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Archive for May, 2010

With the end of May comes what I used to call The Silly Season.  That is, it is the start of political campaigns for primary elections, which then lead to run-offs, then ramping up to the big election in November and culminating with the court challenges afterward. It is an unending series of campaign meet & greets, baby-kissings, promises-made and, on occasion, lies-told.  It is the time of political slogans and promises.  Interestingly, the slogan “A chicken in every pot” is wrongly attributed to Herbert Hoover; it is much more of an evergreen, going back to Henry IV of France.  Some things in politics never change….

Given the serious condition of our Great Republic these days, it seems inappropriate to call this one the silly season.  Even though one Democratic candidate for Governor is calling for mandatory negotiations for those about to lose their homes and the hiring of more teachers and giving them more pay.  Clearly a populist play, it must be music to the ears of the Georgia Association of Educators; more members and higher wages, too.  Yet, as pointed out in some of my earlier posts, there is a serious concern about in our land.  And a concern that solutions be reached to address the problems that beset us.  The electorate is restive.

Toward that end, there are a number of candidates running for the U. S. Congress position in the 4th District of Georgia, both Republican and Democrat.  Presumably, the Socialist Workers Party will be fielding a candidate, too.  In any case, there are four people running in the Republican primary to be the anointed candidate.  Cory Ruth is one such candidate.

The District

For a series of years, the 4th Congressional District was represented by one Cynthia McKinney.  This, of course, provided me with a great source for political writing.  McKinney obviously satisfied the political yearnings of some voters of the 4th District, but not at this end of the District.  It was rare to see her in this area, and usually she was there just long enough to have her photograph taken with white people in her vicinity for a campaign brochure before she returned to the fortress of the south end of the 4th.  Over the years, the 4th District has been gerrymandered in such a way that it is a “safe” seat for Democrats, but given the uncertainties of this election cycle, that may not remain the case.

In any case, our end of the 4th District does not see its elected Congressional  representative very often.  The current occupant of the 4th District seat actually appeared in our area on at least two occasions, but one does wonder what the south end of the District thinks about us since we are this white bastion in a largely black District.  I’m sure that there must be some cutesy name such as Indian Country or the DMZ, but I choose to call it the Brookhaven Free State, a name which is not likely to catch on because it requires too much explanation.

The Meeting

On Tuesday, the 25th of May, I sat in at a Cory Ruth meet & greet at a nearby coffee house.  Library Coffee has become the place for such political gatherings since they are conveniently located, serve good coffee and good food and have a large table in the center of the room which acts like the kitchen table in a private home.  It’s an interesting venue, although the acoustics are miserable, which make hearing the candidate’s words often a difficult process.  This may actually work to the candidate’s advantage.

This gathering was attended by nine people from the 4th District.  Several were neighbors of mine, people I know, while others were from other places in the District.  These nine people are also an indication of the general problem with the electorate, an absence of interest in the political process.  They are the small core group of people that are interested in the primary election and were actually willing to come out on a Tuesday night to be informed.  This is probably just as well, not only because of the room’s acoustics but also the small number of people allowed all to actively participate.

It is common currency in some quarters to describe the electorate as being stupid, but you would never know that based on the discussion.  Not that there’s not plenty of anecdotal evidence to support that opinion, but the people gathered that night were thoughtful, sincere and interested.  It was a lot closer to Rockwell’s painting Freedom of Speech than a SEIU demonstration.  But it always comes down to what questions to ask.

The late Cathy Bennett, who was a jury consultant, had the well considered opinion that you could ask a specific question during the jury voir dire process that would tell you everything which you needed to know about a potential juror’s state of mind as it related to your legal case.  She would study the case and come up with the appropriate questions.  The big question could be something as simple as “Which would you choose, vanilla ice cream or Neopolitan?” and the answer would give you a reasonable idea as to how a juror would consider your case.  The political vetting process is not nearly so well developed, but there are some common questions.

