Tag Archives: Humor

The Top of the South Island—February 2015

I know.  There’s no excuse.  I haven’t posted anything since our last trip and here I am writing about another trip.

It’s not like there hasn’t been a lot to talk about.  It’s just that the stuff that’s going on sort of speaks for itself.  I have nothing to add.  For example, I’d really like to weigh in on the subject of the 20 year old American guy who was gored rather publicly at a bull running festival in Spain.  You want to ask what he was doing there and why.  But once you see the pictures and think ‘Oh my, is that where he got it?’ and then you read that the surgeon said that the guy needed surgery “to repair his sphincter,” you realise that silence is the best policy.

Or the story about the cat that got hit by a car and was presumed dead by its owner and buried.  It turned out it wasn’t dead and crawled its way back home.  The so called ‘zombie cat,’ which is now the center of a ‘custody battle’ between the owner and the local animal shelter is getting more press coverage than Greece, Libya and other global hot spots combined.

How can a rational person compete with that kind of stuff?  So I hope you’ll agree that it seemed like a good time to head out on the road and forget about things for a few days.

We hadn’t been down to the top of the South Island since 2000 and it was definitely a place I wanted to spend more time in.  If you’re in the North Island, there are two ways to get there.  One is to take the ferry from Wellington to Picton or you can fly into Nelson, the biggest town in that part of New Zealand.  The Nelson area has a population of about 46,000 which makes it the 12th largest city in NZ.

You fly into Nelson on a small propeller plane and the single runway airport on the beach gives the approach a Tora! Tora! Tora! feel.


Once we landed we picked up our rental car and after exploring Nelson a bit we headed out.  Here was our route:


We headed west and our first stop was in Ruby Bay where we met up with our friends Rene and Marianne.

After lunch we headed to Motueka where we spent two nights exploring the surrounding area.


The highlight of Motueka was the Sunday market.  We’d been to a market in Nelson when we arrived the day before but it was one of those upscale community markets where they sell designer kids clothing and there are no free samples.  The Motueka market was different.  It was like I’d time travelled back to the 60s.







There was even a man who made guitars out of old car parts.


For the next few days we drove sort of in a loop to increasingly remote and beautiful places including Farewell Spit (the northernmost point of the South Island and at 27 km, the longest sandspit in NZ) and some of the very remote bays in Golden Bay and the Marlborough Sounds.

This area is also home to the Able Tasman National Park and the Kahurangi National Park and we did several short day treks exploring both parks.

I won’t describe each place, but this will give u an idea—around every curve there was another spectacular view or quiet beach.  The beaches ranged from sandy (black, yellow or white sand), shelly or rocky. Here is a sample, in no particular order.















We drove on some interesting roads.




In the real world, old shoes hanging around can mean you’re in a bad neighbourhood.  But not in this case. None of the locals knew how this got started but the shoes along this fence keep increasing in number!


We walked on some scary paths.



Along the way we saw some interesting signs:




And visited some picturesque settlements.





We also stopped by the Te Waikoropupu Springs, which are considered very sacred by the local Maori.  The water is among the cleanest in the world with visibility up to 63 metres (207 feet).




Hitchhiking is a good way to get around the South Island and we did our part to help out some young German and French visitors.



Many tourists opt to travel by camper vans or combi vans and some of the rental companies have interesting messages.






While some prefer to get to the secluded beaches via a ferry shuttle that has its own docking ramp.


But it wasn’t all fun and relaxation!  Before we left for the trip I was doing some research and learned about something called the “Skywire” which was billed as the “longest flying fox in the world.”  I’d never heard of a flying fox until I came to NZ.  Basically, it’s a playground ride.  A cable is strung between two uprights and a sort of wheel box with handles is attached to the cables.  You run up, grab the handles, lift your feet and you sail along.  The Skywire was right on our route and I figured, why not.

Unfortunately, I stopped reading their website before I came to the words “highest” and “fastest.”

