Monday, January 16, 2006

Nuclear technology and public restrooms

Edited repost from August, 2004

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A country, I keep telling everyone, which finds it practically impossible keeping its public restrooms clean has no business pursuing nuclear power. It lacks oomph, I know. And you have no way (of even wanting) to evaluate my claim. Bear with me, though, and I’ll try to show why public restrooms are important.

Where to begin?

I guess I should first admit that living in Iran is infuriating at times which sort of makes you settle on that universal invective of choice, if you know what I mean.

Why?

Think about this internet censorship of the search engines for pornography to start with. With some servers, a simple search of Charles Dick-ens will get you blocked. Or one of “word history pusillanimous!” Just imagine the daily chores for an entrepreneur trying to find a Chinese or Indian company to purchase equipment for “facial tissue.”

Think all the daily aggravation no matter what your intent. How to react, then?

We can incessantly badger the censors with questions, of course. But really, we would want to avoid that approach since all governments tend to want to err on the side of “caution.”

Bullies don’t do nuances, remember!

So chances are when confronted, they only react by doing what always comes naturally; that is, 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 advice would 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, you end up actually encouraging the authorities to run a more efficient police state. Not a very wise move, is it, if you are in opposition? It is precisely their incompetence and inertia you are counting on in order to lead semi-normal lives. So we thank our lucky stars everyday that not all aspects of the social life have been subsumed by those incompetent public masters!

But in doing so, we come across another brick wall.

There are those who are doing all they can to persuade everyone that all independent life has been suffocated already. The government is in charge of everything. It controls everything. There are those on the outside who are vested in pushing the sort of polices that would effectively deprive the ones on the inside of their 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 long term--however shortsightedly.

Affecting public opinion is one of them, and trying to squeeze the adversary’s population another. That way, problems are dealt with on the cheap. And the best way to do that is to caricature the adversary every chance possible and scare the living daylight out of everyone in the process.

Hence all the rhetoric about the axis of evil and the evil pursuing the bomb, and the dangers of evil having the bomb and, ultimately, the prospect of evil lashing out because, as you’ve probably guessed already, the evil hates us “for who we are!”

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

So in the heartland of evil, they tend to be filthy. In an ideal universe, we would want to state the problem and find a way of fixing it. But in the world of today, stating this simple problem is the mother of all pains in the gluteus maximus.

Don’t believe me? Let’s try.

Suppose I were to say to you: 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 also enhance our organizational capabilities, and import some of the needed material from abroad in order to get the job done.

But the moment officials of a few outside powers hell-bent on wreaking havoc hear 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, buckets and mops? 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 “side” a hand.

“Look at yourselves. A society hundreds of years old, and you don’t even have clean toilets. No mop or bucket, and you even have to import your toilet papers from abroad.
Your religion is backward. It has destroyed your soul. You lack the requisite toilet etiquettes to be civilized and you’re too ugly and 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. You know they are clueless about the actual religious diversity and you could care even less what some thuggish BozoPundit might think 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, thus forcing you to have to settle for the bushes.

And since they have no genuine interest in you or your way of life to begin with, you know they will ultimately end up mocking you anyways for not even having had toilets once they successfully destroy everything. No one wants to accept responsibility for much of 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 are such things as comparative advantage and division of labor. We might want to think about the future.

And you would 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 all about, really. If a process has been defined, it can be replicated elsewhere and effectively maintained over time. But it might take some time and finagling.

But regardless of what you wanted to say, you actually end up getting too peeved--saying: hey buddy, you’ve got some nerve 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 the preparation H yearly. Don’t push me please. Don’t tell me faster please. Go change your diet or something or save some cow or chicken. They are the ones killing over 500,000, 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 when I really need help. After all, you don’t owe me anything, so why should you risk life, limb and treasure anyway?

But now, we have ended up with a lot of needless banter, and all this literally over piles of manure.

Some then would call the whole exchange further signs of the ongoing clash of toilet techniques.

This whole acrimony could have been avoided without meanness and pettiness 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 will have declared everything a national security matter. Additionally, since they think themselves the rightful appointees of the Almighty, any discussion is taken way too personally and as yet another proof of your inherent evil.

