When I am King: Warning: Smoking is Gross

When I am King...

Anti-smoking campaigns will be more effective.

Once again, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me alerted me to the critical news of the week. I rely on the podcast of that show for all of my information about current events, this time about
the new warning labels required on cigarette cartons. Apparently, the government, not satisfied with pithy quips like, “Can cause birth defects” and, “Has been known to cause cancer in just about every living organism” decided that it was time to make the message clearer, going for a more folksy, “You Will Die” message in the new labels.

I applaud their intent: every smoker is obviously so happy with their life choices that they need these little reminders of their impending doom. In fact, I’m jealous of the fun they get to have with every new pack, wondering what the picture and caption will be. The prizes and games on our cereal boxes pale in comparison.

But I disagree with their approach to the problem. It simply won’t work for this reason: everyone that would quit the habit because it can kill them already has (either by choice or by death). Everyone that’s left is either not getting the obvious message or just doesn’t give a damn. Making the labels more graphic will just stiffen their resolve like a toddler being asked to please not throw a tantrum in front of the nice lady from Child Protective Services.

Now you not only have a society full of smokers, but one full of grossed-out, pissed-off smokers.

The problem has always been in the messaging. Telling people that they might die eventually because of it, or that others have died from it doesn’t hold a smoking candle to the allure of teenage rebellion. And it doesn’t do much for the person weighing that risk against the difficulties of quitting an addiction.

When I am King, there will be a more effective marketing campaign to get smokers to quit. The ads will just point out other people in your chosen community. Parents who smoke will be shown that their kids are smoking, and teenagers will learn that their parents smoke. Both groups, horrified by the prospect of being lumped in with the other, will finally have some real motivation to quit.

One other approach the FDA could try is to make the labels as frank as possible, like “This cigarette will kill you,” and then backing up the threat by lacing it with poison. Not only will this be truth in advertising and an excellent disincentive to others that see the warning, but it will also reduce the smoking population, one by one. I’m not actually arguing for that approach, just saying that it would work better than the ones taken so far. But perhaps killing the target demographic is not what the marketing folks had in mind.


Things I Believe: Thoughts for Friday

Forgive and forget
to not punch them.

First come, first served.
So always arrive fashionably late to a cannibal's party.

Familiarity breeds contempt, but strangeness breeds infrequently.

Every man has his price, but every woman knows the manager and gets a huge discount.


Things I Believe: Thoughts for Friday

Live each day as if it were your last - in bed, wheezing, filled with sadness and a deep sense of regret.

If time is money, I'll have seconds.

To err is human, to forgive divine, to blame is usually the best option.

Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it incorrectly.


When I am King: Affairs of State

When I am King...

Escort services will be provided for all.

I was horrified, like everyone else, at the Weiner Affair of the past week. That is, I was horrified by the public reaction of shock and surprise. His actions seemed perfectly normal to me. Especially for a, er, member of Congress.

Taking the picture of his anatomy: odd. Tweeting the picture: stupid. Screwing around (or trying to do so) after being married for such a short time: sad.

But the act of looking around while being married seems like the act of a sane person; he’s just scouting out the territory ahead.

Think about the process of getting a job. It’s always easier to find a job when you already have one. You are negotiating from a position of strength, without the feeling of desperation that occupies your mind if you really need the job offer. Quitting first and then hoping you land something is simply not the best way to go about it. Much better to look around while you don’t need to and to find the best opportunity, and make a reasoned decision about whether it’s worth leaving your current job for the new one that’s being offered.

(Of course, this last bit always breaks down, because that new job always looks better than the one you’re currently for the simple fact that it’s new. New beats old, always. Until you get there and realize that it’s not new at all; it’s just different. But at least the change in cafeteria food adds variety.)

Regardless, this is a proven technique for finding the next job - why shouldn’t it apply to relationships as well? It’s the same principle at work - people are more attractive when they’re in a relationship than when they are not. Someone that’s in a relationship has the proof point to offer that someone felt that they were good enough to hang out with. It may not be a very high bar, but it’s at least a sanity check that you’re not completely incapable of getting a date. And you’re probably not a serial killer, unless you’re just biding your time or are also a procrastinator.

Beyond this initial check, there’s just the confidence that being in a relationship brings. It’s like the job negotiation; you have a fallback position, so you aren’t depending on this new opportunity to pan out. This more relaxed approach to negotiation helps in closing the deal. Without it, your desperation will seep from every pore and you won’t have a chance.

In fact, this is such a proven technique in life that Weiner may have had this as his strategy the entire time. Maybe he was having a hard time meeting women, so he got married to make the whole thing easier. So it wasn’t a colossal screwup or a temporary infidelity; it was all part of the plan. The only mistake was that he got caught, somehow not realizing that tweets can become part of the public conversation (see my earlier comment on “stupid”).

