Tagged: Think of the Children!

A Brief But Heartfelt Response To Karen Spears Zacharias

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Oh Karen, my Karen, our vile culture is rife
With "fuck!" and "cocksucker!" and other such strife
Nobody's polite. Nobody keeps cool.
Nobody uses nice words for their stool.
Instead of discoursing in the way that we should,
We all swear like that guy getting blown on Deadwood.

Even kids — O, sweet Children! — are subject to scorn,
We curse them! We rue the day they were born!
We damn their behavior, we laugh when they weep,
We employ cruel invective to tell them to sleep!

Well, not to their faces. We're not all that rude.
But in private, our venting is terribly crude.
It's as if we were human, and sorry to say —
As if parenting's foibles were funny! No way!

You know better, dear Karen. You know kids are no joke
You know bad words hurt those about whom they're spoke
Even if they don't hear them. Bad words hurt us all
They cheapen the culture, they lower the wall.
Between us and barbarians. For isn't it said
That the Etruscans, who cursed, are all now mostly dead?

We need you sweet Karen. We need you to flit
To wherever there's call for a nannying twit
We need you in comics. We need you in games
We need you if someone says womyn are "dames"

But we don't know that we need you. Oh, for shame
Our permissive culture is surely to blame
We imagine we're able to think for ourselves
About which dirty books to put on our shelves
We believe there's a difference, a key one in fact,
Between in-private fun, and company tact.

So please, Karen please, spare a thought for us churls,
As you faint on your couch and clutch at your pearls,
One day we'll admit you know best for our health,
But not today, Karen. So go fuck yourself.

(Hat Tip To Nick Gillespie, and to my dear wife, who gave me the offending book in question for Father's Day.)

Oh, Won't Someone Think of the Children? Yes — The Founders, Apparently.

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It's uncommon for two of us to blog about the exact same thing here at Popehat; usually one of us strikes first and the other snipes from the comments. However, rather than pollute Patrick's thoughtful piece about art and taste with my banal legalities, I've decided to blog separately about Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, today's Supreme Court ruling striking down the California law restricting the sale of "violent video games" to minors.

I write separately (and in far less entertaining fashion) to point out that Entertainment Merchants Association illustrates one of the themes that I've been belaboring: the government's use of categorical thinking to build its own power. The government most often does this politically — for instance, by trying to sell us the war on drugs or movie piracy as fitting into the anti-terrorism category, or trying to convince us that shameful sex offender laws are really about defending children. However, the tactic also also crops up in legal analysis. As Patrick referenced, the Supreme Court recently struck down another censorious law in U.S. v. Stevens, firmly rejecting the government's invitation to create a new categorical exception to the First Amendment for depictions of cruelty to animals.

Stephens aside, and despite today's good result, Entertainment Merchants Association demonstrates that the categorical temptation remains. Take Justice Thomas' dissent. Thomas appeals to the original intent of the Framers to resolve the dispute, saying that California's law passes muster because the men who drafted the Bill of Rights never intended for the First Amendment to apply to an entire category of speech: talking to other people's kids:

In my view, the “practices and beliefs held by the Founders” reveal another category of excluded speech: speech to minor children bypassing their parents.

This rather breathtaking conclusion demonstrates that the "conservative" and "liberal" political labels are often a poor fit for constitutional analysis. Justice Thomas suggests a an approach to the First Amendment that is nominally "conservative" (in that it is based on original intent analysis and declines to strike down a statute based on a Constitutional right) but would be appealing to many "liberals", among them nanny-state ninnies who want to restrict commercial speech to all children rather than parent their own.

Justice Breyer is not quite as ready to carve such abroad categorical exception from whole historical cloth, but he's perfectly ready to find one amidst the Court's precedent:

In doing so,the special First Amendment category I find relevant is not (as the Court claims) the category of “depictions of violence,” ante, at 8, but rather the category of “protection of children.”

Kids: America's social and jurisprudential buzzkills.

SCOTUS went 7-2 against California's violent video games law, but two of those seven thought that a narrower law might pass muster. That's encouragement for the likes of the law's author, California legislator Leland Yee, who waved your kids around like a bloody shirt against the evils of the Supreme Court, the First Amendment, and Corporate America, somehow neglecting terrorists and child molesters:

In a statement, Yee said: “Unfortunately, the majority of the Supreme Court once again put the interests of corporate America before the interests of our children. As a result of their decision, Wal-Mart and the video game industry will continue to make billions of dollars at the expense of our kids’ mental health and the safety of our community. It is simply wrong that the video game industry can be allowed to put their profit margins over the rights of parents and the well-being of children.

Come play games with me, Leland Yee. I badly want to headshot you and then teabag you. For the children.

Justice Alito Knows Obscenity When He Plays It

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It won't surprise long-time readers to learn that I approve of Justice Scalia's majority opinion in Brown v. Entertainment Merchant's Association, which struck down California's ban on the sale of violent videogames to minors.  The opinion is more or less mandated by United States v. Stevens, another case we cheered.

So I won't dwell (other than to applaud it briefly) on the majority's holding that minors do have First Amendment rights, nor on the cynicism of California's attempt to end-run the First Amendment by claiming that all speech may be regulated in the name of protecting children.

I want to dwell on the concurring opinion of Justice Samuel Alito, which shows the danger posed by statutes such as California's Violent Videogame Act, and of judges who believe their opinions as art critics ought to be the law of the land.  This passage:

It is certainly true, as the Court notes, that “ ‘[l]iterature, when it is successful draws the reader into the story, makes him identify with the characters, invites him to judge them and quarrel with them, to experience their joys and sufferings as the reader’s own.’ ”  Ante, at 11 (quoting American Amusement Machine Assn. v. Kendrick, 244 F. 3d 572, 577 (CA7 2001)).  But only an extraordinarily imaginative reader who reads a description of a killing in a literary work will experience that event as vividly as he might if he played the role of the killer in a video game. To take an example, think of a person who reads thepassage in Crime and Punishment in which Raskolni- kov  kills the old pawn broker with an  axe.  See F. Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment 78 (Modern Library ed. 1950).  Compare that reader with a video-game player who creates an avatar that bears his own image; who sees a realistic image of the victim and the scene of the killing in high definition and in three dimensions; who is forced to decide whether or not to kill  the victim and decides to do so; who then pretends to grasp an axe, to raise it above the head of the victim, and then to bring it down; who hearsthe thud of the axe hitting her head and her cry of pain;who sees her split skull and feels the sensation of blood onhis face and hands.  For most people, the two experiences will not be the same.

illustrates the problem perfectly.

