5 Great Ideas That America Should Steal from Other Countries
America gets a lot of things right: interstate highways, tap water, fried chicken and waffles ... the list goes on and on. But we're a young country, and we'd be smart to turn our eyes to the older and wiser members of the global community every now and then and take their advice. Not on, like, health care or welfare or anything. But maybe with stuff like ...
Legal Street Drinking
If anything makes me unpatriotic, it's thinking about all the open container laws around the country strangling America's good times like a buzz-killing python. Is there no place in this nation where an honest man can openly pull from a jug of malt liquor without invoking the terrible wrath of John Law? The answer to that question is "Yes -- Las Vegas," but I think we can all agree that Vegas is its own country, so that doesn't count. America needs to be more like Germany, which is totally cool with getting blitzed on the sidewalk.
I first arrived in Berlin the way I arrive for the first time in most cities: in dire need of exactly seven beers. I thought those beers were miles away, but what should greet me at the entrance to the station but a kiosk loaded with colorful plastic screw-top bottles of what was surely the German answer to Miller Light.
I bought my first bottle and seamlessly blended into German culture.
I staggered up to the cashier with the wide, hopeful eyes of a child:
"Is this ... can I drink this here?"
The man laughed, but he did so in German, which sounds like a cross between a cough and a death threat. Of course I could drink down here. Germany doesn't have many fucks in its Fickbunkern to spare for people drinking in public, as long as they don't make a mess. Life in American cities made me expect such an attitude to be repaid a thousandfold in street urine and alley vomit, but no. Berlin is cleaner than any major American city I've ever seen, including Disney World.
So much blood.
Still, things the Germans consider "good ideas" don't always work in the rest of the world, and it does seem like adding millions of drunken pedestrians to America's roads would be an awful idea. But here's the thing: American pedestrians are already drunk; they're just hiding it. More than one-third of pedestrian fatalities are legally hammered at the time.
The terrifying thing about drunken walking is that there seems to be no legal recourse against it. You can't ban people for simply walking while moderately intoxicated. Not outside of Utah, anyway. So the only thing left to do is to make being drunk in the streets safer. Simply mandate that all "street legal" bottles come equipped with reflectors, like this:
Suddenly that horde of hidden meandering drunks becomes a horde of extremely visible meandering drunks. Problem solved! Ish!
Stop Hiding Garbage
I'll never forget the first time I watched a bunch of hobos start garbage fires in a city street. It was right after I landed in New Delhi, India, and for the first few minutes I expected someone from the government to, y'know, do something about it. These dudes were just sweeping piles of trash -- bottles and plates and bags and half-eaten samosas -- into big lumps and then setting them ablaze. And no one came to stop them, because how else are the streets going to get cleared for tomorrow's trash?
In America, we only do this to the people who threw the trash down in the first place.
Trash can be a big cause of culture shock in India. There aren't recycling bins or all that many trash cans, even in restaurants. Everything you throw out eventually winds up in the street, where it's turned to fire. Locals accept this and tend to treat the streets like an open-air trash can. In a twist of irony, India also happens to be a beacon for the sort of yoga-loving, be-dreadlocked people who recoil in inner horror when they see someone toss a plastic water bottle carelessly onto the ground.
Even I had trouble with it, and my heart is as black and pitted as an olive. Such waste feels terribly backward and ... wasteful, and it got me tsking at India, until I found this chart:
Living a normal American life filled with Slurpees, fireworks, and condoms means that I generate over a ton of trash each year. The average five Indians don't equal one ME. Sure, most of my trash winds up in a dump, but that just means I throw out as much shit as I want without worrying. I don't have to live with it, and most of it won't even stay on my continent. By volume, garbage is actually America's #1 export. (Take that, people who say this country doesn't make things anymore.)
The USA produces 25 percent of the world's garbage with just 5 percent of its population. All these garbagemen and landfills have separated us from the consequences of our actions. What this country needs is a few years of garbage fires in the streets and gutters filled with Coke bottles and cigarette butts. It'll be nasty, but it will also shame us into change. Don't believe me? This is how Los Angeles looked in the 1960s:
Given, some of that came from George Burns' gigantic cigars.
It was bad enough that "smog-induced tears" were a real medical concern. People were miserable, so they cleaned up their act and banished that fog monster back to the island from Lost. Today, you can actually see the mountains from downtown, even though there are three times as many cars in the city today as there were in the '60s.
