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Unpleasant Realities


A hasher's nightmare

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about what I thought was a mean-spirited post on our local hash email list: a hasher gave another hasher shit about getting a DUI. My post is titled Hubris, because the giver of shit is a drinker too, and as far as I can see, the only difference between the two is that one’s been nailed and the other hasn’t . . . yet.

When I write about drinking and driving, it turns some hashers off. No one likes talking about unpleasant things, and hashers are no exception. Most often, the reaction I get is denial: there’s no problem at my hash; we always make sure hashers who’ve had too much to drink get a ride home; we always make sure there’s plenty of food and soda; etc.

But this time I got a different reaction: don’t write about this stuff.  Yeah, that’s right . . . just shut up about the drinking and driving, Booger.  Now, granted, this is only coming from one hasher.  I don’t know him, or anything about him, or even where he hashes.  But he reads my blog and follows me on Twitter (where I post as @halfmind), and he’s like a dog with a bone on this issue.  Initially I tried to reason with the guy, but it’s increasingly clear to me that isn’t going anywhere.  Here’s a summary of our ongoing “conversation” (some of which is happening on Twitter and some in the comments section of this blog):

  • Him (referring to my Hubris post): ugh, we get it. you’re a teetotaler. *some* hashers are profoundly stupid when it comes to getting home. this topic is getting old
  • Me: I’m not just a teetotaler, I’m also a lapsed alcoholic, and I know from personal experience that 95% of hashers drive home drunk. I blog about hashing, good things and bad, and the DUI issue is an important one. Boring to you perhaps but still important.
  • Him (referring to numbers I used in this follow-on blog post): You use 95% like it’s fact. I understand that any number above 0 is bad, but this general demonization doesn’t help your cause . . . demonizing people, especially at this high a view, isn’t the way to go. What if the anonymous commenter in your previous post was one of us 10-20% (to use one of your incongruous, random, made-up numbers) who take great care not to drive under the influence? We both like to stir up trouble, but I don’t think it’s the way to go on this subject . . . fulsome comments like the one you made previously do you and this advocacy harm, especially for those of us who attempt to address these issues on a local level in a more positive way.
  • Me: There were 220 hashers at the Las Vegas H3′s Red Dress Run. 219 were drinking. That’s slightly more than 99.5%. I counted.
  • Him: did you help people you thought needed it? If you didn’t, your numbers are useless, and you shouldn’t talk about drinking.
  • Me: Actually I did — designated driver for four other hashers. Granted, they were family members. Four DUIs averted!  Specifically, why shouldn’t I talk about drinking? Not qualified? Harming the hash? None of my business? What?
  • Him: because you gave us some useless information and declined to tell the good story, the one I had to prod you for.

It’s hard to know where to begin.  I’ll start with Cultural Revolution-style ritual self-criticism: when I say 95% of hashers drive home drunk, I mean “drunk” as it’s defined by law enforcement and the courts today; that is, any measurable level of alcohol in the blood.  My original comment could have been taken as an insult to hashers (as in “you’re all a bunch of drunks”), and I didn’t mean it that way.

In my experience, nearly all hashers drink at the circle, and by “nearly” I mean almost 100%.  I don’t see how anyone can deny such a self-evident truth.  Again, I’m not differentiating between hashers who drink a beer or two and hashers who drink too much . . . one beer or twelve, a drink is a drink.


A hasher's dream

At interhashes, where we typically stay in hotels and walk or take buses to and from runs, drinking and driving is not a huge issue.  But at local hashes, the ones that happen in my town and your town, week after week, we drive ourselves to and from runs.  And most of us, literally 80-90% of us, drive home afterward with some level of alcohol in our bloodstreams.

A few years ago, “drunk driving” was defined as a blood alcohol level above 0.15 percent.  Then it was 0.10%.  Now it’s 0.08%, and there’s talk of lowering it to 0.05%.  But in many locales, including some countries (like Japan), any level of alcohol, even 0.01%, will get you arrested and convicted.  What used to be acceptable social behavior is all of a sudden unacceptable, and many of us haven’t caught up with that reality.

In the past, I’ve protested that reality.  I advocate going back to a sane, meaningful drunk driving standard (specifically, a blood alcohol level of 0.15% . . . you know, actually impaired), abandoning the bullshit M.A.D.D.-driven witch-hunt no-tolerance hysteria we have today, but I’m not in charge, and we have to deal with things as they are, not as we wish they were.