For those who haven't read it, spoilers follow:


We Forge Our Chains Out Of Our Fear For Our Children

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When I was a kid, summer was a magical time of freedom. I'd lurch out of the house rubbing my eyes with the birdsong at dawn and not return until dinner, filthy and tired and delirious with possibilities fulfilled. My parents would have a basic idea where I was — going to Eric's or Brian's (to start, at least) or to the movies — but they would not know with a GPS-anklet level of specificity. I walked through wild chaparral canyons and hills to friends' houses, rode my bike to the little one-screen movie house and ice cream shop miles away in Montrose, and roamed the horse trails of Flintridge, dodging piles of horse crap and playing militaristic versions of Calvinball with hooting friends. Physical activity that made me whine during the school year (like walking uphill a mile and a half to get home, alone, from first grade on) suddenly was all part of the fun. I might occasionally check in with mom by phone, as a courtesy, but in the days before message machines or call-waiting or cell phones, who could blame me if there were great, sprawling blocks of time when I was untraceable?

Now, of course, I'm a parent of young kids, living just a couple of miles from where I grew up. Would I let them roam the hills I grew up in unsupervised? Would I let them flit from one friend's house to the next, unscheduled, driven by whim and by whose Atari was working that week? Would I let them ride their bikes a mile to the boulevard for a candy bar? Hell no. Because I have caved fully and completely to the relentless message of the media, the government, and the people-who-know-such-things: my children are on constant peril.

I'm dwelling on this sad fact this week because of this maddening story over at Free Range Kids, the excellent site I first mentioned three years ago. Blogger Lenore Skenazy describes how a mother was admonished by police that letting her kids play in the neighborhood the way I used to play — indeed, the way kids have played since before anyone could remember — is illegal:

Dear Free-Range Kids: Our kids have always been “Free -Range.” Unfortunately, today, someone called the police because of the “unsupervised children” running around the neighborhood. My son is six (seven in September), and we allow him to ride his bike to friend’s houses up the street (we live in a small, three-street neighborhood far from any major roads), rollerblade down the road, play with friends in the little patch of woods across the street from our houses, play in sprinklers with the neighbors, etc. There are constantly kids running around our neighborhood, playing with their friends — kids of all ages.

The officer said that kids under ten, by law, are not allowed outside, unsupervised except in their parents’ yard. The officer did not come to our house, but visited the mom of two of my son’s good friends. The people who called reported that all the way back in the winter, a “whole bunch of unsupervised kids were sled riding down the hill” that is across from our townhouse units.

This cop might be all wet about the laws of his state or locality. But the sentiment he expresses — which would have been reviled and regarded as un-American fifty or even thirty years ago — is now mainstream. The media pummels us with stories about children in peril. Politicians snatch low-hanging fruit by demanding more and more and more laws protecting children. Schools and other institutions, rocked by frivolous lawsuits and by the collapse of personal responsibility, ban anything that might lead our little special snowflakes to skin their knees. And so we fear — and we deny our kids the sort of freedoms that we enjoyed.

Our fears are largely spectral — or, at least, vastly exaggerated. We're led to believe that every shrub hides a lurking child molester. Yet all reliable statistics indicate that such crimes against children have steadily declined (not to mention the fact that children have always been at greatest risk for abuse at home, not running around in the wild). Morons driving badly are still a danger, but not more to kids than to adults, and not more now (when they are distracted by texting) than they were back in the day (when they were distract by jamming the 8-Track into the player). Our parents weren't careless, nor were they made of more fearless stuff — they simply weren't bombarded with the daily message of danger, danger, danger. If the Leave It To Beaver/Norman Rockwell vision of America glossed over many ugly truths, at least it did not send the insidious message that little Cindy and Bobby would be kidnapped if they rode to the park and decapitated if they used an off-brand pool toy.

Why should you care? Well, you should care because the danger danger danger drumbeat and our capitulation to it is part of the process of making us more dependent upon the government, more subservient to authority, more willing to let the state use kids as an excuse to tell us what do to in an increasingly wide and unprincipled array of circumstances. Accepting that kids' lives must be heavily structured normalizes the idea that all of our lives must be structures. And it's self-sustaining. We crank and rant about youth being the slackoisie, but can you really blame them? Kids raised in the whiffle life are taught dependence and fear, not self-reliance and self-assurance. Do you think those kids are going to grow up and vote for more personal freedom and liberty when you're an old crank? Or are they going to look to the Nanny State, lovingly embodied by their own dear parents, to tell everyone what to do, just as it has always told them? Can you expect them to respect your desire to wander where and how you please, when they've always been taught they mustn't do that because it's dangerous? Sure. Good luck with that.

Now excuse me — my kid has a scheduled playdate.

Edit: Forgot to note that the Free Range Kids story was courtesy of Walter Olson.

Categorical Thinking And The Sex Offender Box

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For some time I've been talking about how politicians, and the lawyers defending their actions, encourage categorical thinking to persuade us to limit our own rights and the rights of others. We're conditioned to be most comfortable thinking in black-and-white terms and about simple and clearly defined categories of things rather than focusing on nuance or subtle differences. We're encouraged in this thinking by a legal system that operates based on precedent, and thus creates an incentive for the government to force its actions, legally and rhetorically, into the same category as actions the courts have previously endorsed.