Even Los Angeles, no one's poster boy for a well-run city, got its shit together once it was forced to actually live with the smelly consequence of its bad decisions. I have to trust that the rest of the country is at least as wise as Californians in the 1960s.
No Prescription Laws
There are places in this world (wonderful, magical places) where the word "prescription" has less meaning than the words "I would like that box of pills and here is $11." Pharmacies that work like liquor stores are one of the little joys of traveling that make the terrible parts of traveling, like 20-hour train rides without a bathroom, tolerable.*
*More than tolerable, thanks to Tramadol's infamous ability to both stop you from pooping and make you feel just ... just super good.
"My butthole feels fantastic!"
But there are practical benefits to Wild West pharmaceutical rules. For one, it cuts the cost of health care down for everybody. Feeling sick? WebMD that sum'bitch and then go buy whatever drugs you (probably) need. Half of the antibiotic prescriptions given by professional American doctors are useless anyway, so even if half of the people self-prescribing fuck up, it'll be no worse than the status quo. Hell, replace all the misprescribed antibiotics with hydrocodone cough syrup and we'll have a happier, safer cold season.
Only 10 percent of "sore throats" are caused by strep, which can be treated with antibiotics, but 60 percent of people who go to the doctor with a sore throat are given antibiotics. These prescriptions don't heal nearly as many people as they turn into walking incubators for unkillable superbacteria. Simply letting our sick people get stoned and sleep through their cold isn't just a safer choice. It could save the human race.
"Dude, fuck the spoon. Just dump it down a beer bong and give me a soft place to fall."
Just Fucking Give Addicts Their Drugs
Hey! Speaking of drugs, have we ever considered just completely caving on the whole "war on drugs" thing? Maybe dig up Nixon's corpse and have it sign an unconditional surrender? The drugs have proven that they're not going anywhere. Drug addicts are even more dedicated to their "cause" than the Viet Cong ever were. But if arresting these people just makes their problems worse, what can the state do to make things better?
According to Denmark, the answer is "give drugs away for free." Yes, residents of Copenhagen can visit a government clinic and chase that dragon to their heart's content. The users get free drugs and a bunch of nurses to make sure they don't die. It's the safest way to do heroin short of actually being Keith Richards.
"Do you have anything bigger? Like maybe a milk jug?"
You'd expect this to be much more expensive than the traditional American answer to drug addiction ("let them die in the streets"). But it's actually saved Denmark around 13,000 euros per person per year, because an addict with free drugs is an addict not stealing shit or stabbing anybody for pocket dollars.
Before Copenhagen opened their all-you-can-shoot buffet, sanitation workers picked up around 10,000 discarded needles in the streets every week. The "free drugs for addicts" program cut that number in half after less than a year. Burglaries, violence, and weapons possession all dropped. If you really need heroin and the only way to get it is waving a knife at some dude until he gives you his money, well, you might wave that knife around. But why take the risk if you know the government is always holding and willing to let you bum a couple hits?
"The spiders should subsist in a few minutes. Just ride it out."
Screw Traffic Laws
It's no coincidence that roller coasters are most popular in countries with reasonably safe roads and traffic police who actually police traffic. Speed traps suck. And so do the signs that tell me it's illegal to crack 100 mph whenever this song comes on. But all those pesky signs keep our roads from being a chaotic golf-cart orgy, like the streets of New Delhi:
It would probably be faster to just pick up the car and walk home with it.
And while that's a perfect picture of what happens when you don't have traffic signs (or enforced traffic laws, for that matter), so is this:
That old woman is clearly speeding.
Behold the town of Poynton, in the United Kingdom. It has 14,000 people and zero traffic signs. They're in the process of removing lights, curbs, and painted lines from their roadways, too. This should be a terrible idea for a place 26,000 vehicles have to pass through every day, but the U.K. town of Ashford ditched their signs three years ago, and they haven't reported a single traffic fatality since.
I've been saying it for years: The Five Man Electrical Band were a bunch of prophets. Signs are quite literally breaking our minds. Towns in Germany and the Netherlands have been shedding their signs for years, and they always find the same result: safer roads. Too many signs lead to confused drivers more worried about not getting a ticket than avoiding the family of four about to blow through that crosswalk. Without signs, the only thing drivers have to focus on is not killing people, and (surprise!) this makes them safer.
Or at the very least it gives them the focus to mow down just this guy without harming the others.
Man, it's almost like a ton of our safety laws do nothing but get people killed. Funny how that happens.