Saturday, February 25, 2012

I Hate Surprise Parties

I hate surprise parties.  All the time and effort and for what?  Ten seconds of watching the Guest of Honor reel back in shock and disbelief after a bunch of friends, relatives and associates leap from hallways and from behind furniture yelling, “SURPRISE!!”

All that, and then what happens?  A few minutes of laughing and talking about all the time and effort spent preparing for this moment, and how the Guest of Honor is still shuddering and trying to recover from the assault his “loved ones” perpetrated against him, and then it turns into an ordinary party!  A three to five hour party.  Not much of a return on investment, is it?

Oh, sure, there will be a few moments when participants will remind everyone how the Guest of Honor should have seen his face when he walked through that door.  This is usually perpetuated by the ones who expended the most effort in the surprise – probably to try to milk even more appreciation for all the work they did.  Sometimes it makes you wonder who the party is really celebrating.

The Top 10 Reasons Why I HATE Surprise Parties:

10. The Guest of Honor already expects a party.
  9. The invitation list could be incomplete or flawed.
  8. Last minute plans can change with no way to contact the guests in time.
  7. The Guest of Honor may not be ready.
  6. The setup must be flawless.
  5. The actual surprise may be sloppy.
  4. It requires more work from the guests.
  3. It requires everyone to be in on the surprise.
  2. There may be a conflict the planners are unaware of.

And the Number One reason I HATE surprise parties:

  1. It is only as strong as the weakest ability to keep a secret.

Let’s look at these one-by-one.  Don’t have the time?  I’m not surprised.

10. The Guest of Honor already expects a party.

If it was your 30th birthday, or 40th anniversary, and absolutely nobody was talking of a get-together or asking if you had any plans, wouldn’t you be suspicious? 

9. The invitation list could be incomplete or flawed.

The party planners are not necessarily going to know all the people the Guest of Honor would like to have at his party.  There’s bound to be friends the planners forgot about, did not know how to contact, or simply have never met.  When these people find out about the big party, and they weren’t invited, it could cause a lot of relations to sour.  And a lot of apologies would be in order.

Also, what if there was a guest the honoree could not stand, “How could you have invited Phil??  She’s always found Phil to be the biggest downer!” or two guests who have “issues” with each other?  “You can invite Jane or Michelle, but you cannot invite Jane AND Michelle!”

8. Last minute plans can change with no way to contact the guests in time.

What if, for whatever reason, everything had to get started a half hour earlier and many of the guests cannot be reached?  Some may be arriving just as the Guest of Honor shows up.  Honoree: “What are YOU doing here?”  You: “We could ask you the same thing!”

Or what if, on the way to the arranged meeting site, the unsuspecting Guest of Honor says, “Let’s drop in to have a few quick drinks with Bill and Francine.  We’re going right past their place anyway and we haven’t seen them in ages.”  When he starts to get angry with his wife’s refusal to make a change in the plans, she may have to let the cat out of the bag, lest some of the guests start leaving from impatience because there was no discrete way to call the house to let them know of the change in plans.  “Now be sure to act surprised.”

7. The Guest of Honor may not be ready.

A man was retiring after 40 years of work.  Expecting some sort of customary retirement dinner, he spends a week writing and editing a speech.  But little did he know that his colleagues decided instead to throw a surprise retirement dinner for him.  There he was, on the night of the dinner honoring his four decades of service, caught speechless.  With his speech on his laptop at home, he fumbled through by memory.  He sounded idiotic, his jokes made no sense, and he alienated colleagues he’d forgotten to honor because he had no notes.  Who surprises a 40 year retiree and doesn’t expect a speech?

6. The setup must be flawless.

The “setup” – the plan to get the honoree away from or towards the party venue can be simple, or it can be complicated.  The more complex the plan, the more opportunities there are to foul things up.  “OK, now we gotta get Jim away for an hour, so you’re gonna tell him you’re taking him to the store to buy cigarettes.  But before you get there, you’re gonna run out of gas …”  What could possibly go wrong?

Even simple plans can backfire.  “He always works till six on Fridays, so that will give us plenty of time to set up.”

5. The actual surprise may be sloppy.

When I turned 50, my family planned a surprise birthday party for me.  Everything was going along fine – right up to just seconds before the guests were to yell, “Surprise!”  It turns out that as I was rounding the corner, I spotted balloons and streamers before the guests saw me.  Two seconds later, “Surprise!!”  When they asked if I was surprised, I said, “I might have been, but I saw the balloons and streamers before I saw all of you.”  All that work – ruined with two seconds left on the clock.