For instance, we hate and fear terrorism. We're willing, as a society, to do almost anything to fight and resist and protect ourselves from the terrifying things in the dark, scary box marked "terrorism," which in our mind is filled with the World Trade Center falling and hijacked planes and dead innocents. When the government tries to drop particular individuals into that category, never to be seen again, we're not inclined to ask too many questions, however much we might normally advocate skepticism of government power. Hence most Americans have accepted the premise that the state can take any human being on the face of the Earth and detain him indefinitely, incommunicado, without recourse, under the conditions the state sees fit, upon the state's unreviewable determination (based on unreviewable evidence applied to unreviewable standards) that the person is a terrorist or "enemy combatant."

Not surprisingly, the government — always seeking more power — is trying to smuggle more and more things and people and actions into the "terrorism" box, like the War on Drugs and movie piracy. They know that once they drop something or someone into that box in our minds, we're more likely to accept uncritically their exercise of power against that person or thing. Sometimes we buy it, sometimes we don't. Too often we do — we allow the government to convince us, using broad categorical language, that something just doesn't fit into the "rights" or "freedom" box and just does fit into the "safety" or "OMG children" box.

If there's any category or box that robs us of critical faculties quicker than "terrorism," it's "sex offender" or ""OMG DANGER TO CHILDREN!". This week, Jacob Sullum at Reason has a searing piece on sex offender laws demonstrating how categorical thinking about "sex offenders" has led to infuriating, ridiculous, unjust results. It's brilliantly written and researched, and terribly important: I'll ask you to read it all, rather than quoting or paraphrasing. Sullum describes the disturbing consequences of the categorical approach to sex offender registries — like teens who have sex with their girlfriends being lumped in with rapists, sometimes with horrific results.

The government is perfectly aware of our susceptibility to the "sex offender" and "OMG Children!" categories, and is constantly trying to smuggle new things and people into those categories. Consider, for instance, the federal government depictions of cruelty to animals can be banned because they belong in the same category as child pornography, or states using our willingness to tolerate sex offender registries to create animal abuse registries.

This sort of thing persists without much pushback because categorical thinking lends itself to being used as a weapon against people who oppose it. If you question the grounds for the invasion of a dictatorship, you're "objectively pro-dictator"; if you question over-criminalization or the penalties applied to convicts, you're "sticking up for violent sex offenders." That's why the number of criminal laws only changes in one direction (more, more more) and the severity of sentences only ratchets in one direction (up, up, up) — anyone who suggests we should do otherwise is described as "on the side of the criminals." Our receptiveness to that sort of thinking is the primary barrier to a serious discussion about the War on Drugs, with all of its ruinous expense and increased government power — sensible politicians know that we're too likely to accept the argument that they are "soft on crime" or "indifferent to danger to the children" if they engage in an open-minded dialogue about decriminalization.

Everyone in our society has rights — even people accused of, or even convicted of, horrific sex offenses. But there is more at stake in sex offense cases than the individual lives of the accused. What's at stake is nothing less than our willingness, as a society, to accept at face value the categories and labels that the government employs to persuade us, and to accept dramatically increased state power and reduced individual liberty as a result.

We Have A Serious Problem: Children.

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The recently and awesomely re-launched blog Nobody's Business has a couple of posts addressing a core nanny-state issue from a couple of angles: the problem of children.

No, not the problem that they are maniacal and impossible to reason with.

I'm talking about the problem that children bring out our most authoritarian impulses. Children take our theoretical devotion to liberty and reduce it to a practical appetite for Mrs. Grundyism and micromanagement. Children are the bloody shirt waved by the most enthusiastic and controlling nannies amongst us. I've just created a new tag — Think of the Children! — to aggregate all of our posts discussing how real and imagined threats to children lead us to tolerate intrusions into their lives and ours. (I also retroactively applied the tag to appropriate past posts. I need a drink now.)

Nobody's Business has two important posts touching on this phenomenon.

First, Rick Horowitz talks about how eager we are to judge parents — and involve the government — when we conclude, based on limited information, that parents are not doing a good enough job of watching their kids. If you've ever been on a mommy blog or an adoption blog or a parenting blog, you've seen it: someone tells a story about seeing neighbor kids out late unsupervised, and suddenly the thread is full of people telling the storyteller to call Child Protective Services — as if that's rational based on the information presented, as if a call to Child Protective Services is likely to work to the benefit of the children. This goes to an ethos that is at the heart of why we allow our fellow citizens to use kids as excuses to violate everyone's rights: people who are lovely, open-minded, and un-judgmental about other issues are often judgmental assholes about parenting. That's how citizens of a free society can talk themselves into using laws, or lawsuits, to micromanage everyone else's parenting: because many people think that everybody but them sucks as a parent.

Second, Mark took apart economist Steven Levitt's "daughter test" — the admission that in considering what society should criminalize something, he thinks about whether he'd want his daughter to do that thing. As Mark suggests, Levitt's sin is being too honest — he admits to what too many citizens are secretly thinking. We want the state to parent for us — to forbid things we don't want our kids to do. We want the state to step in to parent other people's kids as well, because — as established above — we secretly think those people suck as parents.

I was completely unprepared for how powerfully I would love my kids, so I sympathize with the tendency of kids to impair our capacity for rational thought and lead us astray from our ideals. But as Rick suggests, we have to stay strong for their sake — ultimately they won't thank us if we chain ourselves, and them, out of fear and for their putative own good.

Edited to add: Fixed messed-up links. Sorry.

If Tomorrow I Tell The Press That, Like, A Fat Kid Will Get Humiliated, Or A Nerd Will Be Slapped, Nobody Panics, Because It's All "Part Of The Plan." But When I Say That One Little Bully Will Get His Ankle Broken, Well Then Everyone Loses Their Minds!

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The video below is disturbing. It shows a poor child suffering a broken ankle and a probable concussion. Right-thinking people, and those who care deeply about children in general, should turn away in horror.

Of course I can't stop watching the video, because I'm not right-thinking, because I don't care about children in general, and most importantly because the little shit had it coming.

