Complainers, committees and crackpots




Notes, quotes and anecdotes while wondering how many people know that (according to President Obama took 61 vacation days in his first 31 months in office (as of Friday) while at similar points in their presidencies George W. Bush had taken 180 vacation days, and Ronald Reagan had taken 112:

Roundabout rage: If you’re wondering why the Hounds of Whinerville are locked on full-throat yelping about traffic roundabouts, there are two reasons. Roundabouts represent a departure from the status quo (a felony in the dog pound). And, roundabouts require learning and modified behavior among motorists (an unthinkable demand, according to the complainers).

Roundabouts don’t work in all situations, but they’re especially effective at intersections with medium levels of traffic. The Washington Department of Transportation reports more than 120 roundabouts statewide, with many more planned, and it’s easy to see why. Roundabouts eliminate three hazards: There are no left turns, no red lights and no U-turns. That means virtually no T-bone crashes, plus reductions in rear-end collisions, at least for motorists who are willing to learn and adjust.

Latest new pejorative: Until recently, the popular insult was to call anyone who disagrees with you an “elitist.” But recently the anger-management-class dropouts (inspired by Rush Limbaugh) have shifted to snarling about the “ruling class.” This is code for “Boy, howdy, I sure wish the last election had gone my way.” Truth is, the “ruling class” is dominated by popularly elected public officials. Voters put them there — to rule — and if they don’t perform satisfactorily, voters will replace them. Most Americans understand the system. Not so with complainers. When elections don’t go their way, it’s easier to moan about the ruling class and grumble (pot, meet kettle) about other people waging class warfare.

Easy decision: How tough is the task for the new supercommittee that was formed as part of Congress’ debt-ceiling deal? Many so-called experts say the 12-person committee will only perpetuate the gridlock.

Maybe so, but looking at this with a wider perspective, the assignment seems pretty simple. A recent CNN/ORC International poll showed that 63 percent of respondents believe the supercommittee should increase taxes on the rich, 57 percent agree with major cuts in domestic spending, and almost two-thirds want no cuts in Social Security and Medicare. Sounds pretty simple to me. Get ’er done over brunch, then announce, “There. We fixed it,” and play golf the rest of the day.

Crackpots can advance, too: Remember when we voters used the primaries to weed out the weirdos and advance rational right-thinkers to the general election? Well, that theory doesn’t always work. In Kennewick, last week, one Loren Nichols received 26 percent of the votes in a city council race and advanced to the Nov. 8 election. What’s wrong with Nichols? Among his beliefs is that illegal immigrants should be “shot on sight” because “illegal entry into and occupation of our city by illegal aliens constitutes rape of Kennewick. This is not a misdemeanor. This is an offense that warrants the highest penalty.” Oh, dear. Here we go again.

Sometimes (particularly in science) it seems like we’re becoming more civilized. Other times (especially in partisan politics) it seems like we’re sadly regressing to those dark days of unenlightened, knee-jerk behavior fueled by fear and hate.

Black-robed Writer of the Month: If there were such an award, my nomination for July would be Kentucky judge Martin Sheehan, who on July 19 ruled there was no need for a trial in a divorce case. Sheehan wrote that “news of an amicable settlement having made this Court happier than a tick on a fat dog because (the Court) is otherwise busier than a one-legged cat in a sand box and, frankly, would have rather jumped off of a 12-foot step ladder into a 5-gallon bucket of porcupines than have presided over a two-week trial … a trial which, no doubt, would have made the jury more confused than a hungry baby in a topless bar and made the parties and their attorneys madder than mosquitoes in a mannequin factory … it is therefore ordered and adjudged by the court … the jury trial … is hereby canceled.” Case closed!

John Laird is The Columbian’s editorial page editor. His column of personal opinion appears each Sunday. Reach him at