We found the place  and met Jill, the owner.  She had me fill out a rather alarming release form and then told us that Scott would be our guide and take us up to the flying fox.  We were the only visitors that afternoon so things were very relaxed.  Scott took us on a long and entertaining drive around the property in a four wheel drive truck.  In addition to the flying fox they have paintball and off road adventures on quad bikes and he gave us a nonstop explanation of everything we saw.  At one point we got out of the truck because he wanted to show us some very mature approximately 1,800 year old native matai trees on the property.  As we were getting back into the truck he pointed overhead and said, “Oh, by the way.  You see those wires up there?  That’s where you’re going to be in a few minutes.”

Suddenly it didn’t seem like such a good idea.


Of course it was too late to back out and we got up to the launching site.  Four people actually sit in this flying fox at once and it is motorised.  Scott made a ritual of starting everything up and explaining all the details, including fascinating topics like the frequency of lightning strikes.

He strapped me into my chair.


The white box behind him is a control box that includes a speedometer so you can see how fast you are going.  It also has an intercom attached.  The picture below shows Scott’s hand grabbing the microphone to clip it onto my shoulder harness.

He explained that in case of emergency we would be able to communicate.  As he put it, “I won’t be able to do anything to help you, but at least you’ll have someone to talk to.”  Actually it’s not so much for technical emergencies but he said that some people totally freak and the intercom is so that they can beg to have the ride aborted.  He paid me a dubious compliment by looking at me and saying, “It’s usually the big macho guys who lose it.”


I was informed that a short distance beyond the tiny light patch straight ahead is where the other tower is located.  On arriving there, the flying fox would reverse and return to base.  Once I was strapped in, he waited what for what seemed like an agonisingly long time before launching me.

This is me receding into oblivion.


In spite of the wind and g-forces, I managed to take a few pictures.  This is looking down:


And out to one side.


It’s really high–and this shows the dangers of not doing your research.  The entire trip is a little over 3 kilometres (almost 2 miles) and at the highest point you are 150 metres (almost 500 feet) above the trees.  Depending on the weight of the passengers, the Skywire can reach speeds of up to 115 kmph (about 70 mph).  The heavier the weight, the faster the freefall and as I was the only passenger, my maximum speed according to the controls was 87 kmph.

The two worse parts are near the far end when you start to slow down.  Of course you have no idea if that’s supposed to happen or if some horrible malfunction is occurring.  Then there is the arrival at the far end where you come to a full stop and prepare to reverse.  You are dangling above the treetops and although intellectually you know that something has to be done to the machinery to make it go backwards so you can return to earth, it seems like forever—at least long enough to convince you that the reverse switch isn’t working.

I was feeling pretty good on the return trip, especially when I slowed down for re-entry.  I came to a stop, anticipating a slow cruise back to the gate.  My buddy Scott, no doubt in collaboration with my wife, decided that since there was no one else around and since I hadn’t been screaming on the intercom to make it stop, decided I’d enjoy another trip.  So I was off again.

The second time wasn’t as bad and I even had the presence of mind to switch the camera to video and film the adventure.

Seriously, it was a really fun ride and I’d highly recommend it.


Since I was still on the high flying buzz, we decided to visit the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. This museum has one of the world’s most extensive collections of both static and flyable World War I aircraft. Movie director, Peter Jackson (of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies) is an avid enthusiast and many of the rare planes and memorabilia are from his private collection.

The museum has been designed by cinematic and special effects craftsmen and although it was well worth a visit it also makes you wonder why 100 years on, we have not learnt from history.




The Nelson-Golden Bay area is considered to be the artistic capital of NZ with a variety of artists in residence here. You can visit several of them at their home/art studios and watch them at work.

At Marahau, we visited an open air art gallery displaying sculptures by Maori wood carver, Woody Woodward. His beautiful works of art depict stories from Maori mythology carved on big logs of wood.






Not everyone has to be a professional artist to be creative.  As we drove through a settlement in the Marlborough Sounds called The Grove we admired the residents’ interesting mail boxes.











We headed back to Nelson for our flight back to Auckland and spent a couple of days exploring the Brook Waimarama Eco Sanctuary, gardens, beaches and museums in/around the city.

One of the highlights in Nelson was a visit to the World of Wearable Art and Classic Cars Museum.

