Sunday, February 26, 2012

Drinking and driving

A lawyer friend of mine was shaking his head at our laws regarding drinking and driving. They’re ridiculous (I’m paraphrasing, he may have used stronger language). By setting a blood alcohol limit at all, he says, we’re basically DARING people to drink and drive. How close can you get to the limit and not get caught? Human nature is such that boundaries are constantly pushed. Use speed limits as an example. The highway limit in Manitoba is 100 km/h. That’s for optimal driving conditions—dry road, excellent visibility, alert driver, vehicle in good condition. Yet when it’s foggy, rainy, snowy, or dark you can always find many someones blasting along at 120 km/h or even faster.
Because we’re allowed to drink AT ALL, even a little bit, it’s inevitable that we keep trying to drink “just one more” before we head out to cruise home. (As an aside, I believe the only time people drive under the speed limit is when they’re drunk, as they fear getting stopped for a simple speeding ticket and ending up with a DUI.) The message we should be getting is “You can’t drink and drive.” Period. That’s certainly what the public service messages push, but the law doesn’t back them up. It’s like the statutes are the devil on your shoulder, giving you a little nudge and saying “Come on, you can have one. Just one. Everyone knows one is okay.”
You aren’t allowed to drive with a blood alcohol level over 0.08 percent; everyone knows that. Most people use the “one drink an hour” rule as a basic guideline to determine what their current level is at. Only that rule has more exceptions than most realize. The first hour doesn’t count, so basically if you have three drinks in three hours, BANG, you’re over. Sitting in a bar for three hours only gives you two drinks for your safety margin. Then you have to consider body mass and metabolism and a variety of other factors not to easy to keep track. Basically, you never really know what your blood alcohol level will be.
Logically that means you should not have even a single drink and then go out to your car. But what if you have a drink at 7:00 pm (okay, it was 10:00 am, don’t judge me) and don’t leave the bar until midnight? Isn’t that okay? Legally, yes. Public service announcements would say “no.” So what’s the limit? If I drink at midnight am I okay to drive to work in the morning? How much time has to pass between “drinking” and “driving” before it’s no longer in any way considered “drinking AND driving”? What’s a forgivable duration, according to MADD and other upset organizations?
Figuring that out is like the rules for gremlins. “Don’t feed them after midnight.” Well, technically, EVERY time is after midnight, so we need to be a little clearer on our drinking and driving message, too.
The easy solution is right there, yet has never been done, for reasons that I don’t quite comprehend. Bars should have breathalizers. Take out those stupid “Love Machine” things and install a quality, certified breathalizer. I’m not pretending such a step would prevent the diehard idiots from drinking and driving: some people are too stupid to follow any reasonable direction, and the only sad part is that they often take out other, innocent lives in the process of removing themselves from the gene pool. But a breathalizer at the bar would allow a guy like me to drive to the pub, enjoy a beer, and then drive home safely and legally. I’d know I have to sit and wait until I can blow under 0.08. Simple.
Of course bars will never do that, not until it’s made a legal requirement. They stay in business, after all, because of the North American tendency toward binge drinking. Still, it’s something I’d be thrilled to see. We could do it, too. Drinking establishments everywhere thought the “no smoking” laws would be the death of them. Certainly there were some casualties but they were clearly underestimating the addiction of that sweet, sweet booze. We do NOT give up our addictions lightly.
Having an in-bar breathalizer could even become it’s own sort of drinking game, wagering to see who can breathe nearest to 0.08 without going over, Price-is-Right style.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Death, grief and guilt

