Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Frog Jumps Out – a guest post from Trout in the Milk

Well, I can sure pick 'em. Hey, readers of BentGuy's blog -- here are a few thoughts I had that I was going to put in a comment, until they grew and grew, and then grew some more until I started to have thoughts about the thoughts themselves, and then thoughts about the thoughts about the thoughts...

And it all starts with cell phones.

Specifically, with the rather odd fact that our provincial governments seem reluctant to ban their use in motor vehicles. B.C.'s own Attorney-General offers the explanation that a law against cell phones in cars would be too hard to enforce. My father, though he voted Liberal, finds this funny: "the seat-belt laws were hard to enforce, too" he points out, and he's right. But such is the state of things today that there's even a better example, of a more basically unenforceable law, with far less justification behind it, that nevertheless gets followed.

That would be the ban on smoking within six meters of doors, windows, bus stops, awnings (awnings!) , the windward side of ferries, etc. etc. etc. BentGuy, the bastard, thinks this is funny, because he isn't a smoker (and I am, I should be careful to point out)...but I think it's funny for quite a different reason. I think it's funny because there is no cop so slack-ass that he or she can afford to waste precious time enforcing this unenforceable law, pulling out tape measures to make sure the magic six-meter limit isn't challenged. Because you know, within the six meters you can get cancer! But outside the six meters it's totally safe. Hey, and you can't smoke in a car with a kid who's under sixteen years of age, that's not safe, that's poor parenting! Soon as the sixteenth birthday comes though, you're on your own, kid.

A lot of these laws are stupid. Cars can idle within six meters of a doorway, window, awning, what-have-you, but people can't smoke there. Hmm. Of course we wouldn't have this problem if the government just banned the sale of tobacco, would we? Dangerous stuff, this tobacco. Health Canada says it kills innocent bystanders, the province says it's too dangerous to be smoked under an awning, where people might go...and yet it's an over-the-counter product. Pretty much sounds about as safe as plutonium. And yet anybody can sell cigarettes, just so long as they don't DISPLAY THE PACKS.

So...does that sound right to you?

This all ties together in a minute or two, I promise. But before we get started, I'd just like to say that, as a smoker, I would fully support a ban on the importation and sale of tobacco. Fully. However, I think the current law is awful, pernicious, Draconian bullshit.

But then again I guess it really doesn't matter what I think, because you know what? Everybody mostly obeys that unenforceable law, anyway. That's right; even though no one's gonna catch you breaking it, and even if they do it'd have to be a mighty slow news day for anybody to want to do anything about it, and even though you've got to figure there's just about no way in hell you'd ever walk away from a courtroom having to pay any sort of a fine because you smoked publicly when you know perfectly well we've got a girl coming over in 2010 and come on you guys, we've got to get this place cleaned UP...!

Yes, EVEN SO...!

...Still for the most part, people choose to obey this law. Even though they quite plainly do not have to.

And therefore, the obvious question: so why would it make any difference if a law banning cellphone use in cars was hard to enforce?

It wouldn't make any difference, and yet the government won't contemplate passing such a law, and that's a red flag, and I ain't joking. Twenty years from now Jane Fonda's going to be taking home a Best Actress award for her work in the movie about the cell phone conspiracy, and how awful it was, how compromised they all were in the governments, the regulatory agencies, etc. etc. Because, look, these cellphones really are the cigarettes of the twenty-first century, you know? And maybe they're even worse than that. Because microwaves scything through your skull is probably at least somewhere on a continuum with smoke swirling in your lungs; whereas secondhand smoke is probably NOT on a continuum with two tons of metal being ineptly piloted down the street at forty kilometers an hour. I mean we can't even get this behaviour banned in a SCHOOL ZONE, for heaven's sake! And people can't even cross the street competently while talking on a cell phone, I've seen 'em try and they can't do it. George Romero's zombie-as-consumer stuff looks pretty out of date, now...and as for the supposedly dangerous nature of zombies themselves, did I mention that people talking on cell phones can't even cross the street with a sufficiency of skill? No one notices, because they're all on cell phones too. They're zombies too, and just like in the movies there's fast zombies and there's slow zombies.

The fast ones are in cars, right?

