Friday, January 14, 2011

A Mitten-Wearing Porcupine Walked Into A Bar

Those of us who belong to the species known as humanus beingus (and somewhere my father just rolled over in his grave.....literally) have a few things working for us that separate us from the rest of the inhabitants of the animal kingdom. I am positive that one of our distinguishing characteristics will leap readily to mind. It is the other one that sometimes is hard to remember. Candidly, seeing us in action does little to help advance the cause of recognition.

You see in addition to our neat, super cool thumbs we are alleged to possess the ability to think through complex processes. As Mr. Hiatt once observed so presciently we ain't no amoebas......and somewhere a single-cell organism is heard to applaud.

OK, so we are more than allegedly in possession of the ability to think. It is in fact one of ours. It just can be hard to discern sometimes - especially when one of us converts a thought held heretofore quietly inside of one's own head into speech that is shared aloud for all to contemplate.

Earlier this week the Los Angeles Lakers apparently administered a beating of historical proportions to the LeBron-less Cavaliers of Cleveland. While I am a fan of many sports, NBA basketball is not among them. Jim Boeheim of Syracuse was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005. While his achievements as a coach are many and impressive, his signature is singular: the 2-3 match-up zone defense. He has taught it better and his Syracuse teams have for more than a generation played it better than anyone else. Yet the defense that has helped propelled Boeheim to a historic career was - until fairly recently - known in the NBA by a different name: an "illegal defense". I have little use for a basketball league that declares something as strategically savvy as a zone defense to be illegal. And do not even get me started on the favorite device of the ADD generation: the 24-second shot clock.

But I digress. Earlier this week in Los Angeles the Lakers beat the Cavaliers 112-57. In a sport where people can score in increments of 1, 2 and 3, losing by 55 is not the easiest thing in the world to do. Neither is getting doubled up, which the Cavs avoided by a mere two points. In its game recap, ESPN.com reported Phil Jackson of the Lakers saying post game (apparently searching for a way to explain his team's extraordinary defensive effort) that, "We had a defensive goal. We wanted to try and limit them to as few points as possible." Recognizing that one of us has won more NBA championships as a coach than any other person living or dead and the other one of us is me, I cannot help but wonder, "Huh?" when I read the old ball coach's explanation. At the risk of sounding snarky, is that not the team's defensive goal every night? And does the index card of successful strategies not contain on its reverse side, "Our offensive goal is to score at least one more point than the other team"? Thankfully he did not refer to his players as "victorious warriors" or applaud the fact that they all had given "150% effort" in the win.

To be fair, I have only read what Jackson said post-game. I have not heard his comments either in an audio clip or in a video highlight. It is possible therefore that his tongue was planted very firmly in cheek when he said it, which would not be evident simply from reading the printed word. I sure as hell hope so.

Unfortunately and far closer to home this week a member of the Assembly of the State of Concrete Gardens opened her mouth and emitted a sound so immediately recognizable as a paving stone from the highway to Hell that the media form in which you first encountered it was irrelevant. An Assemblywoman proposed legislation that would have required everyone in New Jersey who owns and rides a bicycle to pay $10.00 for mandatory license plates for it. We have become a society in which parents bestow presents of smart phones and iPads on their elementary school-aged children. Perhaps Assemblywoman Tucker simply wanted to get New Jersey ahead of the curve with the next "it" item for pre-teens everywhere: vanity plates for their trike or bike. Hmm, on second thought maybe it is not as silly an idea as I first thought. Imagine the joy inmates at our various State correctional facilities would have cranking out Jersey plates for the prepubescent set.

I have a good friend - a classmate of mine from law school - who being a far more principled and intelligent man than I am - expressed immediate concerns about the impact, intended or otherwise, this legislation could have on the rights of an entire segment of our population whose bicycle provides transportation to the job they need to feed and support their family but who may not want to provide a State governmental agency with an address. Being less of a Constitutional scholar than he is (and being less of a human being as well), my initial reaction to this proposed legislation was one of pure chagrin.

My reaction was predicated in large part on having read what the Assemblywoman offered as the rationale behind her proposal complaints she had received from elderly constituents who allegedly had been run over, down and into by children on bicycles and frustrated in their efforts to identify their assailants by the absence of a distinguishing characteristic - such as a license plate. I must confess that I am unaware whether there has been an uptick in the number of reported Big Wheels hit/run incidents in Essex County or a spate of pedestrian knockdown incidents involving a Schwinn or Huffy product. Yet I fail to see how this "idea" (stretching the definition to - and likely beyond - its allowable limit) seemed to this particular legislator to make any sense at all.

The anticipated difficulty in enforcing this new law (municipalities of varying sizes all over this State have been shedding police officers due to budgetary issues and perhaps the Assemblywoman saw her proposed legislation as justification for hiring them back), was apparent presumably to everyone other than the Assemblywoman. Perhaps she should ask those in law enforcement in her Legislative district just how vigorously New Jersey's helmet law for minor children cyclists is enforced in their communities. It seems to me that 'NTSG we could balance our annual budget simply by enforcing that particular law, which we seemingly choose not to do. The suggested addition of yet another piece of "show" legislation to our everyday lives is reflective of a legislator whose level of disconnect from the actual issues of the day is startling. Or perhaps of a legislator who has already been victimized by a gang of marauding tots.

Whether for reasons political or practical less than one day after having floated an idea that even Lloyd Braun would have recognized as not so good, the Assemblywoman backpedaled. (Pun very much intended.) Rather than thinking that perhaps her proposal stopped short of its desired goal and suggesting instead that every child have a license plate affixed to him or her, she withdrew her proposal altogether.

Sadly, much in the same way that toothpaste does not return politely to the tube from which it has been expelled, a truly stupid idea - once voiced aloud - does not simply go gentle into that good night. If only Mr. Peabody had in fact built his WABAC Machine, then an otherwise anonymous member of our State Legislature might have remained so.

Keep those mittens handy kids. It is only mid-January. Winter has a long course yet to run.

-AK

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