4. It requires more work from the guests.

First of all, as a guest, if you have a question anytime in the weeks before the party, you can’t call the hostess, lest the Honoree is within hearing range.  And with CallerID, he might ask, “Why did MY boss want to speak with YOU?”

Secondly, you have to arrive before a certain time.  If you get off work at 6:00 and everyone is supposed to be situated before 7:30, it might give you a fifteen minute window to come home, shower, and dress for the party to get there in time – if there’s no traffic.  And if you do show up a few minutes late, you don’t know if you can go in without somehow ruining the surprise, or worse, be walking in as the honoree is getting out of his car.

And third, when you get there, you can’t park close to the house.  So you may find it necessary to walk several blocks in your good shoes on an icy street with no sidewalk.  “How come Steve and Diane didn’t come to the party?”  “Haven’t you heard?  She had to take him to the hospital because he slipped on the ice and broke his back.”

3. It requires everyone to be in on the surprise.

Whether or not you are in on the setup, and no matter how you may feel about surprise parties, or lying,  circumstances may come up for you to have to lie to keep up the charade.  “Uhhh, I’m actually going hunting with my father-in-law that weekend.”  Or, “No, I don’t know if anyone’s planning a get-together for you.”
2. There may be a conflict the planners are unaware of.

Imagine this.  All the friends of a couple are planning this great surprise anniversary party that falls on a  Saturday.  A few days before, the husband surprises his wife with two non-refundable tickets to Maui.  He’s been planning this for weeks.  She happens to tell a friend, and that friend asks, “When do you leave?”  She says, “Our flight leaves this Friday!”  The friend says, “Uhhh – Friday??”  Surprise!

Or how about this?  Jerry’s wife and all the people they socialize with plan this huge surprise gala for his 40th birthday.  What they don’t know, however, is that all Jerry’s colleagues at work are also planning a surprise party – you guessed it – on the same date.  The charade falls apart when the two individual setups collide, which is usually within an hour of each party’s start time.  “Jerry,” a colleague begins, “let’s go Chinese for lunch today.”  “No can do,” says Jerry, “My wife is supposed to be meeting me for lunch at Giuliani’s.”  I hope Jerry’s co-workers enjoy their party for which there is no guest of honor – even though the company president was invited.  Surprise!

1. It is only as strong as the weakest ability to keep a secret.

This one is a biggie for me.  Several years ago, a surprise party was planned for my niece.  A few days before the event, we were all at a restaurant.  I asked my brother-in-law a question, the answer of which would have raised suspicion from my niece.  He whispered a caution to me, and we all hoped she had not heard what I had asked.  Plus I felt like a fool for not having made the connection before I asked the question.

My Parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary Non-Surprise Party

When my parents’ 50th anniversary was coming up, my wife and I decided to throw them a big party.  My wife said, “Do you think we should make it a surprise party?”  I said, “No way!  I HATE surprise parties.”  So I told my mother we were planning this party, and would she please supply a list of people she and Dad would want to attend, and their contact information.  About a week later, she sent me a list of people, two-thirds of whom I had never even heard of.  But they were friends, associates, and acquaintances my parents had acquired over the years.  So now I had a list of dozens of people my parents would really enjoy having a very special party for a special occasion – AND their addresses and phone numbers.

Many of the invitees asked if it was a surprise party.  I said, “No, they already know about it, so you don’t need to worry about what you say or who you say it in front of.  It’s just a party.”  We threw a magnificent party which lasted several hours.  Everyone seemed to have a wonderful time, and many of the guests were grateful for the opportunity to visit with other guests they hadn’t seen in years. 

All this without the ten seconds of amusement from watching the Guests of Honor jump out of their skins from everyone leaping out and shouting at them.

My mother told me people talked about that party for weeks after.

That didn’t surprise me.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

NC “Move Over” Law – Part II

If you haven’t yet read my initial post, Move it Over - NC "Move Over" Law, please read that, (and optionally, its comments,) before continuing.