According to the Facebook page where this video originated (it's since been removed because it graphically depicts violence against children), the fat kid, a sophomore at a high school in Sydney Australia, had been bullied by schoolmates such as the kid depicted slapping him, for years. Some time in the past week, the fat kid "snapped," as the media put it, or decided he'd had enough of this shit, as I'd put it, and treated himself to the justice his school had denied him.

And well everyone loses their minds!

Commenters on Facebook numbered in their hundreds and sided overwhelmingly with the older boy.

"I think it's great that he's standing up for himself. It just sucks that schools don't even try and stop bullying," said one. "This kid is my hero," said another.

One said they knew the older boy personally and that he had been a victim for some time.

"I find it disgusting that he was suspended for it," they said. "I understand why he was but he still shouldn't [have] been."

Their triumphant response to the older boy's retaliation surprised seasoned experts.

Of course it surprised seasoned experts.

It surprised them because seasoned experts in schoolyard violence lack common sense.

We've built a society in which, under the doctrine of zero tolerance, seasoned experts and school administrators have lost all perspective: They have autistic children arrested for wearing a hoodie. Kids are prosecuted for denouncing scientology. Girls are strip-searched by the ibuprofen police. Boys are suspended for opening the door to help a lady whose hands are full. "Good students" and "nice children" are arrested for carrying nerf guns to class. If our schools are an asylum, the inmates are truly running it.

Meanwhile, somewhere right now, a fat kid is being slapped. And no one will do anything about it. Because it's all part of the plan.

[P]olice and bullying experts are concerned by the video's publication on Facebook and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the older boy's retaliation against his attacker.

"We don't believe that violence is ever the answer," [seasoned bullying expert John] Dalgleish says. "We believe there are other ways that children can manage this." …

"The longer term way is about developing better relationships between kids in the school, that will then empower young people to not be passive bystanders when these acts occur but to stand up and say 'this is wrong'," Mr Dalgleish says.

"The short term solution is to have individual counselling with each of the children."

Don't you see, fat kid? When that little monster threw a jab at your chin, you were supposed to explore alternative paths of conflict resolution. You should have dialogued with him, as seasoned bullying experts would say, and tried to understand what made him punch you in the face:

In other words, that he's a bully, and you're a fat nerd. And that's what bullies do to fat nerds. Because our teachers, and seasoned experts, have more important things to do with their time than to stop bullies who know just where to step, close to, but not quite over, the line.

Or you can take your chances with the invisible line youself, but if you step over it, you'll be the one who's "snapped." And you'll be the one who goes to jail.

St Marys Police duty officer Inspector Jason Green said posting the video had the effect of glorifying violence in schools.

"…Whether it causes other incidents or not I don't know but it seems to be a trend of late," Inspector Green said.

"It may incite other violence but that's something that we can't comment on." …

"But we have to deal with them as there still is some criminality with regards to their actions," he said.

Why? If this had happened in a bar instead a schoolyard, no jury would convict the victim for what seems a measured, appropriate response to being punched and slapped in the head.

Why not leave the fat kid alone? The bully who slapped him certainly will. If something must be done, why not give the fat kid a stern talking to? Why not give him individual counseling, as seasoned bullying expert John Dalgleish suggests?

Or why not give him a medal?

Via Crime and Federalism.

Oh, Won't Anyone Think of The Imaginary Children!

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Like we've said before, "oh, think of the children" is a magic phrase around these parts. Uttering it excuses you, in our culture, from the surly bounds of logic and proportion.

Case in point: Radley Balko offers the story of Evan Daniel Emory of Michigan, who fancies himself a humorist. Emory videotaped himself singing a harmless song to schoolchildren. Then he doctored the video to make it appear that he was singing a profane song to children, and put it on the internet. As the preview to the video itself makes clear, no actual children were exposed to naughty words in the classroom.

But what does that matter? Just as it was once treason to imagine the death of the king, it's a terrible crime in our society to put children together with profanity or violence or sex, even only in our imaginations. So Emory, thanks to Muskegon County Prosecutor Tony Tague, is charged with a felony.

Tague said Michigan law 'provides penalty' for those who actually manufacture child sexual abusive material "but also has a provision for those who make it appear that the children were actually abused."

Perhaps the children have some sort of civil cause of action against Tague for depicting them in a false light (as enjoying an obscene performance) or for misuse of their right of publicity. What's an eight-year-old's right of publicity worth? Tague ought not use unsuspecting schoolchildren as set dressing in his productions, and I don't care who set the example for him.

But charging him with a felony premised on the idea that he made it appear that children were abused? That suggests a frankly demented society. Movies are full of scary-ass kids — the Children of the Corn, that head-spinning puking chick in The Exorcist, and the entire oeuvre of MacCaulay Culkin. But if perfectly normal kids can drive adults into frenzies of witch-burning barbarism just by existing, then we really don't need horror-movie tropes to make kids scary, do we?

Monet Parham-Lee Is A Bad Parent. Monet Parham-Lee Is A Weakling. Monet Parham-Lee Blames McDonalds For Her Weakness, And Her Poor Parenting Skills. Monet Parham-Lee Is A Liar, Or At Least Deceptive. And Monet Parham-Lee Is A Bad Person.

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Monet Parham-Lee is suing McDonalds because she cannot say "NO" to her six year old daughter Maya.

In a call with reporters, Monet Parham, a Sacramento mother of two, said she was bringing the case because of the constant requests for McDonald's Happy Meals.

"I don't think it's OK to entice children with Happy Meals with the promise of a toy," she said, adding that she tries to hold her daughters, 6 and 2, to monthly visits to the fast-food chain. But she said their requests increased this summer, thanks to the popularity of "Shrek Forever After." Collecting all of the toys offered in conjunction with the movie would require weekly visits, she said.

"Needless to say, my answer was no," she said. "And as usual, pouting ensued and a little bit of a disagreement between us. This doesn't stop with one request. It's truly a litany of requests."

