31 July 2007

Get Granny off the Road

Driving to work this morning, I got stuck behind Grandpa, who deemed it suitable to slow down to nearly a stop at a green light. We were in the left turn lane, and we had one of those comforting green arrows — the ones that let you know you can safely turn without someone smashing into you. Grandpa almost caused an accident by stopping at that green light.

I’ve been behind elderly folks who come to a complete stop before making a right-hand turn into a parking lot. I’ve been behind plenty who either don’t use their turn signals at all or keep their turn signals on all the time. I’ve had the displeasure of having elderly people suddenly turn into traffic — obviously without looking beforehand — so that I had to slam on my breaks and pray not to rear-end them.

At least two mornings a week, I cringe when Willard Scott announces centennial birthdays on the “Today” show. He’s so cheerful when he says, “Edna Bates of Omaha is 102 today. Edna is active in her church, and she still drives herself to her church social group every day. Now isn’t that wonderful?” No, Willard, that is not wonderful. Chances are good that Edna is a hazard to other drivers every time she ventures out on the road. Chances are also good, Willard, that someone should have yanked Edna’s driver’s license 25 years ago.

Seventy percent of the times I’m behind someone who’s swerving, can’t maintain a constant speed, not using turn signals and generally displaying awful driving habits, it’s an idiot on a cell phone. The other 30 percent of the time, it’s an old person who shouldn’t even have a driver’s license. So often the elderly refuse to drive the speed limit — they drive 10 mph below the speed limit. It’s great that Granny Clampett is retired and doesn’t have to be anywhere at any specific time, but many of us need to get to work at a pace faster than 25 mph.

It’s time states start doing something about these geezers who can’t properly operate a vehicle. When drunk drivers are arrested and go to alcohol awareness classes, AA and court, they are made very aware that a vehicle is a dangerous weapon in the hands of a driver under the influence. Why, then, do we not consider a vehicle a dangerous weapon in the hands of any driver who cannot properly operate it, including the elderly?

The old folks have handicapped license plates and stickers — which indicates they have a condition that limits them physically — and they’re older than Methuselah, but by god, let ‘em drive! No. If they don’t have the sense to realize they are a hazard on the road, then the states need to decide for them.

Here’s how: Once someone reaches the age of retirement (currently age 62 in the United States), he or she should have to take a driving test every year to renew a driver’s license. If you’re old enough to receive the Social Security benefits for which I’m paying, then you’re old enough to prove you can still drive safely on the road with me.

And I don’t mean the written test; I mean the driving test, and more than once around a neighborhood block. They should have to drive on well-traveled streets and the interstate (to prove that they can drive faster than 35 mph), and they should have to drive in real traffic situations. (By the way, vision exams should be annual, too, as the eyesight deteriorates rapidly at this stage in life.)

Driving examiners could then determine whether to issue a full driver’s license, a restricted driver’s license (such as no driving after sundown), or no driver’s license. This is essentially the process for teens when they get their first driver’s license, the logic being that they have not yet developed keen driving skills. So, then, it makes sense to have the same process for people whose driving skills are no longer keen.

Just because you can turn on the ignition of a car or you’ve driven for 60 years doesn’t mean that you should have the privilege of driving until you’re 102. And driving is a privilege — one that is revoked when people mishandle their vehicles, and this should include the elderly.

23 July 2007

Time (Out) for a Spanking

Last week, Tamera Jo Freeman, 38, was arrested for allegedly abusing her two children on a Frontier flight from San Francisco to Denver. Witnesses said that Freeman appeared intoxicated when she slapped her children, ages 2 and 4, repeatedly on the legs, arms and shoulders, as well as cursed at them. She was also charged with interfering with a flight crew after a flight attendant intervened and Freeman allegedly threw a drink at her and followed her into the aisle yelling in a threatening manner.

Freeman’s behavior was clearly out of line. Since Freeman was flying from California, the story made me think of California assemblywoman Sally Lieber’s anti-spanking bill earlier this year. Lieber attempted to make spanking a child under 3 years of age a criminal offense in California.

My parents spanked my siblings and me, and simple spanking didn’t leave any long-lasting scars on our psyches. I think kids need to be swatted on the ass once in a while. (Hell, I think some adults need to be swatted on the ass once in a while.)