The text below is the relevant parts of North Carolina General Statute 20-157 that defines North Carolina’s  “Move Over” Law.  I have highlighted certain phrases I’ll expand upon later in this post.  But first, read what the Statute requires:
(f)        When an authorized emergency vehicle as described in subsection (a) of this section or any public service vehicle is parked or standing within 12 feet of a roadway and is giving a warning signal by appropriate light, the driver of every other approaching vehicle shall, as soon as it is safe and when not otherwise directed by an individual lawfully directing traffic, do one of the following:
(1)        Move the vehicle into a lane that is not the lane nearest the parked or standing authorized emergency vehicle or public service vehicle and continue traveling in that lane until safely clear of the authorized emergency vehicle. This paragraph applies only if the roadway has at least two lanes for traffic proceeding in the direction of the approaching vehicle and if the approaching vehicle may change lanes safely and without interfering with any vehicular traffic.
(2)        Slow the vehicle, maintaining a safe speed for traffic conditions, and operate the vehicle at a reduced speed and be prepared to stop until completely past the authorized emergency vehicle or public service vehicle. This paragraph applies only if the roadway has only one lane for traffic proceeding in the direction of the approaching vehicle or if the approaching vehicle may not change lanes safely and without interfering with any vehicular traffic.
I’m no lawyer, but here’s how I interpret the statute:

If you’re on a highway with two lanes going in each direction and you approach the cop on the side of the road, the law states that you must move over into the next lane if you may do so “safely and without interfering with any vehicular traffic.”  If you cannot move over, (or if you’re on a two lane highway – one lane going in each direction,) you’re to slow down, “maintaining a safe speed for traffic conditions,” until you’re past the officer.

So basically the law requires drivers who come upon the officer to make a sudden judgment as to the safety of moving over.  If the driver deems it unsafe, they’re to slow down. 

So here we go.  I’m out on the highway and just as I crest a hill, I see a cop who has pulled over another driver.  Within a timeframe of about three seconds, I must say to myself, “OK, is that officer 12 feet from the roadway?  He looks to be thirteen feet, but it might be eleven, so I’m going to Move Over.  But wait!  Is it Safe to do so?  I’ve just crested a hill and there may be a motorcyclist zipping along at a good clip and I might Interfere with him if I Move Over.  So I guess I will slow down and Maintain a Safe speed for traffic conditions.  "For traffic conditions?"  What the hell does that mean?  I’m guessing it means they don’t want me to suddenly slow from 65 to 25, specially since it’s now raining, lest I should be rear-ended and cause even more Interference.  But the guy behind me is speeding towards me and there’s that damned bike right next to him.  He can’t Move Over without causing Interference with the motorcycle, and I don’t feel Safe to Move Over, so I think I can slow to about 55.  Well, wait a second.  I guess the point is moot because now I am being pulled over.  I wonder what for?  Couldn’t be for speeding ‘cause I was doing 55 in a 70 mph zone.

Me:  “Your Honor, it just didn’t feel safe to move over.” 
Officer: “It was safe, Your Honor”
Hold on.  Doesn’t the law specifically state that I am to Move Over “as soon as it is safe”?  Isn’t that up to my judgment??

North Carolina’s Move Over law has good intentions, and will certainly help to reduce incidents of officers and emergency personnel being hit by passing motorists.  I’m just worried that it might cause law-abiding drivers to make sudden, unfortunate decisions while trying to follow that law.   

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Race to the Top???

Obama's new program, Race to the Top, the intended replacement for the failed Bush program No Child Left Behind, has an interesting title. Race. To the Top.

The term 'race' implies a speedy competition among rivals to strive to be the best. What's the hurry? Who are the rivals? And what is to be done about those 'losers' who never reached 'The Best?' (After all, if you have not won the race, aren't you a non-winner?)

Regardless of how you feel about politicians believing they know what's best for school children's educational needs, the title Race to the Top is about as meaningless and unattainable as the phrase No Child Left Behind. (And don't get me started on that one. NO child? C'mon, that's pretty ambitious, wouldn't you say?)


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Teen Preggars Rate Increase Due to Hispanics?

According to an article in The Washington Post,

Rise in teenage pregnancy rate spurs new debate on arresting it

By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The pregnancy rate among teenage girls in the United States has jumped for the first time in more than a decade, raising alarm that the long campaign to reduce motherhood among adolescents is faltering, according to a report released Tuesday.


The cause of the increase is the subject of debate. Several experts blamed the increase in teen pregnancies on sex-education programs that focus on encouraging abstinence. Others said the reversal could be due to a variety of factors, including an increase in poverty, an influx of Hispanics and complacency about AIDS, prompting lax use of birth control such as condoms.

Wow. An influx of Hispanics, huh? If I were Hispanic I suppose I'd be pretty pissed by that statement, specially without any evidence in support of that claim.


