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From road rage to budget impasses, how come we're all so angry?

July 16, 2006 12:50 am

AS WE NEARED my sister's home in a pleasant New Jersey suburb of New York City, I drove relatively slowly to avoid missing the left-hand turn onto her street. We get up there only once every year or two. Despite the Virginia tags that labeled us out-of-towners, the driver to my rear was unsympathetic and chose to tailgate our jam-packed minivan. As I made my turn he blew his horn, and I glanced to the right to see him bark some choice words, I'm sure, through his window and present the usual obscene gesture.

Having already driven some seven hours that day--the next-to-last leg of a vacation trip that took us to Maine--I was more or less numb to this one-sided incidence of road rage.

But for some reason it has stayed with me because it showed such an utter lack of patience for an obvious situation of a visitor trying to find his way. This driver was provoked, after no longer than a minute or two, at having to drive a few miles per hour under the speed limit along a tree-lined street with only one lane in each direction. I fear for the poor soul who accidentally cuts him off.

It is hardly fair to draw conclusions from the actions of one idiot driver in New Jersey, but it would seem to add to the pile of evidence that America is in serious need of a course in anger management.

Workplace shootings seem to be a weekly occurrence, and some morons apparently believe that running their vehicles into crowds of people offers a solution to their problems.

Lawmakers in Virginia and the aforementioned New Jersey faced historically contentious budget showdowns this year. As we traveled through New Jersey, highway signs flashed the news that state parks and other services were being shut down as of July 1. (In New Jersey, oddly enough, it was Democrats, who control the legislature, who were steadfastly against a sales-tax increase proposed by Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine to help close a multibillion-dollar budget gap. After a weeklong shutdown, the governor got his penny increase on the sales-tax--from 6 percent to 7 percent.)

Americans may be taking their lead from the diminishing political decorum they're witnessing. The good news is that as more Americans realize what was certain to so many of us six years ago--that a George Bush presidency would be disastrous in every respect--there is greater national unity on the horizon.

Heartland security

If you think we've got bad traffic in these parts of Virginia, you're right. We do. But a drive into the great Northeast can persuade you that we're not as bad off as we could be.

The horrific traffic congestion there reflects the population density and the inability of the governments in states such as New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut to meet the need for transportation improvements. There are just too many people.

As we traveled north, the stop-and-go traffic around New York City, across the Tappan Zee Bridge, and through Connecticut gave me plenty of time to think. I tried to figure out why the Department of Homeland Security thinks big cities need less anti-terrorism funding, while wide-open spaces out West need more.

Funding for Sept. 11 target New York City, for example, was cut from $207 million in 2005 to $124 million for this year. Closer to home, the national capital region, which includes the Pentagon and, coincidentally, the nation's capital, was cut from $77.5 million to $46 million. Omaha, Neb., was among the cities to see increased funding.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff can argue all he wants about per-capita-based spending formulas vs. levels of risk. But it's the big cities, especially the centers of government and finance, that give international terrorists the biggest bang for the buck. Was that lesson not learned five years ago?

After reports about the foiled plan to attack New York's tunnels, no matter how embryonic the plan was said to be, I'm just glad we didn't need to use them on our recent trip.

Celebrating the 2nd of July

I try not to think about work too much while I'm on vacation, but there's no breaking a careerlong addiction to the news of the day. The difference is that vacation lets every day be the Sunday-morning-relax-and-read-with-a-cup-of-coffee experience. I'll read stuff I pass up on workdays.

"Today in History" fits that category. I noticed it in the Boston Globe on July 2, and started reading. A historically busy day, to say the least. Allow me to share:

In 1566, astrologer/prophet Nostradamus died.

In 1776, the Continental Congress passed the initial resolution that would emerge two days later as the Declaration of Independence.

In 1881, President James Garfield was shot. He died some 80 days later.

In 1937, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared over the Pacific.

In 1961, author Ernest Hemingway shot himself to death.

In 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill.

In 1976, the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty.

In 1997, actor James Stewart died.

In 2001, a patient received the first self-contained artificial heart, and lived for 151 days.

In 2004, actor Marlon Brando died.

For one summer day in history, that's a lot of news.

RICHARD AMRHINE is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star.





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