I’m not so much worried about the few hashers who drink too much.  They know damn well they’re DUI bait, not to mention a danger to others, and they do it anyway, so fuck ‘em (or better yet take their car keys away).  I’m worried about the rest of us, the ones who only drink a little.

Let me go back, for a paragraph or two, to the denials I usually get when I blog about hashers getting DUIs:

  • “There’s no problem at my hash.”  There’s only one non-drinking hash I know of (the Virgin HHH in Phoenix, now defunct . . . I wonder why).  Unless you’re a member of that hash, you’re simply full of shit.
  • “We always make sure hashers who’ve had too much to drink get a ride home.”  Yes, it sometimes does happen that hashers will call a cab for someone who’s falling-down drunk.  I’ve seen it happen four or five times in two decades of hashing.  But what about those of us who limit our drinking to one or two beers?  No one gives us a thought.  No one should have to give us a thought . . . we’re not impaired.  But law enforcement and the courts see it differently, and if we get pulled over, it’s a DUI.
  • “We always make sure there’s plenty of food and soda.”  That’s nice, but until they come up with food and soda that magically removes alcohol from your bloodstream, that beer you drank at the circle will register when the cop makes you blow in the balloon.

Back to my interlocutor.  Am I making my numbers up?  Of course I am.  With the exception of my most recent hash, I don’t normally take head counts of drinking vrs. non-drinking hashers.  But you know and I know my made-up numbers are pretty close to the truth.

I don’t often hear my comments described as “fulsome.”  I had to look that one up.  Here’s what it means: “aesthetically, morally, or generally offensive; exceeding the bounds of good taste.”  How telling . . . well, at least he’s clear where he’s coming from.  Don’t blog about drinking, driving, and DUIs.  I’d rather not think about it.  Even bringing it up is offensive, like farting in the singing bus.

Well, it’s offensive to me too.  It’s offensive that we can’t hash and have a few beers afterward without worrying about DUIs.  It’s offensive that there are so few ways to address the threat.  Sure, concerned hashers can quit drinking, but how realistic is that? No, hashers are going to continue drinking.  We know what we’re doing and we assume the risk, so what’s the point of talking about it?  It’s “useless information.”

Except . . . this kind of useless information can cause hashers to modify their behavior.  It convinced me to cut way back on my drinking, and finally stop altogether.  It may convince a few hashers to do the same, or it may convince hashers to take public transportation to and from runs (yes, Virginia, there are hashes where venues are supposed to be accessible by bus or subway, and there’s no reason other hashes can’t adopt such policies).  “Useless” is in the eye of the beholder.

It comes down to this: I’ll continue to rant about the things I care about.  And I care about this.

© 2009, Flying Booger. All rights reserved.

About Flying Booger  Hash House Harrier, man about town.


7 comments to Unpleasant Realities

  • This is seriously getting absurd. I have to listen to both you and Ankle go back forth over this (I follow you both), neither one of you being particularly clear to each other as to what your point is. And I think the nature of purely text based communication combined with a generational gap is causing misunderstandings between both of you. If I may remind @halfmind about replying to a satirical tweet of mine just yesterday as if i was serious, I think that is a prime example for how the two of you just don’t “get” each other.

    Ankle’s objection is not to you writing about drinking being a problem with hashing. It is with your exaggerations and generalizations when writing about drinking being a problem with hashing.

    “…in many locales, including some countries (like Japan), any level of alcohol, even 0.01%, will get you arrested and convicted. What used to be acceptable social behavior is all of a sudden unacceptable, and many of us haven’t caught up with that reality.”

    I need to see references before I can take this as anything close to fact. That means taking a dose of cough syrup (some brands are 10 proof) could get you a DUI. Also, DUI checkpoints aside, no one with a 0.01% BAC is going to get pulled over or breathalyzed unless they’ve got an open bottle in the vehicle with them. Police need a reason to pull you over, with the caveat of checkpoints.

    “But what about those of us who limit our drinking to one or two beers? No one gives us a thought. No one should have to give us a thought . . . we’re not impaired. But law enforcement and the courts see it differently, and if we get pulled over, it’s a DUI.”

    No, its not. Its a DUI, if I have a blood alcohol level over the legal limit. If I’m not over the legal limit it is nothing. No tolerance applies to sentencing (in America) not to what is or isn’t a crime. Impairment and blood alcohol levels are directly related. In fact you are stating the opposite of what most anti-drinking literature will tell you. It is normally impairment begins with the first drink, even though that first drink won’t be enough to get you a DUI (paraphrased). Checkout this article on impairment. (Interesting graph comparing BAC to fatal crash risk. Keep in mind, you can get in fatal crashes without drinking.)

