Friday, October 30, 2009

Air Sickness

When I first heard about those two pilots who recently overshot the Minneapolis airport by over 100 miles, I was stunned. However, when they said the reason they weren't paying attention to flying was because they were looking at one of their personal laptops , I just nodded my head, knowingly. We've all seen people who get so absorbed in their computers or other electronic devices that they lose track of time and everything else. I've done it now and then. Of course, when I do it, I don't have 144 passengers sitting behind me.

For an hour and eighteen minutes, the pilots didn't respond to their radio. Air traffic controllers had no explanation for what was going on. Federal counterterrorism agencies were so alarmed by the plane's erratic actions that they put fighter jets on alert. The pilots claimed they were on the computer for the entire hour and eighteen minutes going over some new airline scheduling software. Come on. If these pilots are the kind of people who are on their laptops every chance they get and they were on it for an hour and eighteen minutes, do you really think they were just checking out some dull airline software the whole time?

During those seventy-eight minutes, if they got an email, don't you think they read it? Maybe they checked on how their stocks were doing. Perhaps they were playing "Tiger Woods' PGA Tour" or "Street Fighter IV." For all we know, they were looking at porn while the plane flew at 37,000 feet.

I'm sure they felt that they could be on the computer and still pay attention to flying the airplane. And why not? How hard can it be to fly an Airbus A-320?

We don't see something as serious as this every day, but we all know this mentality. It's the rationalization used by people who talk on their phones while they drive: "I can concentrate on the road while I talk." It's what people say when they're being electronically rude: "Don't worry, I can pay attention to what you're saying and send an e-mail at the same time." It's the same thought process used by all those people who text while they're making love. Well, I'm sure somebody does that.

The point is that, without realizing it, people get completely engrossed in their computers, Blackberrys, and iPhones. The New York Times recently reported a Western Washington University experiment that demonstrated this.

They surveyed some people walking around a campus square while a unicyclist in a clown suit pedaled around the same square. After stopping the walkers, the researchers asked, "Did you see anything unusual?" One third of the people who were listening to music while they walked and nearly 60% of the people who were walking with a friend mentioned the clown. But of those people who were walking while they talked on their cell phones, only 8% remembered the clown. 8%! How can they drive or pay attention at a meeting while they're on their phones if they can't spot a clown right in front of them? On a unicycle!

The researchers refer to this phenomenon as "inattentional blindness." Maybe that's what the pilots had. Maybe that's what your kid has as she talks on her cell phone and you're waving your arms in front of her. Maybe that's what that guy in the elevator has as he ignores everyone else and shouts into that ridiculous thing on his ear.

So I guess some people aren't as good at multitasking as they think they are. They should stick to doing one thing at a time – especially if they're flying a plane. There's just one thing about those pilots that I can't get out of my mind: I hope they weren't using that computer to play, "Flight Simulator."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Good Neighbor Policy

There is a "Neighboring Gap" going on in our country. As opposed to previous generations, many people don't know their neighbors. They'll almost brag that they don't know the people who live next door. I wonder if this is a "trickling down" of the philosophy over the past several years that our country didn't need other countries. Now most people are seeing that we do need other countries, and we are part of the world community. We are also part of our local communities and can't just ignore our neighbors.

Recently, neighbors saw a Halloween decoration of an imitation man on a porch in Marina del Rey, California. They walked past this decoration for five days before it was discovered that it wasn't a Halloween decoration, but was actually their neighbor who had died on his porch. I might not be the most observant person in the world, but I think after at least a couple of days of walking by, I'd be able to tell the difference between a Halloween display and my neighbor.

One of the neighbors said, "He looked fake. It looked like somebody had thrown a dummy over the back of a chair." So this guy who lived nearby was so unfamiliar with his neighbor that he thought he looked like a dummy? He couldn't tell the difference between him and a bunch of rags stuffed into some clothes? I think that the reason he didn't look real to this neighbor and the reason other neighbors ignored what they saw is that they didn't slow down to look. It's a case of "social isolationism," or "I don't know my neighbors, it's none of my business, and I don't want to get involved."