By definition, spanking is swatting a child’s bum with an open hand. I really can’t define this type of spanking as abusive. However, spanking with a belt or paddle or punching your kid is abuse. “Spanking” a baby is abuse. Leaving bruises and breaking bones is abuse. But people who claim that simple spanking is abusive probably need to spank their little brats.

Has anyone else noticed the demise of well-behaved children? Every day I see children demanding, commanding and talking back to their parents and ignoring what they’re told. I hear parents tell their children, “no,” and the kid looks at his mother and goes right on doing what she told him not to — or he starts screaming in the middle of a store. Then these kids grow into teenagers and become even more heinous. They not only talk back to their parents, but they also disrespect their teachers and anyone else with whom they come into contact. Then they become adults who slack off at work because they never expect a pink slip. And the reason for this is that blasted form of “discipline” known as time out.

I first heard of time out when I was about 12. I babysat for some former hippy-turned-yuppy people who gave their children time out at the dining room table when they misbehaved. I was confused by this form of discipline. Time out from what? What is the lesson learned from time out? What’s so bad about time out? You have to sit at the table for 15 minutes? Who cares. I’ll tell ya what’s bad: Acting like a jerk when you have a slumber party and refusing to listen to your mother, then getting spanked in front of your 8-year-old friends. Another thing that’s bad is when you say a very naughty word and your mother scrubs a bar of soap all over your teeth. You’ll be spitting bubbles for two days.

Were those punishments abusive? No. They were punishments that taught me what I shouldn’t do. And I certainly never again acted like a jerk in front of my friends or said that very naughty word aloud. Of course, I said other naughty words, so I did get the soap a few more times. The only lasting result of that, though, is I won’t buy gold-colored bars of soap.

Had my mother given me time out for acting like a jerk or swearing, I would have acted like a jerk and sworn the very next day. Time out is no consequence for bad behavior. Kids need a consequence they dread, fear a little, something they don’t want to happen and that they care if it does. It’s like if they touch a hot stove and get burned; next time, they know that if they touch the hot stove the consequence is that they will get burned.

Children need to learn that there are consequences for their actions. They need to learn to think before they do something and carefully consider the consequences. Learning to think this way will help them throughout their lives: What would happen if I told my boss to suck it? What would be the consequence of ignoring a police officer trying to pull me over? What if I just took something from a store because I wanted it? I'm reasonably certain that the consequences of these actions are more than a time out.

Trust me, when I was growing up, before I did something forbidden, I always weighed whether it was worth the spanking. Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t. But having the spanking hanging over my head sure made me think before I misbehaved. These lessons served me well; as an adult, I consider the consequences of my actions and am prepared to face those consequences.

15 July 2007

Dress Your Size

It's summertime, so it's scorching hot in the Midwest. I hate summer here for more reasons than the discomfort of the heat. I hate it because I'm forced to see people wearing clothing they have no business wearing.

I'll admit, I may be a little over-conscientious of my physical flaws. I don't wear shorts because I'm ghost white and I'm pretty sure I have a little bit of "cottage cheese" on the backs of my thighs. Probably not terribly noticeable, but gross enough for me to cover it up. Likewise, I do not wear sleeveless tops because I don't like the tops of my arms. Although people often roll their eyes when I say these things, I just don't like to wear clothing that spotlights my flaws.

I wish more people felt this way.

Every summer in Omaha, I see obese women wearing short shorts and tube tops. I see overweight men wearing t-shirts with the sleeves cut off and their hairy armpits hanging out. I see women wearing bikinis who should be wearing those one-piece swimsuits that suck everything in. I see fat women (OK, and men) wearing skimpy shirts with their giant boobies bouncing all over the place. Sadly, though, women are the worst offenders of wearing clothing that's all wrong for their bodies.

Let's face it — the general population obviously doesn't have the sense to know better than to wear these atrocities. We can try to teach them, but they just don't get it. I often wonder what they were thinking when they left the house looking like that. Did they actually look in the mirror and say, "Damn, I look great in this outfit"? Do they think, "I love how this ultra-short skirt displays the dimples of my cellulite"? Maybe they just don't look in the mirror and should.

The real problem lies within the clothing companies that manufacture thong bikinis and halter tops in size 18. Do they really want people wearing their clothes and looking awful? Clothing designers and manufacturers should all sign a contract stating that they will not make clothing in sizes that will not flatter the wearer. This means no skinny jeans — which only look good on tall, skinny girls — in short or large sizes. This means no bikinis, no short shorts — and for godsakes, no thongs — in sizes larger than 10.

