Most people's aesthetic criteria, I suspect, lie along a continuum, roughly from "The greatest thing since chopped liver" to "I wouldn't feed this to the Menendez brothers," and very few of us would put exactly the same item in exactly the same place. The following is a by-no-means-exhaustive list of stuff — people, places, things, notions, whatever — I consider to have gotten far more attention than they could possibly have deserved. As always, your mileage may vary; check your dealer for details.


Automotive crash tests: These might be valid if you happen to do all your driving (1) inside a laboratory (2) at a constant speed, and (3) crash only into stationary objects. None of these conditions apply in the Real World. What is never mentioned in those annoying TV and print ads is that all vehicles sold in the US must meet a certain minimum level of crash resistance (a 30 mph frontal impact test and a 33.5 mph side impact test), so what gets publicized are the NCAP tests from the NHTSA, which aren't administered to all vehicles. And automakers, should they happen to score five stars, proclaim it from the housetops like an imprimatur from the Almighty. I suspect this is done as a sop to the 50 percent of all drivers who are below average in ability, as distinguished from the ten or twelve percent who might actually admit it.

Competence: I have been working since I was sixteen years old, and setting aside my stint in the military, which is another issue entirely, I have yet to land at a place that gives anything more than lip service to being able to do one's job. Far more important to prop up the status quo, play the politics, see that the proper tushies are smooched. The only really good thing about this is that a sizable number of really heinous offenders all rushed online with truly incompetent business plans, and they went down the toilet with the rest of their dot-comrades.

The popular vote for the Presidency: It would be well to remember that originally, there wasn't a popular vote at all; the states picked their electors, and that was that. It's been argued that the Electoral College system gives disproportionate power to smaller states with fewer electoral votes, but do we really want everything to be decided by California and New York? Florida is a pretty big state, electorally speaking, but it's purely an accident that its particular combination of deep division and embedded skulduggery became an issue in 2000; it could just as well have been smaller states like New Mexico or Oregon. Besides, 44.9 million people voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, according to the records, and 47.4 million in 1996. Just try to find one of them now.

Windows 98/Me: What, "95.1" or "95.5" wouldn't fit on the box?

"Push" technology: Once PointCast found its way to a substantial number of desktops, all sorts of pundits, from Microsoft on down (or up, depending on your point of view), declared that what Web surfers really want is to have content automagically delivered to them on a regular basis. In some small way, this makes a smidgen of sense, since we do tend to return to a favored few Web sites — why else have bookmarks? But I suspect not everyone wants their data diet so closely regulated. I know I can go days without checking out some of my regular haunts, and catching up in one megasession doesn't exactly rank with the labors of Heracles. Am I alone in this? Only time — or maybe AOL Time Warner — will tell, but lately, it hasn't looked good for the purveyors of push.

"Special collectors' editions": The definition of "collector" must have changed since I went to school. TV Guide seems to have a new "collectors' edition" out every other week, and frankly, if the magazine is worth my $52 a year, why should they want to pry an extra $1.49 out of me every chance they get? And do I really need more pictures of Kirk and Picard and Mulder and Scully? I realize that TV Guide has lately been owned by News Corp., whose main contribution to world culture is the Page Three Girl, but geez, guys, give it a rest. At most, one issue out of 52 ought to be worth keeping. On a similar plane of lameness is the "Very Special Episode" of a sitcom, which inevitably trivializes whatever social problem it purports to incorporate.

Presidential coattails: If you still believe in such things, the 1996 election should have served as your wake-up call. By any conceivable definition of the term, Bill Clinton won that race big — 55 percent of the major-party votes, and the vast majority of the electoral votes — but the Democrats actually managed to lose two Senate seats, and dislodged only a handful of Republicans from the House, few of them the putatively vulnerable Class of '94 ideologues. "B-1" Bob Dornan did get pushed out of the way, which by any standards must be c