The Wearable Art competition started in Nelson in 1987 with artists creating, well, wearable art.  The competition became so successful and generated so much interest that is has now moved to a bigger venue in Wellington and every September-October draws artists from all over the world.   The museum in Nelson houses the winners of the previous year’s competition and the creativity is amazing.  Here are a few samples—real models actual wear the garments during the competition.

This was the 2014 supreme award winner ‘Poly Nation” made of old suitcases and representing the journeys people make and the ‘seeds’ they carry to other lands.


This is a dress made of balloons.


Here is a very New Zealand entry:


These are entrants in the “Bizarre Brassiere” category:


Some of the garments look best in black light:



And here is one made out of eyeglasses:


And tea cosies:


And the private collection of 110 classic cars in the adjoining exhibition hall included some works of art, too.


After all that culture, we decided to spend our last evening in Nelson fighting the crowd at the local beach.


Would You Like a Foil Hat to Match?

I once wrote a dystopian story in which the human race, as a result of constant cell phone use, had mutated into two forms.  One form was adapted to texting while the other was built for talking on the phone.  Of course, being humans, each group hated the other for being different.

Well, I’m happy to say that it looks like that story may not come true!

There is a concern that the emanations from cell phones and computers may be dangerous to our health.  In the case of men, who often hold or carry phones at belt height or use laptops, which as the name suggests are often sited close to the lap, there is evidence that emanations can impair the motility of sperm and even cause genetic alterations.  In fact, there are medical practitioners who are raising red flags about the effects of long term exposure to wi-fi and other forms of radiation.

But it turns out we have a White Knight!  Entrepreneur reports a crowdfunding exercise started by a British physics teacher to produce something called “Wireless Armour” boxer briefs.

I’m not making this up.

Wireless Armour knickers are cotton with some sort of silver mesh woven in that blocks 99.99% of harmful radiation.

As you might guess, protection isn’t cheap.  The introductory offer (which also includes a personal call from the physics teacher) is something called “The Weekly Armour Set.”  It costs about NZ$300 and includes 8 pairs of nickers.  As the promotion says, one for each day and one for emergency.  I guess you never know when an exciting new app might make someone mess their Armour.

It will be interesting to see if the Wireless Armour idea catches on.  It’s scary to think that someone might Tweet that they are wearing their Wireless Armour or how they feel.  Or worse, post a selfie.

The best we can hope for is that the radiation issue gets some serious study and the products are designed and built to protect the user so the user doesn’t have to resort to silver lined underwear.

I Wish My Daddy Had Worn Wireless Armour!


It’s Official—I’m a Visionary

Regular readers will find the above assertion no surprise, but it’s always nice to bask in the reflection that one is able to discern trends and stuff ahead of the curve.  This was brought home recently when I saw a report that the Global Language Monitor (GLM) had compiled a list of the most overused business words of 2013.

Five out of the fifteen words, a whopping 33%, had been identified by me in previous posts, some as old as 2010, as overused and/or irritating.  Which is basically the same thing.

The problem with the GLM list was that it only listed the words without explaining their meaning.  For the most part, this isn’t a problem because, let’s face it, the fundamental meaning of overused words isn’t that important.  But I think it’s important to know what we’re talking about so I’m including the GLM list below with my commentary.

Content.  Historically, this word had two meanings.  As an adjective it means happy or satisfied.  As a noun, usually with an ‘s’ on the end, it means the stuff inside.  So the contents of a gallon of milk are the milk.  The contents of your closet are your clothes.  Which you may or may not be content with.  But ‘content’ in the current sense is a marketing term that refers to information about a product that might make you want to buy it.

The best example I can think of is car commercials.  To me they are fairly content free because they usually don’t tell you much about the car.  But from the marketing perspective they are content rich because they inform you that if you buy the car you will look prosperous, your family (including the dog) will be happy and you will be an object of admiration.

Social Media.  Facebook and Twitter.  Overused?  Yes.


Sustainability.  I called this word overused in September 2010.  The word is appearing to be more sustainable than some of the things that were being described as sustainable back then.

Transparency.  The word may be overused, but true examples of business or government transparency remain highly elusive.

Literally.  In March 2011 I suggested that this word be “given a rest.”  You literally can’t have a conversation without someone literally overusing this word.  Literally!