I don't claim to be a perfect citizen or expect anyone else to be perfect, but you've got to admit this incident is pretty shocking. What would have to happen on that block for neighbors to pay attention? In the summer, would they think, "Oh, that's just a Fourth of July display" if they walked past an exploding car? Would they say to themselves, "I don't want to get involved" if they saw the guy down the block loading a missile launcher with a SCUD? Would they stop if they saw their neighbor giving a shower to his new pet elephant?

We've all heard other stories of neighbors not getting involved. People step over bodies on the sidewalk, ignore screams, and drive past accidents. Are they really so busy that they can't stop? What's the difference if they get to Starbucks a few minutes later? They'll still be able to get their Grande Mocha Soy Latte or whatever. Maybe they think they don't have the time to go to the police station. They've got the time. They can always TiVo "America's Biggest Loser." It has nothing to do with how busy they are. They just don't want to get involved.

There are plenty of reasons to get to know your neighbors. They can water your plants and take in the newspaper when you're out of town. They can use the key you gave them to let your kid in your house when he's lost his. They can recommend a plumber that they've used when your bathroom is flooded with 2 feet of water. They can give you all kinds of juicy gossip, which you can choose to listen to or ignore. If they're older, young neighbors can look in on them. If you're young, older neighbors can babysit for your kids. Neighbors can watch each other's houses and call the police if they see something suspicious. You can discuss local schools with them or why that car has been parked around the corner since 1992.

But the biggest reason to get to know your neighbors is because they are your neighbors. We live in a community just as the United States exists in a community of nations. So the next time you see her, smile at that woman who lives down the block. Bring over some cookies to the people next door. Pretend that you like that garage door that the people across the street just painted orange. It really doesn't take that much of an effort to be a good neighbor. Besides, would you really like to be mistaken for a dummy?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Where Some Babies Come From

A lot of banks are in trouble these days, but at least one seems to be doing fine. It's a sperm bank. Years ago, when we first heard about sperm banks, people speculated that women would want to have the fathers of their babies be geniuses, or financial wizards, or great athletes. Some thought that the most talented and famous men in the world would be the most desirable donors. But sperm banks never saw people like Bill Gates or Placido Domingo banging down their doors.

However, now at least one of these banks has come up with what it feels is a solution: celebrity look-alike donors. If you would like to have a baby with George Clooney but can't get past his security guards, now you can have a baby with someone who looks like George Clooney.

Southern California's Cryobank has a list of look-alikes that someone considering artificial insemination can check out on their computer. The woman scrolls down the list and finds the name of a celebrity she likes. Next, all she has to do is click and then she'll learn a bit about this look-alike. This information might include his hobbies, his build, and maybe his favorite color. This reminds me of the typical old Playboy Centerfold's info in which we learned that the young lady's "pet peeve" was "sometimes in the sun, I freckle," and her favorite thing was "to shop for shoes." But nobody was signing up to have a child with them.

In our example, the prospective recipient doesn't even get to see a picture of the Clooney look-alike along with his info. That would be a breach of anonymity. All she sees is a picture of the actual George Clooney and an I.D. number that represents the donor.

It would be weird and superficial enough if a woman would choose a donor based on his looks. But these women are choosing a donor because he looks like somebody whose looks they like!

And how closely do these donors really resemble the celebrities? Cryobank's Scott Brown puts it like this: "It's not that our donors look like celebrities, it's that celebrities look like our donors." In other words, there might be some resemblance.

Despite all of the obvious negatives, I have to say that there is one aspect of this process that piqued my interest: I never expected to see Clay Aiken, Errol Flynn, and Prince William on the same list. Yet those names, as well as Harry Belafonte, Jeremy Piven and Manny Ramirez are all on Cryobank's look-alike list. If you want your baby to look like somebody famous who's short, you're out of luck. Donors must be at least 5'9". This leaves me out, so I guess all those women who find columnists attractive will just have to look elsewhere.

