Thursday, November 5, 2009

Slow down or pay up

I blame the TV commercials for automobiles.

They all show an individual car — your dream car, your elegant personal machine, your guarantee of synthetic masculinity — roaring along the highway in solitary splendor.

In reality, of course, you will be driving on an interstate at 20 mph, hemmed in by equally frustrated fellow motorists. But the commercial, the dream, tells you that because you own a machine that can do better than 90, you have a right to do so.

So when you do get a chance, you rev up to 60, 70, 80, 90, veering from one lane to another to whiz pass the slowpokes because the machine is yours and so is the road.

I believe that you may be the audience for an article in The Washington Post by Neely Tucker, whom an editor has evidently encouraged to write with Attitude. The article describes, indulgently, your rage at those speed cameras municipalities put up to fine you for driving at 50 mph past a schoolhouse. The impertinence, the gall of these bureaucrats to limit your freedom to treat a city street as an autobahn, and the greediness to make you pay when you do.

For my part, fussy old bourgeois that I am, driving a mere Chevy and pretty much staying within a few of miles of the speed limit, I wouldn’t mind seeing more cameras. I would have liked to see the driver who sailed through a red light at Hamilton and Harford while gabbing on a cell phone, nearly striking my son and me,* pay a fine. I think that the driver in the black Mercedes who sped down Virginia Avenue in Towson and ran the stop sign as I was making a turn one Sunday ought to have to write a check.

The interstate is worse, with all the cowboys and cowgirls whose lives are so much more important than mine going 20 and 30 miles above the speed limit on their urgent errands. There is no chance that the state will ever be able to hire enough police officers to curb them. Better to put up cameras.

Oh, and the objection that municipalities make money off those fines? Don’t you think that maybe people who break the law are an apt source of revenue?

*And I had observed the standard Baltimore pause after my light changed to green to avoid that very hazard.

The march to trivia

Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea. Let’s go to press.

Lessee, now. CNN’s lead items: “Loss of softball teammates called ‘devastating’ ” and “Neda’s mother: ‘She was like an angel.’ ” So we conclude that when people die young and tragically, those left behind grieve. Got it. Looking forward to stories on the tenth anniversary of their deaths to see it confirmed that people are still sad.

Over at MSNBC, “Long-term jobless running on empty.” Not quite fair for me — unemployed for six months — to guess, but I think maybe that things get bad when you’re out of a job and have exhausted your resources.

Also on MSNBC, “Glenn Beck is new Oprah.” Let’s just shudder and move on.

Moving quickly to CBS News — you remember, Walter Cronkite’s old outfit — we find “Cops Find Missing Fla. Baby Under Sitter’s Bed.” You can click on the option to share the story on Facebook.

Maybe there’s something locally. WMAR in Baltimore has “Erase Embarrassing Photos from Facebook.” Can’t argue with that.

Dare I try Fox News? Ah, there’s that infant from under the bed. And some stuff about how the Democrats are all wrong about health care.

Yesterday the Associated Press discovered a man in Tennessee who says an image of Jesus keeps reappearing on the window of his pickup truck. This led “fev” at HeadsUp to offer advice that I fear will not be heeded: “No deities on foodstuffs, kitties, load-bearing surfaces, windows, motor vehicles or ancient mysterious medieval cloths. Ever. Period. It isn't news. You can't make it news. Don't try.”

I like Utz potato chips and Five Guys french fries and the beer-battered onion rings at the Hamilton Tavern. But I don’t make an exclusive diet of them. Years ago, when I worked as wire editor at The Sun, I always looked for an offbeat story or two to put on the budget, but I would never have dreamed to make them the lead items.

U.S. troops are coming back from Afghanistan in coffins. Millions of Americans are unemployed. Millions more lack medical insurance. And our political discourse has descended to name-calling while our newspapers, our television news operations, and our Internet news sites feature a steady diet of pap. I don’t know what an anthropologist would make of it, but surveying the offerings of our news media suggests to me that they are playing to an audience that they expect to be easily distracted and not serious.