Friday, August 28, 2009

No Stupidity Left Behind

According to this article from yesterday's New York Times, the No Child Left Behind law has been successful in increasing the performance of low-achieving students. The problem, they say, is that this gain comes at the expense of the high-achievers. Consider this quote:
[E]ver since the law was enacted in 2002, analysts and educators have worried that gifted pupils would be the ones left behind. While the law puts extraordinary pressure on schools to lift the performance of low-achieving students, it includes no incentives to accelerate the progress of high achievers.
Let me iterate the last line: "it includes no incentives to accelerate the progress of high achievers." Well, Hullo! It was never intended to help boost the achievement of the already high achievers. To title the article Smart Child Left Behind is an insult to all the parents who counted on the program to help their kids get an education. Smart kids left behind from what? A college education? Puh-leeease.

Here's an idea to help reduce the achievement gap: take the money that would have been spent to give kids who have already "gotten" the material further enrichment and invest in the kids who are struggling. This "give my kid a better education and the hell with all those other kids" attitude will bite society in the butt someday.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Double Standard in Sheboygan

This, out of the Sheboygan Press, January 8, 2009: "Sheboygan boy, 17, charged with allegedly having sex with girl, 14."

One day later, also out of the Sheboygan Press, January 9, 2009: "Sheboygan girl, 17, charged for allegedly having sex with boy, 14."

So within a 24 hour period, two 17 year old kids are charged with having sex with their respective 14 year old girlfriend/boyfriend. Both 14 year olds claimed to their partners that they were 16.

But get this, according to the articles' information on when the younger partners were to turn 15, the 17 year old girl had sex with her boyfriend, "179 months" of age, and got charged with a max 9 mos. misdemeanor. The 17 year old BOY, on the other hand, had sex with his "177 month old" girlfriend, and got hit with a max 25 years felony.

If convicted, he'll also probably have to register as a sex offender for the duration of his life, with all the wonderful "privileges" that come with that distinction.

But there's not a double standard.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Angry Much?

What does it mean to get angry? Here are some definitions of anger:

  • A strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; wrath; ire. Unabridged (v 1.1)
  • A strong emotion; a feeling that is oriented toward some real or supposed grievance. WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University
  • An over-reaction caused by an event that does not meet one's perceived expectations. An unconsummated "Should." The Sarcasticynic

One rainy day, two men, Joe and Larry, are sitting in a traffic jam outside a major metropolitan area. Joe is mumbling under his breath about how late he'll be for a meeting. Larry is listening to music on the radio.

Suddenly, a vehicle tries to dart into a small opening in front of each man's car.

Joe's reaction was to lurch his car forward so as to block the merging driver, lay on the horn, shout obscenities and offer a rather rude hand gesture to the driver. He then spent the next twelve minutes cursing the driver, the city, the traffic reporters on the radio, the weatherman, his boss, and everyone else he could think of.

Larry's reaction? First he stepped briskly on the brakes in order not to run into the merging driver, then he smiled and waved the driver into the newly provided space. Afterwards he resumed listening to his music.

In this scenario, the event, stimulus, or trigger if you will, is the same for both men. A vehicle trying to enter their lane. But the reactions were quite different. Whereas Larry's reaction was rather mild, Joe virtually went through the sunroof.

Analyze any anger situation and you will always find these three points:

  1. An event, stimulus, or trigger.
  2. A expectation based on a perceived ideal, (a "should.")
  3. An over-reaction.

Numbers 1 and 3 are pretty self explanatory. The "should," on the other hand, deserves closer examination.

Joe's over-reaction stemmed from his idea on how the roadway "should" be - a free-flowing line of cars all traveling in a manner that allows everyone to get to their destination in a quick, efficient manner. Should anything depart from that "should," Joe gets angry. When he gets angry, he reacts in ways that are extreme and that have little effect on the outcome of events.

So why didn't Larry react the same? Perhaps he doesn't hold the world to the unattainable standard as does Joe.

Consider these other examples:

  • A child throws a temper tantrum after he doesn't get a toy to which he feels he should be entitled.
  • A woman gets mad at herself after breaking a dish with which she should have been more careful.
  • A man becomes perturbed with his boss for giving him more work he feels he shouldn't be saddled with.
  • A teen is upset with her boyfriend for not calling her as he should know he should do. (A double should.)

In each of these cases, the angered party feels the circumstances should be different than they are. I challenge anyone to come up with an anger situation that fails to contain a "should." But must anger follow in each of these cases? I should think not.

When analyzing an anger situation, try to determine the unconsummated "should" and you'll be that much closer to understanding what brought on the anger. You'll probably find that in many cases, the perception is based on unrealistic or impossible goals. If you are in the position of having to assist those in anger, the better you understand that "should" situation, the better you'll be prepared to deal with those who are angered.

