The Ministry and the Idiot

beer3Paraphrasing Willie Nelson, “Picking up whiskey instead of my pen/I let the words of my youth slip away.” is a poetic way of saying I tipped a few in my time.  I was never what you’d call a drunk, but back in the day, alcohol and I were pretty faithful companions.  At one time or another, it transformed me into a brilliant conversationalist, a kickass dancer and a hopeless lover – sometimes all at the same time.  However, the very best thing alcohol ever did for me was keep me humble by providing 1,001 opportunities to apologize.  Like most people who can get past six drinks, it has been my experience that, despite what the advertisements tell you, fermented fluids make you stupid.  However, never in my wildest weird days did I ever set off the idiot alarm quite as loudly as what recently happened in my country – and we did this cold sober!

Last week, an Ontario business, The Beer Company, was fined $218,000 for not explaining to a contracted employee that he should not, under any circumstances, drink windshield washer fluid.  Uh?  That’s right.  Apparently, back in 2012, a couple of guys who were contracted to wash the outside (this is very important) of some Beer Company delivery trucks found a plastic bottle, labeled “Vodka” behind the seat on the inside of one of the trucks.  Even though they had no business being there, they stole the bottle and drank some of the contents.  Unfortunately, the bottle was full of windshield washer fluid.  One of the guys, who must have thought, “Wait a minute!  That’s not vodka!” quit drinking.  The other, however, took the bottle home, and, over the next couple of days, proceeded to polish it off.  Employee A went to the hospital, sick as a penguin; employee B died of methanol poisoning.  The Ministry of Labour, ever mindful of worker health and welfare, charged The Beer Company with workplace safety violations.  I’m not making this up: you can Google it.  Their argument was that the contents of the bottle was poison and therefore should have been labelled as such.  They went on to say that even though the workers had stolen the bottle (“unauthorized possession” was the term they used) the company was still negligent.  The Beer Company, I’m sure, rather than waste time and money trying to reason with a Ministry who would even contemplate these kinds of charges simply thought WTF and paid the fine.

In my time, I’ve drunk everything from six hundred dollar a bottle Scotch to Aqua Velva and Orange Crush (plenty of kick, but not much bouquet.)  However, I don’t even know anybody who ever got drunk enough to think this clown and pony show is reasonable.   What’s wrong with this picture works on so many levels it’s almost impossible to deal with.  It’s no wonder The Beer Company just handed over the cash.

First of all, when the Ministry of Labour reviewed this case, didn’t anybody notice that the guy had been drinking windshield beer1washer fluid for at least two days?  He didn’t just find the stuff, conscientiously note there was no skull and crossbones on the label, take a sip and keel over dead.  He worked at it — really hard!  Now, I’ve never tasted windshield washer fluid, but I don’t imagine it tastes anything like vodka.  Why would you order a second round?  Not only that, but why did he drink it in the first place?  You find a mysterious fluid and your first thought is “Let’s do shots!”?  I don’t think so.  Besides, he was a cleaner.  He must have known what cleaning supplies smell like — even if he’d never tasted any.  And the rhetorical questions just keep on coming.  Didn’t he notice his buddy was sick?  Or his pee was blue?  Or why didn’t some friend, acquaintance, wife or girlfriend casually mention that cocktail hour smelled like Windex?  However, these are all moot points because he shouldn’t have even had the bottle of windshield washer fluid, in the first place.  He stole it!  Honestly, I can’t understand why The Beer Company (or anyone else for that matter) is responsible for the use or abuse of items that have been stolen from them.  The logic of this escapes me.  For example, someone steals my car and runs it into a telephone pole. Am I then negligent because I didn’t warn him that my vehicle goes really fast?  Didn’t he experience that for himself while speeding away from the scene of the crime?

I have no idea what kind of nonlinear Cloud Cuckoo Land thinking caused the Ministry of Labour to charge The Beer Company with negligence.   Our society needs to understand that sometimes no amount of due diligence can protect people from their own burning need to act like idiots.  Trust me: I have considerable experience.  The problem is I’m not certain just who we should hang the Darwin award on here: the guy with the sky-blue highball habit or the Ministry who decided his two-day windshield washer bender wasn’t actually his own damn fault.

Wednesday:  If Thy Booze Offend Thee….

Day of Blame: A Modest Proposal

Several years ago, a couple of friends and I were having a few adult beverages.  The evening was old but we were still beautiful, and somewhere between the hockey argument and “I love you, man!” we came up with a cunning plan.  We decided that what this country needed was a National Day of Blame.  It would be a single day, set aside each year, so people could legitimately blame all the various and sundry who had ever done them a dirty.  It was a worthy plan; unfortunately, it didn’t survive the skull pain of the morning after the night before.  However, as bad is just getting worse (here in the second decade of the 21st century) I think me and the bros may have hit on an idea whose time has just begun.

