Google Maps can’t really make sense of these little connectors. Once you’ve parked your car, you have to cross first the giant parking lot, then these twisty quasi-roads, and this is far, far more dangerous than what I did, which was merely crossing a straight road at a perpendicular.  When drivers try to navigate these rats’ nests of tarmac, they get very confused, and end up paying more attention to their GPS screens than to what’s in front of their cars.

You want proof? I took three Ubers during my brief visit to Irvine. The first Uber driver had to crane her neck quite a bit, and stopped dead in the roadway at various intervals, but nonetheless managed to find her way around. But the next two Uber drivers, despite their navigation systems, managed to get very lost indeed. I submit to you Exhibits A and B.

In both cases I watched their groping progress on my phone. That first guy found himself navigating a loop to nowhere. The second guy missed a turn and ended up driving a long way in one direction, making a 90-degree left, driving another long distance—trapped by a little road to nowhere and having to make a U-turn at the end and backtrack both long stretches before getting back on track. Now consider that all these little roads are eclipsed by parked cars, and that you’ve got people walking diagonally across these vague unmarked spaces, without a sidewalk to be seen anywhere. It’s like Frogger on LSD! For you to pretend that you’ve figured out not just a safe way, but the safe way for a person on foot to navigate this automotive nightmare, and that anybody who strays from this safe scheme deserves to be heavily fined—well, it’s like something out of a darkly satirical work of dystopian fiction.

If real justice were to be served, it would involve evacuating your irreparably screwed up county, bulldozing everything in it, and then bringing in intelligent, learned city planners from a properly functioning city—I’m thinking perhaps San Francisco or Amsterdam—and just starting over. Then you could have a place where people aren’t driving fifteen minutes or more to every destination, putting up with constantly bad traffic, and voicelessly accepting an asphalt tyranny that leaves no room for responsible transit like walking and bicycling. By starting over from scratch, you might actually develop a community where people can enjoy getting around. But instead, what do you do? You put in surveillance cameras so you can punish pedestrians for not complying with your absurdist, half-baked, ultimately utterly benighted “safety” principles! You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Obviously there’s nothing practical for the Superior Court of California, County of Orange, to do about a massive civic problem that has been steadily building for decades. You could, however, admit the farcical error inherent in punishing me for your community’s sins, by dismissing my case and striking it from the record. Thank you for your consideration.

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