Thursday, January 13, 2011

Living in Fear

Apparently "David Pitchford, a Florida trailer park resident," (that was the part where I abandoned all hope, by the way) has filed a personal injury lawsuit against Julian Assange (if you don't know who that is, go to Hell) for making him feel scared.  Pitchford alleges that Assange's negligence has caused "hypertension", "depression" and "living in fear of being stricken by another heart attack and/or stroke" as a result of living "in fear of being on the brink of another nucliar [sic] WAR."  Three things come to mind here:

  1. Stop it.  Seriously, just... God damn it.
  2. "Another" nuclear war?  I'm not sure what kinds of history is taught in Florida trailer parks, but the only thing resembling nuclear war that has ever happened was when we, the United States, became the only country to ever detonate a nuclear device as an offensive strike against another country, twice, effectively ending the conflict with Japan in World War 2.  Granted, I don't want that to happen again either.  It was a difficult decision at the time, and arguably the lesser of two evils.  But despite any assertion that it was necessary (and I agree that it was) it's still a shitty thing to happen.  So I'll grant you that, that you don't want it to happen again.  But the "again" part in this case implies that we would nuke them and that we would win.

    Sure, there were other times when we came close to nuclear war.  The Cold War was full of that crap.  Hell, there's nothing any terrorist has ever done that would scare me more than the Cuban Missile Crisis was fucking terrifying (in retrospect, of course... I wasn't alive then).  But this leads me to my next point...
  3. Does this guy not remember the Cold War?  Specifically, the 1980s?  Looking back on my childhood as I grew up in the '80s, it's kind of strange to remember how we felt about nuclear war at the time.  But those feelings happened.  They were real.  During the 1980s in America, it was in no uncertain terms us vs. them.  And we weren't "in fear" that a nuclear war might happen.  No, sir.  We assumed it was going to happen.  Every man, woman and child in the United States lived each day of our lives back then with the lingering knowledge that, at any moment, World War 3 will break out.

    It wasn't a matter of "if" but of "when."  Movies like WarGames represented the concept eerily well, actually.  One computer glitch, one bad call, one mistake or unlucky day, one guy who has a red phone gets stuck in traffic for a few minutes and misses something important... one tiny little spark and it's all over.  The missiles are loosed, the dogs of war are let slip, and we... are... fucked.

    Sure, maybe we'd win.  It used to be "of course we'd win" back in the days when we were a unified nation.  Back in the '40s and '50s America couldn't lose.  We were invincible.  By the time the '80s rolled around, however, the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction was understood by all.  "Winning" likely means that we have a few scraps of society remaining where they have none.  Not exactly a stunning victory.
So, seriously... living in fear of a nuclear war?  Been there, done that.  As a small child I handled it better than this guy.  We all did.  But even though I no longer fear a nuclear attack, I can still hold out hope for that heart attack and/or stroke that he mentioned.  After all, I wouldn't want him to be shown to be an idiot.  I'd rather he die being right than live being wrong.  The net result is acceptable to me.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Snowpocalypse, Indeed

So recently there was some heavy snowfall back home in New England, and the media had dubbed it "Snowpocalypse."  Sensationalize much?  Apparently it was a couple feet of snow practically overnight.  Eh.  Sure, that's a lot, but it's hardly the end of the friggin' world.  Remember the Blizzard of '78?  (I don't, because it was a year and a half before I was born.)  Remember several years back when it kept snowing for like a week and a half and Boston simply canceled plow services?  Not because it couldn't move the snow, but because it ran out of places to which it could be moved.  The sidewalks and parking lots were mountains compared to the streets.  The plows just... couldn't do anything.  The city just sort of shrugged and said, "Eh, I guess we'll just wait this one out.  When's the Pats game on?"  Those were fun times.

Well today we're having a lovely snowfall down here in South Carolina.  We had a good one a couple of weeks ago (the day after Christmas, actually) that was perfect for building a snowman that morning, which my daughters loved.  And today it's happening again.  Twice in the same year.  Around these parts, that's unheard of, and I think it's fantastic.

The difference is, today I drove to work in this wintry wonderland.  I guess I didn't have to, whatever.  It was worth it.  (Besides, it's easier to transfer over 6 gigs of data to the network from my desk than from my house.  Never underestimate the bandwidth of a Scion carefully creeping down the highway in a snow storm.)  It was worth it because I got to watch these southerners drive in the snow.  I wish I'd mounted a camera on the dashboard.

Getting out of the neighborhood and towards the busier roads wasn't a big deal.  It was exactly as expected, actually.  The occasional person on a driveway sitting in their car or SUV and hoping the windshield defroster will somehow magically remove all snow from their car so they don't have to stand outside for 30 seconds and wipe it off.  (It's very light and powdery snow today, it'll come off if you just look at it strongly enough.)  Streets covered in snow with some vague tire tracks telling you where a lane might be.  Finding the lanes here was easy, actually, because the lines are rumble strips.  That actually makes for useful traction.

