Prague Twin

Monday, October 30, 2006

Freedom

A couple of weeks ago I got involved in a discussion on a milblog surrounding how out of place American soldiers seemed in Iraq. The thought of typical American 18-25 year-olds interacting with people in a Muslim country had always rubbed me the wrong way. I knew what I was like at that age. I could see clearly the potential for problems cropping up. Someone challenged me to essentially leave the country so I could appreciate the freedom I enjoyed in the States. I responded that I had left the country, some eight years ago, largely as a result of the lack of freedom in the United States. (No one ever checks profiles anymore). Of course then someone else really layed the challenge on...

"I'm also really curious about the'freedoms' you enjoy in the Czech Republic that you wouldn't enjoy here. Besides smoking in restaurants, I can only imagine you're referring to being free from people that vote for Bush. Seriously, I'd like to know."

and within a few more hours....

"I'm still quite dubious about your claim to be enjoying greater freedoms there but I anxiously await your reply."

Well, I guess he didn't like my reply, because I never got anything back. Everyone knows how these blog arguments go. They are always good for a few healthy exchanges before they fizzle out. But this time, after his double challenge, I answered and never got anything back. I figured, "hey, I must really have something here."

You see, when I was in high school, I was convinced that I lived in the country that enjoyed the greatest level of freedom of all the countries in the world. At the time, that may have been almost true. However, since the fall of communism, many eastern European countries have evolved into countires that enjoy even greater levels of freedom. Perhaps no greater example of this trend can be found but here in the Czech Republic. Certainly, many of the freedoms exist here in a de factor manner: lack of enforcement provides many people with the freedom to pillage large sums of money, for example. But here I am looking at freedoms that people enjoy within the confines of the law. Specifically, things that are against the law in the United States.

1. Alcohol

In the Czech Republic, there is no open container law. The most hillarious thing to a Czech person is the concept of drinking out of a paper bag so the police can't see what you are drinking. When I first spent time here in 1997, we used to sit out on the Charles Bridge all night drinking wine. One night we must have broken 3 bottles of wine on the cobblestones. At about 6am, when the guys come out to sweep up the mess from the night before, I really had to relieve myself. We were way out on the middle of the bridge, and nothing in town would be open, so I decided the best thing to do would be to climb out on the back of one of the statues to get a clear shot at the river below. The clean-up crew was not really thrilled with the idea, but they weren't going to stop me. We comprimised on letting them hold my shirt for safety. In hindsight, it was a good deal for me all the way around.

I've certainly enjoyed being able to drink in public. Whether it be hot wine at Christmas in the Old Town Square, cold beer in the summer at the park, or champagne on the street at New Year's (although I guess they make an exception for that in some places), the lack of public prohibition adds to one's overall sense of freedom.

There is no statute regarding public drunkeness. You can be arrested for causing a disturbance, but whether or not you were drunk when you did would have no bearing whatsoever. Falling down in the street is not considered causing a disturbance unless you are actually falling on people. There is a beer culture here, and almost everyone here has "had one too many" at some point. As a result, there is less stigma on drunkeness. I remember seeing a guy passed out at a bus stop, laying on his back on a big slab of concrete that was considered art by the communists. The sun was blaring down and his face was getting a wicked sunburn. No one seemed to notice much, but when they did, they just sort of chuckled to themselves and then quickly returned to their business. No one stared wide-eyed, or pointed or laughed out loud. Well, I was staring, but I'm an American.

There is also nothing that says people in a car can't drink. However, drivers are given no tolerance. I know people who have been convicted of DUI the next day after a big night of drinking. It seems sensible enough: the other people in the car can do whatever they want, but the driver can't have a sip.

There is no closing time for bars or for the sale of Alcohol. Having said that, the number of places with a 24 hour license is restricted. I'd say there are probably as many of these places in Prague as there are bars in some cities of equal size.

There is no law against distilling your own spirits. The local alcohol is called "slivovice" (sleeve-o-vitz-e). It is made from plumbs which are plentiful here. People set up cooperatives where the amount of plums that one brings in allows a person to buy a certain amount of the slivovice at cost. There are no taxes involved and it is legal to the best of my knowledge.

