Saturday, February 07, 2009

Bumper Stickers

There's an elementary school not too far from me, and whenever I drive anywhere near it on a weekday morning, I encounter the traffic guard. Traffic guards, as you probably know, ensure the safety of the school children. Whenever a school child wants to cross the street, the crossing guard holds up a big read stop sign, and then accompanies the child across the street.

A crossing guard probably isn't all that necessary on the particular street that I drive on, because there's a four-way stop at the intersection so all the cars have to stop anyway. On the other hand, some little children may be afraid to cross the street on their own, so what the crossing guard provides is a sense of security for those children.

Whenever people want to walk across the street, the crossing guard near me stops all traffic and accompanies them across the street, regardless of their age. For example, I've seen housewives walking their dogs being accompanied across the street by the crossing guard. I think this sort of perverts the original notion of what a crossing guard is there for, but I don't really mind. I do have to say, however, that if I were walking across the street, I'd be sort of embarrassed to be accompanied by a crossing guard holding a big read stop sign above her head.

Here's something else, which would be totally unrelated, except for the fact that I happened to notice it on the car in front of me while we were waiting for the crossing guard to lead some dog walkers across the street. The car had the letters "AWD" on it instead of "4WD." When did auto manufacturers abandon the use of the phrase "four-wheel drive" in favor of the more general "all-wheel drive"? Do they have plans to introduce cars with more wheels someday and are adopting the phrase "all-wheel drive" in preparation for that day? I think it's more because advertising phrases get old and tired after a while so new ones have to replace them, even when the new ones don't tell us anything more (and in this case actually tell us less) than the original phrase.

Okay, now on to the more important events of the past week...

There were two news stories that just wouldn't die. One of them concerned Christian Bale and his repeated use of the word "fuck" and some of its many variants during an angry tirade directed at a director of photography, and the other concerned a photograph of Michael Phelps taking a hit off a bong at some party.

These stories were in the news all week, which I think is sort of strange, considering they're not that interesting and they're not that unique. My initial thought was, "Big deal" -- or as Christian Bale might put it, "big fucking deal."

But stories like these often take on a life of their own. For example, the Christian Bale incident inspired the Los Angeles Times to post an online article about famous celebrity tantrums of the recent past. The article catalogued the uncontrolled outbursts of such celebrities as Mel Gibson, Naomi Campbell, Russell Crowe, and Sean Penn.

Of course, Christian Bale and Michael Phelps have already made their public apologies, and if they're the least bit sincere about those apologies, then I have no respect for them, because they have absolutely nothing to apologize to the public about. When people make public apologies, they are apologizing to people who were in no way harmed by anything they did, so such apologies are completely gratuitous.

Christian Bale probably should have apologized privately to the guy he was yelling at, but Michael Phelps doesn't need to apologize to anyone. If anything, the guy who took the picture should apologize to him.

But now that they've made their public apologies, does everyone feel better? I don't. That sort of public humiliation does nothing for me.

And I hear it cost Michael Phelps a Kellogg's endorsement, which I never even knew he had. But I don't think he should have lost it. If anything, he should have lost the Rosetta Stone endorsement -- not because he deserved to, but because he made such an idiotic commercial for them. First of all, it rings untrue -- does anyone actually expect us to believe that Michael Phelps was spending his time trying to learn Chinese when he should have been training for the Olympics?

All commercials lie, of course, so I shouldn't be bothered by that, but that's not even why I didn't like the commercial. I just think it was stupid. For example, what was his dog doing in that commercial? Also, Michael Phelps sometimes slurs his words a little. Did anyone besides me notice that when he said "fastest way to learn a language" it sounded more like "fascist way to learn a language"? I absolutely hated that commercial. Whenever it came on, I had to turn the sound off.

However, the stories about Christian Bale and Michael Phelps made the story about the single mom with octuplets almost seem like actual news. Almost.

But I understand why stories like that are so important, especially now. After all, it's not as though there's anything going on in the world that actually affects us, like the slow painful death of our economic system and the record levels of unemployment and bank closures it led to.

But before I leave the subject completely, I've got a little bit of advice to people who take pictures at parties: Don't take pictures at parties, especially if the ingestion or inhalation of controlled substances is taking place. No good can possibly come of it. But if you ignore my advice and take pictures anyway, try not to let your precious pictures and videos find their way into the hands of the media. So for example, if you took a video of your friend acting obnoxious and vomiting a lot after the consumption of too much alcohol, try to resist the urge to post the video on YouTube. This should be a no-brainer, but as I have discovered, a lot of people have no brains and need to be explicitly taught simple, obvious things like this.