Guru.  I was surprised to see this on the list because as far as I’m concerned, it was overused in the 80s and 90s when personal computers were becoming mainstream.  Before we called them IT geeks, people who knew how to format disks and things like that were called ‘computer gurus.’

Utilize. Not sure why this word made the list.  It is a nice, utilitarian word that I utilize when it has utility.

Robust.  You heard it here first in March 2011!  But its persistence has proven amazingly robust.

Ping.  This used to mainly mean fancy golf clubs.  Then after The Hunt for Red October, we got used to calling radar beeps pings.  Then network geeks started using it to describe test signals and things like that. But now, among the cognoscenti, (a fancy word for the people who make words be overused), this means any kind of communication, presumably because most of their communications are electronic.  So if a friend asks you if you want to have dinner you might say, “I’ll check my schedule and ping you.”

Big Data.  I mentioned this one in January 2013.  One wonders why we haven’t started talking about “Huge Data,” because by now that big data can only have gotten a lot bigger.

Seamless.  This is a word whose primary purpose is to make you feel stupid.  Like when your phone company changes its system “to serve you better,” and tells you that there will be a seamless transition.  When it doesn’t work, they make you think it’s your fault.

Moving Forward.  Nothing wrong with it—we should be moving forward, but this phrase sure is used a lot.  In the news headlines today I saw it used describe everything from a starlet who just got divorced, a person who lost out on The X Factor, a company in bankruptcy, South Africa post Nelson Mandela and the Philippine typhoon survivors.

The Cloud.  This one is going to be hanging over our heads for a long, long time.

Offline.  The eighties called and they want their buzzword back!  So overused, it’s gotten where bar room brawlers are asked to “Hey, take it offline.”


I would be remiss if I didn’t provide a couple of buzzwords to watch for 2014.  Here are a couple that seem to be sustainable.  They’ve gotten on my radar screen and I think we will be hearing more of them moving forward.  I promise to ping you next year for an update.

Target persona.  This is one of the terms made possible by Big Data.  It used to be that companies pitched products at target markets, 18-25 year olds for example.  This was called marketing to a demographic.  But now instead of demographics we have the wonderful concept of psychographics, which is how people in a particular demographic think and act.  So a product might no longer be pitched at all 18-25 year olds, but rather to 18-25 year old geeks, or jocks, or whatever.  And those people are the target persona.  Scary, isn’t it?


Authenticity.  The idea behind this word is that we have become suspicious of terms such as “New,” “Improved,” and “To Serve You Better.”  So if you see “Authentic,” appended to any claim, you may assume that it is totally true and not hype.  At least that’s the idea.


Community Culture.  No, not your neighbourhood.  Believe it or not, this term refers to how and by whom a product is discussed on social media sites.  If you want to be really scared, go to the Coke, Starbucks or Apple Facebook pages.   These are communities of people who are united around their adulation of the brand.  The Apple FB page for example has over 10 million likes.  Who says corporations aren’t people? Which reminds me, don’t get me started on Hashtags.

Keep an eye out and prepare to cringe when you see these words next year!

Something to Tweet About?

A few months ago, the New York Times debated the question “Is Classical Music Dying.”  According to all measures, e.g., number of new classical recordings, orchestra attendance, number of classical radio stations, the answer is yes.

Some people think that the only thing classical music is good for is to prevent crowds of teenagers from gathering.  Apparently, shops and malls who don’t want kids hanging around just pipe in some Mozart and they run away like vampires from garlic.

There has been a lot of discussion about how to get the “youth” interested in classical music.  I think that will happen right about the time they all read War and Peace and proclaim it to be awesome.

In my opinion, this isn’t a youth problem, but rather a cultural problem.  The current orchestra model is for people to come home at night, then dress up and go out and sit still for a couple of hours listening to music that they may or may not know much about.  Plus there are a lot of snobby old white people in the audience.


That model worked before the days of Facebook and American Idol but today it’s no contest, and if orchestras want to remain viable they do need to do something about their demographics.

One orchestra, the Mobile (Alabama) Symphony, came up with an idea that, I hate to tell you, probably isn’t going to do the job.