2. Gambling

Gambling is legal in the Czech Republic. This is kind of sad actually, because they have these machines in the 24 hour bars that make slot machines seem like your friend. I've watched guys dump so much money into these things, it is insane. I mean, it isn't that much money, but these are guys who you know are on a small salary. It is really sad. There is no regulation like in Vegas. If you are dumb enough to put your money into a machine that has a 20% payout rate, well, you will lose your money than the others. There are plenty of casinos complete with blackjack and all the rest. Nothing like the big gambling centers in Monte Carlo, or Vegas, but they do bring in quite a lot of tourist money. Vegas and Atlantic City are exceptions to this law in the States, but here you can gamble wherever you want. Sports bookies are in every town of any decent size.

3. Prostitution

Prostitution is also legal. This is an area of some concern as it is unregulated and untaxed when done by individuals. They don't allow "pimping" but you can run a house, and there are plenty of them. I say it should be regulated and taxed like any other business. Perhaps a little too much freedom here.

4. Nudity

I don't think there is a public nudity law on the books. It would be strange if there was since there are naked people on the state run television stations all the time, not to mention at the beach. I remember seeing a scene in a movie once where this guy was having his way with his wife in the kitchen up against a china cabinet. It was getting pretty intense and the china sounded like it was going to break, and I realized it was two in the afternoon on a Sunday. I asked my wife if she thought that was strange and she didn't seem to think so at all.

As a corellated point, public urination seems to be legal. I've seen plenty of old guys just whip it out on a city street by a tree or just strait into the gutter. Also, parents usually help their kids urinate in public shamelessly. I've seen a five year old boy with his pants around his ankles pissing into the street at a tramstop with his Mom holding his penis for him. I mean, I'm sure you could get arested for that in the states!

But the prevailing logic here seems to be "if you gotta go, you gotta go." Therefore, children, the elderly, and drunks get a lot of leeway.

5. Liability

There are very few legal liability laws on the books. If you get hurt in an accident you are not entitled to pain and suffering. You could try to sue the company for negligence, but it is an uphill battle: precident is not on your side. This allows for a much greater level of general freedom when attending events and visiting public places as the need for ridiculous safety regulations is eliminated. Of course, normal safety regulations are in place, but only McDonalds prints "contents hot" on their to go coffee (in like 10 languages).

6. Freeways

Speed limits inside the city seem too low to me, but that is for the safety of the people who are not driving: the pedestrians. I figure that is fair. Why should pedestrians have to take a risk for an activity they are not even participating in? In the city, things are set up for pedestrians, and the cars just have to make due. But one you leave the city, you are free.Tthe speed limit on the freeway is about 80 mph. However, anything under 100 is about 99% safe, from the police that is. I usually cruise about 90 and I have never had a problem or even a close call. Plenty of people pass me even when I'm doing 100.

I've always thought it was so strange how strictly speeding laws are enforced in the States. I used to drive up to Mammoth Lakes from Los Angeles. You have to go through the Mojave Desert, and that is the interesting part. Then as you skirt the foothills of the Sierras, nothing changes for hours. There is a huge, beautiful freeway ahead of you, not another car in sight, but if you do 80, sooner or later you are going to get popped. I was pulled over on my motorcycle once doing over 100 mph. I was held at gun point, cuffed, and made to kneel on the highway for about 30 minutes. Then I spent the afternoon in jail before they released me with a speeding ticket. I was on an open road, flat and strait for miles without anyone in sight. I wasn't hurting anyone.

In short, the Czech Republic allows a person to do what they want so long as they don't hurt anyone. Having said that, there is a level of personal responsbility required. You can essentially do what you want, but don't expect that every sidewalk, every door entry, every thing you put in your mount or between your legs is going to be safe. You had better watch what the hell you are doing, because no one is going around in front of you making sure for you.

Freedom can be dangerous. It can be messy. Sometimes freedom brings out the worst in people, and most certainly it allows people to destroy themselves. Freedom comes in many forms, but essentially freedom is being able to do what you want to do. It is not a complicated concept. Generally we agree that the freedom to swing one's fist abrubtly ends at the end of the next person's nose. Freedom is not absolute, nor should it be. But freedom should be about doing what you want without fear of reprisal so long as you don't hurt anyone else.