The busy road that led to the highway was where it started to go wrong for these people.  That's where I started to see the occasional car on the side of the road, either spun out or generally stopped because the driver can't proceed.  I had plenty of time to examine these things because a mid-size pick-up truck had decided that 10-15 MPH was the appropriate speed.  Then he slowed down to under 10 MPH for about a quarter mile to prepare for his turn into a parking lot, which he barely made as he slid across the snow.  My brother likes to say "real men drive trucks."  Sorry, but I disagree.

I had to get around some of these people so I could be in front of them for the on-ramp to the highway.  I know slow and steady is important in these conditions (and I know it a hell of a lot better than most people around here), but there's no way in hell I'm getting on the highway at 15 MPH behind panicky people.  Luckily, the lights were perfectly timed for me such that everybody else was stopped as I slowly crept by and around them during the short 2-lane area before the highway.  Hard to explain, but it worked out perfectly and with no excessive speed or turning.

The on-ramp was the best part of the morning.  It was like some post-apocalyptic scene with cars lining the road filled with refugees from some great disaster.  Some of them were off in a ditch, some were facing the wrong way, etc.  I guess the on-ramp in all its mildly curved glory serves as a kind of screening process here.  If you can't successfully negotiate the ramp, you don't get to go on the highway.  Many have tried and failed.

Upon getting onto the highway, I once again found the timing to be perfect.  I could see a truck and some cars a good bit behind me, but they didn't catch up.  The average speed turned out to be between 30 and 40 MPH.  I got as high as 50 and as low as 20 in some parts, but that's not a big deal.  The main thing to note was the lack of lanes.  This was briefly surprising to me.

It makes sense, really.  They don't have plows here.  Maybe there's one or two somewhere, but they don't have a fleet of them ready to deploy throughout the night.  It wouldn't make sense.  They don't get enough snow to justify the cost, and they have rumble strips and reflector things on the roads that would get torn to hell by plows.  Combine this with the fact that hardly anybody is out on the road to warm it up and what you have is a snow-blanketed highway.

The primary effect of this was that the 4-lane highway was reduced to 2-lanes.  Not by width, but by perception.  There was the "kinda over here lane" and the "kinda over there lane."  I was in what one would call the passing lane, I suppose.  And we did pass people.  It was all safe and steady, don't worry.  I didn't see anybody zipping along the road.  Though I saw plenty of what may have once been people zipping along the road.  It wasn't as bad as the ramp, but there was no shortage of spun out cars off in a ditch or up against the barrier on the left.  Some of the ones on the left were even facing the wrong way.  Wish I'd seen it happen.

The only bad part, really, was when people got confused and scared.  And it happens a lot with drivers around here.  One person in the "kinda towards the left lane" would be afraid to pass someone in the "kinda towards the right lane," or they'd get too close and try to create a single lane, or something.  The slowest car became the pace car, it created bunched-up traffic, etc.  It seemed like a lot of these people were scared to drive alone and wanted to huddle up for safety.  Because, you know, being within a few feet of another car makes the low traction conditions much safer.

When the highway split to go into the city and became three lanes, it briefly effectively became one lane.  Nobody knew what to do.  But it worked itself back out into two lanes again.  However, some of the slow frightened people in the right lane had migrated to the left.  I ended up having to pass somebody on the right, which wouldn't have been a big deal except that this must have somehow offended this person.  As I moved back to the left to go into the city, and as the speed limit reduced because the highway was ending and we were entering city streets, the guy I passed decided to tailgate me.  He was also trying to move over to the left as far as possible, making it look as though he wanted to pass me.

But this was one of the same people who was afraid to pass anybody back on the highway.  And luckily I found just the thing to get him off my tail.  I passed an SUV.  The street was 4 lanes again, so effectively 2 lanes.  So I casually passed an SUV and this guy refused to follow.  He had plenty of room, but his vagina just couldn't fit I guess.  Maybe one of the sanding trucks already got to it.

The city streets were fun to watch, because people had to stop and go for various traffic lights.  Nobody had any traction, least of all the SUVs and pick-ups.  Seriously.  Again, "real men drive trucks"?  All of the big manly vehicles were sliding around without any control.  Come on people, it's not hard.  If you're driving a pick-up, throw some sand bags in the back.  If you're driving an SUV, well, stop it.  How is my tiny little car, which I could probably lift up and put into the back of your truck, getting better traction than you?

Strangely enough, when I arrived at work there were only slightly fewer cars in the parking lot than usual.  I have a new respect for this company.