It happened when Steve Jobs died, and again, more recently, when Whitney Houston’s death was announced. People mourned for a stranger. In both cases, within 24 hours, the same meme started circulating. Its phrasing varied slightly, but its message was always the same. You probably saw it or heard about it (that’s the nature of a meme, after all). The latest one I saw had a picture of the dead famous person with the caption “One person dies and 100 million cry.” Next to it was a picture of starving, emaciated African children with beseeching arms. Their caption was “One million people die, and no one cares.”
The starving children in Africa have been used as a cudgel for purposes both great and petty since as long as I can remember. Ethiopia was the usual country trotted out when I didn’t finish my supper. (Thanks very much, Mom, for the gastronomic nightmare called “burger bean cups.” It was a cruel and cunning dish. The thing looked like a hamburger, but the ground beef patty was actually stuffed with green beans. I hated green beans. The first time she shelled it out I was completely trusting, so I took an enormous bite and ended up with a huge mouthful of beef and beans. Evil. She was a good cook, but burger bean cups were dirty pool. Maybe that’s why I like fast food burgers—no way to hide a bean in those thin patties.) “There are starving children in Ethiopia and you’re wasting food. Tsk, tsk.”
(Even as a child I knew the argument was flawed. How did my shoveling 4000 calories into my maw help anyone on a different continent?)
Africa’s plight is complex and sad and particularly horrible because it’s been going on for so long. The specific country we’re familiar with over here may have morphed over time from Ethiopia to Somalia, but starving children are no less tragic. When they’re being used to prove a point it’s hard to argue without feeling like a heartless jerk. In my opinion, it’s a low move, to use those poor kids just to win an argument.
The “don’t care about the famous, care about the starving children” argument is flawed anyway. It assumes that all human life has an equal value. That’s simply not true, and everyone knows it. They just don’t like to admit it. People enjoy embracing the false notion that you can’t put a price on a human life. If you can’t put a price on it, it has an infinite value, and therefore everyone’s the same.
Really? Will you weep as hard for a homeless man’s death as you will for your father? Or mother? Or your own child? The homeless guy’s probably pretty innocent, and certainly doesn’t deserve to die, but most of us don’t live in constant grief because random strangers are dying every minute. We can’t. It would cripple us. Could you imagine feeling the “attending my own child’s funeral” level of sorrow for every single human that dies? No one would be able to function.
We have to be able to be a little callous towards other human life. I’m not saying many of us don’t take that lack of empathy too far, but it’s unrealistic to pretend all human life is equal. The value of a human life is high, yes, but it’s also 100% subjective. Your sister means the world to you, but to most of the seven billion Earthlings, she’s not even a name. They won’t even know when she’s gone, much less mourn her.
So to claim a person we believe has touched our lives doesn’t deserve our grief is unfair. Yes, children that starve are tragic. They shouldn’t be starving at all. It’s in our power to save most of them, if not all. Or is that the point the people disseminating that meme are trying to make? Our emotions should be tied to the tragedy of the death, the level of innocence the victim possesses, rather than their accomplishments, fame, or impact on the world at large. When a starving child dies, that death is by definition more terrible than someone famous or rich or powerful?
Because if that’s their point, they’re putting a value on human life, too. See? Subjective. The meme should say “One person dies, and everyone who cares about them cries.” The caption would work for both sides of the poster and we wouldn’t have to be made to feel guilty because we perceive Steve Jobs or Whitney Houston to have touched us more deeply than unknown children a half world away.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

First World Problems Part 2

Here we are with another list of First World Problems.
Raisin. Disgusting, and they turn up everywhere. They’re like little rabbit turds. Why would you take a perfectly good grape and mummify it? And if you did, why would you then imagine the tiny little fruit-mummy was good for eating? Blech.
Bad fake accents. English actors are able to fake ours a lot better than we can do theirs, so just quit it, people. It’s terrible. Anyone remember Keanu Reeves in Dracula? His accent was the scariest part of that movie. On that topic, why does any movie or show involving swords, even if it’s a dragon-populated world that could never have existed, automatically come with English accents?
Advertisements that crow about their space-age, kick-ass “anti-bacterial soap.” All soap is anti-bacterial, you goobers. It always has been. Why do you think we use it?
“Best” or “Worst” lists presented as empirical facts when it’s all just subjective opinion. One pompous ass thinks this is the “Ten Worst Dressed Hollywood Stars,” but a different ass has a different opinion, and who really cares, anyway? Sometimes I think these lists are just meant to get people upset. “How dare they not include my favourite book/food/movie/villain/hero/etc.”
Locating the underground gas or power lines before I dig holes in my backyard. Doing this the first time makes sense, and it’s a free service, so why not? The part that baffles and annoys is that the analysis is only good for two weeks or so. They mark the location of the lines, but if I have more digging to do in a month, I’m supposed to call Manitoba Hydro back to check again. Have the lines migrated? Do they move? My understanding is once you put in a gas line, its pretty much a permanent fixture.
Central vac. Let’s do away with the light part of a vacuum (the cord) and replace it with the heavy part (the hose). Maybe this made sense in a time when vacuums themselves were three hundred pounds (a time that never existed, in other words), but we’ve had light-weight, mobile vacuums for decades now. Not only is a central vac system more awkward to use, it’s complex, with meters of tubing running through the house. A pain to put in, a pain to repair, a pain to drag around. The only plus side that I can see is that it really allows me to practice my obscenities.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

