Sunday, August 22, 2004

Access Denied

A country, I keep telling everyone, which finds it practically impossible to keep its public restrooms clean has no business pursuing nuclear power. Doesn’t have much oomph, I know. And you have no way (of even wanting) to evaluate my claim. But bear with me and I’ll try to show why public restrooms are important.

How to start? I guess I should first admit that living here can be infuriating at times which sort of makes you settle on that universal invective of choice, if you know what I mean. So, today I started my day early muttering repeatedly that nasty word again.


Here I am checking the Olympic results and perusing some pictures and I get this ridiculously omnipresent message again. Our guardians of moral purity didn’t want us to see this picture. Terribly threatening, isn’t it?

How to react? We could always start with the obvious: why is it that one IS provider censors the image while another does not! Or what would be the basis for censoring the wrestlers, while the swimmers, the divers, the weightlifters, the track and field athletes are not touched, even though they bare more flesh? Or why censor the female wrestlers without censoring the males? Or why censor at all?

But really, we would want to avoid most of these questions because when in doubt, all governments tend to err on the side of “caution.”

Bullies don’t do nuances, remember.

So chances are they will only react by doing what they are sort of good at, i.e. trying to suffocate all signs of independent life. There is nothing better to get those in charge riled up than questioning their competence with the intention of getting them to dot the i’s.

Most criticism will only give them the needed impetus to tighten the screws even further. Not exactly the same, but basically on the par with asking the Islamic Regime to monitor the borders and the movement of immigrants more effectively in order to stop Usama operatives.

In doing so, we end up actually encouraging the authorities to be better at running a police state. Not a very wise move, is it, from where I am sitting? It is precisely their incompetence and inertia we are counting on in order to lead semi-normal lives. And we thank our lucky stars everyday that not all aspects of our social life have been subsumed by our incompetent public maste… I mean servants!

But in doing so, we come across another brick wall. There are those who are doing all they can to persuade everyone that all life here has been subsumed already. The government is in charge of everything. It controls everything. There are those outside who are vested in pushing the sort of polices that would effectively deprive us of our ability to maneuver.

That is the essence of international relations, isn’t it? Since not all countries have identical interests or the resources to fight over all their petty differences, they tend to use whatever means at their disposal to modify the behavior of their adversaries in the short run so as to enhance their own perceived strategic advantages, however shortsightedly.

Affecting public opinion is one of them. And trying to squeeze the adversary’s population is another. That way, other folk can get fed up and deal with the problem on the cheap. And the best way to do that is to caricature the adversary every chance possible. Hence all the rhetoric about the axis of evil, the evil pursuing the bomb, the mortal dangers of evil having the bomb and ultimately the prospect of evil lashing out because you guessed it, the evil hates us “for who we are.”

But, who are we really? And here is where the public restroom comes in.

Here in this heartland of evil, they are nasty. So, in an ideal universe, we would want to state the problem and find a way to fix it. But in the world we live in today, stating this simple problem is the mother of all the pains in glutues maximus. Don’t believe me? Let’s try.

Suppose I was to claim, we need cleaner restrooms. Our tools are inadequate to the task. The brooms aren’t that great and the mop and bucket combination is rare. Additionally, we need to develop the human resources necessary, and enhance our organizational capabilities and quite possibly import some of the needed material from abroad to get the job done.

But the moment some official of an outside power hell-bent on wreaking havoc hears about this, a campaign is quickly organized.

“Here you are, a mountainous country, sitting atop vast water resources.” “What business do you have wanting brooms, mops and buckets? Especially since the broom sticks and those mops can be used to hit someone over the head with and the bucket is a potential WMD given all the detergents available.

In tandem, the less than noble attack dogs always on the prowl to find something to bite you about will use their towering intellects and considerable erudition and their infinite cultural and historical knowledge to give “their” government a hand.

