A Cynical Portrait of Transportation in Pittsburgh

Just because everyone does it doesn’t mean that it should ever be done by anyone. Ever.

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I’ve learned the following by observing my fellow vehicle operators. These are apparently taught in Pennsylvania schools. I wish the Pittsburgh Left were the worst of it:

  1. (Note: this is not a Pittsburgh Left. I’ve omitted that one.) When turning left across traffic, it is perfectly acceptable behavior to pull out into one lane, forcing it to stop, and then to wait there for an opening in the other lane. Beeping at a person who does this means you just don’t understand.
  2. If you’re not doing at least 10-15MPH above the posted speed limit, you should be tailgated immediately at a distance not to exceed 10 feet.
  3. Tailgating actually works as a method to modify the behavior of another driver.
  4. Tailgating is the acceptable way to approach on-ramps and other merge points. That’s your highway and those other merging losers need to yield.
  5. Tailgating is actually the default method of vehicle positioning, and it is not to be referred to as tailgating, but rather “driving”. Tailgating is what you do at a Steelers game.
  6. When the person in front of you is allowed the space to merge at an on-ramp, that automatically means everyone in line has just been allowed to merge at that spot and should follow that person into it.
  7. Use your horn. For everything.
  8. When changing lanes, do so as rapidly and with as little warning as possible. Everyone else will understand that you’re about to change lanes by the way you’re driving.
  9. Every four-lane road is a highway, the left lane of which is for passing only. If you’re in it and not passing, you must be destroyed.
  10. You can actually see around blind corners and what’s on the other side of the crests of hills. Don’t worry about it.

As a pedestrian:

  1. Crosswalks are for tourists. When you’re ready for the pro circuit, try jaywalking.
  2. As a walking parent, always lead with the stroller. This will ensure the traffic will stop.
  3. If someone doesn’t stop for you when crossing at mid-block, that person should be cussed at. They’re always supposed to yield because you’re a pedestrian.
  4. Help your spouse into parallel parking spots from the street, holding up your hand like a traffic cop so that the traffic doesn’t kill you. Under no circumstances should this be done from the wide sidewalk immediately next to the car. (Okay, I only saw this once, but I have NEVER seen it before.)

Hope you had a good Memorial Day holiday, and remember to buckle up!

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Roll for Fortune

On a result of 1, you end up penniless with a TEDx beer cozy.

I’ve once again been rendered inadequate by xkcd.

It’s difficult for me to describe why it bothers me so much to see successful people giving talks about their good fortune, attributing it instead to hard work and trivializing the luck involved. There’s probably a more appropriate logical fallacy to describe it, but this idea that a person can simply work hard to achieve success seems to be an odd form of legitimizing one’s outsized results in a socially acceptable format, presumably to escape the “Why me?” feeling that ought to accompany ridiculous success.

I’m jealous, to be sure. I’d love to be able to never worry about money, food, or housing ever again. I’d like to be swimming in job offers and never need to take any of them. Who wouldn’t be envious? It’s just that the “hard” work thing sticks in my craw. What does that mean, hard work? Does that mean long hours? Doing things that make you morally uncomfortable? Does it mean physically challenging?

According to Maynard James Keenan’s biography, the band Tool was signed to a record label after just a handful of live shows. Less than ten. (I’m being vague here because I can’t remember the number and I can’t be bothered to look it up. The impact is the same. I think it was eight.) I love Tool’s music and it’s been great to see their success. I truly believe that they deserve it. Certainly they worked “hard” to make their music, but I can’t help but point out that they got ridiculously lucky in being signed to a record contract so soon, and I can’t help but think that it was the luck that played the more significant role. There are countless acts working their asses off, touring, playing shows everywhere, and they either get ignored or end up producing their own stuff to lukewarm reception. Go ahead and try the ol’ ten-show record contract plan today.

So when does the work end up determining the success? Is it possible to be successful without the work? Of course it is, and not just because “successful” is also a moving target. However, keep a D6 in your pocket, and when listening to these successful folks describing the roots of their success, roll it to remind yourself of the role chance plays, because a great many of these people will be, consciously or not, reluctant to admit that they probably didn’t work any harder or better than the hordes of less-prominent people around them.  While I enjoy a good inspirational talk as much as the next person, simply saying “I got lucky” tends to take the wind out of the sails a bit, though it shouldn’t.