    But a discussion of what will and won’t get you a DUI isn’t the point. And I think, @halfmind, you get too caught up with that. The point is at what point are we unsafe to operate a vehicle? I’ve hung out at hashes for hours after circle was over so I had time to sober up before driving home. I know other hashers who do the same. To state that the difference between myself and a hasher with a DUI is just that I haven’t been caught is disingenuous and inaccurate. The difference is I’m aware of my tolerance and won’t drive immediately after drinking. To state that since there is drinking at my hash, that there is a DUI problem at my hash is also inaccurate. My hash can very well consist of hashers that follow the same personal guidelines. It is simple stereotyping to cast my hash as having a problem.

    By no means do I think you should not blog on about drinking driving and hashing. I do think you need to represent the situation with accurate metrics. A head count of who has had a beer is meaningless, unless you are advocating a “one drink – don’t drive” policy. (If you are, so be it, but I think you should be more explicit about that position, and maybe clarify how long I have to wait before you consider me clear) What we need is a method of identifying who has had too much to drink to drive home safely. They make personal breathalyzers ($40), perhaps the purchase of one is in order. If you’ve never seen one show up at a party, most people WANT to see what their BAC is. It even becomes a game for some (we don’t let them drive home). And while I recognize that the legal BAC limits do not accurately represent where too impaired to drive begins, it is an objective value that has been set after no small scientific inquiry. It should represent a major portion of the population, and if it is skewed for some political or other reason, at least it tells us if we could get a DUI for it, even though that isn’t the real goal. (The real goal being, to not have anyone incapable of driving safely behind a wheel)

  • Weasel, I appreciate intelligent comment and spirited argument. Sometimes I say provocative things intentionally. This is a blog, after all, and blogs thrive when readers participate in the discussion. Just like . . . HITLER!

    I actually have done some research on DUI-related topics and am prepared to back up my claims on the following points:

    - Japan’s zero tolerance law

    - BAC limits by country

    - DUI science & history (my source for saying the original US DUI BAC level was 0.15)

    - Phoenix driver arrested for DUI with BAC of 0.02%

    - DC driver arrested & charged with DUI with BAC of 0.03%

    You’re quite right that being arrested and charged with DUI won’t normally result in a conviction if your BAC is under 0.08% (that’s the current DUI BAC standard in all 50 states, but M.A.D.D. is actively pushing to get it lowered to 0.04%). But whether or not you’re convicted, being arrested and charged is serious business, because when it comes to drunk driving, you’re guilty until you prove yourself innocent, which can take years (and thousands and thousands of dollars).

    Whether or not you’re eventually convicted, the penalties are severe. In Arizona, for example, you’ll lose your drivers license for 90 days (and if you refuse a blood, breath, or urine test, 12 months). A hasher I know was on a waiting list for Pima Community College’s nurse training program, and was summarily kicked off the list after his arrest — he has yet to be tried, so we’re not talking conviction here — the arrest alone was enough to end a planned career change. I don’t know whether a DUI arrest, as opposed to a conviction, will affect your car insurance premium, but I’m willing to bet it will (I’m pretty sure both my kids’ rates jumped right after their arrests, well before their convictions). Employment? I guess it depends on what you do for a living. I certainly would have lost my top secret clearances with a DUI arrest, let alone a conviction, and had I still been an officer on active duty, would have lost all chance of future promotion . . . again, arrest, not conviction. With a conviction I probably would have had to resign my commission.

    As to the numbers of hashers who drink, and thus expose themselves to potential DUI stops and arrests . . . I totally admit I make my numbers up (I think I admitted that in the post above), but I believe in them. They’re based on personal observation over a period of 21 years.

    Hashers don’t like to talk about DUIs, but several of them have been nailed here in Tucson driving home from circles and on-afters, and I constantly hear whispers of other hasher DUI arrests around the USA. I think it’s a much larger problem than we’re willing to acknowledge, and I think some GMs and RAs are criminally negligent in the way they encourage hashers at the circle to drink excessively, knowing full well those same hashers are going to drive themselves home afterward.

    I’ve had hashers tell me they don’t drink as they open a fresh beer from the cooler . . . so pardon me if I roll my eyes when hashers tell me drunk driving isn’t an issue at their hash, or that they don’t know any fellow hashers who have been DUI’d, or that excessive drinking at the hash isn’t a routine weekly occurrence.

