Thursday, March 23, 2006

Under Age Drinking in America

The Charlotte Observer had an article on the Editorial pages this past Sunday, March 19, 2006 concerning Drunk Driving. Ed Williams wrote it. You can find it here.

This is my response.

A friend in my youth was a talented auto mechanic. When referring to certain vehicles he would say; “Never force anything, just get a bigger hammer.” I submit that you cannot solve the alcohol consumption problems in this country with a bigger hammer. According to the NC State Highway Patrol’s website the 1455 Troopers in North Carolina arrested 26,005 people for DUI in 2004. The US Census bureau put the state’s population in 2004 at just over 8.5 million people. That works out to three tenths of a percent of us getting DUI citations in 2004. I submit that if you doubled the number of Troopers, highly unlikely, our chances of being caught in a violation of any traffic law remains very small. Efficient use of their time requires the Troopers to concentrate on the worst, or most obvious violators and just let the rest keep driving. What we should be doing is to model responsible drinking habits for our children.

I took a minute to find one of those charts that tell you how many drinks over what time period it takes to achieve a certain blood alcohol level. The Minnesota Department of Public Health was kind enough to provide one here. I weigh 200 lbs. According to this chart if I drink 4 beers in an hour, after giving me credit for the alcohol metabolized over that hour, my blood alcohol level should be .055. Two more beers over the next hour and I hit .08. I can’t drink 6 beers in two hours. Sometime after starting the 4th beer and it is time to go home and go to sleep. If I go a little slower, say 2 beers an hour, and eat a burger in there somewhere, I might finish the 4th one about the time the game ends. The point here is that it takes some real effort to get significantly above .08. These people who are driving the wrong way on interstates are reputed to be 2 - 3 times the legal limit. A 160 pound man would have to drink 8 beers in 2 hours to reach a blood alcohol level of .16, or twice the legal limit. Drinking at this level is excessive even if you are walking home. There is no hint of responsible behavior in this activity.

The United States has the highest legal drinking age in the world. What has this done for us. Children here are taught to associate alcohol with adulthood. There is nothing more fascinating to a 16 year old than a 21 year old. For our society to associate that fascination with alcohol is just plain stupid. Underage drinking occurs in private. It is, after all, illegal. This means at the party house where no adults are home, at the local outdoor hangout, or in someone’s car. Where, at any of these places, are you going to find models for responsible drinking. Funnels and chugging contests are more likely. The real truth is that they drink more because they are under age and out of sight. Much of this country is run by puritans who are terrified that someone, somewhere may be having a good time. They understand that on safety issues the most extreme position wins. They are in charge so they give us this; ‘He is in college, he’s 21, he can drink, cool.’ That is what we are telling our 16 year olds. Until you can find a way to make drinking alcohol an ordinary activity and demonstrate responsible drinking you might as well try the hire more cops idea. The bigger hammer will not work, but those wielding it will feel better.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Why do Good

I found this on the Op-Ed pages of the NY Times earlier this week. I do not think much of the writing, it looks like it was cut severely to fit the space the paper had available, but the thinking was interesting. While it would appear to be a polemic in favor of atheism what it boils down to is an examination of the question of; why should I choose to do good. Is a good deed made somehow less good if it is done to gain a closer relationship with God? What if it is done for money, to get elected President or to spend eternity with 72 virgins. Some good thinking here. What do you think?

