Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Here's Mud in Yer Eye

Bottom’s Up
© 2009 Ross Williams

The wife and I, and my son and newly minted daughter-in-law, are leaving on a cruise next week.

Before cruising I go to a particular web site I know to discuss cruises with those who take cruises in order to find information I need to know about cruises. Like whether or not the coup in Honduras is going to prevent us from docking at Roatan, or whether the knee-jerk paranoia over swine flu is going to stop us from docking at Cozumel … or stop the galley from serving bacon for breakfast. Whatever. Things like that.

While at this web site I frequently run across people asking sometimes silly, sometimes leading, sometimes juvenile questions, or making silly, leading or juvenile statements. And because I’m an analyst and an essayist I sometimes give long, boring, professorial lectures upon their comments. I don’t do this always [which will surprise my wife], but often enough that I’ve gotten somewhat of a reputation for being long-winded and boring. I’ve also got a reputation for being useful and informative. It all depends, I suppose, on how my verbosity serves others’ purposes as to whether it is deemed useful or tedious.

At any rate, one of the bad penny topics came up the other day – right on schedule – and it is splitting the crowd into the same two camps of dead horse-beaters. Just another day at the office for me.

As I’ve mentioned, there are several topics that are the Politics and Religion of cruising, subjects broached only for the purpose of starting conflict. They are:
1. diapered babies in the pools
2. dinner attire[1]
3. smuggling alcohol aboard

My professorial lecture today will be upon alcohol sneakery.

It is my position that you don’t discuss breaking a cruise line’s rules on that cruise line’s own message board. It’s tacky and displays a teenaged sense of both entitlement and self-superiority. Having current teenagers myself, and having seen one through to the other side, I’ve got perhaps less patience with teenagerness than others do, but suffice it to say I don’t suffer self-superior entitlement all that politely.

And teenaged entitlement and self-superiority is an appropriate description of what’s going on here, in several ways.

But let’s back up a bit first.

In 1984 Congress passed a stupid law called the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. This was another federal law which required states to enforce it. It was one of the many, many “unfunded mandates” which has received bad press in recent years.

The requirements of this law are that those under the age of 21 cannot possess alcohol and requires punishment for them; it also requires punishments for those who sell it to them or otherwise provide alcohol to minors.

…and let’s back up again.

If you want to stop a group of people from doing something, then you punish the people who do that thing when they do it. Punishing those around them doesn’t deter the undesired actions of those who commit the crime. This is Criminology 101.

For example, it is undesired for murderers to murder people with guns. When a murderer murders someone with a gun and it is the bullet manufacturer or the gun seller that is punished for it, it doesn’t do anything to deter the murderer. It may actually encourage the murderer. And the Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 doesn’t punish minors for drinking – which is what it purports to prohibit.

What happened instead is that the provisions of this idiotic law have encouraged underage drinking, which is a perverse incentive if ever there was one. Laws intending to discourage underage drinking but which punish retailers who sell alcohol to minors doesn’t discourage minors from attempting to buy alcohol and drink it; it discourages retailers from selling it … to everyone. Which has resulted in the annoying, time consuming and inefficient practice of “carding”. Not to mention that it also effectively deputizes millions of retail clerks around the nation and compels them to enforce laws they have no Constitutional authority to enforce on pain of being punished themselves[2].

Minors who are caught trying to buy alcohol are not punished; they are not punishable. Instead they simply go down the street to another retailer who may not be willing to “card hard” that night. This law has created the incentive to sneak alcohol among the generation-plus of youngsters who came of realistic drinking age under it.

Additionally, underage drinking is not a crime under the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. Underage possession of alcohol is the crime. And if you can’t tell what perverse incentive this creates, it only demonstrates that you were never a teenager or that you aren’t capable of thinking like one.

A teenager who gets hold of alcohol is presumably going to drink it. Drinking it is not prohibited by law, holding it is. So the teenager is going to drink whatever alcohol he gets as quickly as possible to minimize his exposure to the crime of “possession”. Can you say “chug chug chug”? I knew you could! The law trains minors to be binge drinkers as well as sneak-thieves.

Sneaking alcohol and binge drinking are two of the most obvious signs of pre-addictive behavior there are. You show me a guy who needs to sneak alcohol somewhere, anywhere, and I’ll show you a guy who’s going to need a twelve-step program before too long. The Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 has created what is inarguably the world’s largest pool of budding alcoholics since Prohibition.

Congratulations, Congress; what a marvelous achievement! For an encore are you going to encourage laziness and dependence, effectively perpetuating citizen infantilism[3]? Or perhaps you could systematically delegitimize stable two-parent upbringing for those children in most desperate need of every advantage they can get[4]?

But I digress. We’re talking about people wanting to sneak alcohol aboard a cruise ship, in sometimes rather large amounts. And the public discussion which follows.

The individuals who declare that they’re going to flout the “don’t bring alcohol” rule don’t particularly like hearing me tell them that they are displaying twenty percent of alcoholism’s ten warning signs[5]. They sometimes get quite defensive about it, in fact, which means they’re now displaying thirty percent of the warning signs. I’m not their father, they tell me, nor am I the cruise police. I have no business being worried about their alcohol habits, I am loudly instructed whenever this subject comes up.

And they are very correct. I am not their father, nor am I the cruise police. And if their alcohol habits had no practical ability to affect me in my own selfish self-interest, then they’d be correct about whether or not it’s my business. But that isn’t the case, and so it is my business

Unfortunately, other peoples’ habits have been made public fodder for years, and for a wide array of reasons. I’ll give the top two.