But the slow ones are VERY SLOW INDEED, and you can see it. Man, I might worry about a zombie cat, or something. Sure, a cat; a cat might get me. But a zombie human-person? Never in a million years, my little friend. I'd already be three blocks away before they even realized I had once been there. SLOW. Mindbogglingly slow. But very nimble when it comes texting, I suppose......And you know, something's sure as hell screwy around here, isn't it? Because I've been thinking about this for about a month or so now. I've been kind of musing aloud about the dark side of cell phones, to friends, family, even strangers. About waste disposal problems, for instance! These things are little sachets of lead and mercury, nightmares waiting to happen, and we've not only mass-produced them but we've made them disposable. DISPOSABLE PHONES. Nobody even pays for them, they just give 'em away for nothing with the contract. New contract, new phone, throw the old one into the landfill. If you built a house out of these things, the government wouldn't let you live in it. But if you just wanna hold one next to your ovaries for a couple years before tossing it on a pile to get rained on, that's fine. My God, we treat 'em like they're plastic bags, trillion a year, no problem, we just throw 'em in the sea and watch 'em kill our fish. NO PROBLEM. Jesus. We're through the looking-glass here, people. And (again) you know what?

No one wants to know about it.

No one wants to know about it. I've talked to dozens of people about cell phones over the last few weeks, and NONE of them want to hear it, to the point where they do what little kids do, they ostentatiously change the subject and pretend you won't notice. Which is very serious business, because that's practically the sort of behaviour we normally associate with big-league taboos, like CRIME. They don't want to know, and they're not GONNA know. La-la-la can't hear you. You could get in a fistfight over this kind of thing. That's how bad things have already gotten.

And that's why it took me so long to write all this down, because none of it adds up. Even cigarettes were never as touchy a subject as this, you know, so...what the hell's going on? That's what I asked myself.

What the hell IS all this nonsense? Where's it all coming from?

And then I figured it out: cellphones and all their wireless-telegizmo cognates aren't the cigarettes of the twenty-first century, after all. They're the BIG OIL of the twenty-first century, instead. And the reason governments don't want to regulate them is because they've got an AWFUL lot invested in them. Because every time someone's not using their cellphone, somewhere money is not being made; and if we all threw away our wireless gizmos tomorrow, the next day Apple and Microsoft would both get their stock price chopped in half, and people would lose their homes. Two out of every three dollars slated to come down the pipeline of the Internet wouldn't arrive on anything like schedule, should we all toss our Blackberries back into the bushes on Monday morning. And so this isn't just big business anymore; like oil, it's become our life's blood. And it's polluted as hell, but we can't afford to notice. We can't afford to notice, until it's too late to do anything about it. Once it's too late, we can notice, and that'll be fine, because we'll already be screwed, and therefore not responsible. But right now, just as all this stuff's just set to go absolutely stratospheric, no: no, no, no. Don't you dare look. Just shut up about it. Oh, look, a pretty birdie...! LA-LA-LA...!

I think a good rule of thumb would be: nothing really serious ever gets done about a problem on a governmental level until food shortages hit. Seriously, if cancer caused food shortages it'd probably be cured by now. Food shortages: where salami tactics turn and start slicing the other way! It is the one thing people will always pick up torches and pitchforks for, the one thing that can topple any government, anywhere. Hey, why do you think Lenin starved his millions? To prove it could be DONE, of course: his greatest proof of success. How proud he must have been. And then after he successfully took away food, he started to take away step: oxygen! The Soviet Union never did get quite that far, though, and just look where it is now, eh? But once you've starved a few million people just for, y'know, kicks...well, you're pretty much committed to a course of action at that point, aren't you? At that point you're sitting on a big time-bomb, basically, I would imagine...And, sorry, where was I? Oh, yes: hey, thanks for letting me guest-post, BentGuy! Hmm, just thought I ought to get that out there, before you got tired of reading...

But there aren't going to be any food shortages caused by cellphonoid the revolution she is not happening I t'ink, senor. Because one thing propaganda's not any good for is when you're starving to death...but hey, for everything else it works pretty well! The Internet is "clean", you know; every piece of hardware that supports it is filthy as smoking itself, but the Internet ITSELF...! Is perfectly clean. Green and enviro, all the day long. This is the same sort of thing you hear all the time. I caught a guy near my place basically driving a truck with a projector mounted on it, shining fashion ads on the sides of buildings. "Guerilla marketing," he called it, and with the biggest dare-you-to-do-something-about-it shit-eating grin I have EVER seen plastered on his face he told me:

"Hey, it's just light, right?"

When actually it isn't, of course. I mean undeniably it is, in fact, light -- hell, it's BRIGHT light, goddamnit! -- Asshole! -- but it's nothing like "just" light, it's also camera, lens, bulb, projector components, computer set-up, office supplies, freakin' BIG-ASS TRUCK...a can of paint would probably be more environmentally sensitive, once you total it all up. And what "guerilla marketing" means, it means the guy who owns the building that the ads are projected on hasn't been paid for the use of his space, nobody doing this stunt's got a permit, he needs to get a police scanner so he can stay ahead of the cops...etc. etc. These guys also powerwash stencils for Telus Mobility -- hey, we're back to cell phones! -- into the sidewalk near my house.

