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Posts Tagged ‘nanny-state’

Michael Bloomberg, chief nanny of New York, while defending his plan to regulate the amount of salt restaurant chefs will henceforth be allowed to put in their dishes:

If we know there’s asbestos in a school room what do you expect us to do? Say it’s not our business? I don’t think so.

This is an absurd analogy and not just because of the substantial difference in harmfulness between salt and asbestos. (If it was just that, I’d merely call Bloomberg’s analogy far fetched.) There are more fundamental reasons why his analogy breaks down.

1. Choice.  Salt imparts taste to food. Life’s choices are about weighing costs and benefits, in this case weighing the cost of increased risk of high blood pressure versus the benefit of a possibly tastier meal. Ditto with other unhealthy lifestyle choices: smoking, spending all day playing video-games or riding a motorbike. It’s a freedom issue, one of individual choice. On the other hand, not many people in this age knowingly choose to live in a house with lethal asbestos in the roof.

2. Fraud. Assuming that the asbestos is typically present without the consent or knowledge of whoever owns or lives in the building, it is a case of fraud and a lethal one at that. On the other hand, the food you buy: well you get what you wanted and ordered. Presumably you know perfectly well that it contains a fair amount of salt. There is no fraud of any kind. (And if a lot of people are unknowingly ordering food with high amounts of salt, well, that would at best call for some kind of salt-quantity-disclosure law.)

3. Age. A school room is populated by students, who are mostly not of legal age and in some cases very young. Restaurants are populated by a lot of adults who, presumably, should be able to eat very salty food if they want to.

Finally, if some person  knowingly goes ahead and builds asbestos into the roof of his house, I think — notwithstanding Bloomberg’s protests — it is not the government’s business to stop him, but merely to make sure he makes this information available to all other occupants, tenants and any guests who come to the building, and does not have any children living there.

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A new French law criminalizes “psychological violence” against a spouse or cohabiting partner.

Pretty great I say. The French are geniuses. They have already outlawed pesky things like free speech, unsexy clothes and hard work. Now all those domestic arguments must stay within strict rules laid down by the government. Think about all the hours saved. No endless bickering, no name-calling, no emotional blackmails. Ah, what a life. Relaxed, stress-free and productive. A nice, fat, motherly government to keep deviants in line and make sure no one ever hurts another’s feelings. What’s there to worry? Big momma will always watch out for you.

“Why can’t you be caring and romantic again, like when we were seventeen? I wonder why I still stick with you!

“No one’s forcing you to stay honey. Feel free to move your fat ass and leave me for good. Just stop subjecting me to your endless blabbering.”

“Sob! Police!! I have been PSYCHOLOGICALLY abused!!”

On the French agenda for next month: rules forbidding laziness, rudeness and jealousy.

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Chuck Hurley’s appointment as National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head is a troubling one. Read this great piece by Radley Balko to find out why.

As for MADD, they are a perfect example of an organization whose nanny-statism has crossed the line from being annoying to what I can only succintly describe as evil.

[In case anyone is wondering, I do realize that highway and traffic restrictions affect people other the driver, and thus are not necessarily paternalistic. My comments above concern only those positions held by MADD (and others of its ilk) that are either purely paternalistic or so unreasonable that they can only have been motivated by paternalistic concerns.]

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The following piece of news seems relevant in the context of my earlier post on tobacco and the illusion of liberty caused by unprincipled value judgements.

From the incomparable Reason Brickbats:

Dutch police cited a 27-year-old man for smoking a joint in one of Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops. Smoking pot is legal there, but the man, who was not identified by the local press, mixed the pot with tobacco before rolling the joint. That broke the Netherlands’ ban on smoking tobacco in workplaces.

The above incident is so absurd that I cannot even feel outraged.

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Oregon wants to raise the (tobacco) smoking age to 21.

Wait, that can’t be right, can it? Don’t Oregonians love their mountains and their freedom? I mean, come on, Oregon  is a pioneer in assisted suicide laws. It was one of the very few states to oppose ski-helmet mandates in an online TIME poll from last week! And they really like gays and unconventional individuals.

And oh, they love their pot. Marijuana for medicinal use is legal and simple possession for personal use has been decriminalized. If there is one state whose residents would be comfortable with legalizing most drugs, it is Oregon. So how can they get paternalistic about tobacco?

You see, tobacco is just not in. Hell, rednecks smoke it all the time. Some of the lowest taxes on tobacco are in states where gay-haters and religious conservatives rule.

