Monday, February 8, 2010

Three small rants

Sometimes "authorities" start something and don't know when to stop, an example of this is the label that now appears on all containers of alcoholic beverages in this country. I have no quarrel with the warnings that were articulated many years ago by a former "surgeon general". One could perhaps argue that all subsequent Surgeons general share that opinion, but it still strikes me as dated.

Someone along the supply chain has to print all these labels, and arrange for them to be stuck on each container. For the most part, they are "preaching to the choir". I suppose, somewhere in the land, there is a person who first learns that a pregnant woman should avoid alcohol, and that it is dangerous to drive a car or operate machinery after drinking. That, of course, is information which, in the words you may find in Hamlet, a custom more honored in the breach than in the observance. I believe that there are more effective ways of reinforcing the wise advice about the dangers of drinking than sticking those silly labels on each and every bottle. In my experience, the drunks who drive cars are just as likely, if not more so, to swallow their booze from a glass found in a bar than in drinking from a bottle at home.

I still chuckle at the memory of the Surgeon-General who had some tailor make up a quasi-military uniform, thinking that he was the medical equivalent of an Army "General". Of course, that word is confusing, it has a sense that occurs in such phrases as General Convention or General Confession, both well understood by Episcopalians. The pope may create Vicars General. Shakespeare also can be brought into this, when he described something esoteric as being "caviar to the general", he was referring to the general population, whose tastes had not been educated to appreciate the subtleties of caviar.

I have never really understood why a Major is superior to a Lieutenant, but a Lieutenant General is superior to a Major General. The only explanation I have heard - that it is short for "Sargent Major General" - is totally unconvincing.

The third rant today is about transportation. Why do I still need to remove my shoes when going through security at an airport? Because some misguided young resident in the UK once tried to board a Transatlantic flight with explosive in his shoes in a notably unsuccessful attempt to cause the destruction of a plane, is no good reason to force us all to remove our shoes. Many million pairs of shoes - and the number must be approaching a million - have been removed, with explosives never found. I'm an old guy in my 80s, who always has to be sent to the "penalty box" when I pass through security, because the replacement in my right knee is of metal, and sets off the alarm. Yes, there probably still is a majority of folk who accept the minor inconvenience of a security check because they feel safer that everyone is required to pass a metal detector. If I were to suggest that the time is long past when folk of my age with an unblemished record should be given some sort of pass to avoid the delay and indignities, I know the response: "If we made exceptions, the terrorists would find an old man to act as a suicide bomber". Well, maybe...

The cynic in me says that there is no chance of reducing the huge number of TSA personnel when unemployment remains so high.

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