advice from a fake consultant

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

On Things Odd, Or, What I Think About While Shoveling Snow

It’s been snowing again, which means I have to get the accursed stuff out of the driveway before it freezes into the crust of slipping and sliding that can make that first step such a doozy in the morning.

Of course that leaves me a fair bit of time to think…with all its attendant consequences…and as a result I have not one, but three topics that will be brought to the table. Each is, on it’s own, insufficient for an entire story, but together, they paint an odd pattern of what we see as a people…and what we don’t.

And with that, our first story:

It is early January, and as a result the narrow window is open for that most bizarre of movie marketing rituals: the claim that the title being advertised is “the funniest movie of the year”…which has expanded, not unlike the Academy Awards, to include new categories of recognition: “most terrifying”, “most heartwarming”, and “best family movie” being just a few examples.

And every time I’m exposed to one of these ads-particularly as they get closer to January 1st-I find myself thinking not so much about the first person who ran one of these ads (although that would have been a moment of epiphany worth witnessing), but more about the rest—the person who looked at that first ad and said: “I am so gonna steal that next year”, and of course, all the others who have felt the same way.

There have to be summer marketing lunch meetings (at only the most trendy of LA restaurants, naturally) where high-powered “managers of genius” gather to plan the ad buys for the movies that are scheduled for those release dates; and I suspect at every one there is a subset of that group who gathers--and laughs and laughs and laughs at our odd ability to be swayed by the ads they’re planning to buy.

But that’s an easy one…let’s move on:

Greenpeace is certainly a group that seeks to perform noble work, and at the moment they are on a quest to engage the Japanese whaling fleet in the waters of the Antarctic. And I applaud them for that noble work. But as you’ll see, there’s a twist to the story we’re about to tell that makes this particular noble work seem very odd indeed.

What is going on is that the Greenpeace ship has been searching the ocean for the fleet; which consists of a “processor” or “factory” vessel and numerous smaller vessels which actually catch the whale and bring it to the larger ship.

In the past few days the vessels have been located, and the strategy now is to remain in close contact with the factory vessel. The thinking is that with the Greenpeace ship in close enough range to film the activities on board the Japanese ship there will be a reluctance to process any whales; and at the moment they are correct.

But the Japanese have a plan.

The factory ship has turned away from the support fleet, and they are at the moment headed to an unknown destination with the Greenpeace crew following…but here’s the rub: the Japanese have the ability to be refueled at sea using refueling tenders, and there is no such facility available for the Greenpeacers.

Which leaves Greenpeace in an odd situation: as long as they can continue to burn fuel, which is damaging to the Earth, they can continue their work to save the Earth.

Which brings us to our final odd story of the day:

The Governor of the State of Washington, Christine Gregoire (famous for her amazingly close multi-recount victory in 2004), in an effort to save the reported 200 lives lost to drunk driving, is proposing that the State reintroduce “sobriety checkpoints” as an enforcement tool.

The checkpoints are not in use today because the Washington State Supreme Court found the idea to be constitutionally unacceptable under the State Constitution’s personal privacy protection (see Article 1, Section 7), is more specific than the United States Constitution’s.

There will be many arguments for and against: as examples, supporters might point to the savings of life (“whatever we can do to save even one innocent life is worth it…” seems to be an argument that will be adopted), some might even argue that the privilege of driving overrides any expectation of privacy, and others will presumably argue that by limiting the application of the checkpoints we can limit the damage to civil liberties.

Opponents can be expected to argue that the presence of checkpoints does not create a causal link to savings of life, that perfect correlation of checkpoints and life savings is impossible, therefore some number of lives lower than 200 might be saved, and that the burden of stopping large numbers of the innocent overrides the government’s compelling interest in trying to prevent the loss of life using this tool.

As a cynic, I would also have questions about where these checkpoints might be located. For example, I would be surprised if checkpoints were set up around the hotels where political fundraisers are conducted…or around the stadiums following any professional sporting event. I would not be surprised if minority communities eventually came to perceive them as unfairly targeting their neighborhoods…or if certain (wealthy) communities set them up more or less full time as a way of “guarding the border”. But I digress.

The odd thing about all of this is that even though I vehemently disagree with the Governor’s position, I appreciate the difficulty she faces in trying to balance the two competing -but fundamental-interests involved. The first, her sworn duty to the citizens to protect and defend the State’s Constitution—including its protection of personal privacy; balanced against the second…the duty to protect life and property interests that has led her to offer this proposal.

Which brings me to my final, most odd thought for the day—a defense of politics: despite what we might say about them, the people we might oppose are often decent of heart and well intentioned; and sometimes their perception is that they are forced to choose between more than one “right” answer, as our last example so clearly shows.

This electoral cycle, if we hope to advance causes that matter to us, let’s remember that we will need to unite with those we might not always agree with (remember the purple voters?)…which is why we should consider adopting a Tip O’Neill tactic: the ability to sit down with the other side over a nice dinner…or a game of poker…or a Saturday afternoon BBQ…and come away from the thing with a sense that, despite the disagreements, we can all respect-and even enjoy-our connections as people, and as Americans, and as people seeking to get many of the same things done.

Not only is it a great way to win elections…and a great way to actually govern…it makes for a better country—and if we take the concept offshore, it’s a great way to make a better world.

And that’s what I think about when I shovel snow.
Odd, isn’t it?

1 comment:

Colin Campbell said...

It has been many years since I have had to shovel snow. Lucky me. I agree, it can be quite a pleasant activity providing the snow is light and fluffy. On the other hand..