For that matter, fatty foods are not in. Pleasures that are not good for your health are usually not in unless supplemented by some kind of culture. Free speech is in but hate speech is not. Trying to explain to them that hate speech is part of free speech is most certainly not in. Protesting exploitation and capitalism and going to jail for political persecution is in. Woolly sweaters and vegetarianism are in. For a detailed list of things that are in at cities like Portland or Seattle or SF or NY, head over to SWPL.

So I was thinking of all this and that’s when I realized this: Oregon’s supposed libertarianism is an accident. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the moral principle of individual liberty. It has to do with certain value judgements.

It is the same everywhere. It is cool in San Francisco to be stoned for days doing weed or cocaine or heroine but smoke a pack of  cigaretters over there and you will be treated like a demon. Hookah is somewhat in though and will draw no more than mild disapproval. Wine  and most other alcohol is awesome. Prostitution is a private matter and should not be interfered with. However trans fats are banned.

Then head over to Texas or Utah and do all of the above things San Francisco residents approve of wholeheartedly. You will be dragged to jail kicking. But don’t get too despondent! In Texas, they will give you other freedoms than are in over there. Like guns and cigars and low taxes and the right to eat trans-fat laden foods.

Jeffrey Rosen said it best. On the surface it might seem that restrictions on freedom are getting more unacceptable. Horrendous laws like those against sodomy no longer exist. But the truth is that morals legislation is alive and well. The problem with sodomy laws wasn’t that they were based on moral disapproval; the problem was that the public consensus about the immorality of sodomy had collapsed. It all depends on the value judgements of the majority and the influential; the things they consider ok become legal. Defending freedom for freedom’s sake … not just in.

And that realization would ordinarily make me sad but today it makes me smile. For it reminds me of another insight I had when I was very young. Of all the insights I’ve ever had that one is my favourite. And it’s simply this: The world we live in is a ridiculously funny place.

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  •  While GM and Chrysler are in their last throes, Ford is trudging on. Obama may have fired GM’s CEO and told Chrysler exactly what to do but he has had no such luck controlling Ford. The company has refused offers of taxpayer life support and believes it can not only survive this recession but in fact prosper. It’s CEO, Mullaly does not hide his admiration for Toyota and believes that in a few years Ford will be viewed on par with the Japanese giant. “I would love people in the future to say, ‘There’s Toyota and Honda and Ford,’ ” says Ford’s North American chief Mark Fields. “We have the goods to do it.”
  • It may be the strangest worm to ever hit the internet. The unknown creators of the Conficker worm have earned praise for their breathtaking sophistication even from the supranational security forces that are currently trying to track them down. So far the worm has done nothing except morph into more sophisticated variants but estimates for the number of infected — and thus controllable — computers range from five to fifteen million. Microsoft has announced a $250,000 bounty for information leading to the identity of the hacker who created it. Everyone only agrees on two things: it is the most complex and brilliant piece of malware written in years and no one knows what it can really do if it’s controller decides to wake it up.
  • Today, the federal excise tax on every pack of cigarettes will jump from 39 cents to $1.01, the single largest federal tobacco tax increase ever. Future plans in the works include outlawing risky sports, putting a 1000% tax on cheeseburgers, and having fines for too little exercise; eventually anything that places a ‘needless burden on society’ will be either banned or taxed to such an extent that everyone will be forced to conduct themeselves in an exemplary manner. Ok, I made up the last sentence. But you get the idea. You see, it is for the sake of the children.
  • Brooke Oberwetter has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Parks Police officer who arrested her last year. She was arrested while — and apparently because — she was quietly dancing to her iPod during a planned celebration at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.
  • Celebrities are getting strange fantasies involving President Obama and have no qualms about admitting it. “I’ll collect paper cups off the ground to make [Obama’s] pathway clear,” Halle Berry recently told the Philadelphia Daily News, “I’ll do whatever he says.” And in February, author Judith Warner used her New York Times blog to confess that “The other night I dreamt of Barack Obama. He was taking a shower right when I needed to get into the bathroom to shave my legs.”
  • A beautiful piece by former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper on drug legalization.

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I have written enough in the past about Canada’s (usually successful) attempts to muzzle free speech and monitor thought crimes and enforce some kind of bizarre right to not get your feelings hurt.

But this latest proposed law takes policing your head to an entirely different level. I understand that the proposal has been spurred by Natasha Richardson’s tragic death, but that’s what makes it all the more scary; that so many people’s natural reaction to a tragedy is to clamor for more government regulation.

Considering the fact that ski helmets are fairly useless at speeds higher than 20 mph (an impact leads to a fatal collision of the brain with the inside of the skull, something no helmet can prevent), I wonder if they will next make a rule that declares Newton’s laws of motion illegal.

(Also read: On motorcycle helmet laws and freedom)

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