"Hey, we're just cleaning the pavement, right?"

Actually, wrong again; cleaning is what I do to it when I go down there with a wire brush and obliterate your ad. See, now we're both Boy Scouts! Hooray! I was so inspired by your volunteer efforts to clean up the city that I decided to pitch right in, and in honour of your cleaning pattern I chose one that duplicated it in negative!

What am I gonna do about it. Shessh. I'll tell you what I'm gonna do about it, if I catch him at it again. I've going to take the business card he STUPIDLY gave me, and I'm going to take it down to City Hall and I'm going to register a complaint. "Sustainable advertising for a greener tomorrow", is what it says on the card. "Sustainable advertising", pfeh. You know, maybe propaganda isn't good for absolutely everything shy of a food shortage, after all...

But for cell phones that line's more than likely gonna work. It's just how you get to the Internet, it's "just light", obviously, eh? It's just a screen and some buttons.

It'll kill millions, but outside of that it's harmless.

And this is why governments hesitate to regulate this activity, because just like Lenin they would then be committed to a course of action. Sitting on a time-bomb. Just ONCE regulate it, and you've set a precedent for regulating it, you've admitted it can cause harm, even though it's "just light"...that's where the "too hard to enforce" thing comes from, and the "but hands-free is okay" thing too -- it ISN'T too hard to enforce, and clearly hands-free is NOT "okay", but my God if we can just find one way not to have to LOOK at what the problem is, just for ONE MINUTE MORE...!

Then maybe we'll be able to say later that we TRIED to do something about it, but y'know WHO KNEW, am I right people?

Big Oil. Of course to you and me they are known by their street name: cars. We totally lost the whole battle over the car thing. Haven't yet lost the war, but the first few skirmishes, oh yeah. Definitely lost those. And just relatively recently, with the whole helmet thing -- and God I'm glad BentGuy's writing about that, because I swear I never THOUGHT of it before, but it's all so flippin' obvious now!! -- there was a bit of rhetorical dirty work going on there too. "You're the ones who aren't being safe, where are your helmets! I thought you were all "into safety", but you have no helmets? WHAT A BUNCH OF HYPOCRITES, YOU'RE JUST BLAMING THE POOR CAR FOR YOUR OWN RECKLESSNESS...!" Textbook stuff, straight off the playground. No, you are. No, you are. I know you are, but what am I. La-la-la!

Even if somebody gets killed while wearing a helmet, see? "Well, I can't understand what happened, he was wearing a helmet as you're required to do, so I guess it must've been some sort of FREAK ACCIDENT..."

But I think at some point the time-bomb goes off. And by the way, did you hear? Amazing news: apparently if you put a frog in a pot of cold water, and then bring it slowly to a boil, THE FROG JUMPS OUT! Yeah. Frogs: they're not stupid, people.And neither are we.

So here is something we can all do, and it's easy. Turn to the person next to you wherever you may happen to be, and say this:

"Hey, ever notice that on the news when there's a car crash, no one ever says whether or not the person driving was on their cell? Maybe that's because they don't think to say it. Like, it just doesn't come up. I mean, if none of the drivers were talking on their phones when they crashed, you wouldn't mention it, right? It's be like saying "the driver was fully clothed", you just wouldn't say it. So...I guess that means it's only the people who aren't on their cell that get into crashes, eh? Like, it's safer to drive while talking on the phone. It's safer. It's SAFER."

"Anyway, that's what I told your son and daughter yesterday."

And just like that, ladies and gentlemen: the frog jumps out.

Hey, thanks for having me!


  1. Firstly, thanks for the post pillock.

    Secondly on smoking by-laws; not all smokers follow the law but I sense that many do. To my mind it (both the law and the following of it) is not about cancer but as smokers find themselves in the minority they realize that their habit (just like my habit of blowing off a tremendous fart every now and again) tends to piss-off their fellow air users and isn't quite the garnish that the chef was hoping for with his pate de foie gras, they wish to avoid being seen as major a-holes. Commendable. And it's not unreasonable to assume that they passed the law because they understood that the social climate was such that enforcement wouldn't be all that needed.

    On cells phones; what you said and... I don't own one, not because I couldn't use one now and again (and the disembodied voice thing really doesn't freak me out the way it used to) I just don't want to be one of them -- the zombies. Every day I see another one -- like yesterday. He jumps up from his table to the sound of the Star Wars theme (gawd I hate ring-tones!) so as not to disturb his lunch mates, places himself in the geographic centre of the restaurant patio and with his best just-takin'-care-o-business outside voice, proceeds to bark official sounding platitudes to the sap on the other end; who was likely doing the same. After stopping every conversation and turning every annoyed countenance in the place in his direction, spoke the oft heard bullshit excuse of the new millennium, "Sorry, I just had to take that!" Unfortunately, so did the rest of us. Now a law that sent these guys 6 metres from the patio would be welcome.