The Questions

As Mr. Ruth was enumerating his background and qualifications, I found myself wondering just exactly how does one go about shopping for a new Congressman?  The voters’ guides from the League of Women Voters and other sources mostly detail the biographies of the candidates and note any prominent events (good or bad).  There is no eBay feedback, there is no Consumers Union to extensively test the candidates in a laboratory environment.  The standards of truth don’t necessarily apply to political speech, no matter how hard Congress tries.  In short, obtaining the correct Congressman is a difficult process, one that is further complicated by the fact that what I would like is not necessarily what you would like.  It all comes down to a question of voter volume, so it is the potential Congressperson’s goal to say as much as possible about as little as possible.  You say a lot of words so that you have people’s rapt attention while saying as little as  possible so that you do not become ensnared in controversy.  Certainly questions of background experience are worthy, and the questions from our little group were thoughtful.

When asked about his abilities to conduct the people’s business, he fell back on the successful businessman model.  That is, “I enhanced production by 20%” sort of stuff that sounds impressive until you realize that government is a not-for-profit operation and that we should have it no other way.  Consider it in the same context as to why we do not pay police officers commissions for issuing traffic citations.  However well intended such an idea might be, it opens up a gamut of unintended consequences.  Likewise, our governments don’t necessarily operate like business in the first place.

On the other hand, the subject of the National Debt came up and $13 Trillion is pretty hard to ignore.  At one side of our gathering, the daughter of one of the participants played with a doll.  As we talked about the debt, I wondered what sort of world we were creating for her.  As someone who often measures things by examining a balance sheet and profit & loss statement to gain a measure as to how effective an institution is, I again realize just how abstract things have become.

Viewing governments by private enterprise standards sets you up for depression.  Not only does government ignore GAAP whenever it feels like it, it keeps things off the books and hides them in a variety of ways that, if they were private individuals, would get them under the RICO statutes.  Also, we expect things from government that we would never reasonably expect from any private enterprise entity, not at least without paying substantially for it.  And in the Norman Rockwell world, government serves as the referee for our Great Republic.  At least until things get so out of balance that the voters have to intervene.  As it is today.

Certainly the responses to our questions were also meant to show off the candidate’s conservative credentials and skills.  Consider the group he was addressing.  The subject of abortion came up, as it inevitably does, and with the usual result.  This topic is so hot, and it is so closely held on a personal basis by just about everybody, that discussion of the subject is moot.

You can talk about it all you want, but changing other people’s minds on the subject is an entirely different matter.  It is an emotional subject, and discussion about it is an effective way to end discussion about a lot of other things.  In the case of Alan Keyes, his single mindedness on the subject served to move him to the political periphery.  Not only did he lose political traction by this, but the United States also lost an eloquent conservative voice.  He’s still around, of course, but how many people are listening?

In point of fact, conservatism has lost several voices in recent years, most notably William F. Buckley.  What has remained are the echos of the past.  It is not helped by the fact that when two or more conservatives gather together, they find themselves sputtering about a time when the Republican Party held both houses of Congress and the White House, all at the same very time.  All this did was set the stage for even more profligate spending by the Tax & Spend Party; of course, these days, how can you tell?  For the moment, the Republicans main claim to fame is that they’re not the Democrats, which serves to explain the Tea Party Movement, which has filled a political vacuum.

The Wrap-up

I begged off from the meeting after about and hour and a half.  I have not decided to vote for Mr. Ruth or any others, if for no other reason than the fact that for the last forty years, I have voted in the Democratic primary.  This dates back to the halcyon days of Bo Calloway and a time when there was little if any action in the Republican primaries of the 1960’s or 1970’s.  These were also the days of “Jimmy Who?“, but I digress.  Of course, now things are decidedly different.

In addition to the four Republican candidates for the 4th District Congressional post, there are three in the Democratic primary, too.  Hank Johnson is the incumbent, the one who finally ejected the combative Cynthia McKinney.  Connie Stokes is there, too, along with the former Mr. CEO, Vernon Jones.  I know Vernon Jones, believe me, I know him.  So, it becomes a question as to where my vote is best cast.