English as a first language

To my shame, I once dated a girl who said “libary” instead of “library.” She also said “supposebly” instead of “supposedly.” I say “to my shame” not because I dated her but because I did nothing to correct these heinous errors. Young, smitten, it’s possible I even thought they were cute or quirky. I recall mentioning it once, she didn’t stop, we moved on. When we eventually (inevitably) broke up, her mangling of the English language was not the cause, though it should have been. (For the record, the break-up was my fault. I was a jerk. Big surprise.) Anyone learning English will tell you its tricky, but when it’s the only language you speak, you should try and get it right. So says the grammar Nazi inside me.
Yet I make mistakes all the time. My wife despairs about my commas. Semi-colons and colons are mysteries to me. I end sentences with prepositions. My grammar sins are numerous and wide-spread. I try to improve, and when my errors are pointed out, I welcome the advice. There is no way—NO WAY—I would go blithely through life mispronouncing basic words. Someone would stop me, and I would welcome it.
In honour of all the stupid language errors I make, here are some that drive me particularly crazy:
“No problem.” I use this one quite frequently, and I hate it. It’s meant to replace “You’re welcome,” but it isn’t adequate. “No problem” clearly indicates that whatever you’re being thanked for wasn’t a big deal and didn’t put you out at all. Like, you’ve helped someone move. It took all day. You’re sweating. Your friend dropped a couch on your foot. Beer and pizza seem a pitiful price to pay for your labour. You are told “Thank you” and you say “No problem.” That’s a freaking lie. It was a HUGE problem. “You’re welcome” at least acknowledges that a favour was done, but it was worth it for the joy of gratitude or something. No problem. Pffft.
“It’s the least I can do.” No it’s not. No matter what you did, it isn’t the least you can do. The least you can do is always nothing. Another ridiculous saying intended to trivialize an accomplishment, favour or good deed. I suppose it could be interpreted in a different way, since “It’s the least I can do” implies that you have at least done SOMETHING, but even so, whatever you did, odds are you could have done less. Give a bum a dollar, but you could have offered a penny. Give a bum a penny, but you could have chucked pocket lint at him. Etc, etc. Certainly I’ve never heard this phrase used without immediately thinking “No, that’s not true. You could have done less.” Another one I’ve caught myself using, curse me.
“Built it with his bare hands.” Unless you’re referring to a Lego spaceship or a Jenga tower, you’re lying. You typically hear this from handymen (handypersons), novice or otherwise, as they stand proudly in front of their creation, thumbs in belt loops, chest jutted out ever so slightly, as they tell you the tale of just how complicated it really is to built a bird house. “I built this house with my bare hands.” Come on, man. Granted, it was your “bare hands” that were safely wrapped in leather work gloves before gripping the tools that hammered nails and sawed boards, but that really isn’t the same thing. “Built it with my bare hands” calls to mind some Paul Bunyan-esque image of you snapping 2-by-4s in two and driving nails home with one mighty punch. I will allow that your “bare hands” get the assist, but let’s face it, the tools are the real hero when you build something. I’ve used this expression only once, caught myself, and have never gone back. (Mostly because I haven’t built anything since.)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sad (as in pathetic, not sorrowful) news day

Today the news seemed thick with headlines that weren’t really news.
“Canadian jailed in Mexico claims ‘torture and abuse’”
Really? There’s abuse and torture in Mexican prisons? It’s a good thing I read the news sitting down, or the surprise might have knocked me on my ass. Yes, I understand that this particular man has a right to have his story heard, but I guarantee the reporters would have NO trouble finding thousands of Mexican ex-cons who would shrug and say “It’s a Mexican prison; what’d you expect? Cable TV?”
“Testosterone makes us less cooperative”
Wow, I would never have guessed this from the way two idiot males will beat their chests and engage in primitive dominance behaviour. If this is the kind of breakthrough that scientists are working toward, maybe they should redirect their focus. Of course, maybe the testosterone is making it hard for them to cooperate… (Yay for female scientists! Lacking the male amount of testosterone poisoning, they can work as a group!)
“Pairing masks and hand washing could drastically slow spread of a pandemic flu”
You mean cleanliness and not spitting onto other people reduces infection? The hell you say! Another notification from ScienceDaily. It must be a slow science day or something. Note that even this “duh” statement only says “could” rather than “would.” Talk about cautious.
“NATO prediction of Taliban victory in Afghanistan is immensely damaging”
Another stunner. So, basically, the group fighting the Taliban claims that if the Taliban wins, it would be bad. Quite the declaration, there, boys. I guess we can’t expect NATO to say “Meh. It wouldn’t be so bad.” Would sort of undermine the whole point of their presence. Still, hearing one combatant claim that the other one is really bad is not precisely news, in my opinion.
“Pakistan dismisses Taliban links”
Well, of course they do. What country doesn’t deny all the bad stuff? Pakistan denied hiding Bin Laden, for pity’s sake, even though that dude had a whole compound operating within shouting distance of a military academy! You think all of a sudden they’re going to scuff their toe, grin sheepishly, and say “Aaaahhh, you got us!” Wake up, people!
Five non-news headlines, and I’ve only spent ten minutes looking. I should get a job as a news editor. What about these?
“Gulf between parent and child grows as child reaches adolescence!”
“Politicians say the economy is strong in spite of recent setbacks!”
“Bloggers waste not only their own time, but the time of others!”