On the theory that people today have issues if they are not connected 24/7, they have designated the last row of the auditorium as the “Tweet Seats,” from where concert goers are allowed to use silent mobile devices.  So they can tweet, and text and surf and, probably, play Angry Birds.  They are, however, admonished not to crinkle candy or cough drop wrappers.

Those Neanderthals among you who still have the benighted view that one goes to a concert to listen and concentrate and engage in the music will probably have trouble with this concept.  I know I do.

So I did some research to try to understand what’s going on and the results are not comforting.  Four reasons are put forth as to why this is a Good Thing

1.  It is nice to have access to your mobile device if you are bored.

2.  My Facebook and Twitter followers want to know what I’m doing and expect me to update them regularly.

3.  What I have to say/think is important and I need to capture it.

4.  It is arrogant to think that you shouldn’t let people enjoy something in their own way.

My favorites are 1 and 4.

I read an article by a youthful reporter who experienced a Mobile Symphony concert from the Tweet Seats.  He claims that his experience was improved by being able to access his phone.  The article included some of the breathless tweets he sent out during the concert, so you can see how his experience was enhanced:

            Conductor Scott Speck . . . looks like Lord Voldemort. Wonder what his         patronus is?

            Struggling to find a metaphor to describe the difference between a live orchestra and a recording

I love his metaphysical response to his previous question:

            Listening to a recording of classical music is like seeing your shadow on a cave wall.    It’s you but it lacks vitality.

At least he didn’t say: “it’s nt ovr ’til d f@ ldy sngs.”

The whole idea behind Tweet Seats, etc. is the idea of audience engagement.  Apparently ‘engagement’ is a really hot topic these days.  Teachers must engage with students.  Businesses must engage with customers.  Writers must engage with readers.  And vice versa.

But does sending out random, impulsive reactions really represent “engagement?”  And in a live performance, isn’t it insulting to the performers that you aren’t at least looking like you are paying attention?  The guy who wrote the article about his experience in the Tweet Seats claimed that “The exercise helped transform me into more of an active listener, a true observer instead of merely an audience member.”  To which I would say, isn’t a mere audience member supposed to be an “active listener” and a “true observer?”

But the real issue is summed up by what he writes about the violin soloist:  “Given the power of her performance I regret somewhat that I spent a few precious seconds of it sending 140-character missives into the swirling void of the Twittersphere.”

I guess there are limits to multitasking.

A final point of confusion about the way Tweet Seats work.  The guy who wrote the article was at the concert by himself.  I’m not sure that the typical person who would go to a concert alone would be inclined to tweet much about it.  Which then raises the specter of couples or groups sitting in the tweet seats together.  And tweeting their “real” friends about it.

And what does that say about your “engagement” with the people around you?


How Have We Survived Without This Stuff?

As you know I am always on the lookout for interesting applications of technology to improve my quality of life, so my pulse quickened the other day when I saw the headline “Ten Essential Travel Gadgets.”

Unfortunately, for the most part, the article proved to be a big disappointment.  Mostly it was newer, imperceptibly different iThings: a solar powered device charger and stuff like that.

But there was one thing that caught my eye.  It embodied the concepts of “must have” and “essential.” (Incidentally, in the tech world, “must have” and “essential” do not mean the same thing).

It’s a jacket called the “Fleece 7.0.”  (You know it’s high-tech because it has a version number).  In fact, the advertising material says that the jacket, five years in the making, is so innovative that they skipped version 6.0 and went right to 7!  Do they really think people believe that kind of hype?

Anyway, this jacket has 23 pockets of varying size to accommodate all your technology toys and the largest, unsurprisingly, can accommodate an iPad.  They have patented the pocket design as the “PadPocket™.”


But wait, there’s more.

There is also something called the “Quick Draw Pocket,” patent pending.  It allows you to “access your Smartphone through the Clear Touch fabric (i.e., plastic) so you don’t even need to take your hand out of your pocket to use your phone.”  They believe “this will fundamentally change the way you interact with your mobile devices.”

Times were that a person doing something frenetic with their hand in their pocket in public would be arrested.

But now they are just connected.  To everyone other than the people they are with, that is.

Who would have thought that the day would come when our clothing would be billed as “Compatible with iPad.”

But before you run out and upgrade to a Fleece Version 7, you should be aware that it is already obsolete.