March 12, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor
Defenders of the Faith
FOR centuries, we have been told that without religion we are no more than egotistic animals fighting for our share, our only morality that of a pack of wolves; only religion, it is said, can elevate us to a higher spiritual level. Today, when religion is emerging as the wellspring of murderous violence around the world, assurances that Christian or Muslim or Hindu fundamentalists are only abusing and perverting the noble spiritual messages of their creeds ring increasingly hollow. What about restoring the dignity of atheism, one of Europe's greatest legacies and perhaps our only chance for peace?
More than a century ago, in "The Brothers Karamazov" and other works, Dostoyevsky warned against the dangers of godless moral nihilism, arguing in essence that if God doesn't exist, then everything is permitted. The French philosopher André Glucksmann even applied Dostoyevsky's critique of godless nihilism to 9/11, as the title of his book, "Dostoyevsky in Manhattan," suggests.
This argument couldn't have been more wrong: the lesson of today's terrorism is that if God exists, then everything, including blowing up thousands of innocent bystanders, is permitted — at least to those who claim to act directly on behalf of God, since, clearly, a direct link to God justifies the violation of any merely human constraints and considerations. In short, fundamentalists have become no different than the "godless" Stalinist Communists, to whom everything was permitted since they perceived themselves as direct instruments of their divinity, the Historical Necessity of Progress Toward Communism.
During the Seventh Crusade, led by St. Louis, Yves le Breton reported how he once encountered an old woman who wandered down the street with a dish full of fire in her right hand and a bowl full of water in her left hand. Asked why she carried the two bowls, she answered that with the fire she would burn up Paradise until nothing remained of it, and with the water she would put out the fires of Hell until nothing remained of them: "Because I want no one to do good in order to receive the reward of Paradise, or from fear of Hell; but solely out of love for God." Today, this properly Christian ethical stance survives mostly in atheism.
Fundamentalists do what they perceive as good deeds in order to fulfill God's will and to earn salvation; atheists do them simply because it is the right thing to do. Is this also not our most elementary experience of morality? When I do a good deed, I do so not with an eye toward gaining God's favor; I do it because if I did not, I could not look at myself in the mirror. A moral deed is by definition its own reward. David Hume, a believer, made this point in a very poignant way, when he wrote that the only way to show true respect for God is to act morally while ignoring God's existence.
Two years ago, Europeans were debating whether the preamble of the European Constitution should mention Christianity as a key component of the European legacy. As usual, a compromise was worked out, a reference in general terms to the "religious inheritance" of Europe. But where was modern Europe's most precious legacy, that of atheism? What makes modern Europe unique is that it is the first and only civilization in which atheism is a fully legitimate option, not an obstacle to any public post.
Atheism is a European legacy worth fighting for, not least because it creates a safe public space for believers. Consider the debate that raged in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, my home country, as the constitutional controversy simmered: should Muslims (mostly immigrant workers from the old Yugoslav republics) be allowed to build a mosque? While conservatives opposed the mosque for cultural, political and even architectural reasons, the liberal weekly journal Mladina was consistently outspoken in its support for the mosque, in keeping with its concern for the rights of those from other former Yugoslav republics.
Not surprisingly, given its liberal attitudes, Mladina was also one of the few Slovenian publications to reprint the infamous caricatures of Muhammad. And, conversely, those who displayed the greatest "understanding" for the violent Muslim protests those cartoons caused were also the ones who regularly expressed their concern for the fate of Christianity in Europe.
These weird alliances confront Europe's Muslims with a difficult choice: the only political force that does not reduce them to second-class citizens and allows them the space to express their religious identity are the "godless" atheist liberals, while those closest to their religious social practice, their Christian mirror-image, are their greatest political enemies. The paradox is that Muslims' only real allies are not those who first published the caricatures for shock value, but those who, in support of the ideal of freedom of expression, reprinted them.
While a true atheist has no need to boost his own stance by provoking believers with blasphemy, he also refuses to reduce the problem of the Muhammad caricatures to one of respect for other's beliefs. Respect for other's beliefs as the highest value can mean only one of two things: either we treat the other in a patronizing way and avoid hurting him in order not to ruin his illusions, or we adopt the relativist stance of multiple "regimes of truth," disqualifying as violent imposition any clear insistence on truth.
What, however, about submitting Islam — together with all other religions — to a respectful, but for that reason no less ruthless, critical analysis? This, and only this, is the way to show a true respect for Muslims: to treat them as serious adults responsible for their beliefs.
Slavoj Zizek, the international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, is the author, most recently, of "The Parallax View."

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Bird Flu Won't Wait

Reading the NY Times Op-Ed piece (March 3, 2006) by Kendall Hoyt, an assistant professor at Dartmouth Medical School and an associate with the New England Center for Emergency Preparedness, reminded me how much this whole bird flu thing is starting to sound like Y2K. Remember Y2K, the disaster that never happened. The 2 digit code for the year 2000, ‘00’ is the same as the two digit code for 1900. This was supposed to confuse computers causing them to fail. This failure was predicted by the same computer experts who could fix it for us. Are you seeing the parallels? Here in the US we spent serious money to prevent this disaster. Do you remember the Y2K preparedness certifications we filled out. There was no Y2K disaster. In the third world, where no one spent any money getting ready, there was no Y2K disaster. Now we have medical researchers telling us that if we do not spend Everitt Dirkson levels of money on, you guessed it, improved medical research, we will becomes victims of this new disaster.

Can’t anyone out there spell hubris? We are not as smart as we think we are. When we are driving we never see the cop who pulls us over, or the car that we hit. Why do we think we can prepare for large scale disasters any better. We fail to see what is coming and prepare for what will not. The bird flu will stay just that, a flu that kills birds. The interconnectedness of the world may provide the vehicle for a pandemic but we won’t see it coming. I bet we will get a bunch of really cool new medical toys.