Have Yourself an Ambivalent Little Christmas


The Golden Age of Spam

Will the Real Renaissance Please Stand Up?

My Life of Crime

My Life of Crime, Pt. 2: The War of the Dandelions

Black (and Blue) Friday

Going Home

How Not to Celebrate a Holiday

Traffic Report Fall Down
and Go Boom

O, Holy Weekend

You Mean My Vote Actually Means Something?

Side Disorders

Lessons for Hurricane Preparedness as Taught By Example in Raleigh, North Carolina

You Mean My Vote Actually Means Something?, Pt. 2: Are They Gone Yet?

The Last Reality Show

It Builds Character

Sink the Flu

WTF (in C Major)

Intruder Alert

Kneel before Za

I Got Your Breaking News Right Here, Pal

Christmas in July...or April...or maybe even December


Why I Hate "The Little Drummer Boy"

Sink the Flu

Lately the place where I work has been on a big kick to decrease the chances of flu spreading around. The work-from-home policy has been amended to allow people to work from home if they are caring for sick family members. The paper towel dispensers in the kitchen (although not, oddly enough, in the bathrooms) have been replaced with the kind that you merely have to wave your hand in front of in order to get a paper towel. The company has paid for us all to get flu shots. You can't walk fifty feet without encountering a hand sanitizer dispenser. This was not all done at once. Rather, it has been a steady stream of new measures instituted on the order of one every two weeks or so. It's become a game of mine to guess what's coming next (my current guess: they'll hire some poor schmuck to hang out in the bathroom dressed up as the new cleanliness mascot, Captain Soap).

And the signs! My god, the signs! Signs telling us not to come to work if we're sick. Signs telling us to cover our mouths when we cough or sneeze. Signs remind us to use hand sanitizer because it's the best way to defend against germs. And today, a new sign saying that washing your hands with soap and water is the best defense against germs. (Wait a minute...I thought hand sanitizer was the best way to defend against germs.) It's like an advertising campaign where they keep coming up with new variants on the message. I expect any day to see a sign with a CGI gecko telling me that washing my hands for 15 seconds could kill 15% of germs or more. Or one that says "Covering your mouth when you sneeze is so easy a caveman could do it...but they didn't, and that's why they're extinct and we're still here." Or maybe they'll even borrow an internet meme: "Every time you don't use hand sanitizer, God kills a kitten."

Here's what they really need to do if they want to protect us from germs: Move the sinks.

Washing your hands is great, but it loses its value when the first thing you do after washing them is to grab a doorknob that was previously grabbed by some slob who didn't wash his hands. You can use paper towels to grab the door handle, but then you're left holding a paper towel that was just in contact with a doorknob that was previously grabbed by some slob who didn't wash his hands. This is not a significant improvement. You still need to wash your hands ten seconds after you last washed them, but the only place to wash them is inside the bathroom, which just puts you back in the same situation.

So here's my suggestion: Put the sink in the hall, just outside the bathroom. Sure, you'll still be touching that disgusting doorknob, but you'll be touching it just before you wash your hands instead of just after. Better still, with the sink out in the hall where everyone can see it, more people will wash their hands. No one wants to have the reputation of being the guy in the office who doesn't wash his hands after using the bathroom. Worried that someone might not bother if there's no one in the hall to see him? Put a camera at the ceiling, aimed in the general direction of the bathrooms. It doesn't even have to be hooked up to anything. People will assume someone's watching and shape up.

This shouldn't be restricted to offices, either. In particular, I would love to see this in practice in restaurants. It's all fine and dandy to put a sign up saying "Employees must wash their hands.", but I want some assurance. When my waiter comes out of the bathroom, I want him to know that every single person in the entire freaking building is looking at him, and if he walks past that sink without using it, every single one of his tables is going to be demanding their meal be free and won't be leaving a tip. Oh, and one more thing, garçon: We also know whether or not you actually used soap.

I'm not saying that moving the sinks will, all by itself, stop the swine flu dead in its tracks. But it will help more than a bunch of contradictory signs in the bathroom. It will help quite a bit, as a matter of fact. Indeed, if we are to believe the doomsayers who tell us the swine flu could cost the country forty-six gazillion dollars in lost productivity, then it could even constitute a valid part of our health care reform. Wait, did I say health care reform? I meant stimulus package! Think of all the plumbers we'll need to hire to do this! I'm sure Congress can print find enough money to pay for this. It may not be a shovel-ready project, but I'm sure it's wrench-ready. And when you factor in all the jobs created manufacturing the additional pipes and the new tools for all the newly-hired plumbers, we could be talking a massive infusion of economic activity. John Maynard Keynes would be proud, as would Ignaz Semmelweis.

I just hope that when the plumbers come to my office, they remember to cover their mouth when they sneeze.

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