Monet Parham is really Monet Parham-Lee.  Monet Parham-Lee is the name that Monet Parham uses professionally.  Monet Parham-Lee is represented in the suit by attorneys affiliated with the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  Meaning Ralph Nader.  Monet Parham-Lee is an employee of the California Department of Public Health. Monet Parham-Lee works in the "Cancer Prevention and Nutrition Section" of the California Department of Public Health.

Meaning that Monet Parham-Lee is tasked, professionally, by the State of California with ensuring that Californians eat their vegetables.  The power that the State of California grants Monet Parham-Lee evidently is not enough.  Monet Parham-Lee is taking the law into her own hands, to ensure that not only her own children eat their vegetables, but that everyone else is forced to make their children eat vegetables.  Because without toys, Happy Meals become Unhappy Meals.

And Unhappy Meals mean vegetables.

CSPI director of litigation Stephen Gardner said that the group knows McDonald's isn't the only fast-food chain that sells meals with toys, but targeted McDonald's because it is the biggest. He added that the group has had conversations with other chains, including Burger King, which it has not threatened to sue.

"We're not trying to force McDonald's to sell apples and sprouts," Gardner said. "We're just trying to stop McDonalds from marketing to 3-year-olds."

This is a class action, allegedly, but  Monet Parham-Lee is not the mother of every three year old in California.  Still, she claims standing to bring suit on behalf of all three year olds, and their parents.  Thus bringing the idea of a "Nanny State" to its logical extreme.

This is also a tort action.  Monet Parham-Lee is suing because, we're led to believe, her six year old daughter Maya harasses her on a daily basis for plastic Shreks.  Monet Parham-Lee, evidently, is suing for negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress.  Her emotional distress is caused by the fact that her six year old daughter, Maya, will not stop hectoring her about these plastic Shreks.

I have a suggestion for Monet Parham-Lee.  I have several suggestions in fact:

  1. Tell your six year old daughter Maya to shut the fuck up. And eat her damned vegetables.
  2. Buy the damned Happy Meal on the way home from work, then throw out the hamburger and fries.  Give Maya the plastic Shrek. A Happy Meal costs two dollars or something. You don't have two dollars? You're an overpaid state employee in a state that's going bankrupt because of people like you. You can afford it.
  3. If you want to see emotional distress, wait until your six year old daughter Maya is old enough to Google herself.  And her mom. So you can explain to her what the word "fuck" means. Because this post is NEVER GOING TO GO AWAY.

Of course this suit isn't being filed because Maya Parham-Lee eats too many damned Happy Meals.  Or because she can't get her plastic Shrek.  Or because Monet Parham-Lee is so damned weak that she's suffered ACTIONABLE EMOTIONAL DISTRESS from telling her daughter, six year old Maya, "No."

Maya Parham-Lee, the six year old daughter of Monet Parham-Lee, has probably never eaten a Happy Meal in her life.  I'll bet she's eaten thousands of Unhappy Meals: wheat germ, carrots, whey, lentils, spirulina, oats, and raw, uncooked hay.

All of it steamed or boiled.  Except for the raw hay.

It's been filed because Monet Parham-Lee, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, want to control what everyone eats.  But they lack the persuasive skills to convince California voters to ban cheeseburgers, french fries, lard, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and all of the other things that make a meal truly Happy.

None of the stories I've seen on this mentions "Sacramento mother of two" Monet Parham-Lee's employment.  I'm guessing that Monet Parham-Lee, and her lawyers, didn't feel the need to mention it.  But it's material to the story. In fact, it's the most material part of the story.

"GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEE IN CHARGE OF VEGETABLE EATING SUES TO STOP MEAT!" lacks a certain punch.  It would be like printing a story to the effect that cows are demanding Americans eat mor chik'n.

And Monet Parham-Lee will never collect a penny unless McDonald's caves to a baseless suit.  Which I sincerely hope it won't. Because I'd love to give Monet Parham-Lee's six year old daughter Maya something else to read about in a year or so.


Via Ira Stoll, who has more to say on this sort of lawsuit as a culture war between the sort of people parodied at "Stuff White People Like" and everyone else in America.

Rhode Island Achieves The Impossible

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Via Game Politics comes news of a bill introduced in the Rhode Island Senate, and strongly backed by such "it's all for the children" censors as the Parents Television Council, which would make it a crime to sell a violent videogame (in this case one rated "M" (mature) or "AO" (adults only) by the Entertainment Software Rating Board) to a person under the age of 18.

The bill, sponsored by Senators Frank Ciccone, Paul Jabour, Beatrice Lanzi, and Michael McCaffrey (all Democrats) is utterly and blatantly unconstitutional for reasons which should be obvious.  But in case they aren't, here's a quick rundown of the law:

Restraint of artistic speech (and videogames, like movies and books, are considered art and speech) is prima facie unconstitutional unless the speech is considered "obscene," that is prurient, offensive to community standards, and having absolutely no redeeming artistic value.  This presumption applies, with some caveats, even to laws which make it a crime to show or disseminate offensive material to minors, which is why no state makes it a crime to admit a minor to an R-rated movie.

In fact, just this week an Indiana prosecutor who threatened to prosecute the people who run those "red box" dvd rental kiosks for offering R-rated movies to anyone who could pay backed down from his threats, evidently concluding that he would be made a national laughingstock if he went further.

Yet this bill would do just that.  It would make the State of Rhode Island a national laughingstock, more so than it already is.  Another rason the bill is problematic, that is to say unconstitutional, is that it makes the ESRB, a voluntary trade association with no governing power whatsoever, the sole arbiter of what is and is not a crime in Rhode Island.  Just because some prude at ESRB considers Headshot II: the Columbine Simulator offensive, doesn't make it obscene.  Rhode Island would not only be violating the First Amendment; It would be unconstitutionally delegating sovereign power to a private corporation.