You don’t have to be intoxicated to realize that grievance has become a growth industry in North America.  There aren’t five people on this continent who haven’t got a bitch with somebody – or something.  Everybody from Barack Obama (who’s currently blaming the Republicans) to the guy down the street (who’s blaming a roofer named Jinder or Vinder — I’m not sure which) has got a finger pointed directly in some other guy’s face.  This isn’t healthy.

However, as a result, there’s an entire industry built on the premise that everything is somebody else’s fault.  The most visible proponents of this are government agencies, and the uncivil servants who dwell there, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg.  There’s another whole layer of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) waiting down the block to back them up.  The sole purpose of these groups is to point fingers and assess blame.  These services, if you can call them that, are stocked full of worker bees, called activists.  Remember when activists were people who saw inequality, misfortune or injustice and took time out of their real lives to perform their civic duty and help right a social wrong?  Not anymore; contemporary activists are permanent employees of the grievance industry.  Blaming somebody for something is their 9 to 5 job.  Their children’s lunch money and school clothes depend on it.

There’s also a whole strata of sub-scum hangers-on who feed off grievance as if it were manna from the gods.  There are harassment officers, community organizers and various advocacy groups.  There are also the legal-fecal lawyers who perch like vampires, waiting to sink their fangs into some social complaint that used to be settled with a harsh word and a rude gesture.  And of course, there’s the media: in the history of civilized behaviour, no other collection of ne’er–do-wells has played The Blame Game with such ruthless tenacity – and that’s sugar-coating it.  TV and radio personalities wake up in the morning blaming the sun for shining if it’s a hot day and either Obama or Bachmann if it’s cloudy – and they make millions doing it.  It’s no wonder I blame Phil Donahue for ruining journalism.

Anyway, since finding fault has become a national pastime, it’s time we had a day for it.  The Day of Blame could be March 1st, halfway between St. Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day.  The sugar shock feel-good of Valentine’s Day has worn off and the pre-Celtic alcohol run-up to St. Paddy’s hasn’t kicked in yet.  Spring is coming, but it hasn’t arrived, and the late days of winter are still cold and miserable.  It’s a perfect time to sit around and grouse about who’s been nasty to you since birth and the reason your kids are ugly.

This thing could catch fire like a meth lab with a short circuit.  People would be having dinner parties with their exes and blaming them for all the love’s labour lost they’ve suffered since they got tossed the first time.  Children would be phoning their parents — collect — and blaming them for every petty neurosis they’ve suffered since puberty.  Grandparents would write letters to the grandchildren, blaming them for being lonely, and the grandkids would be e-mailing back blaming grandma for holding up their inheritance.

Hallmark alone would make a fortune on “It’s Your Fault” cards.  Students could send, “It’s your fault I didn’t get an A” cards to their teachers, and teachers would respond with an “It’s your fault I’m too tired and burned out to write a novel” card, in return.  Every boss in the world would receive an “It’s your fault this company is so screw up” card and every employee would get the same one back.  Then there would be the extra-cool, “It’s your own damn fault” cards.  Husbands could send them to wives and vice versa.  Parents could send their kids, “It’s your own damn fault you flunked out of college; you’re not moving back in with me” cards and settle the question forever.

People would be taking out full-page ads in magazines, blaming a litany of transgressors for every setback they’ve ever had in life.  Instead of those sappy, hackneyed marriage proposals, the Jumbotron at sporting events would have, “John Doe!  It’s your fault our marriage failed.  I want a divorce.”  Tons of people would be blaming Ken Jennings for not winning on Jeopardy, and George Lucas would finally get the blame for ruining Star Wars.

There could be an entirely new social network, not based on hundreds of so called friends, but on all those people who actually caused you problems over the years: your third grade teacher who ruined reading for you, the guy who broke your heart in grade 9, and the McDonald’s manager who fired you for being late every shift.  Of course, it would have to appear at one minute after midnight on March 1st and disappear again at midnight, March 2nd.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t be special.

That’s the true beauty of the Day of Blame.  It’s one special day when we get to blame somebody else for all or any of our problems.  Then, for the other 364, we have to shut up about it; for the rest of the year everybody has to cowboy up and take some personal responsibility.  It would be wonderful.  There would be no more whinging and whining about how bad life has treated all of us.  We’d save billions by closing down those government departments, and politicians would finally have to take the rap for some of the stunts they’ve pulled over the years.  Sanctimonious do-gooders would have to actually do some good instead of sitting around being holier-than-thou and blaming everybody else for the world’s problems.  Lawyers wouldn’t be allowed to advertise, and the media would quit playing “gotcha” and actually tell us what’s going on in the world.

Most importantly, we’d finally realize that, in our affluent western society, we don’t have that much to complain about.   Actually, most of the real blame for screwing up rests on our own little pass-the-buck shoulders.   And, in the end, one day is more than enough to blame the guy down the street for not cleaning up after his dog or all the other petty annoyances of life.

A National Day of Blame might be just what this country needs.

FYI — Day of Blame is the intellectual property of W.D. Fyfe.  If you want to use it, go ahead; but you must give me full credit for the idea and at least 10% of the gross income.  Otherwise, I will find a scuzzy lawyer and make you sorry.