Tags: law

Yet more on the nanny state

In August, a New York City police officer died while out boating with his son. The son survived. It was tragic, and on all the news. It's still a sad story, and now the officer's widow is trying to make some good come of his death.

Unfortunately, her goal is to further enhance the nanny state. As reported on ABC today (see this article), she's urging the adoption of a law which "would require anyone on a watercraft smaller than 21 feet to wear a life jacket at all times."

I feel for her loss, but I question her goal in this case. Is she saying that the only reason her husband wasn't wearing a life jacket is that there was no such law, or that, if there had been such a law, he would still be alive? Surely rational adults can make such decisions for themselves, even without another law on the books.

Now I know this isn't a law, isn't even being debated in any legislative body, but it's the type of thing that can move through a legislature very quickly, and the type of law that we really don't need on the books.

It's so bad, let's just... hope it goes away.

Every time I see or hear one of the anti-smoking ads paid for by the tobacco companies, I think again of the absurdity of the tobacco industry and its relationship to the US government. And today, the big news is that the Senate passed a bill to further regulate tobacco (see this New York Times article, for example). Oh boy.

Disclaimer up front: I know full well the reason the tobacco industry hasn't been outlawed is the large amount of tax dollars it pumps into the government coffers, and the huge "campaign contributions" the industry makes to politicians.

But the rational part of my brain says: "What the hell does the government think it's doing?" Every study in the past 40 years has said "Smoking is bad. It's dangerous. It kills." Recent court rulings have forced tobacco companies to pay for advertising saying precisely that. And yet, tobacco products are available for sale just about everywhere.

The Times caught the irony of this lead story in its first paragraph: "The Senate voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to impose federal regulation on cigarettes and other forms of tobacco, passing a landmark bill to empower the Food and Drug Administration to control products that eventually kill half their regular users." We know that tobacco use kills its users, yet we as a society are unwilling to outlaw it. Edward Kennedy is quoted as saying "This long-overdue grant of authority to F.D.A. to regulate tobacco products means that the agency can finally take the actions needed to protect our people from the most deadly of all consumer products." What is unsaid is that the way the government normally "protects our people from the most deadly of all consumer products" is to remove them from a position of being deadly. But because it's tobacco, one of the crops on which the country was founded, it's protected.


If the government really wants to protect its citizens from tobacco, outlaw it. Anything less is stupid, meaningless posturing. Does this new bill make any sense? Of course not.

Of course, my argument is completely at odds with my own view of government's role: I don't think we need the government to "regulate" tobacco. I think we, as human beings, need to be smart enough to not start using products that will kill us. We don't need the government to be our nursemaid, to say "this is dangerous, you really shouldn't do it," while at the same time saying "it's okay, go ahead."

All the self-congratulatory bullshit is sticking in my craw. Congress is so happy with the bill because President Obama was a co-sponsor of it when he was in the Senate, and he's said he'll sign it, and they're happy that they're finally doing something to show it's dangerous. The final bill passed the Senate by a vote of 79-17. If they're so fucking scared of big tobacco money being used against them in their next campaigns, why not go all the way? Outlaw tobacco as a consumer product. That would certainly stem the flow of tobacco-funded campaign contributions as retribution.


In the news: the FCC proves once again it's got its collective head up its BLEEP

In a victory solely for procedure, but a case that is increasingly becoming a joke, the Supreme Court upheld the Federal Communications Commission's "crackdown on profanity on television, a policy that subjects broadcasters to fines for airing a single expletive blurted out on a live show," (see this article).

The Court ruled that the FCC is consistent in its application of the policy, without actually commenting on the Constitutionality of the policy. The ruling was 5-4, but the prize has to go to Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote in the dissenting opinion that it is ironic that the FCC patrols the airwaves for words that have a tenuous link with sex and excrement while commercials during prime-time hours ask viewers if they "are battling erectile dysfunction or are having trouble going to the bathroom."


"A Senior Fellow at the Institute of Non-Existence" by Richard Perez-Pina: Story about a very involved hoax by two film-makers to create a political adviser and source, and how many news sources were taken in by the hoax, by not doing their research.