Corey Ruth did ring my chimes a few times:

  • Mr. Ruth pointed out that his goal was not to make government more efficient but to get government out of our lives.  His motivation is that a massive government presence in people’s lives interferes with their ability to be successful.  Needless to say, this is a major tenet of conservative thought and a worthy one.  The more dependent we are on government, the more its power grows and with that growth of power comes more interference in our day to day lives.  The person who pays the piper calls the tune.  In other words, we have focused on program efficiencies at the loss of individual autonomy.
  • Corey Ruth lives in the south end of DeKalb County, the heart of political power in the 4th District.  By being there, and attending churches there, he believes that he is well connected and aware of community issues.  In many ways, this is a call-back to the earlier days of political governance in 1960’s Atlanta, where the white majority politicians governed with the consent of the black minority.  Now, of course, the shoe is on the other foot, but it is interesting that he seeks input from the northern end of the District.
  • Mr. Ruth grew up with computer technology.  He came of age “When Windows 95 came out“.  I’ll leave judgment of whether or not this is a good idea for another time, but that’s the way of the future regardless.

Mr. Ruth’s manner is relaxed and informal, but one thing bothered me initially.  From time to time, his words were awkward and he would back up a word or two and then re-speak.  After a while, I began to realize that the problem that I was having is the popular expectation that our political candidates should be like polished television anchors.  This erroneous notion confuses clear speaking for clear thinking.

In recent memory, we have had at least two smooth talking black men elected to office, one at the County level and the other at the National level.  In both cases, their words have been calm and self-assured, leading the voters to believe that the candidate was qualified for the office.  As it turns out, what was promised was different from what was delivered.  People have the expectations of complete control by their elected leaders, and the smooth talk assured them.  But when the rubber meets the road, their governance has not been nearly as smooth or polished.  It was yet another example of political candidates being marketed as a box of soap rather than as a real human being who wants to control people’s lives.

Cory Ruth calls Asbury Park, New Jersey as his hometown, and describes it as being “pretty rough“.  I called a friend who is from New Jersey to verify that claim, and he said that it is “pretty true in several areas“.  I hung up and he called back a minute later, telling me “Of course, that’s where Bruce Springsteen got his start.

Given the rough & tumble character of DeKalb County politics, maybe we’re on to something here.

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Fast and Loose

Those that know me probably also know that I did not set the academic woods afire when I was in college. It should be said, however, that just because I did not get good grades in college does not mean that I did not learn things. Actually, I learned a great deal, and a lot of that learning was in the interpersonal department, an area in which I excelled. Nor is this to demean the college that I attended and graduated from, it’s just that my relatively low grades indicated that I didn’t really fit their agenda.

It is, of course, a continuing discussion as to just exactly what does a liberal arts education prepare you for.  In the case of my humble little college, it was preparation for graduate school or service in the, ahem, public sector.  It is in these areas that my college has thrived, but the discussion about the validity of a liberal arts education periodically rears its ugly head.  Consider Peter Berkowitz‘s article in the May 15, 2010 Wall Street Journal, “Why Liberal Education Matters“.

This op-ed reiterates the liberal arts college fund raising mantra of “A liberal arts education prepares you for life.  A technical college degree just prepares you for a job.”  Every time you meet with college development officials who are seeking to reach into your wallet, you hear them droning along about the inherent value of a liberal arts education.  And, interestingly, the need of alumni financial support.

As an aside, I could never be a college development official since they are forced to live in two fundamentally different worlds.  On some days, they live in a gauzy world where the teaching of liberal arts has permuted to the teaching of liberal politics.  They leave that world and enter the hard world of the alumni, and the ones that they want to talk to are the ones that have worked hard and been financially successful.  And they probably did not get to that place in life without developing a taste for political conservatism.

I’m not cruel about it, but I always like to gently remind the college development people of Antioch College, home of the “Sexual Offense Prevention Policy“.  Antioch is currently closed but trying to reopen.  I suspect that this college was so successful in teaching the anti-capitalist agenda that none of the alumni went out and actually made money, with the college being sucked under in the resulting financial undertow.  For the record, they’re trying to reopen and do have a web page up in place.

Not that they’re wrong, it’s just that kids from other countries come to the United States for education.  They take and excel at the hard sciences and leave with degrees that let them return to their home country to make a difference in their societies.  Here, our liberal arts graduates can tell you everything about what happened on Entertainment Tonight while the kids overseas are busy eating our lunch.  Berkowitz states: “No doubt science and math are vital. But all of the attention being paid to these disciplines obscures a more serious problem: the urgent need to reform liberal education.”

