Racing with Evolution

With each advance in technology there is a certain amount of collateral damage to those unable to adapt to the change. The conclusive effect of one momentary lapse or a split second of timing is sobering to contemplate.

Imagine the toll on your below average caveman following the advent of fire. The invention of words necessarily lags behind technological advances. “Yikes!” or “Ooohh! That smarts!” were probably not the words used by the first Neanderthals to survive walking barefooted into the campfire.

Fast forward a few millennia. There is still no word describing smart phone users who meet their demise by walking into open manholes or strolling blithely into traffic.

Over a century into the mass adoption of the automobile, the annual death toll is now declining. However, the total fatalities resulting from texting while driving continues to rise. The phones may be smart but I have seen no mandate that smartphone users also be so.

I confess that I am formerly a leading contender for a Darwin Award – Four Wheeled Vehicle Category. In my immortal youth, careening down a curvy mountain road in neutral and ‘straightening the curves’ was simply ‘what I do.’ What a ‘clever’ way to impress a date.

I have now left those thrills behind me.

One time though, I became painfully aware that my misjudgment nearly cost me my life.

I was sailing down the I-5 and making good time when, without looking, I merged into the leftmost lane. Have you ever changed lanes without looking?

That unthinking action forced another driver out of her lane and almost into the concrete meridian. She thankfully, maintained control of her car and, leaning on her horn, got my attention. Shocked and embarrassed, I corrected my course and returned to my previous lane. I waved an apology and continued with the flow of traffic.

She was not done with me though. Not satisfied with my lame apology, she set out to teach me a lesson, regardless of who it might injure. Pulling up next to me, she swerved into my lane. To avoid a crash I swerved right and almost hit another driver.

Then she swerved into my lane again. And again.

How does one apologize to, or reason with anyone, in another car, while hurtling down a freeway at 70mph?

I didn’t blame her for being angry, but I wasn’t about to be drawn into a race or a game of chicken. It became a matter of survival.

I slowed and let her pass. Cutting me off, she hit her brakes. I slowed again, giving her as much space as possible.

There were no exits I could get to. The interchange for the I-5 and the 170 freeways was minutes away. I merged into the lane that allowed me to take whichever route my nemesis did not. Again she moved in front of me and hit her brakes.

Traffic was backing up. Drivers raced by us honking. I worried about the known adversary in front of me and an unknown driver, misjudging my speed and slamming into me from behind. I turned on my emergency flashers.

Every time I slowed, she would slam on her brakes and close the gap between us. As we approached the freeway split, her driving became more erratic. She did everything she could to force a collision.

As the freeway split approached, we slowed more and more. Then she gunned her engine and merged right onto the 170.

I coasted onto the island and stopped, idling for a few minutes. I was rattled. I let my breathing subside. My heart rate normalized.

I watched for a break in the stream of traffic and merged left onto the I-5.

It was a normal day again.

Third Party Blues

“Uh oh! There’s only one more scoop of ice cream left. Not enough to split four ways. I guess I’ll just put in my bowl. No one will notice. More for me.”

Sounds like some politician “redistributing” wealth into his own pocket.

The prevailing ethical guidance I received from my mother when growing up was “Fair is fair.” That phrase was in regular use when any dispute arose.

The one who served was always the last to choose when dessert time came. It kept the server honest. What a concept.

My sister Jan was always on board for this. She became the dessert ‘meister’. Her servings of ice cream always surpassed expectations. She didn’t short herself, or anyone else. What a great sister.

In fifth grade I learned another principle of Distributive Justice.

My class had nine boys and thirteen girls. Our teacher, Miss Hendrickson asked for nominations to elect our class president.

There was no campaign, there were no responsibilities. It was a popularity contest. But Miss Hendrickson had a subtler lesson to convey.

The class immediately coalesced into ‘parties’ organically determined by gender, not ideology (gender is not an ideology, nor is popularity). We boys quickly realized that our four vote deficit put us at a huge disadvantage.

Who would be so primitive as to vote based merely on gender? Fifth graders.

A note to those who think there is no difference between the sexes. Try telling that to a fifth grader. Try getting three girls to switch their vote to the boy (or vice versa) and your theory will be dashed. Anyone would know they had more to lose than to gain by switching sides in that contest.

(Even if the boy was ‘cute’ only one girl stood to benefit by switching her vote. And she could expect to pay dearly for her fawning disloyalty.)

The girls gloated and the boys wailed as each side considered the implications of the uneven distribution of votes. It was an unsolvable problem.

The most popular boy, Barry, got nominated and seconded. The boys were grimly determined to vote as a block despite the certain defeat.

Of course, the girls nominated one of their own. However, factions formed and a dispute arose over which of the two most popular girls should be nominated. With shushing and demands for solidarity they settled on a single candidate. It would be a cake walk.

Then Barry did something outrageous and incomprehensible. Probably the smartest kid in the class, Barry broke ranks and nominated the second most popular girl for class president. How could he!

An immediate outburst of protest from the boy’s camp denounced this betrayal. Barry assured the boys that he knew what he was doing. Another boy seconded the nomination.

Despite Barry’s assurances, some purists in the boy’s camp continued to grumble about this travesty.

A girl asked Miss Hendrickson if it was legal for a boy to nominate a girl.

Smiling at the drama, our teacher said the nominations are open and students could nominate whomever and as many as they wish. She repeated that everyone can vote once for whomever they desire.

The girls realized that with the girl’s vote split, Barry might win. A flurry of whispering and emphatic gestures ensued. They tried to enforce party unity but with little success. And they neglected to counter by nominating a second boy.

I’m sure it is no surprise that Barry won the majority vote, straight down ‘party’ lines. The girl’s mixed loyalties blinded them and made Barry’s ploy a success.

I forgot about that little event until Ross Perot ran for president in 1992, on a third party ticket against George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. His splitting the Republican vote gave us Bill Clinton. Thanks Ross.

These days there is much discussion on both sides about possible third and maybe even fourth party runs for president.

I can’t wait.