  • giant ankle

    I think you have a lot of reasonable and a few unreasonable things to say here, and it’s worth noting that you and I are probably have quite similar points of view and goals for hashers. It’s good to know that the comment that set this entire thing off was misread, and it makes me wonder if I was misreading other things you’ve said.

    It seemed to me like you were demonizing all drinking. Why else tell us that every single person but you was drinking at some particular hash? I played a bit with a BAC calculator. Plugging reasonable numbers like 4 12 oz beers (typically circle beer cups have about 4 oz in them, at least where I come from) over the course of four hours (a reasonable time for start to finish for us) puts us at a probable BAC of .02. Clearly that’s a level of impairment beyond zero, but it’s also probably noise when you consider types of impairment that we don’t feel the need to discuss, such as wakefulness*, radio, and cell phones. These also affect our driving, some more than four beers over four hours. I understand that that’s not part of the crusade here, but they’re not any less important.

    Weasel has already touched on some good points, so I don’t feel the need to bring them up unless you want to discuss them further, though it’s important to note that persons below legal limits in the US can be charged with DUIs. It’s still a far cry from saying that every hasher who puts a red cup to his or her lips would cater that judgement, which I feel you’ve attempted to do, and I have to say again that I don’t think that sort of tone plays well. It may have snapped a couple of people out of doing stupid things, but I don’t think that it’s a good message for the aggregate, and it comes dangerously close to a MADD-style message.

    I certainly don’t want to stifle discussion, and I’m not afraid of this topic, but when I feel like people are poor advocates for safety, I believe that they harm the message, and I’ll tell them that I think they’re better off not advocating. Like I said, I think we’re arguing for the same thing, which is why I’ve been stuck on this issue. It may not always have been warranted, since it seems like we missed each other in some places, but that’s still the most important part of this whole topic to me. Advocate safety so that it sticks, which I believe can be done positively (e.g., “I was DD for some hashers, and you can be one, too,” and not, “everyone at this hash was drinking! I hope they all get DUIs!”). If I can make it clear to you that I don’t believe you’ve been a positive advocate in everything you’ve said, whether or not you agree, then I’ll have made my point.

    * shameless plug: sleep disorders affect millions and go largely untreated! if you think you have any problems sleeping at all or have problems staying awake during the day, see your doctor!

  • Does the hash have a higher per capita DUI rate then the generally public? If we are going to look at the hash as a whole, I’d be curious how our DUI rate compares to DUIs per capita for USA or even on the state level.

    As far as Japan goes, drinking culture where there has never been prohibition is so incredibly different then ours that its not really comparable. I have a friend who came back from Hungary on a business trip this summer and was telling stories about coworkers that will walk miles to the bar rather then drive and they’ll only drink a reasonable amount. Their culture is so attuned to not drinking and driving, and the penalties are so harsh.

    Also, I myself visited Belgium this year, the most amazing thing was seeing kids size glasses for beer. i shit you not, I was sitting in a bar in Brussels, a kid was there with his parents, walked up to the bar, and ordered a beer and it came in a small glass. It was surreal. Anyone who goes to Interhash in Brussels, watch for it, its probably the biggest cultural difference between us and them. Even if yo know of the difference seeing it is still surreal.

    I just mention these examples of cultural differences that I know, to support the idea that Japan’s drinking culture is likely extremely different then ours, so their laws aren’t exactly apple to apple comparable.

    I guess you are using examples of the cost and effect of getting a DUI as a deterrent to driving impaired, but just the timing of hashes, Sunday afternoons, weekday nights, seems like most hashers don’t need to worry about DUI checkpoints. That is why I say the bigger focus needs to be on “don’t drive impaired” rather then “you could get a DUI”.

  • GA & Weasel,

    Trying to control excessive drinking at the hash is another issue, and I shouldn’t have let myself get diverted onto that track. G knows I’ve written many rants on that topic, and you can follow the link if you want to read them.

    I do appreciate your comments, because they help me organize my thinking and stay on track.

    The way I perceive reality, drinking is part of hashing and always will be, and there’s nothing wrong with having a couple of beers after a hash — at least in a sane world. But this is not a sane world, not any more it isn’t, and the witch hunt is on. Hashers who drink (nearly all of us) have to be aware of the risks.

    I don’t think most hashers are aware of the increased DUI threat, or how pervasive zero tolerance DUI enforcement is becoming. They may think they’re golden driving home with a low BAC — and they would have been, too, a few years ago. If my scare tactics help make them aware of today’s elevated DUI threat, and they start taking sensible precautions, bravo for all of us.