Yes.  Something on the what’s hot list has already been rendered irrelevant by something new and improved.

I give you Google Glass.

In case you’ve been away from Planet Earth and haven’t heard of GG, it is a device which for $1500 will enable you to look like The Collector in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and will give you a totally hands-free, heads up digital life.  Who needs a jacket with pockets for all your technology when you can wear it on your face?


Basically it’s a pair of glasses with only one lens, which is your heads up display.  It also has a camera and a microphone.  You can take a picture or video of anything you see and send it to your friends.  It’s got a GPS so you can see where you are and where you are going.  And it’s got lots of web surfing capability.  The promotional video shows a person in a in a Chinese market who wants to bargain.  They “ask” GG how to say the price they want to offer in Chinese!

And when I say “ask,” I really mean it.  Because it’s heads up and hands free, you talk to it!  How cool is that?

GG is being heralded as an important step in our journey to what is called “ubiquitous computing” which means constant connectivity and, I fear, in the hands of Google, ubiquitous advertising.

But it’s the camera that makes GG even cooler and scarier. The promotional video shows a guy sky diving and filming the experience and sending his friends a real time video so they can have as much fun as him and be suitably impressed.

GG isn’t yet widely available but it is already generating two big debates.  The first is about privacy issues and the second is about whether Google will partner with a fashion designer to develop cooler designs for the eyewear because some people think you look geeky when you wear it.

Guess which issue is getting the most attention.

But it’s the privacy and copyright issues that are the most interesting.  Think about it.  Kids will want to wear them in class because they won’t have to take notes.  But teachers might not that idea because school administrators could then observe them.  So could the government.

People will want to wear them to concerts so they can record the whole thing.  And movies too.

And what about when your boss gives you your annual performance review?  Will one or both of you be wearing Google Glasses to record the moment for posterity?

But even beyond privacy, what about common sense.  If texting while driving is an issue, what will happen when people start GGing while driving?

I can’t think of a single use of GG that might not violate peoples’ privacy, result in a law suit or become evidence in a potential lawsuit (e.g., because you are updating your FB status, you forget to pull the ripcord on your parachute).

But that’s not going to stop GG from becoming a necessity of life if that fashion designer can make them look cool enough.

This Is Kind of Creepy

The other day on the radio, they were interviewing a psychologist who was talking about something called “porn creep.”  I’ll spare you the details but essentially it refers to a condition in which people who spend an inordinate amount of time looking at pornographic material lose the ability to experience the real thing.

They actually interviewed twenty-somethings who basically said they were unable to have a normal sex life because they’d spent so much time interfacing, if you will, with their computer.


I took the risk of Googling the term to see if it was mainstream and, yes, it is.  Not only do you lose the ability to function in the real world, in extreme cases, you need increasingly graphic stuff to, shall we say, pique your interest.  The condition has been studied and there is even a cure for it, in case you are interested.

After that segment of the show was over, they had the news and then had extended commentary on a number of the news stories du jour.

As usually happens these days when I listen to the news or any analysis thereof, I shake my head and wonder what the hell is going on.  It was the same old thing.  Sanity and civility seem to have taken a permanent vacation; and people seem completely unable to listen, communicate and engage in civil discourse without recourse to name calling, or worse, lawyers.

I switched to the oldies music station.

But that night I figured out what the problem is.

We were out at an event where people didn’t know each other all that well.  As a result, no one talked about anything controversial.  The conversation stayed at the level of kids, pets and television.  I’m not too well equipped to talk about any of those, but what interested me was the discussion of TV.

All they talked about were reality TV shows.  Mostly cooking shows, but they also now have reality shows about house buying, house renovating, losing weight, cosmetic surgery, raising kids, driving trucks in bad weather and pre-pubescent beauty pageants.  There is even a show where people bid on the junk in unclaimed storage lockers and hope it’s worth more than they paid for it.

The common denominator in all of these shows is a general lack of civility.  Apparently what makes the shows so popular is that the contestants are constantly bad mouthing each other and generally being nasty.  Cooperation and teamwork are generally considered signs of weakness.  Winning is less about excelling and more about torpedoing the competition at all costs.

