Freddie deBoer, one of the few liberals I genuinely enjoy reading, has a great post on how our country has turned into a nation of tattle-tales. Money quote:
The woke world is a world of snitches, informants, rats. Go to any space concerned with social justice and what will you find? Endless surveillance. Everybody is to be judged. Everyone is under suspicion. Everything you say is to be scoured, picked over, analyzed for any possible offense. Everyone’s a detective in the Division of Problematics, and they walk the beat 24/7. You search and search for someone Bad doing Bad Things, finding ways to indict writers and artists and ordinary people for something, anything. That movie that got popular? Give me a few hours and 800 words. I’ll get you your indictments. That’s what liberalism is, now — the search for baddies doing bad things, like little offense archaeologists, digging deeper and deeper to find out who’s Good and who’s Bad. I wonder why people run away from establishment progressivism in droves.
This has now reached overdrive with Trump in power. Now granted, Trump is ineffective and possibly corrupt. But the tendency over the last four months has been to go nuclear about everything. Even harmless little jokes are made into the Outrage of the Hour.
Liberals aren’t the only ones becoming Constant Guardians of Morality, of course. But the tendency in our culture to mind everyone else’s business is alarming and ultimately destructive. At some point, we have to start leaving each other the hell alone.
One thing we need to dispense with is this curious notion that progressives are all about personal autonomy and choice. They aren’t. They’re that way about abortion. But they believe strongly that every other choice in life needs to be made for you by a benevolent government.
Progressives don’t think you should have a choice about healthcare, retirement or education. Your kids should go to the nearest school, you should get Obamacare (or better, single payer) and government-controlled Social Security is enough for the likes of you.
Progressives have backed off efforts to lower the drinking age. A number support bigger taxes on alcohol because they think it will cut consumption.
Progressives are mixed on the War on Drugs and many support keeping sex work illegal.
Numerous progressives favor a “soda tax” to cut consumption, praised Bloomberg for outlawing Big Gulps and want to use the food stamp program to control people’s appetites.
The latest is the long running War on Smoking. Not content with massive taxes, bans in public places, bans in private places and rules on smuggling that end up with street vendors selling “loosies” getting killed by cops, they now want to raise the age to buy cigarettes to 21 (because raising the drinking age worked so well). California is the second state to do this.
Now put aside the hilariously optimistic projections of how many lives this will save. Such projections have always turned out to be way too optimistic (see, e.g., lowering the speed limit to 55). Note the tone of the Vox piece: personal choice is irrelevant. What matters is the effect. If it means even one fewer person smoking, then eating away at the freedom of people old enough to fight in Iraq is worth it. There is no consideration, none whatsoever, to the idea of personal freedom … the seemingly quaint notion that if someone want to wreck their health, that’s their prerogative.
This is what progressivism has always been, since it slithered into existence a century ago: personal freedom doesn’t matter, all humans are assets and the laws should be written to maximize the utility of those assets to the state. Freedom and choice don’t matter; policy does. It’s why early progressivism favored things like alcohol prohibition, sex work prohibition and eugenics (seriously). They wanted to, as Mal Reynolds would say, make people better. And they still do.
I used to smoke but I don’t anymore. I regret ever having taken up the habit and I hope my children never do. But that should be their choice. An 18-year-old is an adult. They are more than capable of deciding whether or not to do something as stupid as smoking.
I hope you guys had a good Fourth yesterday. Knowing the readership of this blog, I’m sure you were well aware of the significance of the date and what it really means. What struck me last night, as I thought about it, is how little independence actually remains to us and how great an ongoing effort there is — cheered by various pundits — to squash what independence remains to us. In the world of the progressives (and some neocons) we would:
No longer have what little independence we have to choose our schools. Home schooling and private schools would be regulated like the public schools.
No longer have the independence to choose our healthcare or our retirement. Social Security would be expanded and single payer healthcare implemented, funded with taxes on wealth.