"10 Commandments vs. 7 Aphorisms: A New Religion Covets Legitimacy" by Jess Bravin: More on the Summum attempt to have their aphorisms on a monument in a public park (see earlier post). This one also brings up the fact that the religion's founder died and is currently being mummified, which I seem to have missed elsewhere.

"Obama's Car Puzzle" by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.: Editorial about the death spiral the Detroit automakers are experiencing, claiming it dates back 30 or so years, rather than 5. An attempt to inject some rationality into what looks to be another very expensive, and ultimately unproductive, government intervention.

"An English Lesson" by Jonathan Freedland: Interesting op-ed comparing the electoral experience of England's Conservative Party to the upcoming Republican Party.


"How East River Bridges Stayed Toll-Free" by Sewell Chan: an overview of discussions to charge tolls for the four East River bridges in New York City (though it's curiously brief on the original tolls charged on the Brooklyn Bride, and what happened to them). Once again, I think we've found a debate that would disappear if we would stop looking at taxes as something distinct from government, and the government would merely come out and say "Look, these are the services you want. This is how much it's going to cost, so here's what everyone has to pay."

"Maldives Considers Buying Dry Land if Seas Rise" by Andrew C. Revkin: We've heard about the Maldives, and other island nations, whose physical existence is threatened if sea levels rise. But now comes word that the new president is setting up a fund with which the country might buy land somewhere else to give his people a refuge. I'm trying to think if it's ever happened that an entire country has moved from one physical location to another through peaceful means (not things like the Louisiana Purchase, where one country expanded its boundaries by buying land from another, but like buying a new house and moving). Anyone know?

"From Tiny Sect, Weighty Issues for Justices" by Adam Liptak: The article itself brings up an interesting debate on privately donated monuments on public land, revisiting the issue of which religious symbols should be displayed with the imprimatur of the government. But this article also introduced me to the Summum, which I'd never heard of. This is Wikipedia's article on the group, and here's Wiki's article on their belief, SUMMUM.

I haven't read much of the group's own web site, but you have to admire a religion that, on its mission and purpose page, quotes The Matrix: "I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it."

This got me wondering what sf movie lines other religions might use as descriptives or tag lines. I didn't dig too deeply into either the films or the religions, but here's a start:

Fundamental Christianity: "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" —Planet of the Apes

Catholicism: Obi-Wan: "You were the chosen one! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them. You were to bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness."
Anakin: "I hate you."
Obi-Wan: "You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you." —Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith

Buddhism: "Always look on the bright side of life." —Monty Python's Life of Bryan

Judaism: "Life's a piece of shit…" —Monty Python's Life of Bryan

Baha'i: "We have come to visit you in peace and with goodwill." —The Day the Earth Stood Still

Scientology: Uhura: "It could hold a crew of… tens of thousands."
Bones: "Or a crew of a thousand ten miles tall." —Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Tell me I'm wrong. Tell me you've got a better one.

They say justice, but they mean vengeance

For those of you outside New York City who may not have heard, a quick recap:

A year and a half ago, three policemen shot at and killed a man named Sean Bell, and injured his companions. The cops were indicted, tried, and recently acquitted of any wrongdoing in the death.

Now Bell's fiancee, friends, and relatives—all whipped into a frenzy by Al Sharpton—are protesting across the City. (Here's one article on the current events.)

When it all started, they were quite verbal, demanding an indictment against the cops ("justice"), and they got it. When the defense requested a change of venue to outside New York, the Sharpton & Co. were loud in their opposition to the motion, and they won ("justice"). Then the three were tried on various charges, in open court, accordingly to the law of the land… and they were acquitted.

Now the protestors are marching, demonstrating, blocking traffic, and chanting their favorite slogan: "No justice, no peace" (actually, I kind of liked Sharpton's comment when the verdict was announced: "This wasn't a miscarriage of justice. It was an abortion of justice." Gotta love that man).

I fully support their right to protest, to peaceably assemble for redress of grievances, to march, to shout, whatever. They're not doing anything wrong. But where do they get off saying they haven't received justice? Justice is a fair trial according to the law. Their version of justice, apparently, was not a fair trial. Their version of justice is a conviction, and only a conviction. Well if they'd said that before the whole rigamarole started, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and heartache. They don't want justice: they wanted vengeance. Why can't they just say so?