At some point that evening, all of those pieces sort of clicked together and I developed my new theory of why contemporary society is so uncivil—reality creep!

Just as the person who is over exposed to porn finds themself unable to function in the real world and requires ever greater stimuli, I’m thinking that people over exposed to “reality” via reality TV develop the same problem.

As reality TV becomes increasingly popular, the hyper individualistic, winning at all cost behaviour of the people appearing in reality TV shows becomes the norm. So every discourse or discussion has to have a winner.  Compromising is for losers.


There’s supposed to be a cure for porn creep.  Let’s hope they can find one for reality creep!

Images from Freedigitalphotos.com

“Asserting a Right You Know You Cannot Exert:” Here We Go Again

One of the things that precipitated the American Revolution was the Stamp Act.  It was one of the taxes at the center of the controversy about the “right” of the English Parliament to tax the US colonies directly.  Lord Chesterfield, in opposing the Stamp Act, pointed out that even if Parliament could enact the tax, it couldn’t enforce it and it wasn’t worth making the colonists mad over it, and warned Parliament that they were “asserting a right you know you cannot exert.”

By the way, Lord Chesterfield is given credit for many quotes that are still popular today such as “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today,” and “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.”  But my favorite quote by him is:  “A weak mind is like a microscope, which magnifies trifling things, but cannot receive great ones.”


Anyway, back to the Stamp Act, I like Lord Chesterfield’s observation because it seems to me that a lot of people today are spending a lot of time and energy asserting rights that, even if they existed in law or nature, they cannot–or should not–exert.  And that is causing a lot of our problems.

For example, did you hear about the woman on the Jet Blue flight from New York to San Diego?  She was seated in a special seating area that provides more space than the usual airplane seat, and Jet Blue charges passengers $65 for that extra comfort.  The seat next to her was empty.  At least until some schlub in the back who hadn’t paid $65 informed the flight attendant that his TV monitor wasn’t working.  The flight attendant very kindly moved the guy to the empty seat next to the woman.

And that’s when it hit the fan.  The woman freaked because the guy hadn’t paid $65 like she had but was getting the benefits of the extra leg room.  No fair, she whined.

And whined and whined to the point that an on board air marshal intervened and the flight was diverted to Denver and the rest of the passengers were delayed for a couple of hours until they could boot the woman off the plane and continue on their way again.

The most interesting part of the story is that no charges were pressed.  She got away with it.  She asserted a right that no rational person would ever think they could exert, inconvenienced a lot of people and walked away as if nothing had happened.  Beautiful!  And in the meantime deprived everyone else on the flight of their right to have their non-stop flight actually not have any stops.

And probably inconvenienced herself, too.  And maybe that’s lesson one when it comes to asserting rights:  is exerting them practical, logical and, here’s a novel idea, beneficial not only to you but also the community around you.

What right was she asserting, you ask?  Why merely the right to have the world work the way she perceived it and wanted it to be at that particular moment.

That’s a pretty powerful right and if you think about it, a lot of the problems in the news relate to people trying to assert it.   Just look at the headlines any day of the week.

A lot of people seem to have their own personal view of the Constitution and for some of them, the Bill of Rights included the Right to Have the World Conform to Your Wishes.

The beauty of this right is that in your personal Constitution, there can be an infinite number of sub-clauses.  A few of my own inalienable rights come to mind.  For example,  the right not to have pregnant women talk about bladder dynamics in front of me or the right not to have to ever hear Gangnam Style again.


Mine are fairly modest assertions when you consider that some people out there are asserting rights such as the right to maintain a personal arsenal, or the right not to have to deal with or help people who don’t look, think or act like them, or the right to have the way they think adopted by everyone else in the world.

But I think that the woman on the Jet Blue plane might teach us all a lesson about asserting our Right to Have the World Conform to Your Wishes.  Instead of asserting our theoretical rights to have the world work the way we want it, why don’t we just assert and exert the right to ignore things like that, not be bothered, just get on with life and learn to get along with each other.  All the woman on the plane had to do was ignore the situation.  It would have saved her and everyone on the plane a lot of angst and made for a harmonious environment.

And a right to a harmonious environment seems like something we should all be asserting and exerting.