No longer have the independence to speak, thanks to speech codes and anti-hate-speech laws.
No longer have the independence of religion or conscience. For example, we could be fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding, even thought we are not a public accommodation.
No longer have the independence of free press. Campaigns would be publicly financed; films like “Hillary: the Movie” would be illegal to show before an election and laws like SOPA would tightly control what we put on the internet. Not to mention “the right to be forgotten” and a crackdown on anonymous posting and commenting (see the federal investigation into Reason’s commenters). Hell, you might even find reporters happily submitting to being roped off like sheep and asking only milquetoast questions of a major Presidential candidate.
No longer have freedom of association. For example, we would be forced to do “volunteer” work to finish publish schooling.
Trial by jury, innocent until proven guilty, right to council … these would be outdated concepts. Our college campuses would be but testbeds for the legal regime they would like to impose on us. And entire communities, including poor ones, would be turned upside down and vigorously shaken to pry revenue from them.
We would live in a police state where the government has unlimited authority to spy on us, arrest us, detain us and harass us.
And that’s just the beginning.
Robert Heinlein famously said: “Political tags – such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth – are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.” We are overrun with the former. And the latter had better get their shit together.
So over the last few years, the health fascists have been telling us to avoid saturated fats in favor of trans fats. According to their analysis, using trans fats will prevent thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of heart atta- ..
That’s what they were saying. Now they are saying that trans fats are the quintessence of evil, a mass murderer of our body politic, something that needs to be banned forthwith and its inventors shot so that the knowledge of how to make trans fats may be extinguished. And yesterday, the FDA caved, calling for trans fats to be gotten rid of within three years (having been pushed by lawsuits from food nannies).
It’s frank paternalism. Like high-calorie foods or alcoholic beverages, trans fats have marked risks when consumed in quantity over long periods, smaller risks in moderate and occasional use, and tiny risks when used in tiny quantities. The FDA intends to forbid the taking of even tiny risks, no matter how well disclosed.
The public is also perfectly capable of recognizing and acting on nutritional advances on its own. Trans fats have gone out of style and consumption has dropped by 85 percent as consumers have shunned them. But while many products have been reformulated to omit trans fats, their versatile qualities still give them an edge in such specialty applications as frozen pizza crusts, microwave popcorn, and the sprinkles used atop cupcakes and ice cream. Food companies tried to negotiate to keep some of these uses available, especially in small quantities, but apparently mostly failed.
Even if you never plan to consume a smidgen of trans fat ever again, note well: many public health advocates are itching for the FDA to limit allowable amounts of salt, sugar, caffeine, and so forth in food products. Many see this as their big pilot project and test case. But when it winds up in court, don’t be surprised if some courtroom spectators show up wearing buttons with the old Sixties slogan: Keep Your Laws Off My Body.
Olson also points out that you don’t just ban trans fats; you have to switch to something else. That something else may be palm oil, coconut oil or genetically-modified soybean oil, all of which come with known and unknown health risks.
Anyone want to lay bets on when those oils will turn out to be dangerous? Anyone want to lay bets on how fast we’ll find out that the danger of trans fats has been wildly overestimated?
You can read more from Baylen Linniken, including the details of how this ban came about. What’s striking, however, is the complete and total lack of skepticism in the supposedly fact-based left wing. Vox has run several articles that repeated the health tyrants claims without any skepticism (despite having run numerous articles about how most scientific studies are garbage). Major media networks have mindlessly repeated the FDA’s shaky claim that this will save 7,000 lives a year. None of them have asked with it is the governments business to do this. All of them see this as some sort of progressive victory.
To hell with this. Trans fats are not poison. They are (probably) bad for you. But it’s not the FDA’s job to make us eat right. That’s our job. Their job is to make sure the food supply is safe. Trans fats aren’t nearly deadly enough to warrant a ban. They aren’t even as deadly as the horribly low-salt low-fat high-carb diet the health experts have been pushing on us for decades.
Whenever the governments give you money, it comes with government control. To wit:
FROM urban ghettos to declining inner-ring suburbs to destitute rural areas, Americans with little money live in “food deserts” where it is hard to find fresh fruits and vegetables
Stop right there. We’re one sentence in and we’ve already got a problem. Food deserts are a myth. They’ve long been known to be a myth. The writers try to revive this myth with two bizarre measures. One is the number of grocery stores per zip code, which basically means nothing. The population per zip code varies wildly in the United States. My zip code has 40,000 people in it. My uncle’s, living a major city, has 9000. The population of New York City’s zip codes vary by tens of thousands, which is to say nothing of how business zoning varies. This smells like a metric picked for the conclusion. You can contrast it against the study in the link above, which actually looked at 8000 poor children to see how many grocery stores they had in their neighborhoods.
The second number is the amount of shelf space devoted to junk food vs. fresh food. But junk food has more shelf space because 1) they’re including convenience stores, which are supposed to be for a quick grab of something, not grocery shopping; 2) junk food keeps in a way that fresh food doesn’t; and 3) there are four million varieties of soda and chips; most stores carry maybe one or two brands of apples. Moreover, location is important: fresh food shelf space tends to be the first thing you encounter in a store.
Justified by these distortions, they then go on to argue that the food stamp program should be used as a cudgel to force poor people to eat good food:
Food stamps can’t be used to buy cigarettes or alcohol — why not simply add junk food to that ban? In 2011, the Agriculture Department turned down a proposal to restrict the use of food stamps in New York City to buy sugary drinks. Officials said the proposal was too complicated for retailers. But in the background was fierce resistance to the proposal from the beverage industry and its friends in the grocery industry.
The department should give financial incentives to food stamp users to buy healthy food, and should also reconsider its hesitation about restricting the use of food stamps to buy junk food.
They also recommend coercing the stores:
To participate in SNAP, stores must meet certain federal standards. Under the current standards, a store can qualify by stocking a small number of offerings of bread, canned vegetables, meat, milk and cheese, even if they are hidden away in a dusty corner.
The Agriculture Department should simply require that stores that accept food stamps use more of their shelf space — say, a minimum of 20 feet — for healthy foods. And it should set a limit on the use of shelf space for displaying junk food, perhaps with a simple rule of no more space for junk than for fruits and vegetables. This plan would put nutritious food within sight and reach.
They point to some studies that claim this would increase consumption of health foods. Given the junk stats they use on food deserts and their failure to link the aforementioned studies, I will assume that they have misinterpreted these studies. I also say that because the one study they do link to, they misquote. They claim that people consumed more healthy food after WIC implemented a similar requirement for participation. But that study only looks at store inventory, not consumption. It comes to the unsurprising conclusion that when you force stores to stock more healthy food, they stock more healthy food. If you are a behaviorist Nanny Stater who thinks people are empty vessels whose dining habits are controlled by the amount of shelf space devoted to fresh food, the difference between those concept might evade you.
Keep in mind also: there’s a history here. LA tried to ban new fast food stores from low income areas. Obesity actually increased after this. So people in poor areas were denied jobs working in fast food joints to no discernible benefit. Now these clowns want to hit convenience stores and bodegas — often stores run by working poor and operating on the margin — to stock food that no one is going to eat.
And we wonder why poverty remains entrenched.
I always keep in mind what Ta-Nehisi Coates had to say about this (the Atlantic is timing out on me; I’ll update with a link when I can find it). If you’re poor and especially if you are working poor, junk food is one of the few vices you can afford. It’s one of the few that won’t wreck your life in the process (at least not right away). For a couple of well-off liberals to swan in and try to take that away with an ill-advised and ill-informed effort at “public health” is … well … you know the Left talks about privilege? That’s what this is.
And it’s a picnic compared to what’s coming when our government will be giving you “free” healthcare.
One of the fantasies being pushed around in progressive circles is the idea of “national food policy”. I’ve been mulling this article for a few months and have finally decided on a response. Here is their case:
The food system and the diet it’s created have caused incalculable damage to the health of our people and our land, water and air. If a foreign power were to do such harm, we’d regard it as a threat to national security, if not an act of war, and the government would formulate a comprehensive plan and marshal resources to combat it. (The administration even named an Ebola czar to respond to a disease that threatens few Americans.) So when hundreds of thousands of annual deaths are preventable — as the deaths from the chronic diseases linked to the modern American way of eating surely are — preventing those needless deaths is a national priority.
The national food policy could be developed and implemented by a new White House council, which would coordinate among, say, the Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA to align agricultural policies with public health objectives, and the EPA and the USDA to make sure food production doesn’t undermine environmental goals. A national food policy would lay the foundation for a food system in which healthful choices are accessible to all and in which it becomes possible to nourish ourselves without exploiting other people or nature
They then go on to list a smorgasbord of Nanny State desires: restrictions on advertising, farm policies guided by environmental concerns (because starvation is a good cure for obesity), a “fair wage” for people in the food industry (because food made at minimum wage makes you fatter), humane animal treatment, sequestering farmland for global warming purposes and making sure “all Americans have access to health food”. The last one is particularly odd because all Americans do have access to healthy food. The so-called “food deserts” are a myth. The problem is that too many people choose to eat junk.
Reading it again, I’m struck by the ignorance and panic-mongering. To give one example: farming has become much more environmentally friendly over the last couple of decades thanks to improved methods, technological advances and genetic engineering. We are feeding more people on less land than we used to.
As a practical matter, this plan is utter nonsense and transparently authoritarian. In the past I have used the term “food system” as shorthand for the industrial paradigm of food production, but for Bittman et al. to talk about the “food system” in such a way exposes it for the ridiculous concept it really is. There is no “food system,” not in the sense of a truly unified body of fully interdependent constituent parts: the “food system” is actually composed of millions of individuals acting privately and voluntarily, in different cities, counties, and states, as part of different companies and corporations and individual businesses, in elective concert with each other and with the rest of the world. To speak if it as a single “system” is deeply misguided, at least insofar as it is not a single entity but an endlessly complex patchwork of fully autonomous beings.
Here’s the thing. We don’t have to speculate whether government food policy would be a good thing or a bad thing. We know. We already have a raft of government food policies and they have been a disaster. Our government has spent decades pushing food policies that helped create the very problems these authors lament. And it was based on special interests, nannyism and junk science.
Our government spent years telling us how bad salt was for us. The health nuts wanted dietary salt restricted by law. They have now been forced to admit that the salt guideline they pushed on us for decades was unhealthily low and that salt intake is only important to high-risk individuals.
After years of telling us that cholesterol was evil, they’ve had to admit it’s not that harmful. After years of pushing us away from animal fats toward trans fats, they had to reverse course when it turned out trans fats were worse than animal fats. Ron Bailey today summed up just how wrong the nannies were.
Most of the government’s recommendations were derived from “consensus statements” based largely on the results of observational epidemiological studies. The new revisions tend to be based on prospective epidemiological studies and random controlled trials. Observational studies may be good at developing hypotheses, but they are mostly not a good basis for making behavioral recommendations and imposing regulations.
(I would add that the low-fat fad had its origin in the seriously flawed and possibly fraudulent Seven Countries study.)
The thing is that all these supposed menaces were presented with absolute certainty. Salt was evil. Animal fats were killing us. Cholesterol was destroying America. Organizations like the Center for Pseudoscience in the Private Interest would label foods as lethal and scream for restrictions and bans. People who dared to question them were branded as tools of “industry”.
We’re still not done. Our government spends billions of dollars subsidizing food production and targets subsidies toward the foods that are the least healthy. It is spending enormous amount of money and destroying our freedom to get us to burn ethanol. That is, it wants us to burn food in an engine-destroying, atmosphere-polluting, greenhouse-gas belching special interest orgy.
Under Obama, school lunches have been made almost inedible and high schoolers are going hungry. Day care centers will soon be forced to limit juice and ban fried foods. The condescending privilege is so thick you can taste it. The Obama people think every school and daycare in the country can run down to Whole Foods and pick up some low-fat, low-sugar organic produce that never casts a shadow. And then they wonder why daycare is so expensive.
Yet somehow, these decades of failure, decades of misguided policy, decades of junk science, decades of lunacy are seen not as a reason to hesitate but as justification to exert more control over America’s diet. Because with the progressives it never really is about facts; it’s about control.
The latest demon du jour is sugar. Progressives are calling for restrictions on sugar based on the rantings of crackpots like Robert Lustig, who claims sugar is a “dangerous drug” and “poison”. With more junk science in tow and such insane abuse of the English language, the nannies are now advocating for a sugar tax, specifically on the most vile of concoctions — sugary drinks — to … well, it’s not clear what.
The stupidity of that is simply mind-boggling because our government already spends billions of dollars driving down the cost of sugary drinks through farm subsidies. So they want to tax us once to make sure we have enough high fructose corn syrup to keep us fat and happy. And then they want to tax us again to keep us from drinking our subsidized drinks.
(Lustig, in a moment of sanity, at least acknowledges that we eat lots of sugary stuff because the government subsidizes it and advocates for eliminating those subsidies.)
That’s to say nothing of progressive opposition to genetic engineering, free trade and other innovations that have made our food safer, healthier, cheaper, more plentiful and more environmentally friendly than ever before.
I’m with Penn. Fuck these busybodies. Let’s put aside the arguments about freedom and personal responsibility — even though those are the most important ones. Let’s concentrate on this: they have been wrong, over and over again. If the had the power twenty years ago that they want now we’d have less food, less money, more obesity, worse health and a dirtier environment.
I’m sure the only reason this hasn’t happened more often is because no one had ever thought of it:
Last summer a pregnant Italian mother flew to England for a two-week Ryanair training course at Stansted. Staying at an airport hotel, she had something of a panic attack when she couldn’t find the passports for her two daughters, who were with her mother back in Italy. She called the police, who arrived at her room when she was on the phone to her mother. The police asked to speak to the grandmother, who explained that her daughter was probably over-excited because she suffered from a “bipolar” condition and hadn’t been taking her medication to calm her down.
The police told the mother that they were taking her to hospital to “make sure that the baby was OK”. On arrival, she was startled to see that it was a psychiatric hospital, and said she wanted to go back to her hotel. She was restrained by orderlies, sectioned under the Mental Health Act and told that she must stay in the hospital.
By now Essex social services were involved, and five weeks later she was told she could not have breakfast that day. When no explanation was forthcoming, she volubly protested. She was strapped down and forcibly sedated, and when she woke up hours later, found she was in a different hospital and that her baby had been removed by caesarean section while she was unconscious and taken into care by social workers. She was not allowed to see her baby daughter, and later learnt that a High Court judge, Mr Justice Mostyn, had given the social workers permission to arrange for the child to be delivered. In October, at a hearing before another judge, she was represented by lawyers assigned to her by the local authority and told she would be escorted back to Italy without her baby.
The mother is back on her medication now (she was likely off due to the pregnancy). But the authorities refuse to give her daughter back. The Chelmsford court says they can’t risk her going off the meds, since, apparently, in the UK, no parent is ever off their meds. The Italian authorities concluded that they can’t do anything because she didn’t protest her treatment at the time — you know, that time when she was confused and disoriented in a foreign country and was sectioned anyway. Her ex-husband has tried to adopt, but the courts say he has no blood tie. Unless someone steps in, she will never get her child back. Even is she does, she has already missed the first year and a half of her child’s life.
Now this is an extremely rare event so we shouldn’t read too much into it, right? Wrong. In this country, we’ve had children yanked out of parents arms for being obese. We’ve had children put into foster care because their parents had some pot. We’ve had babies ripped from their mothers’ arms because they ate a poppy seed bagel. And custody battles are often decided in favor of whoever is the worst helicopter parent.
One of the running themes of the Nanny State is that you are not a good enough parent. Your child has too high a BMI! And what’s that scrape on their knee? Do I smell booze on your breath? Are those cigarette butts? Who did you vote for? For God’s sake, are you using formula to feed your newborn?! What kind of monster are you? And the Nannies see Britain — with its sectioning and ASBO’s — as a shadowy model for what they want to build here.
But surely even the Nannies would draw the line at an invasive medical procedure, right? Wrong. Just a few weeks ago, we found out about David Eckert. He was pulled over for a routine traffic stop but officers thought, based on a drug dog alert and him seeming to clinch his butt cheeks, that he had drugs in his rectum. Then this happened:
Mr. Eckert released medical records to local reporters, who reviewed them and noted that the following things were done to him by doctors and staff at Gila Regional Medical Center:
1. Eckert’s abdominal area was x-rayed; no narcotics were found.
2. Doctors then performed an exam of Eckert’s anus with their fingers; no narcotics were found.
3. Doctors performed a second exam of Eckert’s anus with their fingers; no narcotics were found.
4. Doctors penetrated Eckert’s anus to insert an enema. Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers. Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool. No narcotics were found.
5. Doctors penetrated Eckert’s anus to insert an enema a second time. Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers. Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool. No narcotics were found.
6. Doctors penetrated Eckert’s anus to insert an enema a third time. Eckert was forced to defecate in front of doctors and police officers. Eckert watched as doctors searched his stool. No narcotics were found.
7. Doctors then x-rayed Eckert again; no narcotics were found.
8. Doctors prepared Eckert for surgery, sedated him, and then performed a colonoscopy where a scope with a camera was inserted into Eckert’s anus, rectum, colon, and large intestines. No narcotics were found.
Allow me to repeat: no narcotics were ever found during Mr. Eckert’s encounter with police and doctors.
Throughout this ordeal, Eckert protested and never gave doctors at the Gila Regional Medical Center consent to perform any of these medical procedures.
This is coming, folks. One day, we will read that some American woman has had her baby literally ripped from her belly, most likely in the name of the War on Drugs. Let’s not say we didn’t see it coming.
I’ve been sitting on this story for a day, hoping against hope that it was all a big misunderstanding or a prank or satire (a few weeks ago, I almost got fooled by the “playing sports without balls” radio story). But I have yet to see a debunking, so:
Linn’s Stamp News reports that the US Postal Service will destroy the entire press run of a stamp series aimed at getting children to be more active. According to Linn’s reporter Bill McAllister, three of the stamps in the fifteen stamp series raised safety concerns among sports figures on the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. The stamps in question depicted children performing a cannonball dive, skateboarding without kneepads, and doing a headstand without a helmet. The unsafe depictions came to light after USPS Marketing chief Nagisa Manabe asked Michelle Obama to take part in a first day ceremony for the stamps. That was apparently the first time the stamps had been reviewed by the Sports Council
I don’t have a problem with FLOTUS’s “Just Move!” campaign. I’m dubious it will be effective but if it gets a few kids to pry their lardy asses off of a few couches, it will probably be the biggest single achievement of this Administration. But … come on. Who does a headstand with a helmet? Who doesn’t do a cannonball? Since when is a cannonball unsafe?
Someone on the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition needs to come up with a better explanation, an apology or a debunking. Because if this story is real, it shows that the disease of Helicopter Parenting has infested the highest levels of …
If any of you are of an artistic bent, I will post any version of our national seal that meets those requirements.
The tweet itself was based on this, sent to me by Harley:
All cars could be fitted with devices that stop them going over 70mph, under new EU road safety measures which aim to cut deaths from road accidents by a third.