This might be a peculiarly American thing, or a feature of any culture that tends to over-emphasize the value of labor. Randall Munroe has succinctly described my thoughts on the matter in one frame, in either case.

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On a result of 4, your job pays really well, but also gives you hemorrhoids.

Actively Breaking Godwin’s Law (And thereby also indirectly following it.)

Every German will thank you.

I am trying to restrain myself from making comparisons to past nationalistic regimes, not because I’m opposed to such political hanky-panky, but because I don’t think it’s helpful. Are there parallels? Of course. The problem is that by comparing the current administration to something so horrifically memorable, it’s far too easy for supporters to simply wave a hand and say, “This is completely different. You’re overreacting.”

In this, they’d be correct. This is its own brand of ignorant. Remember that there were comparisons to national socialism when Obama was in office. I won’t say they were informed comparisons, but they were there. It’s become a crutch to be used whenever someone wants to say, “I think this is a really bad thing.” It’s like when someone gets called a hipster.

So I want to encourage criticism related to the current abuses, the lies and idiocy of the present day. Keep it in a context that doesn’t raise the problem to the level of the evil and absurd. There’s plenty to use here. Because comparisons to a Jew-slaughtering, book-burning, people-gassing, war-starting psychopath can’t really be made without throwing the judgment of the user into question.

But criticizing an unapologetic liar; a backpedaling administration desperately trying to avoid looking foolish in front of the world; a scared little baby who also believes that everyone else ought to be quiver-lipping the pacifier; people who believe in taking money away from the things that actively keep our fellow citizens  (and non-citizens, for that matter) alive in order to re-direct those funds into the things that actively make other people dead…

Criticizing those people? In present-day terms? That just shows you’re a person who pays attention. We don’t need no stinking swastika to do that.

Dick.

Better out than in.

To the gentleman at the Indian restaurant today, who will never read this but it feels good to type it anyway:

The protests were not because someone “lost”. People in Australia and Europe didn’t lose anything and don’t feel a sense of loss. What they feel along with many people here is that they’ve gained an ignorant, unqualified liar who has yet to prove himself otherwise, and that the rhetoric is treading dangerously close to the type of drivel that oozed from the corners of the mouths of men who’ve inspired worthless fanaticism and slaughter.

Enjoy your fucking tea.

Aliens!

I just think your app is stupid. I don’t think you are stupid.

After speaking with fellow New Year’s Evers about a new (to me) app called musical.ly, or as I like to call it, Musically, I’m realizing that there are millions of people in this world that I will never understand.

The gist of the app is that you make your own music videos, using your phone. They’re mercifully short, and though I’m sure there are some genuinely great clips out there, it’s a selfie that moves, with sound. It’s like Snapchat, but more permanent and centered around songs.

This app is going to make someone a bucket of money. That’s not an issue for me. The issue is understanding why it will make someone all of that money.

I have commented to my wife before that she and I are both on the verge of becoming people for whom the newest technology and inventions make little sense. We’re not quite people asking for help navigating the internet at the library yet, but we’ll get there. When I see things like Musically, it’s odd, because I feel as though the ability to make things like this comes from a certain type of person that I don’t understand. It’s not enough to say that they just wanted to make money, because the thing requires creativity. You actually need to want the thing to exist, beyond what it might do for you financially. Or maybe I have that wrong.

I don’t understand the appeal of Musically. Or of Snapchat. I don’t understand why I’m so enthralled by watching videos of other people playing video games either. I think it’s because these apps don’t immediately fit into the category of toy when you first look at them. A cell phone isn’t a toy, really. But they’re crossing into that territory and are probably used more like toys with each passing day. I think toy and I picture a truck, or a doll, or a set of building blocks. This is the only explanation that makes sense, since there are plenty of toys that I look at with wonder and confusion, but since they look like toys, my brain puts them in that category and the wires don’t cross. With a phone and some jackass dancing in a park while filming himself, I just want to trip him. Maybe that’s just me.

I like to believe that people are, at bottom, very alike. I question that when I hear about self-driving cars and smart homes that can adjust the brightness of a light from a phone. How many of these are toys, and how many are something else? We are strange, mysterious, absurd creatures.