Then it hits you!

Both those loudest on the outside and these most brutal on the inside relentlessly threatening you tend to speak in an almost identical language. And they always hide behind god, country, history and their fellow citizens instead of facing you.

Are they too cowardly to state the merits of their case and their choices and conducts? Why is it that when things get tough, most bugle blowing heroes always hide behind various “anti-ism” scams and that stinky notion of moral equivalency!

So now you are on the verge of losing it completely! All you manage to mutter is: “I don’t give a rat’s ass who you think you are--especially since I am not convinced even you know the answer to that riddle. Just don’t get in the way of the much needed cleaning of the public restrooms here.

Back inside, you know what you have to do. There is a fundamental 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 things 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 threatening that people expect the whole thing to collapse on their heads the moment they utter a single word about dirty restrooms. The fear of ending in a river of the stuff without a paddle leaves everyone thinking they should just go on with their lives as they have always. Who needs usable public restrooms anyways?

So now, seeing not too many people involved, yet sensing clear danger, the authorities, in a move familiar to all who have watched various governments in action a thousand times before, set up 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 caught using public restrooms improperly. Outside advisors will be brought in to study productivity and improve cleaning techniques. And even that useless ministry of education will be tasked to look into ways of modifying the university core curriculum to reflect the latest global trends in potty training.

There will even be some who think all this an assault on ancient national heritage to be fought against tooth and nail.

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

And anyone caught discussing public restrooms is jailed, tortured and forced to admit in public that the existing dirty restrooms are simply the paradigms of cleanliness the world over.

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

It doesn’t take grand planning. It doesn’t take massive social engineering. All the ingredients 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 alternative 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.

Some people, after all, have vested interests in the existing social relations whose inherent aftereffects are filthy public restrooms. However, it might not require the massive kind of a shock that would inevitably get some museum’s accoutrement in some grandma’s kitchen.

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. And that sense of autonomy which might result in greater attentiveness to existing problems.

Being receptive to the idea of experimentation and allowing the desire to know and experience surprise and awe in the world is essential as well. Certainly a better incentive scheme since no one stuck cleaning public restrooms is wont to be all that happy as he or she never counted on this dream job when growing up.

But 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 actually hate to do in life.

Perhaps even in time, an inner voice might develop that reminds people that it doesn’t really matter what you do at any given moment, just so long as you follow the logic inherent to it all and try to do the best you possibly can, especially when no one is looking--even if it is, simply, cleaning restrooms.

Yes, there might always be a way out of the ordeal.

And most importantly, a society must come to recognize that government interference hardly ever gets any restrooms cleaned.

All that might actually be needed is hope and freedom so people could cooperate better, and learn to pull resources together more effectively, and recognize that it is important to care about themselves and others when they venture outside of their homes.

That realization, additionally, that everyone feels better when doing well in whatever they have chosen (or are forced into) as a vocation in life, is a must. Some occasional support for training and re-education for everyone who needs it should also exist.

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 under the sky that might set their shorts on fire. Just so long as we understand that we have a vested interest in maintaining a society that has clean public restrooms.

Who knows, it might even be possible to bilk billions out of tourists one day. It is a beautifully enchanting landscape-- what is now known as the heartland of evil.

But as things stand, there are no clean public restrooms anywhere in sight!

This means, of course, that even if the authorities manage to finagle their way without endangering the lives of millions due to some belligerent bonehead--egged on by the frenzy of a progressively more entitled, paranoid, pathologically violent, obnoxiously malevolent and infinitely superstitious polity--deciding to preemptively attack what is being built, there is no brighter future possible.

With the sort of loathsome assassins in charge who remain so inattentive to the public good, and heedless of the needs of the ordinary citizens and oblivious to safety; with workers careless about consistent, documented processes, and citizens so self absorbed, and enamored of shortcuts, and habituated into prevaricating and assisting petty tyrants for petty rewards; with the whole society plagued by incompetence, inconsistency, extremism, oneirism and solipsism, it is clear as daylight that one of those power plants--absent strict international supervision-- will surely “explode” sometime after it becomes operational killing large numbers of people, and leaving countless others suffering from radiation poisoning.

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

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