The Severely Overrated Page


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 considered a boon, but this is due more to the increasing Latino population in Dornan's Orange County district than to anything the DNC or the California Democratic organization did for Ms Sanchez. Nineteen ninety-eight looked like a banner year for the GOP, with the few remaining defenders of the President left twisting in the wind and the Christian Coalition making its final stand before its inevitable post-millennial decline and fall. Once again, though, the electorate had ideas of its own, shifting five seats in the House back to the Democrats and indirectly sending Newt Gingrich back to his career as a bad science-fiction writer. Maybe the ex-Speaker can start up a religion.

Priority Mail:   The Postal Service, squeezed on one side by the rise of E-mail and outflanked on the other by competitors like United Parcel Service and Federal Express, came up with this neither-fish-nor-fowl offering a few years ago, claiming they could deliver up to two pounds of stuff for a measly $2.90 in a mere two days, half the speed of their Express Mail for less than half the price, and cheaper than UPS' two-day service. Sometimes they could. However, when word got out that as many as a third of the items sent Priority Mail were taking as much as a third day, occasionally even more, the USPS was forced to recant and regroup; newer Priority Mail ad campaigns admit to "two or three days", and the present PM containers make no mention of delivery speed at all. The price, too, has gone up, though only by a smidgen. It's still a viable service, but if you absolutely, positively have to get something all the way across the country in two days, you really shouldn't expect to get it there for three bucks, unless by some fluke they bring back the Pony Express— and everyone from PETA to the Environmental Protection Agency would raise a stink if they did.

Genitalia (male):   I actually own a set of these, and while I am generally unwilling to give it up, I've never been overly impressed with the individual components or with whatever synergy the set as a whole may possess. Apparently, I am alone in this assessment. Persons of the male persuasion who sell computer parts have let it be known that possession of this variety of family jewels is required to perform routine computer maintenance; at least, this is what they suggested to two female friends of mine. What's more, one of the women in question recently had a run-in with one of the truck-rental places in town, which rudely insisted she pay the extra $20 a day for a van equipped with an automatic transmission, since she obviously couldn't deal with the $19.95 stick-shift special. Although these bits of silliness are not aimed at me, exactly, I still find them irksome. I do my own computer maintenance, and I generally do it while clothed; nothing on the motherboard is capable of determining gender. And while I have driven a motor vehicle while unclothed — but never mind about that.

Excitement about the millennium:     Admittedly, the first digit of the year hadn't turned over in quite a long time, and people were actually arguing over whether the next century begins in 2000 or 2001, but I still can't work up any enthusiasm for the Age of the Jetsons, or whatever the hell we're supposed to expect from the next thousand years. Not even calls by The Artist Formerly Known As Interesting to party like it's 1999 can rouse me from this temporal torpor. Perhaps I can find solace among the lost souls hoping that the Second Coming, due Real Soon Now according to every TV evangelist big enough to have a mail drop in Ontario, will somehow obviate the need to pay their Visa bills.

The Beatles Anthologies 1, 2 and 3:   Most of this stuff was unreleased material in the vaults. Apparently it hasn't occurred to most people that there was a reason it wasn't released. I yield to very few in my fondness for the Fab Four, but this series of excavations borders on the ghoulish. At least the remaining Beatles aren't going on tour — in George Harrison's apt phrase, "so long as John Lennon remains dead." John's solo scraps are now being released, which merely proves my point.

Virginity:   Some people still value this, perhaps in the way one values that new-car smell, but it goes away after a while, and good riddance. It's probably a good thing for a teenager to possess — I have to say that, since I have had two children and even now I'd rather not imagine either of them doing the nasty, the realities of the situation notwithstanding — but the current delusion that lack of information somehow results in abstinence, I'd just as soon see dispelled, preferably permanently.

Personal Web sites:   What, you're still reading?

Last update: 15 September 2002


<> | Writings | Copyright © 1998-2001 by Charles G. Hill

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