“Look at yourselves. A society hundreds of years old, and you don’t even have clean toilets. No mop and bucket and heck, you even have to import your toilet papers.
Your religion is backward. It has destroyed your soul. You lack the requisite toilet etiquettes to be civilized and you’re too dumb. Besides, don’t you have anything better to do than to worry about toilets?”

You really don’t want to take any of this personally, especially since you know they owe you nothing. And you are not religious and you could care less what some bozopundit half a galaxy away might thinks of your IQ.

Your real problem is to find a way to have cleaner restrooms. But human nature being what it is, you don’t like being insulted, least of all by those whose fanaticism runs the risk of laying the groundwork for an assault that would deprive you of the little shithouse you actually do have, leading you to have to settle for the bushes.

And since they have no genuine interest in you or your way of life, you know they will ultimately end up mocking you anyways for not even having had restrooms (after it has been destroyed.) No one wants to accept responsibility for anything these days. That much everyone has figured so far.

You would want to be polite and point out that yes we have plenty of water, but who wants to throw water down the drain all the time. There is such thing as comparative advantage and division of labor. We might want to think about the future.

And you want to also tell them, don’t babble so much about your superior toilet paper production. Don’t be a fetishist; and don’t mystify things any more than they actually are. If you can produce it, everyone else can as well. That is what all production is about, really. If a process has been defined, it can be replicated everywhere else and effectively maintained over time. But it might take some time and finagling.

But regardless of what you wanted to say, you actually end of getting too peeved and will end up saying: hey buddy, you’ve got some gall saying I shouldn’t worry about my restrooms. I know just how long you spend in yours. I know how much money you spend on all the prune juice, assorted laxatives and preparation H yearly. Don’t push me please. Don’t tell me faster please. Go change your diet or something ….or go save some cow or chicken. They are the ones killing over 500,000 of mostly kind, decent folk a year due to heart attacks.

Give it a rest and let me do what needs to be done. I’ll call you if I need help. After all, you don’t owe me anything, so why should you risk life, limp and treasure anyway?

But now, we have ended up with a lot of needless banter, literally over a pile of manure.

Some would then call the whole thing a further proof of the ongoing clash of toilet techniques. The whole thing could have been avoided without meanness and prettiness of spirit. But hey, even those qualities have been preemptively assaulted by those who have successfully relabeled civility “political correctness.”

So now, we all have actually ended up deeper in that pile we set out to clean.

In the meanwhile, the authorities in the home country have taken an active interest in the issue and the people involved. And by the time you try to actually focus on the problem which started it all, they have declared it a national security matter. Additionally, since they think themselves the rightful appointees of the Almighty, any discussion will be taken way too personally and a sign and proof of your inherent evil.

Then it hits you: both those loudest on the outside and those most brutal on the inside relentlessly threatening you tend to speak in almost identical language. And they both attempt to hide behind god and country instead of facing you. Are they too cowardly to state the merits of their case and reasonably defend their choices and conduct? Why is it that when things get tough, the though hide behind various “anti-isms” scams?

All you want to tell those on the outside now become, I don’t give a rat’s ass who you are, especially since I am not terribly convinced that even you know the answer to that riddle. Just so long as you don’t get on the way of the much needed cleaning of the public restrooms here.

Back inside, you know what you have to do. There is a problem though. Some have the power, the money and the guns. And all you have is your hope for cleaner restrooms. You know a lot of other people might want the same thing you do but there are all kinds of different people in the world.

Some might be less adventurous, some more prudent, more calculating; others have families they worry about, and some need time to build self confidence before getting involved. In short, there are different degrees of risk aversion to think about.

But by now, the atmosphere has gotten so bad that people expect the whole thing to collapse on their head the moment they utter a single word about dirty toilets. The fear of ending in a river of the stuff without a paddle leaves everyone thinking they should just go on with life as it is. Who needs public restrooms anyway? .

