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Our Part
For the last twelve years, it’s taken heroic optimism to detect anything hopeful on the business page. A day when nothing gets worse can seem like a good sign. The worst part, though, is the feeling that we’re helpless to make the situation better.

The euro is on life support, American cities are going into bankruptcy, your fellow citizens are in full panic and swallowing the Tea Party drivel whole. We seem to be at the mercy of vast, mysterious forces over which our institutions have no sway, much less our own pathetic efforts. We are nothing but hostages on a rudderless ship being sucked into a vortex of economic doom! Aren’t we?!

Gee, I hope not. And I do think there are some things that we can do. For starters, we can work to increase our own productivity. American productivity is at its highest levels in history, and that is all about the power of individuals to work smarter and produce more. It is, in fact, one thing over which we have absolute control.

If we increase our productivity, we save time, and time is money. That is our power — and a cause for hope for our economy. You want specifics? Okay, here are just a few ways to make your life more efficient. They may not seem like much, but if we all get behind this, it just might work.

Let’s start with pleasantries. It usually goes something like this: a chance meeting, Oh, hi (insert name here if you remember it), blah, blah, blah. It’s a complicated, time-consuming way of saying, “Yes, I recognize your face, and in general I have positive feelings toward you. Gotta go now.” I’m sorry, but we’re wasting too much time on this stuff.

I have heard that some people actually derive pleasure from pleasantries, but for all our sakes, perhaps they should look elsewhere for their fun. Until we get through this downturn, it would be better to just go with eye contact, a smile, and “Hi” — and then get back to business.

Another way to cut back is to not check the oven to make sure that you’ve turned it off. You already turned it off. Probably. And even if you do leave it on by mistake sometimes, ask yourself: has it ever been on when you did go back and look? No. So why continue to squander that valuable time when you could be double-checking to see if the front door is locked?

Then, there is the issue of phone-answering etiquette. Imagine yourself sitting right next to the phone; it rings. Do you pick it up immediately or wait for a second ring? Most of us, whether out of courtesy for the caller or a need to conceal our own desperate need for contact, will wait. Those extra seconds, when calculated across the whole economy, constitute billions of hours of lost productivity every year. That’s just an estimate, of course, but you get the idea.

Lastly, let’s focus on the time lost at stoplights. As things stand now, when the light turns green, we wait while each of the cars in front of us waits for each of the cars in front of them to start moving. If you’re back in the pack, it might take you two or three cycles just to get through the light. This is madness. If everyone just started forward at the same instant, think how much faster traffic — and our hobbled economy — would move. All we need is buy-in. I, for one, am game to try it. Starting tomorrow. Consider yourself warned.

If we pull together, we can beat this thing. We know that the job creators are working feverishly to do their parts; can we afford not to do ours? At least you’ll feel like you’re doing something to help, even though the vortex of economic doom will probably devour us all tomorrow. Oops — I hope I haven’t spoiled it for you.
Pique Experience
There’s an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “The Survivors” that pops up to the surface of my brainpan during moments of murderous frustration. I won’t go into the details of the plot; the tidbit I focus on is a simple confession that comes at the very end of the story.

The confessor is a Douwd, an immortal energy being with powers beyond mere human understanding. You know, the usual stuff. Anyway, he cops to Captain Picard that he did this really bad thing to some other aliens, the Husnock, who had killed his human girlfriend. He destroyed them all, he admits; not just the marauders, but every Husnock, everywhere in the universe — with a single thought.

Now, it should be said that the Husnock were bad. For the sake of this writing, let’s call them the worst aliens ever: cruel, violent, remorseless. So they definitely had it coming. Furthermore, no other life forms were harmed, just the Husnock. Still, to use your power to kill all of them in one terrible fit of pique is a sobering thought.

What if I could do that? What if I could respond to my own murderous frustration by killing all terrorists everywhere, or all despots, or all real genocidists? But then I think of that immortal energy being, with all his supersmarts and superethics, lugging around a conscience with 50 billion deaths on it, and I can feel the rage ebbing away. Truly, I am not wise enough to wield such power.

For just the gophers in my yard, though, I think I could handle it.
My Olympics
Later this summer in London, proud Olympic champions will hold up their medals for the world to see. Parents will beam; whole countries will celebrate the achievements of their sons and daughters. People everywhere will rejoice in the fellowship and unity found in the simple purity of sport.