What’s unfortunate here, besides the fact that this person was elected as a trusted representative of anyone’s interests but his own, is that a proven technique for effective negotiation can have an impact far beyond the current deal on the table. If your boss hears that you’re interviewing, you may not have a job to return to. Or in the case of Mr. Weiner, you may soon be hearing from your to-be-ex-wife’s lawyer. Clearly, we need a solution to address the underlying social issue.

When I am King there will be services available to help. For example, if you are unemployed you can hire a temporary employer prior to interviewing. It may not be a real job (since you’ll be paying them instead of getting paid by them), but it will force you to get suited up every day to get in the mindset. More importantly, the service will lend that air of credibility in the interview that arriving in your bathrobe and slippers fails to do.

You will also be able to hire someone to pretend to be in a relationship with you. Escort services exist today that can fulfill a similar role, but these pretend relationships are typically shorter and more physical than the service being proposed. Our services, which will consist of supplying cute couples pictures, answering the shared phone, and providing alibis, can last for as long as you need them. Depending on your capabilities, or on how low you set the bar, you may only need a weekend. But if your standards are higher, or if you have just embarrassed yourself in front of the entire country, you may need the service forever.


When I am King: Trips with Kids

When I am King...

Strollers will be banned.

I spent last weekend at Disneyland, for reasons that I won’t go into. Suffice it to say that raising children does not result in opportunities for exciting travel and exotic nightlife.

Besides the obvious joy of spending two days and evenings standing in line with thousands of my very closest friends and overpaying for bad food from perky cashiers, the highlight of the weekend had to be the transportation contraptions for the children.

It turns out that Disneyland is where all children are. The place is overrun. It’s like the Gulag for little political prisoners. I thought my kitchen had an ant problem, but it’s nothing compared to the kids scurrying around Disneyland.

My strongest memory of the experience was of the many strollers. They were everywhere, These handy inventions allow parents to drag their kids to places that they’re too young to appreciate. So where evolution and common sense trains us to know that anywhere the kids can’t get to on their own is not somewhere they need to be, strollers allow us to take them anyway. These wheeled contraptions also serve as modern pack animals, allowing us to store necessary provisions like sodas and snacks to keep us fattened up and further unable to hand-carry these items.

All of this is fine - if people want to bring their infants and toddlers to places that they aren’t old enough to enjoy and won’t remember in 2 weeks and generally make the experience awful for the whole family, that’s up to them. I don’t mind the kids. It’s the strollers that I want to destroy.

Strollers are mobile tripping hazards. They’re like the shoes in the entryway, the toy cars in the kids rooms, the sleeping dog at the top of the stairs. And they’re constantly on the move, shoving their way through the crowds like a miniature Italian driver. The only person not tripping on them is the kid in the driver’s seat. This is probably the real enjoyment that kid has; he can’t enjoy any of the fun rides, but it must be a kick to keep seeing adults jumping out of his way and falling over his moving throne.

Strollers are like the shopping carts of the homeless, filled with recyclable containers and the mostly important possessions of the parents (plus the children). But at least the homeless have the decency to use carts that aren’t tripping hazards; you can heard and see those things rattling toward you for miles. Strollers sneak up on you and stick their front wheels in front of your sneakers before you know they’re there.

Then there’s the other approach taken by parents of children that can walk but can’t be trusted: leashes. These clever devices attach to a harness on the kids and allow they to walk with their parents without the parents having to go to the effort of actually reaching down to take their hand. They’re just like dog leashes, except for the choke collar. Ostensibly, the leashes allow the children the freedom to walk on their own without letting them completely escape. But in practice they’re used very differently. You typically see them being used by people that seem too tired to walk around and are using the energy of the children to help; the kids are straining at the harness and helping propel their parental blobs forward. The other way I’ve seen them used is like fishing tackle - when the parents want the kids closer, they reel them in and land them like a forty pound trophy fish. All they’re lacking is a barbed hook; maybe there’s a catch and release law in effect.

The leashes share a similar tripping characteristic with the strollers. But where the strollers perform their job with the front wheels jutting out in front of your feet, the leashes do so by stringing a trip wire at knee height across a wide distance. On a good catch, a leash can net three or four adults at once.

When I am King, these tripping hazards will be banned. Ideally, we’d return to the sane approach of only taking the little tykes to places where it wasn’t a complete hassle to transport them; if they can’t walk and they’re too heavy to carry, try spending that day at home instead. It’s why television was invented. And duct tape.

But I realize that some parents will insist on carting the little creatures around, so we’re working hard on replacement solutions. For example, there is now a surgical procedure to attach wheels to their feet. So when they complain that they just can’t walk another two miles to that ride with the two-hour waiting line, you can pop the wheels on and drag them.

There are also backpacks available for easily carting children around. These have existed for ages and provide a great solution to the problem, but fights against the tradition that we have of not exerting any effort. So my ministry will make available a Sherpa service to assist you in carting your brood around. Getting young children around the theme park or even the local Walmart can often seem like climbing Mt. Everest, so we’ll provide the appropriate resources for these excursions.

With these new inventions, you’ll be able to take more trips with less trips.