Just how misguided is this bill, constitutionally speaking?  It's so unconstitutional that even Jack Thompson, the disbarred crank Florida lawyer famous for his anti-videogame crusades (and sending gay porn to federal judges, agrees with me:

On December 11, 2005, about a similar federal bill which never passed Congress, Thompson wrote:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton recently introduced her "Family Entertainment Protection Act" in a purported attempt to ban the sale of M-rated games to minors. Will it work? Not a chance.

Clinton's FEPA, as proposed, is completely unconstitutional.

U.S. law is clear: A private-sector standard for rating entertainment products cannot be enforced by the government. This has been settled constitutional law for decades.

Yet this is precisely what Clinton's bill would do. It seeks to convert the industry's Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) game ratings into the law of the land.  Such an approach has been unconstitutional since local communities in the early 1900s created private-sector "obscenity councils" in an attempt to dictate to state juries which books were "obscene."

It wasn't constitutional then, and it isn't constitutional now.

The mistake that various states have made in formulating a governmental standard for games has been to vaguely define how much and what kind of sex and violence can be in interactive media sold to minors. Such an approach utterly fails on constitutional "vagueness" grounds. I've been in those legislative fights that wind up in the courts. I've been paying attention.

[Source: Fort Worth Star Telegram, December 11, 2005, "What Kind of Game is Hillary Clinton Playing?", not available for free online, archive purchased by me and excerpted as fair use for its value as political commentary from a respected scholar of the First Amendment.]

Rhode Island's Senate has achieved what we thought could never be done:  They've made Jack Thompson look like a thoughtful and judicious defender of free speech.

What Are Your Child's Odds Of Choking To Death On A Hot Dog?

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According to the media, as reflected by Google News this week, they're phenomenal.  So phenomenal that hot dogs must be banned, redesigned (which would make them hot dogs no longer, but rather mushy cubes of meat), or should carry warning labels similar to those found on packs of cigarettes:

hot dogs are a threat to our children

Now if one simply scans Google News for information of this sort, one might assume that hot dogs kill as many children annually as lead paint on Chinese-manufactured toys.  In fact, one would be wrong.  Hot dogs kill a substantially greater number of children than Chinese lead-based paint. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 77 children each year choke to death in a vain, futile effort to consume hot dogs:

[T]he academy would like to see foods such as hot dogs "redesigned" so their size, shape and texture make them less likely to lodge in a youngster's throat. More than 10,000 children under 14 go to the emergency room each year after choking on food, and up to 77 die, says the new policy statement, published online today in Pediatrics. About 17% of food-related asphyxiations are caused by hot dogs.

"If you were to take the best engineers in the world and try to design the perfect plug for a child's airway, it would be a hot dog," says statement author Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. "I'm a pediatric emergency doctor, and to try to get them out once they're wedged in, it's almost impossible."

Yet it would appear, according to your own academy's data Dr. Smith, that it's ridiculously simple to dislodge a hot dog from a child's windpipe.  If only 77 out of 10,000 children admitted annually die of hot dog inhalation, that's far better than the rate for the most basic and treatable cancers, or indeed staphylococcus infections.

And yet there are far more than 10,000 children born each year.  According to the CIA World Factbook, the United States has an estimated population of 307,212,123, and a birth rate of 13.83 per 1,000 people.  That means, roughly, that 4,248,744 children are born each year. Out of those children, as well as those born earlier, "up to" 77 will choke to death on a hot dog.

The actual odds that your child will choke to death on a hot dog are therefore, roughly, one in 181,230.

Admittedly I'm not attempting to calculate the odds that the child will grow to adulthood only to die of hot dog inhalation.  Those odds, presumably, would increase overall hot dog morbidity.

Yet by comparison, according to Political Calculations, the odds are better that an American will die in a fatal lightning strike, but somewhat poorer (though still close) that he or she will die at the fangs of a household dog, or a snake.

So, what's at work here?  Has there been a sudden onslaught of children killed by hot dogs?  That's doubtful. Hot dogs are pretty much the same today as they were when you and I were growing up. Is there a real need for legislation, or regulation, or redesign, of hot dogs?

Or is there a need for better education on the part of American pediatricians, journalists, legislators, and the public at large, in statistics and actuarial math?

Update: A commenter points out a reading error on my part.  While up to 77 children die annually of food asphyxiation, only 17% of food asphyxiation hospital admissions are caused by hot dogs.  According to our commenter, that means only 13 or so children are killed by hot dogs each year, if the percentages of deaths and admissions hold true.

I'm not willing to make that assumption.  To be fair to the American Academy of Pediatrics, I'll assume that all children killed by food-related asphyxiation in the United States are killed by hot dogs, and that other foods never kill.

To Save Childhood, It Is Necessary To Destroy It

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I have fond memories of childhood Halloweens. For grown-ups, Halloweens are exhausting and difficult to fit into a stress-filed schedule. For kids, Halloweens are magic. Candy! Pageantry! Make-believe! Staying up late! Running around in the dark in the delicious state between being scared and pretending to be scared! Camaraderie! Freedom!

Naturally all of this must be reined in. You know — for the children.

Hysteria over Halloween is nothing new. You've got the people who think it actually promotes witchcraft and Satanism. You've got the people who believe the vastly overblown urban legends of food tampering. And then you've got the people who think that kids just ought not be going door to door yelling "Trick or Treat!," for the good of the kids and for the good of the treat-givers and possibly for the good of the doors.

The Supervisors of Dunkard Township — that's Dunkard, not Drunkard, this decision notwithstanding — are among that group. They canceled Halloween.

A small community in Greene County is embroiled in controversy after local officials decided to ban trick-or-treating this year.

Instead, Bobtown will hold a four-hour Halloween party.

Supervisors in Dunkard Township say they are taking the steps for safety reasons.