Sadly, I will not be joining them. Not because I begrudge them their pride and feelings of brotherhood, but because the modern Olympic Games have abandoned that purity of sport in favor of a misguided notion of inclusion. Pastimes that have no business being on the same level as, for instance, the hundred-yard dash, have been elevated to that status simply because somebody somewhere likes to play them. Does anyone really believe that the ropes, hoops, and ribbons of rhythmic gymnastics belong on the same podium with javelins and shot puts?

Synchronized swimming, diving, boxing, gymnastics: none of these would be included in My Olympics. Why? Because, to win these competitions, a judge must vote for you. How did voting get to be a part of sport? Give me a measurement, a clocking, a score fairly earned by the athlete; save the secret ballots for Homecoming Queen.

I take my inspiration from the original Greek games. There were very few events then, and for the most part, the scoring was straightforward. Fastest, highest, farthest, strongest: these simple achievements won the day. Let us return to those times, at least for the Olympics.

Any event using complicated equipment of any kind will be looked upon with suspicion at My Olympics. Shooting in any form is banned outright, and I got your Second Amendment right here, pal. Furthermore, fencing, archery, biking, tennis, and croquet will lead the list of sports which will have to prove that their gear doesn’t play too large a part in the outcome. No sport is exempt from scrutiny. The pole vault, for instance, and all ball-related games will be closely examined for compliance. As always, purity of sport will be the standard for all determinations.

And no animals, please. All equestrian events and the modern pentathlon are out. Here, the ancient Greeks were not entirely without fault themselves. In a moment of weakness, they added chariot racing, and it all but killed the original Games. This is supposed to be about humans; Old Paint is welcome to try out for the Kentucky Derby.

There will be no winter games in My Olympics. I’m sorry, but it’s just all too strange: the subjective scoring, the rifles, the puffy clothing, the cold, the high death rate. There has never been skiing in Greece, not even on Mt. Olympus, so let’s save ourselves the anguish of pretending we care about the luge.

Finally, there will be no clothes in My Olympics. All athletes compete in the buff, the way the Greeks did. The Greeks also rubbed themselves down with olive oil, but I will not require that. Canola is fine, and so is corn oil, although most fragrant oils would be banned. They might add an unseemly dimension to some events.

For those athletes who would miss out on a chance to win gold because of these strictures, please find your sports immortality elsewhere. There are other venues for you to prove yourself to your family and your nation. You are certainly welcome to attend as a spectator — just as I would welcome people without any athletic ability at all. But leave your hoops and ribbons at home; your sport just isn’t pure enough for My Olympics.
Not News
Did you hear about the 3.6 earthquake in Barstow? It was in the newspaper.

I confess that I didn’t get past the headline. Any quake under 6.0 is just not worth worrying about, and for Barstow I’d put the minimum at 8.0. Otherwise, it’s not news.

If there is a poll showing that people think global warming is a hoax but that there’s some truth to astrology, please don’t waste my time. The insight this provides into human nature is not news.

The Yankees are in the playoffs? Tell me something I don’t know.

The Dow is up a hundred points? Now it’s down a hundred? Wake me when it swings a thousand or more.

Feel free to edit out all celebrity updates, especially those involving long iterations about struggles with addiction. Thanks; I’m trying to quit.

I guess I do need to know about corporate malfeasance and political corruption. It’s not news, but I do have to keep my outrage fully inflated at all times. You know — just in case I’m presented with an opportunity to do something about it.

I do not need to know about Rush Limbaugh’s latest vile exudation. As a wise man once said, Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot, and that will suffice for me. As to his followers, who proudly proclaim their identity as “dittoheads,” I can only say that I don’t know whether or not they are overweight.

I suppose the end of the world would be a newsworthy event, but what good would it do me to know it was near? Thanks for your concern, but it’s not news.

It is possible that, with all these deletions, my daily newspaper would shrink even more than it already has. Some of my favorite online sources might disappear entirely. I would mourn these losses. I suppose I could subscribe to one of those tailored news feeds, but those services assume that I know what I want. I don’t; all I know is what I don’t want.

If only there was some service that could comb the various news outlets, weed out the useless stuff, then submit the remainder to me for reading.

Oh, wait a minute; that’s me.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee