Once, probably when I was in college or shortly thereafter, I was walking around my parents’ suburban neighborhood, the one where I grew up in Northern Virginia. I forget why. Maybe I needed some fresh air and time to think, maybe I was walking to 7-11. Maybe both.

Whatever the reason, it was summer, probably after midnight. I was about half a mile from home, strolling on the side of Sugarland Run Drive. A  Loudoun County sheriff pulled up behind me, flashed his lights and asked to see my ID. Luckily, I had my wallet, proving I lived within walking distance of the very spot where we had our little meeting.

Do you think the cop would have stopped me if I’d been driving?

Signs are rarely needed.

No, and that is the mostly unexamined aspect of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Yes, race is a factor in his death, and I do not at all mean to play it down. There already is loud debate on that (just drop by Facebook), as well as a debate over gun laws. There’s less noise about how we treat pedestrians in this country (though I did find this thoughtful piece on the subject).

It probably sounds like a joke. But I’m deadly serious. I was almost hit by a minivan the other day while jogging across a busy street IN A CROSSWALK ON A GREEN LIGHT IN BROAD DAYLIGHT. The driver glared at me as if I were in the wrong

In suburbs, gated or not, “normal” people are expected to be in cars. Oh sure, we tolerate pedestrians during the day, as long as they don’t try to cross the street when we want to hang a quick left. At night, it’s a whole different story. Anyone on foot is suspect, regardless of race. For some people, I’m sure, race only heightens suspicion that is already there.

It’s sad. But if Trayvon Martin was up to no good, why would he be walking along the road where any car could see him? The truth, obviously, is that he was just coming back from the store. But he had the double misfortune to be both black and on foot in a suburb where both were — and probably still are — out of the ordinary.

In that, the Orlando suburbs are far from alone.

I’ll admit it. I like firing people too, especially if they suck at what they do. So Mitt Romney, your comments don’t bother me.

Indeed, I agree that Romney’s comments–about enjoying the act of firing people–were taken out of context. But it’s really quite a stroke of luck for the GOP front-runner that few people are trying to square those comments with the actual context.

Yes, it is pink.

As everyone knows by now, Romney was talking about health insurance when he made his now-famous remarks.

The problem with health insurers is not that their customers can’t fire them (i.e., find better coverage at better prices). It’s that the insurers can simply refuse to do business with you in the first place, for example, if you are sick and urgently need an insurance company’s services. Or if you have been sick in the past and might need the company’s services again.

As a result, I doubt that a sick person who has a problem with an insurance company can realistically fire that company and hire a new one in its place.

Romney probably knows this. As governor of Massachusetts, he signed health care legislation designed to spare people from this problem. As president, Barack Obama did the same. Insurers agreed to cover all comers in return for the requirement that all people buy coverage–not just buy it when they’re sick.

I guess at some point in this contest we’ll get to that debate. But I’m not going to hold my breath. It might make me sick–and then I’d be the one on the firing line.

If I were looking for a way to move a customer’s eyes off the final price tag, I’d come up with something called a product/service protection plan.

Keep your eye on what we tell you to.

Then, at every transaction, I’d tell the customer the cost of the product with the plan factored in. Most customers will reject the cost and enjoy the vicarious thrill of having haggled to a lower price. Best of all, they’ll walk away thinking they’ve saved money–even if the original product is overpriced.

This works especially well on products whose pricing already is fairly inscrutable. Yes, eyeglass shops–I’m looking at you, albeit with your help.

You start off with some great-sounding deal. But somehow, the final price ends up being about twice as high as the advertised price (two frames for $99!!!!), but still half what the frames would have cost without all the alleged sweeteners.

To wit: the consumer walks into the store with a two-for-$99 ad, walks out with a receipt for $200, but learns an important lesson: the two frames would have cost $400. After all, you wanted lenses that let you see at night, right?

So now I’m curious:

I’m no sage, but I suspect we’ll hear a version of this refrain over and over again in 2012: People should get more involved!

It’s one of those unquestioned axioms of modern life that people should be involved, that they should be engaged in the world around them. Apathy, we are told, causes problems and allows them to fester. It’s much better to be on the problem-solving side of the street.

But what if the opposite is true? What if people are simply too involved, too engaged? What if that is the real problem? We insert our two cents wherever they’ll fit. If they don’t fit, we’ll make them.

Of course, that’s an easy thing to say from a position of relative material comfort. But think about it for at least a second or two. What if we let things be instead of trying to always make them what we think they should be?

Let it be. It works as a song, but it would be a piss-poor campaign slogan. Or would it? We think of the phrase as implying some kind of hands-off approach: “Oh, just let it  be, will ya?” Economists may be familiar with the French version: “laissez-faire.”

But if you listen to the words (the English ones), they suggest a more active result: Let it BE. In other words, let it be what it is, or what he is or she is or they are. Our temptation is always to meddle, to control, to impose our will, to give our advice.

There’s no good time to stop, to resist the temptation. There’s just the courage to try.

So I’m going to use the question of “What is Happiness?” as an intro into teaching freshman writing this spring. I wonder why I never thought of it before, and I’m curious to see how it pans out. Aren’ t you?

Let’s see if I can be more faithful to this site in 2012. I came out of the gate strong in 2011, thanks to a conversation with another writer. I didn’t have that this year, but maybe I can pick it up anyway.

Euthanasia and euphemism are closely related. One kills people, the other kills language.

The rapid march of technological progress is masking the general lack of human progress, at least as people in Western nations have understood that phrase since the late 18th century and experienced it for much of the 19th and 20th.

We are now delivering to government the same message that many hardworking Americans are being forced to internalize  in their own lives: learn to live with less. I’m not sure what our country will look like when the lesson is fully learned. But, if you are willing to start educating us, www.livewithless.com, dear reader, appears to be yours for the taking.

If I squint, I can just about see both sides of the debate over allowing guns on college campuses. But I’ll admit I sympathize with those who would rather keep them off.

That said, my reasoning may be a little less reliant on preserving the notion that campuses should be scenes of peaceful debate. I highly doubt that students arguing about Plato’s Republic will end up settling their differences through a duel at high noon on the quad.

One part heat, two parts lightning.

What worries me instead is the potentially fatal brew of guns and alcohol.  It strikes me as mildly insane, at the very least, to ignore the risks of guns being mishandled, misused or misfired.

College students, convinced they will live forever, do all kinds of stupid things while drunk. Guns may become just one more tool to inflict self-harm–or worse.

And I get it that 18-year-olds are packing heat in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, uh, they go through something called training. I haven’t seen anyone require that of gun-toting college students. Perhaps, before it’s too late, someone will figure out a way to attach a breathalyzer to the trigger.

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