Having been raised in what was nearly the freest country in the world, I place an elevated premium on freedom. More than anywhere else that I have found, the Czech Republic represents the spirit of freedom that I was raised to cherish.

15 Comments:

  • Previously you had of advised of having to administer bribes for certain things. What type of freedom requires bribes? In addition is there a guarantee to arms? While you may be allowed to own firearms after jumping through some sort of regulatory hoops, it is doubtful that there is any type of actual guarantee that prohibits government confiscation.

    By Anonymous Arch Stanton, at 5:56 AM  

  • There is no regulation that says a bribe has to be paid. At the end of the day, even the bribe money here is less than the licensing fees you pay in the States so take your pick.

    I'm not condoning it. Corruption is a problem, but the $200 bribe we paid to get our apartment has been more than paid back considering we pay about one tenth the property tax we would pay in the States.

    And just ask the people in New Orleans about the Constitutional guarantee that prohibits government confiscation of weapons. LOL!

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 8:21 AM  

  • I never had to pay a bribe to find a place to live. What is your value to tax ratio on property tax? Do you need a TV license to watch broadcast TV?

    I understand about the people of New Orleans and how elected Democrats instructed law enforcement to confiscate their arms. Bush took care of that by singeing into law the Disaster Recovery Personal Protection bill to make sure that Democrats can’t do it again.

    But please, answer the question: Is their a guarantee to arms?

    By Anonymous Arch Stanton, at 3:43 PM  

  • I'll look into it.

    For now, I have the same freedom as you in this regard.

    Barring a revolution, this should not change. Also, considering how your right to Habeas Corpus has been suspended, you should realize that your right to bear arms could be eventually too....irrespective of your Constitutional guarantees.

    The point of the post, which you completely missed, is that I enjoy more freedom on a day to day basis here than I would in the States.

    I'm pretty sure saying "sieg heil" is prohibited, but that doesn't affect my everyday life.

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 6:56 PM  

  • PT,

    If you wish to go there, some resonable people, including me, are going to jam your argument into, up and down various orifices where the sun shineth not.

    Nudity, wrongly I think, offends some pople's sensibilities. I will give you that one.

    As for the freedom to urinate in public, call me a dreamer, call me a fool, but don't you think that the possibility of that practice being a health hazard outweighs whatever "freedom" is involved in its consummation?

    I agree w/ Gregg Easterbrook (see numerous comments on Tuesday Morning Quarterback @ ESPN.com)that gambling is for the most part evil. The NCAA office pool is OK but gambling can be as addictive as nicotine. See Art Schliester.

    Is it freedom to be allowed to play gainst a stacked house or is it permissiveness?

    Prositution: Last time I checked, promiscuity was the major cause of HIV. Is the unregulated practice of prostitution good for public health?

    Public drunkeness. Mostly harmless except to the drinker. That guy on the sidewalk getting his face fried by the sun? If he needed medical attention afterwards, who paid for it?

    Speeding. Some speed limits here are too low. Like the 55 mph in NY state on all roads. On the other hand, there is a public safety issue once you allow unlimited speed. A car traveling 60 mph is traveling 88 ft/second. A car traveluing @ 100 mph is traveling @ 146.66 ft/second. From goal line to almost the 49 yard line in one second. You trust everyone's reactions that much?

    So when Josef Czech Speeder creams you @ 146.66 per/second, if you manage to survive, you deserve nothing for non economic damages? PT, wave your missing limb at your children. Or maybe, when they arrive, they can look @ your empty chair @ the dinner table.

    Although freedom can be defined as "The condition of being free of restarints," in the contexts that you discuss a better definition is "Exemption from the arbitary exercise of authority in the performance of a specific action.

    The key word is "arbitrary."

    The exercise of freedom necessites the exercise of responsibility.

    Reread what you wrote and determine whether what you described was true freedom or mere permissiveness.

    T

    PS Congrats on the Silver and Black's 2 game win streak.

    By Anonymous Tony Sokolow, at 1:03 AM  

  • That's nice to know that "morality" laws, victimless crimes, whatever you want to call them, aren't a concept in the Czech Republic. I knew that was true about Germany/Holland/Scandanavia, but I didn't know that about Eastern Europe. That whole concept of victimless crimes is such a blight on American culture; it must be nice to be away from it.