Okay, before I go, I just want to make a few comments about bumper stickers. First of all, bumper stickers should only contain short easily-readable messages. I've seen bumper stickers that contain three or more lines of text in a typeface so small that, in order to read it, you practically have to smash into the car in front of you. And recently, I saw another one that was only two lines long, but in order to fit all the text on the bumper sticker, they had to use a compressed typeface, which also made it difficult to read. Secondly, they're called bumper stickers for a reason, and that reason is that they're intended to be placed on the bumper of your car (or now that cars don't actually have bumpers, in the region of the car formerly occupied by a bumper). If you put a bumper sticker on the side of your car, nobody's going to be able to read it except the guy next to you while you're waiting for the light to change, or the guy who walks past your car when it's parked on the street. And finally, don't even put a bumper sticker on your car in the first place. They junk up your car, they're almost impossible to remove, and no message I've ever seen on a bumper sticker was so important that it needed to be displayed to anyone.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Right to Make Noise

Remember a little while ago when I was writing about those vehicle code regulations that prohibit talking or texting on a cell phone while driving?

Well, as I was in my car waiting at a red light recently and listening to the thumping of the bass coming from the stereo system of the car next to me, I remembered another vehicle code statute that never gets enforced. I'm referring, of course, to California Vehicle Code Section 27007, which pertains to sound amplification devices and states in part that "No driver of a vehicle shall operate, or permit the operation of, any sound amplification system which can be heard outside the vehicle from 50 or more feet when the vehicle is being operated upon a highway, unless that system is being operated to request assistance or warn of a hazardous situation."

So this law, if enforced, means that someone would be within his legal right to turn up his car stereo loud enough that the music coming from it could be heard by anyone with a 50 foot radius.

That's pretty loud.

I'm not sure of all the details, but this law could be interpreted to mean that someone could park his car on a street in some residential neighborhood and turn the volume up so loud that it could be heard inside the five or six houses nearest to the car.

Maybe they should have limited it to 20 feet. That's still loud enough to hear from anywhere inside most cars.

One time -- maybe about 10 years ago -- I was inside my house and I heard some music coming from outside. So I opened up the front door and saw that some guy across the street had his car stereo playing at maximum ear-splitting volume. It was so loud that he couldn't even hear me when I walked up to him and yelled at him to turn the volume down.

It turns out he was vacuuming the inside of his car and he wanted to be able to hear the music over the noise of the vacuum cleaner. And when I finally got his attention and told him to turn it down, he seemed confused as to why the loud music would annoy anyone. I don't know who he was -- he was visiting the people who lived in that house -- but fortunately, he hasn't been back since.

People like that are really inconsiderate, whether deliberately or not, so it seems like a good idea to have laws against making excessive noise.

We used to call it "noise pollution," by the way. As a matter of fact, the 50-foot rule may have been referred to as an anti-noise pollution law. The phrase never caught on, though, because it sounded so stupid, since there were more dangerous types of pollution at the time, like air pollution and water pollution. Somehow, excessive noise, no matter how objectionable people found it, wasn't perceived as being the same sort of threat as undrinkable water and unbreathable air. And that was just the beginning of the list. We had fish contaminated with mercury, farmland destroyed by pesticides, and I can't remember what else.

We've still got all those types of pollution today, and they're just as big as ever, and we've got a few new types as well. I'm not going to list them all, so let's just agree that noise pollution isn't as bad as, for example, poisoned food.

It's still annoying though, but if we have laws against it, we could find ourselves on a slippery slope.

For example, some people might think of public profanity as noise pollution. In response to the argument that people have the right to say anything they want in a public place, they'll whine that they have the right not to hear something they don't want to hear, which is, of course, both ridiculous and completely untrue.

No one has the right not to hear something. They have the option not to listen, but the last time I checked, the so-called right not to have to hear something wasn't protected by the Constitution or the Bill of Rights or any state or local statute. The right to free speech, on the other hand, is protected by the First Amendment.

But you probably already knew all that, and maybe you're wondering why I even bothered to write about it.

I don't know. I guess it's because I couldn't think of anything else to write about. That's been happening a lot lately -- it seems like I've been posting things to this blog without much conviction lately, and with this post, I'm just honoring that tradition.

I've already established on this blog that not everything I write is going to be a work of literary genius. But I'm not unique in that respect. In the world of cinema, for example, consider the Coen brothers, who have made many great movies, such as Fargo and The Big Lebowski, but have also made some no-so-great movies, such as the tepid Burn After Reading. Or consider the films of Pasolini and Jodorowsky. Or for that matter, David Lynch, Peter Greenaway, and David Mamet.

So nobody's perfect and everybody's entitled to a few misfires, but it's still more fun writing about something that's interesting to me than writing about something merely because I can't think of anything else to write about, and that's why a while ago I said was going to stop posting here for a while. I liked my previous post a lot, and I liked one or two of my other recent posts as well, but today's post is, for the most part, uninspired. Even the title isn't very good.

I wish that everything I wrote here was a literary masterpiece, but I know it won't be. Fortunately, I have the right to write anything I want here, no matter how mediocre, and you have the option not to read it. As a matter of fact, you have more than the option, because I'm going to go ahead and grant you the right not to read it, assuming, of course, that the granting of such rights falls within my purview.