It’s official, the PWB’s game of Stuff We’ve Learned This Past Week is now sweeping the nation. The mailbag was stuffed full of responses from across the country proving that either we Americans are an inquisitive bunch, or possibly that we just didn’t know much prior to last week.
Either way, Interns #2 and #3 spent several hours combing through reader submissions, silently moving their lips as they read the big words. Next year, the entire staff is getting Hooked on Phonics. Does that count as a product placement?
Something I learned this week that I didn’t know last week is that we apparently need to remind people that driving and texting on their phone at the same time is hazardous.
I would’ve thought this would be one of those intuitive things. Something that anyone smart enough to acquire both a drivers license and a mobile phone would understand. I was wrong… idiocy knows no bounds.
Of course, ever since the invention of the automobile, people, in particular American people, have been busy coming up with things they can do while driving. Early on, before the invention of makeup, fast food or in-car audio systems, folks would engage in folksy distractions behind the wheel…singing out loud, whittling or perhaps picking a tune on the banjo. It was all good…back then there wasn’t much traffic and you pretty much knew the other five or six people in the county that owned an automobile.
Later, after man invented the highway system, 8 track players and eyeliner… and after God’s divine intervention created the Egg McMuffin, things got more dangerous. High speeds, a bunch more cars on the road and 98 ounce big gulps (which according to federal regulations require two hands to drink) dramatically increased the need for all of us to pay more for auto insurance.
And then came the mobile phone with texting capability.
You’ll note I’ve skipped the epoch during which talking on the phone while driving took hold, the period of time known as the Phoneozoic Era. I’ve gone straight to what paleontologists now call the Textomoronic stage of human development. Long after we’re all dead, scientists will note that during this period of time the human brain shrunk noticeably, thumbs became larger and triple jointed while the ability to speak and write diminished.
The reason I know this now is that just the other morning, while driving with my teenage daughter along a local scenic highway, the car in front veered wildly into the lane on the left. This of course was of concern to the car that was occupying that particular space, which proceeded to take evasive action to avoid a collision.
The car in the left lane narrowly missed crashing into the guard rail, while the idiot in front of me, apparently unaware that lives were in danger, steered back into the right lane. All the above took place at approximately 50 miles per hour.
Peering up ahead into the idiot’s SUV, I could see the driver holding up a Blackberry (I do not have an endorsement deal with the makers of Blackberry but am willing to discuss such an arrangement, possibly as a sponsor for the summer tour…give it some thought), working the keyboard with her right hand while negotiating the parkway at high speeds with her left hand and an occasional glance upwards at the road.
I do not know this for sure, but suspect there was a skinny mocha latte in the cup holder and some bad music blaring out through the stereo. The driver’s lips were fairly active, indicating that either she was singing loudly or silently mouthing the words as she typed out a text message.
We followed behind for another couple of miles and I’m pleased to announce that although she swerved twice more into the left lane and almost sideswiped a minivan filled to the brim with eager young soccer players, she was unable to injure or kill anyone during that stretch of road.
Not once did she put her phone down.
As we came to our exit, and the grim reaper continued down the highway, I wondered if God would send her a text just before her vehicle flew off the road. And if so, would he use those irritating abbreviations or type out full words?
Something like “Hey nmbnts ur vrng off brdg…c u soon.”
The God I pray to has a sense of humor, so I’m guessing he’d add one of those irritating emoticons, maybe a frowny face. It’s not that I wish anyone ill, but if you’re going to do something crazy ass stupid, don’t risk the safety of others.
Moving on to today’s topic, you’ll be happy to know that while typing away, I’ve been watching the televised testimony of General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker to the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees. I will admit that the sound is turned down, and by down I mean off. This is how I prefer to watch many of the proceedings on Capitol Hill.
Fortunately I’m an expert lip reader, having been taught the skill during CIA tradecraft training. The lip reading coursework usually follows the segment on steaming open envelopes and right before the section on coloring inside the lines.