    I'm not saying you're more cynical than me but I actually think that they will pass a cell-phone-while-driving ban; and sooner than you think. It's happening everywhere and though it's true that it's rarely mentioned in motorist crash reports (not car accidents -- please, the car didn't make a mistake). They know the numbers and there is nothing politicians love more than quoting numbers, passing laws and smiling at ribbon cutting ceremonies. Did something for safety, check! It certainly won't stop them but we can collect a few more fines to build cycling infrastructure. Drivers will be less obvious about it at any rate for fear of getting honked or glared at. And hopefully cyclists, who will have a much harder time concealing that insane behaviour will finally get the message.

    In the motorist world it's blame the victim. The fact that our hospital emergency wards are cluttered with motorists (both victims and perpetrators) seconded only by pedestrians (mostly victims) suffering from a plethora of injuries and topping the charts for head injuries, it's the cyclist who gets blamed when a cell phone touting yahoo fails to draw on what little skill they have been asked to display to get a license, and apply the brakes. So they pass a law to force us to strap on helmets (even though they still cannot produce any scientific evidence that they in any way reduce serious head injuries) so they can feel better when they mow us down. And do they hit the roof when they catch you without a helmet. Because when you get injured you're going to cost them money getting repairs on the taxpayers dime. My response to drivers who bellow, "Put on helmet!" from their car window is, "You first!" They never understand but it makes me feel better.

    Again, thanks for the post pillock.

  2. No problem! Heh, I like your bit about how if you look at head-injury statistics, you've got to conclude that pet-ownership is more of a skullbuster than bike-riding, so why aren't pet owners forced to wear helmets too?

    The point about the obnoxiousness of cellphone use being equivalent to the obnoxiousness of smoking is mighty well-taken, too...cripes, how did I miss that one? Must be losing my touch...and I do think we'll see progress on the governmental-action front, because, well, the frog does jump out eventually, right? But it's gonna be a tough slog to raise awareness about the looming handheld-device crisis in general. That's why I'd LOVE if it my little line became popular: "cell phones are the cigarettes of the twenty-first century". I am saying that every chance I get, these days. Mind you, people generally curl their lip at me when I do: filthy smoker, you would say that, what a hypocrite, why aren't you wearing your helmet..., but I have hope, damn it.

    The existing smoking law is so poorly-written it's almost comical, especially when you consider how clean and clear and easy to enforce a law that simply banned tobacco would be. Most smokers I know dream longingly of the day they'll finally quit, but for a lot of us it just doesn't seem to happen. But if we couldn't get the damn tobacco, that'd be better than all the patches and inhalers in the world, and it'd relieve you non-smokers too. I suppose somewhere someone's grousing about how there'd be a black market for it then. Well, to be frank, I'd take the black market in a heartbeat over current cancer rates, and anyway I don't envision the black market for tobacco being anything like as huge as (for example) the black market for pot is. So, to my mind we could quite profitably flip those two: make pot legal, and tobacco illegal. Size of the black market, very possibly, goes sharply down.

    Ah, and the taxpayer thing...yeah, I remember a conversation I had with one of my brother's glibertarian schoolmates about boating licences, saying, "wow, I'd sign a waiver, actually...saying I won't let anyone in the boat get away with not wearing a life-jacket, but when I'm by myself I'll wear one only if I feel like it." This was a jesting sort of a comment, but he took it pretty seriously: "well, then what if you have an accident out there? Should I, as a taxpayer, have to pay for rescuing you, just because you didn't feel like wearing a lifejacket?"

    It's the same thing as the bike helmet business, I think. I said to this guy:

    "Well, inasmuch as I'm a taxpayer too, I'd be totally fine with public money being spent on my rescue...not so sure I'd extend the same courtesy to you, though...but hey waitaminnit, Einstein, you would STILL HAVE TO RESCUE ME IF I WAS WEARING THE DAMN LIFE-JACKET, you know! For Christ's sake, not wearing life-jackets doesn't CAUSE boating accidents! Or, what, is the life-jacket gonna swim me to shore or something, pump water out of my lungs, drive me to the hospital? In all likelihood I'd actually be SAVING you your precious tax dollars by DROWNING and SINKING without the life-jacket anyway, so now how do you feel about me not wearing one? When my death will SAVE YOU YOUR FILTHY MONEY, YOU BASTARD...!"

    I mean sheesh.

    Must dash, catching ferry. This was fun, let's do it again.


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