Supposedly, half the human race is below average in intelligence; I'd dispute that point, if only because there are so many ways to define "intelligence," and there are so many ways to display the complete and utter lack thereof. Then again, IQs worldwide, according to one source, vary over a 48-point range: from 107 all the way down to 59. For those of us who were taught that the "average" is 100, this reveals that, well, they didn't say where this was the average. (Actual "average" in the US, says this same source, is 98.) And IQ has its limitations: there are people below 100 who get by just fine, and people way up the scale who probably need to be put away for their own protection, or for the protection of the rest of us. That said, though, one can judge intelligence, or the absence thereof, by actions (or occasionally inactions), and you don't need a scale approved by someone in the psychometric establishment to do it.

One particularly dumb species I encounter on a regular basis is the Rubbernecker, crawling along the freeway at 40 percent of the speed limit so that he can get a good look at whatever happened along the shoulder ten minutes ago. The stretch of Interstate 35 between 40 and 44 in Oklahoma City attracts these like ponds attract mosquitoes. And much as I hate mosquitoes, I must concede they have a purpose in the food chain. Rubberneckers, however, are of no use to anyone except hardcore members of the Anti-Destination League who thrill at the thought of a 25-mph speed limit on a metropolitan freeway. The one saving grace in this whole unsavory scenario is that the Rubbernecker, as he crawls along, is very likely to get rear-ended. And come to think of it, so is his car.

The lowly fish stick, a staple of my Friday diet fifty years ago, is still around. I picked up a box of them labeled as "Xtra Large," and I swear, they were about ten percent smaller than the admittedly more rectangular sticks my mother served up with the Brussels sprouts, which bore no size or other descriptions whatever: they were simply fish sticks in those days. The Consumerist Web site would deem this the action of the dreaded Grocery Shrink Ray, with which price increases are hidden by any means necessary. This is why your "pound" of coffee now weighs 11 ounces, and your "half-gallon" of ice cream contains three pints. You can't count on the manufacturer to shrink the package commensurately, either.

It is time, I think, to give up on the Federal Do Not Call list: there's obviously no way to be sure, but by now there may be more boiler-room operations flouting the law as there are organizations following it. And the reason there's obviously no way to be sure is that Congress has never gotten around to passing a law to prohibit the practice of Caller ID spoofing: it's no technical trick to get the little display to read anything you want, or nothing at all. Over the last few days I have been beset by so-called "Out Of Area" callers; I have had to resort to installing an old-fashioned Western Electric dial phone (approximate age: 40 years), simply to enjoy the pleasure of picking up the heavy receiver and then banging it down again. I need hardly point out that the bastards don't get the hint. Too many hotshots stand to lose too much money if this situation is addressed, so it won't be.

And speaking of telephones — well, as Alice Kahn once said, "For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press 3." The aforementioned spoofers, most of the time, fail to hang up quickly enough, leaving the answering machine full of those annoying "If you'd like to make a call..." recordings. But there are worse sins than that. Day before yesterday, I placed a call to a service company I use, got sent up the usual telephone tree, and after waiting 20-25 minutes — "wait in excess of 10 minutes," they said, which was technically true — I exited the tree and left a message to call me back. Which they did, the next morning; in fact, they left me an extension number. Gleefully, I dialed in, listened to the disembodied voice, and discovered to my dismay that nowhere in the tree will you find a response that allows you to dial into a particular extension. I had to climb back up and go through the process again, vowing to grit out the wait. Whoever programmed this needs to be stuck on someone's front bumper — right behind a Rubbernecker.

The Vent

  8 October 2014

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