So now, seeing not too many people involved yet, but sensing clear danger, the authorities, in a move familiar to all who have watched various governments in action a thousand times before, set up various committees to study the problem.

They will want to begin a campaign of mass re-education. They will pass laws threatening to heavily penalize anyone not using public restrooms properly. Outside advisors will be brought in to study productivity and improve toilet cleaning techniques. And the ministry of education will be tasked to look into ways of modifying the university core curriculum to reflect the latest global trend in putty training. And there will be even some who will think all this an assault on national heritage and something to be fought tooth and nail.

And the problem of inaccessible clean public restrooms remains as intractable as ever.

In the meantime, anyone caught discussing public restroom continues to be treated as the enemy of the god, country, religion and the state.

And you are now left telling everyone who listens: look, we have some of the cleanest toilets you find anywhere on the planet in our houses. Everyone is practically anal about cleanliness. The religion has strict guidelines about clean restrooms. Cleanliness, after all is next to godliness.

It doesn’t take grand planning. It doesn’t take massive social engineering. All the ingredients needed are already present in the society we live in. All that is needed is time to tap in to the practices already in use and the space to draw out the possibilities of alternate ways and stabilizing them. IF only those in charge could back off.

Some violence at the end might be necessary to either force them to back off or get them off everyone’s back entirely since some people might have a vested interest in the existing social relation whose inherent aftereffect is filthy public restrooms. However, it might not require the massive kind of a shock that will inevitably get a lot of people in the bushes.

Maintaining public restrooms isn’t all that hard really, but definitely hard enough. Some hope of a better future perhaps and a greater degree of freedom to chart the course of one’s life might be all that is needed to begin with. A certain degree of autonomy which might result in greater attentiveness to existing problems, and even perhaps greater openness towards experimenting. Certainly a better incentive scheme might be essential since no one stuck cleaning public restrooms is wont to be all that happy because chances are, he was never counting on this dream job when growing up.

And since society needs all types, people must be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel or at least be able to eke out a decent living doing whatever it is they might actually hate to do in life.

Perhaps in time, even an inner voice might develop that keeps telling people, it doesn’t matter really what you are doing now, just so long as you try being the best at it, even if it is just cleaning restrooms. In due time, there might always be a way out of the ordeal. Most importantly, a society at the micro level must have the autonomy to clean its own restrooms without government interference.

All we actually might need is hope and freedom so people could cooperate better, pulling resources together more effectively and recognizing that it is important to care about themselves and others when they venture outside of their homes. The realization, additionally, that everyone feels better when doing well in whatever they have chosen (or are forced into) as a vocation in life. Ultimately, it is imperative to provide support and re-education for anyone who needs it.

At the end of the day, though, who cares really what it is that animates different people? Religion, personal piety, money, civic responsibility, pride in one’s work, or whatever else that might set their shorts on fire. Just so long as they understand that they have a vested interest in maintaining a society that has clean public restrooms.

Who knows, we might even then succeed in bilking billions out of tourists one day. It is a beautifully enchanting land we live in, after all, even if we have made a mess of things for now. One day very soon perhaps!

But as things stand, there are no clean public restrooms found anywhere around these parts.

This means, even if this society manages to build its nuclear power plants without endangering the lives of millions here due to some bonehead in power elsewhere deciding to preemptively attack what is built here, there is no brighter future possible.

With the sort of homegrown idiots in charge, so inattentive to public good, so heedless of the needs of citizens, so oblivious to safety; so careless about consistent, documented processes, and citizens so ultimately selfish, so self absorbed, and dishonest; so habituated into prevaricating and helping tyrants for petty rewards, (i.e. the overzealous IS providers) and the whole society so plagued by incompetence and inconsistency, one of those plants will surely explode shortly after it becomes operational killing a whole bunch of people, leaving countless others suffering from radiation poisoning.

That is why I keep telling everyone who might listen: a county with no clean public restrooms has no business pursuing nuclear power.

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