Of course, what constitutes reform is the key discussion point. Based upon my personal experiences in the ivied halls of the liberal arts machine, a dose of conservative thought wouldn’t hurt.  This is not to say that there should be a purge of any progressive agenda, but it is to say that some counterbalancing ideas in an open discussion environment wouldn’t hurt.  There’s a lot of lip service paid to “open discussion of ideas“, but what I’ve seen from my little college is anything but that.  The political reeducation camps of post-war Viet Nam look a lot closer to the liberal arts ideal that my little college seems to be generating.  What is more interesting, the faculty of this institution points to this fact with pride.

But, does my little educational gulag prepare you for life?  In my case, it did, but only because I sensed that I needed other education to counterbalance the continuing diet of left wing thought which was designed to get me onto the grad school track and then into a long and successful career of indoctrinating others.  To that end, I worked at several employments which were decidedly not in the liberal arts course catalog.  Jobs like working for a railroad and driving a garbage truck.  Stuff that put you right in there with the proletariat, as they say in liberal circles.  I have raved on about this in earlier blogs, and there’s little sense revisiting the issue except to point out a couple little details.

My disaffection with the current state of liberal arts education came about as a progressive series of little vignettes.  It’s like looking at individual pieces of stained glass and then later stepping back to see the entire window.  Like when I held the door open for a coed and she hissed at me.  My simple courtesy was an insult to her by me.  Go figure.  Have I stopped holding doors for people?  No, and if I ever get back to my old campus, you can count on the fact that I will be stationing myself at a busy door.

And, my small discovery of a campus controversy a couple years back when when there was an impeachment effort against the President of the college’s Student Senate.  The matter was based in what appears to be a startlingly trivial causative source: “The petition began largely as a result of Student Senate meetings regarding theme housing. Several students were dissatisfied with the way in which [the Student Senate President] and Student Senate handled the discussion of, in particular, Queer and Ally House, Feminist House and Asian Cultural House.”  Suit yourself.  In any case, the Student Senate President weathered the controversy, graduated and went out into the real world.  She took a job as a political aide to a local Congressman.  So, my little college prepared her perfectly for a certain kind of world.  She took with her the sum of all those little lessons learned in college.

One of my classmates during my time in that Midwestern progressives’ archipelago has gone on to a successful career serving in the left wing of our society. Who he is does not matter because that is not the purpose of this discussion. Rather, I spotted a behavior in him that seems to crop up with great regularity.  During academic discussions that were part of our training for graduate school, this person would blandly throw out academic references in the manner of “My theory is supported by the work of Schitz & Schlitz.”  That was not really the referenced name, just something I made up for my own amusement.

Back in those ancient days, fact checking meant that you had to go to the academic journals and manually search for the referenced work of Schitz and Schlitz.  Today you can quickly verify things with a Google search, but that was not the way back then.  Out of morbid curiosity, I actually sat down to find this referenced study.  After several days of searching, nothing turned up, leading me to wonder if there had ever been such a study.  Of course, by that time, everybody had moved on to other things.

Which is remarkably like things today.  Consider the subject of climate change, for example.  Studies and references are thrown out to support arguments, but they soon evaporate after close examination.  By that time of that disproving discovery, everybody has moved on to other things.

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Voter Anger

In the cool light of the morning after a Primary Tuesday, it is evident that the voting sector of our population is restive. Several professional politicians have been voted out and others are going back for a run-off in two weeks.  Certain portions of the media are describing this as voter anger. I’ve seen a couple people in our neighborhood that are interested in politics and they are, indeed, angry.  It is helpful in this situation to stand back and consider what is happening.

Yes, it is anger, but the source of the anger is that just about every institution in our society has failed us in one way or another.  It runs across the entire grain of our society from the Catholic Church, to ACORN, to the banks, to our internet providers, to the two major political parties.  In some cases, you can switch supporting an institution, such as moving from AT&T to Comcast, or vice-versa, but in the end, they are just Tweedledum and Tweedledee (ooops, alittle too close to home on that).

On the other hand, politicians are the one place where people can successfully express their anger, either publicly by standing up and yelling or silently, by quietly going to the polls and casting their vote.  There are sure to be collateral casualties, politicians that have worked hard and tried to do the right thing, but lost anyway.

A mentality has developed that believes that a particular political position is a “Democrat seat” or a “Republican seat”, and while that might be historically true, the electorate no longer views it that way.  That political position is “The People’s seat”.