Anyway, with the sound down, I was still able to follow the dialogue as various Senators with seriously furrowed brows played to the cameras and acted as if their interest in General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker’s comments on the situation in Iraq had nothing to do with politics.
If you weren’t able to watch the proceedings I’ve taken the liberty of including below the most relevant bits:
Interior Senate Armed Service Committee Hearing Room:
General Petraeus, addressing the Senators (hundreds of whom were recent presidential candidates), is finishing his statement…“And so, in conclusion, the situation is what it is.” The General takes a sip of water and waits for the inevitable crap from the grandstanding politicians.
First up, Senator Levin…“General, you say we’re going to have a period of assessment…evaluate the current situation following the surge and determine how best to begin any drawdown of troops… how long is that going to take?”
The General leans in to the microphone in order to repeat what he’s already said in his previous comments. “Sir, we’ll evaluate, make an assessment based on the findings and determine the most practical timetable.”
Senator Levin… “So, that’ll take, what… a month?”
The General, looking slightly perplexed… “Could be a month, could be less.”
“Could it be more?” asks Senator Levin.
“Yes, it could be more.”
“Ah…could it be two months, three months?” prods the Senator.
“Perhaps… two months, maybe three months…it depends on the evaluation and what is determined to be the most secure and practical timetable,” responds the General.
Senator Levin, almost out of time but clearly in his element… “Four months. How about four months?”
The General, and here I did look away from the television for a moment so I might not have caught this correctly, leans in and says… “Senator, how’s three weeks from this Tuesday? That work for you? I’ll just pencil that in…should we say 4pm Baghdad time? Hope that answers your question.”
Next up to the camera was Senator McCain.
Clearly he had no interest in playing politics, although his lapel pin saying “Don’t blame me I voted for Gore” was an interesting touch.
“General, is Al Qaeda still a threat in Iraq?”
“Senator, Al Qaeda is still a threat although not to the degree they were in the past,” answers the General.
“Right, good enough. So…still a threat,” nods Senator McCain. “Thanks very much. I’ll donate my leftover question time to any of the other presidential candidates who might not have any military experience and need a few extra minutes to figure this out. ”
Senator Clinton takes the floor…
“General, since I myself am currently engaged in a brutal fight with no clear exit strategy, I believe I’m uniquely positioned to assess the Iraq situation. I remember the last time I visited… having to jump out of the cargo plane after we took a rocket up the tailpipe…who knew I could survive a fall of several thousand feet. Lucky I had universal health coverage. And thank God I was able to pick up a dropped weapon and lay down some cover for the press corps before charging up the hill and taking out that pillbox. Although the fellas who made that pillbox lost their jobs, so we’ll need to sort that out.”
(Note: my gaze was distracted during the Senator’s statement so I may not have picked up everything.)
In an unusual display of camaraderie, Senator Obama interrupts to prevent any further reminiscing by Senator Clinton.
“General,” Obama begins, “did you happen to catch my speech the other week on race? Good wasn’t it? Wrote it myself… I could recite a bit of it now since the cameras are rolling… how about it?”
“Right… Iraq… good point. Well, unlike these other candidates, I voted against the war. And I want the troops out. Unless that would be messy… then we should leave some in. But for now, it sounds better to say we’ll get them out. What do you think?”
Unfortunately I had to switch off the television at this point and was unable to catch anymore of the testimony. I’ve got to drive to a meeting across town. Lucky for me, I’ve just had a television installed in my car so I should be able to catch a bit more of the proceedings on the way. If anything good happens, I’ll text you.
In the meantime, keep asking yourself what you’ve learned and don’t forget to send any thoughts, comments or insults to email@example.com. We don’t get to reply to every email, but we do in fact read each one.
Till next week, stay safe.
Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, including most recently Prescience LLC, a global intelligence and strategy firm. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks" as well as major motion pictures. In addition, Baker is a writer for a BBC drama to begin production in July 2007.