    About 20 years ago I knew a guy from Italy who was visiting the US. During his visit he got mugged (Italy's crime rate is much lower) and he also got arrested for an open container violation. I'm sure he was wishing the police would catch muggers and quit bothering people who are drinking but not bothering anyone.

    By Anonymous Tom Harper, at 4:33 AM  

  • Tony,

    On urination, I'm not a doctor, but isn't urine steril and non-toxic? What kind of health hazzard could it pose? It isn't like people are pissing all over the place.

    Add to the equation that 40% of Czechs have dogs who piss all over the place. I think the reasoning is something like this: An 80 year old man who has worked his whole life should have at least the same rights as a dog.

    You point out that gambling can be as addictive as nicotine. Well, since you mention it, why is nicotine legal in the States when it causes more deaths that Alcohol, soft drugs, hard drugs, and auto accidents combined? Where is the logic in that?

    With regards to gambling and prostitution, I think more regulation is necessary, but prohibition just excaserbates the problem.

    Regulation of prostitution doesn't lead to safe sex, common sense does. The hookers generally require and provide condoms. The ones that don't, well, if you are stupid enough to go there unprotected, you hurt.

    Public drunkeness: if the guy needed medical attention, it would be provided as we have social medicine. I'm sure we could treat the same guy 50 times here for the cost of one treatment in the States. Again, if society will take care of smokers, they should also take care of sunburn man.

    Speeding: I should hope that most people should be able to handle a vehicle that is going 4 times the speed of a linebacker. Driving unsafely, tailgating, drunk driving and the rest are all punishable by law. My view is that speed doesn't kill on it's own. Usually it is stupidity or stupidity mixed with speed.

    I could be killed by any number of things. How about getting killed in the states by someone who has been drinking but is under the legal limit? If Joe Czech is at fault, he can go to prison for killing me, drunk or not.

    I made this point in the post which you echoed...

    The exercise of freedom necessites the exercise of responsibility.

    Precisely. This is what we expect of people.

    You focus on "arbitrary" is well taken, but if you start figure safety as a major factor, all sorts of things could be banned. Cars are "unsafe at any speed" yet we do not ban them. What about bathtubs? Should they be banned as well? I hear they are more dangerous than jet planes.

    You could find a reason to ban just about anything if you looked hard enough, and therefore it wouldn't be arbitrary. But in my view, that still encroaches on freedom.

    Also, think about how hypocritical the laws are in the states. You can drink, but you can't be drunk. Where is the logic there?

    Permissiveness is the gateway to freedom.

    We can argue where to draw the line for the greatest collective good, but from a purely freedom based point of view, I think CZ has USA beat hands down.

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 4:01 PM  

  • PT

    Quick question: Are male, native born Czech citizens expected to serve in the military?

    By Anonymous Arch Stanton, at 7:24 PM  

  • Sounds good. I hear Prague is beautiful too. I could tour the CZ factory. Now I'm hearing that stupid George Michaels song. Gotta go.

    By Blogger Roger Fraley, at 2:08 AM  

  • Roger

    You a shooter?

    By Anonymous Arch Stanton, at 3:23 AM  

  • Tom,

    The thought that has gone through my mind every time I'm being hassled by the police for victimless crimes is, "don't these guys have real criminals to be chasing?"

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 7:44 AM  

  • Arch,

    Mandatory service is ending, or has ended. I believe it ended last year, but I can check. I know that Roger shoots guns, but rumor has it not very well.
    Btw, your email is down.

    Roger,

    Come on over. George Michael is very popular here so you'll feel right at home.

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 7:46 AM  

  • PT

    So I guess then that for quite some time the trade of for peeing in the street and being able to get naked was manditory service in the military. Not a bad trade.

    By Anonymous Arch Stanton, at 3:07 PM  

  • Mandatory service is over. It has been for over a year. You could also do civil service instead when it still existed.

    It was a relic from communism that they finally got rid of.

    By Blogger Praguetwin, at 1:28 PM  

  • is it very unusual for you? I'm not surprised when see such things in the streets

    By Anonymous hotelsinprague, at 5:00 PM  

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