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There’s a term used in charity fund raising circles called charity fatigue, a.k.a donation fatigue.  Basically, it happens when people receive yet another heart rending appeal for money for hurricane victims, earthquake victims, the homeless or helpless animals.  You receive so many appeals in a year and you can’t help all of them, so you get tired of hearing it.  As a result, the charities have to resort to even more heart rending photographs and tear jerking words to pry the money loose.

Leave it to the Brits to express this issue with wit and aplomb.  This from The Guardian in the formerly Great Britain, written by one Malcolm Gluck of London:

It is impossible in London to avoid being propositioned in the street by well-meaning people purporting to represent charities. I have been pestered by buskers inside a tube carriage who beg for an audience and I am regularly threatened by do-gooders who demand, via email, that I support their son or daughter who is going to swim the length of the Amazon under water to raise money for whatever good cause. Whenever there is a knock at my door, I am unsurprised to find a callow youth beseeching me to sponsor him for a three mile egg-and-spoon race. So it was with no small measure of irritation, that I sat down to solve Saturday’s cryptic crossword by Paul (a wily and sometimes difficult-to-grasp setter), to read he too had his hand out, to help fund his volunteer work in a deprived community, which was the answer to 22 across – and, frankly, dear Guardian, I have had enough. I am not an heartless man, but give me a break, Paul. You rarely give your solvers one, so don’t expect any reciprocal charity from me.

Who can argue with that?

Of course, there are always those who want to make things your fault, even when it isn’t.  This charming paragraph from the Urban Dictionary:

Charity fatigue is caused ultimately by the ever-increasing phenomenon of self-interest fostered in societies that have had a paradigm shift from believing it was a civic responsibility for the better-off to protect the less fortunate to that of a user-pays, dog-eat-dog, each-for-themself dystopia. And as a result, the disadvantaged have to scrape together their own resources, competing not only against other charities, but vying for the carity most of us cannot afford to give due to the need for us to service our own out-of-control disease of consumerism.

Repeat after me.  It is because I am too selfish and greedy that I cannot support your wonderful cause.  Suit yourself.

That said, I write these words after hearing yet another appeal by our destitute Federal Government for even more money.  After countless bailouts for countless institutions that cannot stand by themselves without taxpayer largess, we have yet another one.  There it was, right there on the ABC Evening News: Obama Administration Backs $23B Bill to Save Teacher Jobs. Of course they do.  And, of course, this little bailout follows a $100B from the previous year.

The whole process takes on a kabuki like air.  This is, after all, for the children, but there is a certain irony that we are spending even more money for the childrens’ benefit but at the end result of these same children being saddled with untold debt that will be a constant presence for their entire lives.  ABC, being a member of good standing in the lapdog media, reports the compelling need for more money for the unionized school marms.  Yet even with their fealty to the progressive agenda, ABC seems to have difficulty summoning up the appropriate urgency; this is, after all, yet another 23 Billion spent after last year’s 100 Billion.

The Government apparently even have boilerplate for each bailout.  Simply plug in the necessary words at the appropriate locations.  Consider:

“We are gravely concerned that ongoing state and local budget challenges are threatening hundreds of thousands of [teacher] jobs for the upcoming [school] year, with estimates ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 [education] jobs at risk,” [Education] Secretary [Arne Duncan] wrote in a letter to House Speaker [Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.], and Senate Majority Leader [Harry Reid, D-Nev].

“Without swift action, millions of [children] will experience these budget cuts in one way or another through reductions in [class time]; cuts to [early childhood] programs, [extracurricular activities], and [summer school]; and reduced [course] offerings as [teachers] are laid off,” the letter continued.

With one bailout after another, it was inevitable that bailout fatigue would happen even to the most bleeding of hearts.  It’s like being pecked to death by ducks or beaten to death by al dente spaghetti.  And, the temptation is that when these people ring your door bell, to just throw $23 Billion at them and slam the door, but we don’t have it.  Maybe we can borrow it from Greece.  Of course, unlike charities, the governments simply pry it out of our hands by force or write checks that will never be good and leave it to the next generation to deal with the mess.