This also means that rather than making a halter top in sizes 1 to 22, companies need to exercise restraint when determining what styles to make in which sizes. They need to make clothing designed especially to flatter larger figures, accentuate the curves, mask the flaws. We shouldn't see the same clothes in both the misses department and the plus-size department.

I'm not saying overweight women should be forced to wear mumus; there's no reason they can't look attractive and beautiful. Designers and clothing companies need to design clothes that make a woman look "curvy" rather than "fat." Make skirts and shorts that cover the "cheese." Make attractive one-piece swimwear that sucks everything in and still looks sexy. Basically, they need to make clothing specifically for larger sizes rather than designing clothing for a size 6 and making it in every size up to XXXL.

I'm also tired of seeing large women wearing those shorts and sweatpants that say "Princess" or "Sweetheart" or some other stupid cutesy word printed on the ass. These aren't appropriate on anyone, but they look especially stupid on fat women. I always see them in the grocery store.

While they're at it, I suggest designers and clothing companies stop making flimsy bras in size DD. What woman with breasts that size belongs in a flimsy, unlined bra? The women buy them because the support bras in their sizes are ugly, white, grandma-looking contraptions. So make sturdy bras in pretty colors so large-busted women can feel sexy, too. I'm tired of seeing large-busted women flopping around — which is not so noticeable in the winter under a heavy sweater.

I suppose it's too much to ask for clothing companies to refrain from making plus-size clothes with those huge, gaudy floral prints and cutesy crap embroidered on them. For now, I'll settle for making clothing appropriate for the size.

04 July 2007

A Hero Freed

I lived in Michigan in 1991 when the State of Michigan revoked Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s medical license for performing doctor-assisted suicides of terminally ill patients. “Dr. Death,” the headlines screamed, although Kevorkian had never been successfully prosecuted for murder for assisting patients commit suicide. He was tried and acquitted many times, and Kevorkian has always maintained that he practiced voluntary euthanasia: The patients allegedly took the final action that caused their deaths; Kevorkian merely assisted by providing the medications, the IVs and the machine.

After Kevorkian’s license was revoked, he no longer had access to medications and IVs, so he provided patients with a gas mask fed by a container of carbon monoxide. Throughout the years, Kevorkian facilitated more than 130 assisted suicides of terminally ill patients.

In September 1998, Kevorkian made a terrible mistake: He allowed “60 Minutes” to air a videotape of the assisted suicide of Thomas Yourk. The result was that Kevorkian was charged with and convicted of second-degree homicide in Yourk’s death, and he was imprisoned in 1999 at the age of 71.

On June 1, 2007, Kevorkian, now 79, was released from prison. He has stated that he will not resume his practice of facilitating suicides. He is ill with hepatitis, which he contracted from blood transfusions when he served in the Vietnam War, and his doctors predict he has a year to live. What a sad end for such a great man.

Call him Dr. Death all you want — the man provided a service to terminally ill patients who were dying slow, painful deaths. He gave them the option of death with dignity. He enabled patients to decide when they’d had enough pain, enough side effects from treatments, enough quantity of life without quality of life. But despite the dignity Kevorkian gave his patients, he has continually been vilified by the media and Christians.

If you don’t want doctor-assisted suicide, then don’t do it. But every human being deserves the option, the right to die with dignity. We deserve the right to end the pain from chemotherapy and cancer, terminal AIDS infections, and other severe conditions. People should not be forced to waste and wither away until their hearts finally stop. That’s just cruel.

It’s a cruelty that we won’t even allow our pets to suffer. When a dog, cat, horse or other animal is suffering and dying, we take it to the vet to euthanize it. We don’t want our pets to be in pain. We feel selfish and guilty keeping a suffering animal alive to postpone our own grief from losing them.

We offer this compassion to our pets, yet we refuse it to ourselves. We do not feel such compassion for other human beings. Currently, Oregon is the only state in the nation that allows doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill people. In the other 49 states, you must suffer in a hospital bed until you finally die.

I understand that some people reject suicide because it’s against their religious beliefs. Fine — those people are free to believe in their superstitions and suffer like they believe their religious figures did. But the rational people should have the right to decide when we’ve had enough. And we should be able to have that decision carried out with a doctor’s assistance.

Jack Kevorkian should never have served a day in prison. He didn’t commit a crime. He helped people die when they were ready to die, when they were tired of the pain and hospitals. And most importantly, he enabled them to die with dignity.