Stop right there. This, you may remember, was the one of the justifications for our own national speed limit of 55. The supporters claimed it would save, conservatively, four hundred million lives a year. In fact, fatalities dropped a few thousand after it was implemented but regressed back to the mean by 1978. Since 1978, they have been in a free-fall, declining 50% despite the repeal of the national speed limit. The main reasons? Improving technology and tougher laws against drunk driving. (More on this at my own blog here). So any claim that this will cut deaths by a third is almost certainly bullshit.
(Moreover, I can imagine many situations where speed limiters would actually create greater danger. I — and probably every other driver in America — has encountered situations where I had to speed to avoid a danger, such as getting boxed into a slow car or passing a car that was in my blind spot before the lane ended. I guarantee you that an automated speed limiter will kill people. Whether it kills more than it saves is questionable. But always remember that air bags — which have saved lives — have also killed some people who would have otherwise lived. The balance of lives is in favor of airbags. It’s unclear on speed limits. And it’s really unclear on cars that literally can’t speed, even assuming the tech works as advertised.)
The report is from anonymous sources in the UK papers, so it’s not clear how real the threat is. And to be fair, the officials who will go on the record are opposing it on Big Brother grounds. So this is unlikely to happen anytime soon, even if it really is on some EU idiot’s radar.
But I have little doubt that there are many politicians — Mike Bloomberg leaps to mind — who would love to do this. They’ll cite safety, even though there’s no evidence of any safety gains. They’ll cite global warming, even though the fuel efficiency losses at high speed are smaller than you’d get just by buying a more fuel-efficient car.
But the real reason, as Burge indicates, is because they just don’t like people. They don’t like people unbound by rules and regulations. They don’t like people making their own decisions. They don’t like people determining their own destinies. No technological advance has been more emblematic of freedom and self-determination than the automobile. I can get in my car and literally go anywhere without anyone’s permission or sanction (at least until my wife gets home). Nanny Staters hate that, hence their enthusiasm for mass-transit boondoggles like light rail and street cars and hence, assuming the technology comes around, their inevitable enthusiasm for speed-limited cars.
Senator Lautenberg, in the wake of the Boston bombing, is calling for background checks for people buying explosive powder. Yes, Best Magazine on the Planet?
Purchasing commercial gunpowder is a nice convenience for hobbyists because it provides consistent powder of known quality and stability. But making stuff blow up is not hard. I can’t be the only person who scorched part of his home as a kid with black powder concocted from a library book recipe. Cormac McCarthy’s excellent Blood Meridian includes a rather detailed recipe for making a large quantity of the stuff while running for your life.
Nastier explosives can be concocted with ease, too. I had a high school chemistry teacher who delighted in pranking his colleagues with nitrogen triiodide. Not hard stuff to make, as it turns out.
Even simple flour can explode under the right circumstances (see the photo up above) — those circumstances occurring all too easily for those who manufacture the stuff or store large quantities [Hal – as we tragically found out last night]. The bloody Oklahoma City bombing was committed with an explosive made from common fertilizer and fuel oil. The fact of the matter is, preventing stuff from burning or blowing up can sometimes be a trickier task than causing explosions. So many common ingredients, from gasoline to sugar, can be used to cause mayhem, that Lautenberg’s further proposal to “[m]ake it illegal to manufacture homemade explosives without a permit,” falls just shy of a ban on naughty thoughts in terms of unenforceability.
Background checks are rapidly becoming our nation’s answer to animal sacrifices: a ritual that we hope will banish evil law-breaking spirits. In some applications — like controlling nuclear weapons — they are useful. But they are not the answer to everything. And they can not override the basic laws of chemistry which dictate that explosives can be created by anyone with sufficient knowledge.
I can’t tell if Lautenberg is senile, a lawhead or a senile lawhead but this has to rank up there with the most ridiculous responses to the Boston killing (the single most ridiculous is CNN’s self-beclowning “news coverage”). I’m sure that Lautenberg will soon see the flaw in this and propose something different. Maybe banning the Star Trek episode Arena.