There is one other difference between bailout fatigue and charity fatigue.  When you tell the solicitor for that homeless charity that you can’t support their cause because you can’t afford it, at least you feel guilty.

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Strong Women

Today is Mother’s Day in the United States, and with this event come the inevitable series of articles, op-eds and related stories about women in today’s society.  Perhaps the most interesting story dates back to March, with an article written by Kenneth Vogel on Politico.com,  Face of the tea party is female.  Building on that, Michael Graham writes Moms to the Barricades in the Wall Street Journal, which observes that the Tea Party movement has a distinctly female component.

“Forget “angry white men.” In the male-dominated world of conservative politics, the tea party stands out as a movement of energized and organized women. In particular, moms.”

Or, as observed in this same article:

Her favorite tea party sign? “Menopause Was Change Enough for Me.”

Of course, no article about prominent female opposition to the current regime would be complete without talking about you-know-who. She is ubiquitous, and I personally am not completely resolved about her presence.  And, no, we’re not talking about Lady Thatcher.  Like her or hate her, you do know who Sarah Palin is.  In the larger sense, I feel that she is a drum major looking for a parade. And just how big a parade she gets is still an undetermined matter.

The Tea Party movement is remarkable in a variety of ways,  but it is notable that there are no “charismatic” leaders who run out in front of the cameras and grab.  And, there is the dawning realization that this movement is for real and reflects the growing sense that the growing government is not a good thing for a lot of sectors of our economy and for our society.  You can’t turn around without running into some Federal presence, from A (the Arts) to Z (Zoos).  As a conservative, I feel that this cannot be a good thing, no matter how well-intentioned.  Big governments remind me of elephants being taught to dance.

The “experts” question how influential the Tea Party movement will be, neglecting to see that it has already become influential.  “Other such movements have flowered briefly, only to wither without making much of a difference.” The Bull Moose Party comes to mind, of course, which fractionated the electoral vote to give the United States Woodrow Wilson for eight wonderful years.

By describing the Tea Party movement as just being a passing fad is an effort to minimize its actual effect.  It also ignores the fact that a core tenet of conservatism is to keep government at a minimum.  In most cases, this refers to the taxing and administrative component of government, but it could also refer to the actions of the political parties.  That is, once the Tea Party movement has achieved its desired goals of less government and lower taxes, there is little reason for the movement to stay around as just another bureaucracy.

I’ve been around strong women all my life, and although it can be difficult, I would have it no other way.  Years ago, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal talking about Republican women and gender discrimination.  One woman was quoted, saying words to the effect of “It’s not that Republican women don’t run into gender discrimination.  We just work around and and not talk about it.  If we were to talk about, some “progressive” would come along and try to pass a bunch of laws to control it.

I think about that from time to time when I think of an aunt that lives in the northeast.  She married well and raised a family in a huge Victorian house in a tony suburb.  As her family grew older and started moving out of the house, it became obvious that the Victorian was much too much house for their needs.  She started looking around and found a place around the corner; it was a fallen angel that had suffered years of neglect and deferred maintenance.  But this house also had strong bones and she took a liking to it immediately.  She showed it to her prominent husband, who promptly turned his nose up at it, saying that there was no reason to buy this wreck of a house.

So, she went out and bought it herself.  Over the following months, she conducted a stealth construction operation that completely renovated this Federal style house, making it into a home.  Once the work was completed, she quietly advised her husband over a Thursday morning breakfast that she was moving over to a new address on Saturday and that he was quite welcome to come along if he wanted.

He is always the one to bring the subject of  The Move up, and he always smiles when he regales his guests with this wonderful story.  “Being a prudent man, I chose to come along.”

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There are several Interstate Highway locations in the Atlanta area which are prone to odd problems for unknowing drivers. In two cases, unaware drivers changing from a southbound highway to a westbound highway initially exit in an eastbound manner, which leads to confusion and periodic accidents.  These poorly designed ramps are built into the highway infrastructure in such a way that changing them is unlikely in my lifetime.

In another case, the exit ramp from I-75 outbound to I-85 northbound in downtown Atlanta is a unique source of problems.  Drivers exit to the left of the main lanes of traffic, head under an overpass and then curve sharply 180° to the right, first in a westbound direction,  and then very quickly turning north onto I-85.