    For years now, I’ve been reminding hashers that hashing is an underground activity. If we asked the authorities for permission to do the things we routinely do — run on public and private property, mark our trails with flour or paper, disturb the peace with our circles and songs — never mind drink in public — the answer would be “no.” If we all treated hashing as an underground activity, we’d do a better job keeping hashing out of the public eye, and that would be a good thing.

    In today’s society, drinking is becoming an underground activity, and smart drinkers take precautions to stay under the radar.

    GA, I don’t preach at the hash. I do preach on my blog, and hashers can choose to read what I have to say or not. As for turning hashers off with MADD-style messages, I’m afraid most hashers I know would be turned off by any sensible-drinking pitch, no matter how positive. I bet if I drove 100 drinking hashers home every Saturday evening for a year, not one would follow my example. They’d just take advantage of my free DD service. Obviously, I have a lower opinion of hashers than you.

    Weasel, whether hashers have a higher rate of DUI arrests than the general population is unknowable, because no one keeps statistics like that. And hashers, as I mentioned, don’t air their dirty laundry in public. But we do drink at our events, even morning ones, so we need to be aware of the exact nature of the risks we willingly assume.

    You asked for references on my assertion that one could get arrested in Japan with even a tiny amount of blood alcohol, and I gave them to you. The reason I mentioned Japan in the first place is that a lot of us hash overseas, where DUI laws may be far more stringent than what we’re used to at home. By the way, I lived and hashed in Japan for two years, and at least when I was there we didn’t get any DUIs in the hash. But by golly I’ve sure seen a lot of hashers get nailed since I’ve been back in the USA!

    I founded three hashes. I tried to set each one up so that drinking wouldn’t become the main thing. We do A-to-A trails. Hashers aren’t stuck at a circle miles from their cars with nothing to do but drink. I keep circles short and never call anyone back for a second down-down. When I lead a circle I stick to a script . . . I don’t let the pack hijack down-downs. No kegs, ever, because when you put a keg in front of hashers, there’ll always be some who’ll want to stay until it floats. I get the pack moving on to a restaurant or pub as quickly as possible after the circle.

    As I mentioned to Giant Ankle, at the hash I don’t preach abstinence to hashers, or even moderation . . . but I try to set things up in such a way that hashers can have a good time without the focus being on drinking, and that’s been very effective for me and my friends.

    You’ve got me thinking about the spirit of different hashes I belong to. Some are trail-centric, some are social-centric, some are just plain alcohol-centric. Some have been all three at different times in their development . . . maybe that’s just hash evolution. Now there’s an interesting topic for future discussion!

  • giant ankle

    “I don’t think most hashers are aware of the increased DUI threat, or how pervasive zero tolerance DUI enforcement is becoming. They may think they’re golden driving home with a low BAC — and they would have been, too, a few years ago. If my scare tactics help make them aware of today’s elevated DUI threat, and they start taking sensible precautions, bravo for all of us.”

    I think this gets at the heart of why you discuss these things in this way here, and from that point of view, it really makes sense. I’m still not sure what I think of it, and that may just end up being a more personal thing. We’ve ended up talking about two things as though they were the same. I’m concerned primarily with safety, because most of the incidents that are dangerous won’t actually be caught. You’re concerned about people not getting caught, especially people who think they’re otherwise safe. I’ve seen people get the DUIs, and I’ve never heard them say that they didn’t think they deserved it, so I don’t have any firsthand experience with those sorts of errant zero-tolerance DUI witch hunts.

    It’s interesting to see the different perspective. I sometimes get kegs when they’re easier, and we end up with enough left over to carry to a hash or two if possible. The things you do to advocate safety at your hashes look familiar, because we practice a lot of them at our home hash. I probably haven’t seen the hashes where alcohol has been at the root, apart from the rare ones dedicated specifically to it, and then safety is on everyone’s mind due to the increased presence. It’s pretty good to know that we probably have a more spartan take on hashing.

    So you don’t actually think that all hashers who drink are going to hell on earth, even if you worry about those who will, and I don’t actually think you shouldn’t be commenting on drinking in the hash, even though I misread your message at the start. But seriously, motorcycle hashes?

  • I think they should be more aware of the consequences if they get in trouble. Or if the police stops them.

    Sometimes we like to do things but we don’t like to think about the trouble we can get into.

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