A further note. The event that precedes the outburst does not always have to be the cause of the outburst. Take for example the man who cannot iron his pants because he doesn't know where his wife, who is out of town, keeps the iron. He gets angry knowing he will be late - not because he cannot locate the iron, but because he feels his wife "should" stay at home to care for him instead of visiting her sister - a perception not based in reality.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Too little funding for fighting AIDS among Blacks?

An article in the News & Observer states:

Report: U.S. blacks face AIDS crisis

David Brown, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON - A prominent AIDS organization Tuesday accused the federal government of doing too little to fight AIDS among black Americans, in whom the size and scope of the epidemic resembles that seen in many African nations.

In a 55-page report, the Black AIDS Institute argued that AIDS should be viewed as a threat to the entire black population and not just specific high-risk groups. Unlike in white Americans -- and in the citizens of most industrialized nations -- HIV in American blacks is increasingly transmitted heterosexually through "networks" where men especially have many sex partners at the same time, the report noted.

Sort of reminds me of the joke that begins, "Hey, Doctor, it hurts when I do this."

Anyway, the CDC 's Kevin A Fenton disputes the claim:

The proportion of AIDS-prevention funds devoted to the black community has risen as the epidemic has become more concentrated there and constitutes about $300 million of the $600 million spent each year, Fenton said.

Spending 50% of AIDS-prevention funds on the black community does not sound like "doing too little to fight AIDS among black Americans" to me.

Does it to you?

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Turn on a TV or read any major newspaper and you're likely to come upon a story about cyberbullying. defines cyberbullying as "when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones."

Some teens are so affected by the actions of cyberbullies that they have committed suicide.

A News & Observer story about a victim of cyberbullying told of a victimized student:

Gale McKoy Wilkins

The incident involved his best friend and a group of bullies. The bullies planned to teach this young man a lesson on "disrespect," so they beat him after school at an off-campus location. An audience of peers watched and captured the entire altercation on a cell-phone camera. Before the victim could find his six missing teeth in the gravel and dirt, the fight appeared on Facebook, MySpace and YouTube, all before his parents, dentist and school administrators knew what had taken place. That is the instant wrath of cyberbullying.

Matt Ivester, a 2005 graduate of Duke University and founder of had this to say when asked if sites such as JuicyCampus perpetuate online cruelty:

This is the same gossip that happens offline everyday anyhow. With JuicyCampus, though, people have the opportunity to read the gossip that would otherwise be told behind their backs. And if they don't want to know, they don't have to visit the site.
(For another example of the fallacy of such logic, go here.)

Four popular views on the subject of cyberbullying are:
  1. Enact laws against it.
  2. Let the schools deal with it.
  3. Let the parents deal with it.
  4. Leave it alone - after all, it's protected speech.
Each view has its pros and cons, and each has its supporters and detractors.

Another view

It's interesting that we require kids to be at least a certain age and to pass a test before we allow them to drive, yet we give them free reign to post anything they want to the roughly 1.4 billion worldwide Internet users. Can we honestly expect a thirteen year old to grasp the concept of such a potential audience?

In the days of yore, kids who found themselves victims of bullying may have brought threatening notes they've received home to Mom and Dad, who then might have had a phone conversation with the parents of the harasser in order to "chat" about the behavior. Then the bully's parents laid into him/her, hopefully bringing to an end the improper actions.

One problem with cyberbullying, however, is the issue of the anonymity of the harassers. (But posts published in cyberspace may not be as anonymous as you might think.) In a modern adaptation of the way bullying was handled in the past, perhaps the parents, friends and educators of the victim, or maybe the victim him/herself may collect an electronic "paper trail" (e-trail) of the offensive material in order to present via some means, including the police if necessary, to the parents of the evil-doers with hopes that they will act upon such offensive behavior.

Yes, granted the evidence may not be as damning as the victim would hope, but when presented with material implicating one's offspring, it would be hoped that those parents would look more critically at the availability of the electronic commerce they've granted their kids.

Cyberbullying is an unacceptable practice which can be reduced if parents and educators would be willing to keep a closer eye on the means by which our children communicate with their peers.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Testing the Theory of Evolution

A Pastor in South Florida gives the following argument against the theory of evolution:

What are the odds that if you put all the parts of a clock in a bag, and shake it long enough, the clock will come out ticking and working perfectly? The theory of evolution expects us to believe the same for the beginnings of life.

So to put this argument to the test, I performed the following experiment:

  1. Place the parts of a clock in a bag.
  2. Pray vigorously for the parts to turn into a clock.
  3. Remove ticking and perfectly working clock from the bag.
Turns out that didn't work either.