Long, exhausting week, complete with interviews and an emergency medical procedure (I’m fine) so I don’t have much. Thought, though, that I’d share this fun little thing I did (more of these to come, probably, if they don’t get accepted elsewhere). This was prompted by reading Joshua Horowitz’s War on the Whales in which the US Navy rewrites the laws so they can continue their war games without regard to marine mammal life (true story!) and what various people – cetacean researchers, environmentalists, lawyers, activists, etc., tried – valiantly – to do about it. It ended up being a perspective stretcher, specifically on this idea of progress, how great it’s bred in us, culturally speaking, to think we are as a world leader, etc. Anyway, just some stuff to think about if you have some down time over the weekend.
Ten Foreign and Domestic Policies That Might Be Younger Than You
1) The National Legal Drinking Age: After Prohibition ended in 1933, nearly all states in the union at the time set the minimum legal drinking age at 21. However, largely in response to the change in the voting age, 29 states lowered the drinking age to 18, 19 or 20 between 1970 and 1975. The law requiring all states to permanently raise their legal age of purchasing and public possession of alcohol to 21 passed in 1984. There are exceptions, though, like locations and the presence of consenting legal guardians in certain situations. How does the United States compare to abroad? Minimum drinking ages vary broadly across the world, but only six other countries set their age as high as ours (Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Oman, Pakistan, Palau and Sri Lanka). The vast majority of countries set their minimum drinking age at 18 because no one says you can’t drink and vote quite like the US. Both Canada (with some province exceptions) and Mexico trust their high-school graduates with alcohol. Nineteen countries have no drinking age and England is the only country to set a minimum age for drinking alcohol at home (six). Several European countries set the minimum age at 16, though it can in some countries, like Germany, depend on the beverage.
2) The first law mandating the use of seatbelts (for all people 16 and older in front seats) was also passed in 1984, by New York, nearly 100 years after the first belt was patented in the same state on Feb. 10th, 1885, by Edward Claghorn. The seatbelt we all know and click today, the three-point lap-and-shoulder belt model, was invented by Sweden’s Nils Bohlin and made its debut with Volvo in 1959. (Surprise, surprise), each state has its own laws regulating the use of seatbelts (New Hampshire is the only state without any law); the last state to pass safety belt laws was Maine on 12/26/1995 mandating that all people of voting and older in a car buckle up. Ah, the good old days when we wanted people to make it to the polls.
3) The International Moratorium on Whaling: The International Whaling Commission did not halt commercial whaling worldwide until 1986 and it began with merely an agreement in 1982 to pause whale hunting for the 1985/6 season. Whale harvesting by nations like Japan, Iceland and Norway went unabated until then; whales were scared into shallow coves or marinas and then harpooned, mostly for their blubber, which could be processed into oil. The demand for whale oil was high as it was used as a motor lubricant, in cosmetics and everything in between; a whale was basically just a swimming cask of oil. Both Japan and Norway have asked for exceptions, exemptions or moratoriums on the moratorium, all to no avail; the public outcry to save the whales began in the ‘60s when whales were stranding en masse all around the world as a result of Naval sonar testing and continues to this day in the form of protesting ocean-themed amusement parks like Sea World.
4) The Americans with Disabilities Act: The law that does not allow employers to discriminate on the basis of disability passed on July 26th, 1990. Not only are employers barred from discriminating against persons with disabilities, the nation’s first comprehensive law mandates that federal and state funds and programs be developed to support and assist persons with disabilities in the workplace. Between the Act’s passage and 2000, more than 375 lawsuits were filed, demonstrating just how complex a federal policy like this is. It was suddenly unclear what “qualified” meant, who gets to determine what “reasonable accommodations” are, candidates’ rights in regard to pre-employment screenings and medical examinations, whether psychiatric conditions fall under the jurisdiction of the ADA, and many more surely still to come.
5) Direct-To-Consumer pharmaceutical advertising was allowed by the FDA starting in 1985, but it didn’t explode until 1997. The FDA loosen its interpretation of a rule that required companies to provide a detailed list of side effects of their medications, figuring the public will learn of them soon enough. Since the relaxation of such a requirement, drug companies have spent more on this form of advertising than any other, spending $3.1 billion in 2012. For every $1 spent on advertising, sales of prescription drugs rose by more than $4. The only other country that allows such advertising is New Zealand, whose total population could fit inside Colorado, probably even if the Coloradans didn’t leave.