There is another feature that is no surprise in these economic times: if you can't pay cash for getting pregnant in this manner, payment plans are available. This gives a whole new meaning to buying on "layaway." I can just imagine the difficult decision at bill-paying time: should I pay off some of my car insurance or my preggy plan?

I get nervous that I won't get what I really want when ordering a pair of running shoes online. How can anyone feel comfortable planning their family by using the internet? Wouldn't you worry for the whole nine months that if you ordered a "Joe Montana" you might end up with a "Joe Mantegna?" What are you going to do then, send the baby back in a postage paid box?

However, as I looked further into Cryobank's services, I found that choosing a donor in this fashion is not as strange, not as casual, and not as foolish as it may seem at first blush. I learned that those women in the look-alike program don't have to choose a donor based solely on his looks. There's something else that can help them make this big decision. It's an intelligent, scientific way for them to learn everything they could possibly want about "their man." You see, for an extra $25, Cryobank will provide you with an analysis of your donor's handwriting.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The French Love Us

I always try to embrace the difficult and the easy writing assignments with the same gusto. If I have a hard job, I stare at that job and make sure that I don't blink first. Keeping this absurd mixed metaphor in mind, I went to France recently on an arduous research trip to find out everything I could about the French. Those of you who have been reading my columns for a while, know that this was not my first trip there. However, I vow to go back as many times as necessary to bring my readers the facts about France. I spent three weeks studying the French on the beaches of the Riviera, in the lavender and sunflower fields of Provence, and outside the cafes of Paris solely for the purpose of gathering information. The following is a survey which I conducted. Whether you're a casual reader or happen to be someone from the IRS, I'm sure you'll see that my business trip was worthwhile.

We’ve all heard that the French are cold and snobby and aren't nice to Americans. Supposedly, food is what they take most seriously in life, and they spend more time in museums than at work. I wanted to learn what were false stereotypes and what was the truth. Above all, I wanted to learn how they really feel about Americans these days. For my research, I tried to blend in with the French. In fact, on the beach, I went topless.

For the survey, I tried to get a cross section of people in terms of age, but it was hard to know if I was accomplishing this in a country in which there are more anti-wrinkle creams than ice cubes.

T he Garver Survey, 2009

My first question was whether they felt that since Barack Obama became President, had relations between France and the United States gotten better or worse? About 96% replied that our relationship had gotten better. And only a small percentage of these people were trying to sell me something when they made this reply. The people I talked to seemed to love our President. In fact, 75% of those who filled out my survey feel that Obama is a better president than their own Sarkozy.

80% feel that someday France will have a woman President. Only 48% of those surveyed feel that someday France will elect a black President. My guess is that if this question had been asked in America a year ago, the results might have been similar – that more people felt that we would have a woman President before we elected a black one.

Those who filled out my questionnaire are not all that optimistic about the economy. Only 12% feel that it will recover by the end of 2010, and a gloomy 32% don't feel that it will recover in our lifetime. Seems to me if my wife and I make just one more trip to France, their economy should be just fine.

Since it was France, I couldn't resist asking a couple of questions about sex. Not surprisingly, those questioned felt that French women and men are sexier than Americans. However, I should point out that this was before I got my haircut.

Of all the things that France is known for, including their history, their architecture, their art, a surprising 20% said that the French thing they were most proud of was... the cheese. The cheese! Forget Notre Dame, Impressionism, and the French Revolution. Just pass the Brie.

In at least one way, the French aren't all that different from us. We've all heard about the New Yorker who's never been to the top of the Empire State building. Well, about a third of those surveyed have never been to the top of the Eiffel Tower. And in this country known for its culture and museums, 36% say they "almost never" go to a museum. They're probably too busy eating cheese.

I realized that it was an imposition for me to interrupt people's busy day and ask them to fill out a questionnaire. So my final question was whether they thought a journalist who stopped them to ask some questions was the most annoying man they had encountered all day or the most handsome and distinguished one. 91% replied that the guy with the clipboard who stopped them to get their opinions was the most distinguished man they had seen all day. Who says the French aren't nice to Americans?

New Bob Newhart Video

Check out Bob Newhart's first internet video by