Leave aside for a moment the literal nannyism — the notion that kids ought to be prohibited from trick-or-treating for their own safety, and instead confined to a party, perhaps held inside a giant padded room. I'm more concerned about the nanny-statism. From where, exactly, do Dunkard Township supervisors derive the power to ban families from trick-or-treating on public streets, and to ban households from giving out candy? Given the Supreme Court's pattern of protecting door-to-door solicitation under the First Amendment, I'm skeptical that a trick-or-treating ban is even constitutional.

Dunkard Township leaders — like most nanny-staters in their position — are mystified about the opposition to their plan.

Assistant Dunkard Fire Chief David Pritchard, running unopposed for supervisor in the election, said he was surprised by all the negative reaction to the decision to ban trick-or-treating.

He says there's been a lot of break-ins lately and that older people in Bobtown were scared.

According to Pritchard, the township was trying to keep everyone safe.

Were the break-ins by people in G.I. Joe costumes? Have they been ringing the doorbell? Halloween results in tons of people being on the street, usually monitored by local police. How does preventing that make break-ins less likely?

Ah, but those questions will never be answered. Remember — doing it for the chiiiiillldruuuun means never having to come up with a logical reason for your actions.

Four Wheels Good, Two Wheels Bad!

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Seventh grader Adam Marino, of Saratoga Springs New York, is getting an early education in law and citizenship courtesy of the New York State Police and his school district.  His offense?  Riding a bicycle to school.

At the start of school in September, Kaddo Marino thought that she had a nonverbal agreement with school officials to allow her son to ride his bike until a new policy was resolved. But on the night before classes started, school authorities called parents to say that walking and biking to school would not be tolerated.

When the pair stuck with their plan, they were met by school administrators and a state trooper, who emphasized that biking was prohibited, Kaddo Marino said.

Although no bicycle accidents have been reported in the past three years along Saratoga Springs Route 9, it appears to be a busy street without bike lanes.  And so Adam Marino will have to walk to school.  Except that he can't do that either.  Walking to Maple Avenue Middle School is also prohibited.

Though Adam's parents are willing to accept the risk that their son will suffer injury on a road where, apparently, bicyclists are never injured, the Saratoga Springs board of education knows better.  Bicycles are dangerous!  Why, every day, somewhere, a boy is injured riding his bike.  Just as every day, somewhere, a boy is hit by lightning, attacked by a shark, or suffers health problems because of obesity.  Will Saratoga Springs protect its children from obesity?

Why yes it will.  New York Schools are so concerned about the threat that fat and overweight pose to children that Saratoga Springs classifies and marks its students through "weight status grouping" and mandatory body-mass indexing. And like every other school in the state, Maple Avenue mandates physical education and health education, though that doesn't seem to help most New York school kids, who are incorrigible fatties.

Despite the threat that his bicycle poses, to him and to society, it appears that Adam Marino is going to defy school board mandates and continue propelling himself to school rather than taking a bus.  No price is too great to pay for health.  And no price is too great to pay if it lets good citizens like the Marinos tell mindless bureaucrats like Maple Avenue Middle School Principal Stuart Byrne, to butt out of things that shouldn't concern them.  Like whether a kid walks or rides his bike to school.

But Saratoga Springs isn't all bad.  The schools do make some effort to educate their kids in good character, and recognize students who excel in their behavior.  You can even nominate an outstanding student.  Perhaps Adam Marino deserves a nomination.

While Adam probably wouldn't qualify during "Respect Month," as his school calls October, he'd be a fine candidate for a character award this May, which is "Citizenship Month."  I can think of no better act of citizenship for a young man than civil disobedience against a foolish and intrusive nanny-state.

Handcuffed Grandmothers Should Just Shut Up and Think of the Children

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Our culture has several airhorn issues.

An "airhorn issue" is an issue that people in authority — or their apologists — invoke to shut down debate and avoid uncomfortable questions about whether the Emperor has any clothes. Like an airhorn blown in somebody's face, they are not calculated to contribute to intelligent or meaningful discussion. Rather, an airhorn issue is a shock-and-awe conversational move, meant to shock and silence, meant to be self-justifying and self-perpetuating. It's calculated to be a trump card, and too often we accept it as such.

"OMG 9/11!" is a popular airhorn issue, as is its spin-off "the Great War on Terrorism." But the great granddaddy of all airhorn issues is "oh, won't someone think of the CHILDREN!", especially when combined with the ever-popular "OMG drugs EVERYBODY PANIC!"

Radley Balko picks up on an airhorn issue being used against Indiana grandmother Sally Harpold:

“I feel for her, but if she could go to one of the area hospitals and see a baby born to a meth-addicted mother …”

That line, uttered by Vigo County Sheriff Jon Marvel, is the classic airhorn issue, calculated to make Sally Harpold and anyone supporting her to feel bad for questioning the decisions of people like Vigo County Sheriff Jon Marvel. How can you dwell on such unimportant things when poor little meth babies are dying? What is wrong with you that you don't think of the chiiiiiillllldruuuuuunnnn?

What comparative trifle was Harpold speaking out about? Well, she was arrested, handcuffed, taken to jail, and identified in a paper as a drug offender because she bought two boxes of cold medication within a week.

Harpold is a grandmother of triplets who bought one box of Zyrtec-D cold medicine for her husband at a Rockville pharmacy. Less than seven days later, she bought a box of Mucinex-D cold medicine for her adult daughter at a Clinton pharmacy, thereby purchasing 3.6 grams total of pseudoephedrine in a week’s time.

That was against the law. See, Indiana, like many states, is in the long, expensive, painful, and drawn-out process of getting its ass handed to it in the Great War on Drugs. Faced with the fact that drug dealers were making a popular and destructive drug — methamphetamine — using legal over-the-counter medications, Indiana stepped up its treatment programs, invested more in street-level intelligence gathering, and embarked on a courageous reevaluation of the entire criminalization/prohibition modality.

No, I'm just shitting you. They made it illegal for citizens to buy more than one box of legal cold medication over the counter per week.

Those two purchases put her in violation of Indiana law 35-48-4-14.7, which restricts the sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, or PSE, products to no more than 3.0 grams within any seven-day period.

Harpold, whose family persisted in getting sniffles without giving any thought at all to the dangers they presented to meth babies, broke that law. She broke it because she did not pay sufficient attention to the burden that the legislature and law enforcement officials had elected to place upon her — to monitor the frequency of her purchase of legal over-the-counter products and to calculate the amount of methamphetamine precursors contained therein.

It is up to customers to pay attention to their purchase amounts, and to check medication labels, [prosecutor Nina] Alexander said.

“If you take these products, you ought to know what’s in them,” she said.

The legislature — and government officials like Nina Alexander and Jon Marvel — have no problem with imposing such burdens on you, because (1) it allows them to create the impression that they are DOING SOMETHING ABOUT DRUGS and THINKING OF THE CHILDREN, and (2) it grows their fiefdoms, and (3) as a citizen, your job is to suck it up and accept such burdens.

As a result, Sally Harpold got awakened by police banging on her door one morning, handcuffed, arrested, and taken to jail for buying two boxes of cold medication within seven days. Nobody claims that she is involved with the manufacture of methamphetamine. Of course, that didn't stop the newspaper — which is to drug hysteria what a pimp is to a whore — from suggesting that she is involved in drugs:

Her police mug shot ran on the front page of her local newspaper, she wrote, in a letter to the Tribune-Star, “with an article entitled, ‘17 Arrested in Drug Sweep.’”

The arrest and public branding are ridiculous. The arrest and public branding are offensive. The arrest and public branding ought to enrage a free people. What sort of reactions did it draw from our leaders?

“The law does not make this distinction, [between people with, and without, intent to aid drug manufacture]” Alexander said.

“I’m simply enforcing the law as it was written,” Alexander said.

“Sometimes mistakes happen,” Marvel said. “It’s unfortunate. But for the good of everyone, the law was put into effect".

And, of course, the airhorn again:

“I feel for her, but if she could go to one of the area hospitals and see a baby born to a meth-addicted mother …”

Shut up, Sally Harpold and her supporters. Shut up, or it means you hate poor little meth babies. Shut up, or it means you are in favor of people destroying their lives with methamphetamine. Shut up, and don't question government officials when they come up with increasingly arbitrary, hare-brained schemes calculated to make them look like they are doing something. Shut up, and love the little children.

Jack, of "in the Box" Fame, Needs Warning Label in England, France

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This is Jack.


Lawmakers in the United Kingdom and France want to make sure that you understand that is not Jack's real head you see in that picture there. Depending on the picture you view, Jack's gigantic head is part of a costume, airbrushed, or digitally enhanced.

Lawmakers in the United Kingdom and France believe that you cannot be trusted to understand that advertisements contain trickery, airbrushing, props, costumes, and digital enhancements all designed to make people and things look more enticing or interesting so that you will buy the products they are selling. (If you are in the United Kingdom or France, and have voted for these lawmakers, they might be right about that.) Moreover, lawmakers in the United Kingdom and France believe it is the place of the government to regulate the populace's potential misconceptions about head size.

Lawmakers might not actually have Jack in mind. They are thinking mostly of attractive women. Lawmakers in England and France want to pass laws limiting advertisers' ability to airbrush their models. French legislators want warning labels and fines:

French MPs are demanding airbrushed photos come with a government 'health warning' to protect women from false images of female beauty.

British legislators, by contrast, want outright bans:

The Liberal Democrats today backed a ban on the airbrushing of photos which create "overly perfected and unrealistic images" of women in adverts targeted at children.

The party also formed policy calling for cigarette-style health warnings by advertisers for the adult market which "tell the truth" about the use of digital retouching technology.

It will be interesting to see the Liberal Democrats draft legislation defining exactly what images of women are unrealistic and "overly perfected." Will they use Margaret Thatcher as a benchmark?

Anyway, all of this is premised on the notion that airbrushed models are harmful to the self-esteem and body images of women:

Mrs Boyer, who has also written a government report on anorexia and obesity, added: 'We want to combat the stereotypical image that all women are young and slim.

'These photos can lead people to believe in a reality that does not actually exist, and have a detrimental effect on adolescents.

'Many young people, particularly girls, do not know the difference between the virtual and reality, and can develop complexes from a very young age.

Apparently these legislators believe that women, and girls, are stupid creatures who credit advertising messages uncritically. They also believe that parents are incompetent to teach their children otherwise. This was something of a surprise to me. The most incisive critics of advertising messages I know are women. And I'm already having fun teaching my kids how to spot subtext and message in advertisements. They are doing well at it already, and learning to see it as the game it can be. Perhaps England and the Continent has people who are . . . well, let's let kindness draw the curtain on that.

For as long as there has been advertising, it has been based on presenting fantasy, not reality. Beer will not make you attractive to women, unless it is the women drinking large quantities of it. Your teeth won't look that white. Your hair won't bounce like that. Your hamburger isn't going to look that good. And if you say, "No, dear — to ourhealth," your spouse isn't going to laugh delightedly. He or she is going to get a conservatorship and put you in a home, you nattering old fool.

Do advertisements send messages about body image? Of course they do. They send the message "extremely beautiful people buy our products, and if you buy our products, you will be extremely beautiful too." A warning label that says "This model in the advertisement might not actually look this way if you caught him or her before three coffees, or after a bad day or a pub crawl" does send a counter-message. But that counter-message is not "hey, you are beautiful and acceptable, too." The counter-message is a deeply condescending and humiliating one: "Hey, you are a fucking moron, fatty, and your government cant trust you to sort out reality from advertising unless we spell it out for you."

Critics say that it is terrible that advertisers are creating norms for what is beautiful and what appropriate body-image is. To that I respond: is it better to have the government responsible for regulating what is beautiful and what appropriate body-image is?

Give the lawmakers this, though: they are at least adding value through a combination of self-deprecating ironic humor and brutal honesty:

"Liberals don't like bans," she said. "But we do recognise we all need it to protect children from harm, whether it's smoking, watching violence or sex."