6) The country most recently to gain independence was in 2002: East Timor. This southeastern Asian country uses the US dollar as its official currency and its official languages are Portuguese and Tetun. It is one of two primarily Christian nations in Southeast Asia (the other being the Philippines). Portugal colonized the land in the 1700s but after removing its presence, East Timor declared independence in 1975 only to be invaded and colonized by Indonesia. The United Nations issued a self-determination act in 1999 and in May of 2002, East Timor rang in the new millennium by (finally) becoming the first newly sovereign nation in the 21st century. It joined the UN soon thereafter. Technically, this country’s name is East East (so, would that be West? Do two easts make a west?), since Timor is derived from the Indonesian timur, meaning east.
7) The printing of $2 bills: The last print run was 2003. The first printing was authorized by the Continental Congress before independence was official (in June of 1776); only 49,000 were printed. It was finally commissioned one year after the US Treasury started issuing paper money in 1862. The $2 bills originally had the first US Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, on them but he was switched out for Thomas Jefferson in 1869, perhaps so that the good people who would be charging $13 admission to his estate in the future could had out his face on their specially printed $2 as a final form of advertising (if that’s what really happened). In 1966, $2 bills stopped being printed because of underuse. But a decade later, for the bicentennial, production of $2 ramped up again. By now, though, after ten years of not being printed, they were seen as collector’s items – or Monopoly money – rather than as purchasing tender, which makes sense: the $2 makes up about one percent of all US notes. Even as the rarest denomination of US currency, the bills are not worth much more than their face value. Their underused status persists today, though no one knows why they weren’t used as much as, say a $1 or a $5 pre-1966. Technically, a bank can still request a $2 printing and the bills have not be removed from general circulation.
8) The banning of smoking in public places: Ireland was the first country to enact a comprehensive ban of smoking in workplaces that extending to bars and restaurants. The ban was instituted in 2004. No attempt has been made federally to ban smoking in the United States; it’s once again up to the states to do so one by one. As of January 2014, 28 states have passed smoking bans on all enclosed public spaces, including bars and restaurants, however, there are various exempts. All but six states exempt tobacconists; all but four make provisions for hotels and motels to designate some percentage of their rooms for smoking. Many exempt casinos, private clubs, cigar bars and certain very small workplaces (the largest is five or fewer employees, with most citing only one employee).
9) The most recent National Park to be declared: Pinnacles in California on January 10th of 2013. California has the most national parks of any state (nine), followed by Alaska (eight), which contains the largest national park, Wrangell – St. Elias, of at over eight million acres. The smallest, less than 6,000 thousand acres, is in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The first national park to be designated as such was Yellowstone, which was officially protected as a national park before there was a governmental organ designed to do the protecting, that is in 1872 (signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant). The National Park Service, the agency of the Department of the Interior that upkeeps the nation’s 401 national parks and protected areas (totaling 51.9 million acres), was not signed into law until August of 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson. The National Park Service hires park rangers, forestry technicians and historians as you might expect, but also looks for carpenters, archeologists and mechanics (maybe for the fracking they’re about to start doing) as well. The proposed 2015 budget, which includes preparations for the Centennial celebration in 2016, is about $30 million.
10)Elephant Ivory is still being phased out: The beginning of the end of commercial ivory is scheduled for “late 2014,” which is technically right now. No updates on the US Fish and Wildlife Services webpage, though. New York and New Jersey have issued statewide bans on the precious commodity, in response to increased pressure from environmental activists to save the elephants. In 1980, there were an estimated 1.2 million African elephants; now, there are less than 420,000. In 2012, ten percent of the population of the savannah elephant was killed, and another ten percent in 2013; at this rate, the savannah elephant may be completely gone in a decade. Many of either species are poached solely for their trunks, today’s “blood diamond.” China is arguably the largest market for illegal ivory, despite the ban on exporting ivory products. Thailand, the largest unregulated and illegal market for ivory, has until March of 2015 to shut down its ivory trade or it faces international sanctions under the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species.
 Joshua Horowitz, War of the Whales (Simon & Schuster: New York, 2014), 198
 Ibid, summary, 250 – 255