Futo's Curve

In practice, the uninitiated driver is traveling south on I-75 at the typical Atlanta Interstate speed of Warp 2, turns off of I-75 onto the exit ramp and is forced to quickly drop down to a sub-light 30 miles per hour.  After traveling at high speeds for miles, many drivers do not see the prominent signs and flashing lights advising them to slow down.  They also do not hear the rumble strips in the road, nor see the skid marks or overturned cars and head into the curve at excessive speed.  Some are able to recover at the last moment, but in other cases, the cars fly off the road onto an embankment.

Unable to proceed further, the Atlanta Police are called to the scene.  After a period of investigation, the city’s contractor, Futo’s Towing Service, is called, thus giving this location its unofficial name, Futo’s Curve.  Certainly, every social gathering of employees and owners of Futo’s includes a moment of silence with glasses raised to the design of this intersection and its contribution to the Company’s bottom line.

For the experienced hand, the way to play Futo’s Curve is slowly, which has now set up an interesting new feature of the highway ramp.  It’s the perfect place for a scam.

A couple days ago, I was wending my way from I-75 to I-85 at this location.  As I reached the curve itself, I had bindered down to a respectable 35 mph and was entering the curve.  Alongside the road, on the inside of the curve, was a Chevy S-10 pickup with its hood raised, likely indicating a mechanical problem.  Those who know the S-10 will recognize this as being a normal position for this vehicle.  The driver was in front of the vehicle and made praying motions to me, imploring me to stop.  Against my better judgment, I did so.

As with many such situations, the notion of “scam” is always in the back of your mind but, I, along with other people, have some soft spots.  “Need money for gasoline” is one of mine.  Why is a much longer story, and if little old ladies start running scams, I’m done for.  In any case, the quality of the pitch is an important one.  All the good elements were there in just the right measure:

  • Personalization – His name was “Steve” and he worked for “Black & Decker”.  I must look like a Black and Decker aficionado, but I can’t say all that much for their toasters.
  • Dire circumstances – He was out of gas.
  • Peril – Two police officers had already stopped there.
  • Urgency – He had a baby in the truck.  (In retrospect, the baby was a little over the top as far as low-end scams go, but, hey, you don’t have time to think of that stuff in the heat of the moment.)  Of course, urgency is what really drives this sort of scam; no sense letting the mark think too much about things.
  • Redemption –  The police officers had told him that he needed $38.00 to get out of this quandary.  The amount of $38.00 is genius, since it sounds like a likely amount.  And, I might add, a smart amount, since most Black and Decker aficionados would immediately round up to $40.00, which is conveniently located in their money clip.

I forked over the $40.00 and headed on my way.  Of course, it was a scam, but it’s hard for me to screw up indignation here for a number of reasons.

We as a nation are so frequently lied to that a little low-end scam such as this hardly merits the bandwidth I’m using here.  This was no Bernie Madoff.  We are told that “Your call is important to us”, but at least “Steve” wanted to know my name (to no doubt add another entry to his Wall of Fame).  In other cases, some of the lies that we are exposed to are so massively self-evident that they do not require or merit explanation.  Consider the statements from each of the major political parties telling us that they have our best interest at heart.

The cynic in me has one explanation for why I gave “Steve” $40.00 out on the Interstate.  He was in a position where $38.00 would help him out in some way.  He could have gone to some government agency, filled out the necessary paperwork and finally been given $35.00.  Meanwhile, I would have had to come up with $100.00 worth of estimated tax payments to cover the $35.00 and its related overhead costs.  Cynically, just view this as a direct payment to those in need without all the waste; a perversion of trickle down economics.

But I don’t view it that way.  Some people get up in the morning and their shields immediately come up as they wait for someone to come along and screw them somehow.  I just can’t live that way.  This is not to say that I don’t protect myself against this sort of stuff, but you just can’t live in continuous fear that somehow, someway, everybody is out to get you.  Yes, a few of them actually are out to get you, but not most people.

I live with Christian faith, and that has proven to be right most of the time.  And, with “Steve”, there is always the possibility that his story was true.  Okay, maybe a 1 in 20 chance, but there’s still a chance.  And if you run into “Steve”, tell him that you saw a buddy of his last week, who said to say “Hi!”

It’s your choice as to whether you give him money or not.

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