The first reason is the inherent nosiness that comes from living in a democratic society. Majority Will is being, and has always been, used as an excuse to butt into others’ lives and command them how to conduct themselves in public and in private, both. Alcohol consumption is one of the more notorious examples of such, in fact.

Some people just don’t like alcohol. And that’s fine. Not all of us like the same things as everyone else. I don’t like the St Louis Cardinals, for example. And if I were to put my mind to it, I could come up with a list of things that the St Louis Cardinals cause others to do – like become horribly poor sports and self-centered assholes incapable of holding rational discussions about baseball without genuflecting before the likeness of Prince Albert Pujols. For example. The list goes on and on and on.

Prohibition was legislation based on the premise that because I don’t like the St Louis Cardinals and can rationalize my dislike, therefore no one else can go to their games. It was monumental self-righteousness made statutory. Some people don’t like pate du foie gras and they rationalized their dislike, and inspired the Chicago City Council to ban pate within city limits. Others don’t like the idea of slaughtering horses for sale as whinnyburger and dobbin chops to the Frogs – they think it “inhumane” – and so they inspired laws to ban horse slaughter for meat export.[6]

I don’t like alcohol, therefore you can’t drink any; I don’t like pate, therefore you can’t eat it; I don’t want to see your old gray mare become a Frenchman’s dinner, therefore you can’t get your old gray mare slaughtered … unless she’s really old or sick or something and you promise to have the carcass rendered into dog food and fertilizer rather than Frog food. Being nosy and getting into everyone else’s business is a very democratic activity. See the Tenth Amendment.

Secondly, the nation we live in has whorishly wide tort laws. You can sue anyone for virtually anything – and someone probably has. Anyone does something stupid that so much as annoys you, sue their pants off. And don’t forget to sue the horse they rode in on[7]. Or, in the case of a cruise ship, don’t forget to sue the cruise line they sailed in on.

This may seem odd to some people – and I say that because it seems to confuse those on the cruise line’s message boards who want to sneak large amounts of alcohol on board – but people who drink a lot tend to do stupid things. People who tend to do stupid things tend to cause property damage and hurt people around them. People who are hurt, or people whose property has been damaged by people doing stupid things tend to sue those people whether they were drunk or sober when they did the stupid things.

And they tend, also, to sue the deep pockets cruise line. When the cruise line gets sued, their liability insurance pays for the litigation or, most likely, the settlement in lieu of litigating. And when the liability insurance pays a claim, even if it’s a ridiculous claim, the insurance company needs to recoup their costs and so it raises liability insurance premiums – just like auto insurance companies do. And the insurance company doesn’t limit increases in premiums to the cruise line which got sued any more than it limits the increase in premium payments to the driver who keeps running into trees.

The insurance company will increase its insurance premiums for everyone who meets the same actuarial criteria. If Cruise Line A gets sued every week by passengers who get injured by drunken frat boys, then Cruise Line A’s insurance premiums will increase a lot. Cruise Line B’s insurance premiums will also increase, but by slightly less than a lot. When other people in my home zip code run into trees more frequently, my insurance rates increase right along with theirs. …and thanks ever so much for that.

This means that when a passenger wants to smuggle a bunch of alcohol aboard a ship he is advertising that he is not simply in danger of pickling his liver – which is between him and his doctor – but he is also declaring an intent to raise the cost for me to go on a cruise. For when the cruise line has to pay increased liability premiums to even operate, they need to increase their fares to cover that cost.

The guy who wants to sneak booze aboard a cruise ship, as if it’s nothing more sinister than spiking the punchbowl at the High School prom[8], is asking to pick my pocket. And then this guy wants me to sit there silently while he does it.

No, son, that ain’t gonna happen. Sorry. Not silently. If you are going to insist on costing me money, then I’m going to insist on giving you a lecture. Fair’s fair.

And the lecture boils down to this: The cruise line has a rule against alcohol smuggling; rules exist for a reason other than to ruin your day. If you can’t be grown up enough to follow their alcohol rules, even if you’ve been trained to be an immature drinker by idiotic laws passed by an idiotic Congress, do not compound your immaturity by discussing how to flout the cruise line’s alcohol rule on the cruise line’s own message board …in front of me.

It’s gauche. And it will get you scolded for the child you’re acting like.


[1] http://dblyelloline.blogspot.com/2008/05/atmosphere-pollution.html
[2] http://dblyelloline.blogspot.com/2006/05/crime-fighting-by-proxy.html
[3] Thank god we don’t have endless entitlements, eh?
[4] AFDC anyone?
[5] http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/alcoholism/ds00340/dsection=symptoms
[6] Horses are still systematically slaughtered for “humane” reasons like extreme age, disease and lack of usefulness, and with the same slaughter methods … and that’s okay in the minds of the horse lovers – who are almost never horse owners. Not that it matters. Democracy doesn’t require actual working knowledge of a subject before pestering legislatures to do what we want them to do: witness how many ignoramuses demanded an end to a war they didn’t understand and cried over how we treated enemy combatants who didn’t follow the rules while playing soldier. If actual knowledge were required before blabbering on a subject, I’d have the stage to myself quite a lot. And that’s no fun.
[7] Just to add an ironic segue.
[8] …and it’s about as mature as spiking the punch bowl, as well.