woody_zimmerman_118_2007The recent news in the “dumb stuff” genre is the attempt by the San Francisco City Council to ban toys from McDonalds Happy Meals. (This event is a finalist in both the “Really Dumb Stuff” and the “Useless Government” categories of the Effluvia Awards.) News organs have obsessed for weeks on this story as if the fate of the empire hangs on it. It has gotten more ink than Iran’s development of an atomic bomb (which might actually harm far more children than the toys in any number of McDonalds Happy Meals). The latest twist in the story is San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome’s veto of the proposed law. The Mainstream Media are totally bummed by this. Yet there is still hope! Today’s paper breathlessly reports that the law might still be passed over the mayor’s veto. (Oh, be still, my beating heart!)

The proposed law, of course, is not really about toys. Even San Francisco liberals have not yet suggested that toys are harmful to children (although these are still early days). Ostensibly, the real issue is child-nutrition. The wise heads on the SF City Council believe that the toys placed in the Happy Meal bags can tempt children to eat fast food, which nutrition snobs consider just this side of swill. (Actually, swill might get the nod from liberal epicureans.)

On the other hand, perhaps I am too harsh here. One can see that many past opportunities to improve our lives by law have been missed, and more future opportunities might present themselves. In that spirit, I review a few of the former, plus a few candidates for future actions that could vastly benefit society.

The Hula Hoop. This wickedly deceptive device, which appeared in the 1950s, should have been banned immediately for its dangerous potential. Because no governing bodies had the courage or good sense to do that, unknown numbers of middle-aged women have incurred torso injuries trying to perform the intricate moves that keep the Hoop of Doom rotating round the waist. Beyond that, who can say how many middle-aged men have suffered palpitations of the heart (or worse) while watching lissome young lasses using the device? Young men have also been motivated to many foolish actions after watching HH-demonstrations. In my wasted youth, ministers often denounced Elvis the Pelvis. But the gyrating King of Rock and Roll had nothing on the Hula Hoop, whose merciless practitioners have done incalculable physical and moral damage to the country. (Oh, the horror!)

The Frisbee. While relaxing on the college green in the golden autumn of 1960, during countless games of Frisbee-football, I heard a young classmate exclaim, “Man! If it wasn’t for going to school, this would be a great life!” His statement echoed the attitudes of millions of college students – mostly male – who have whiled away untold millions of hours throwing a small plastic disc around college campuses. (I loved this when I was a student, but now I’m a grouchy old guy.) Why college deans and town fathers didn’t ban this time-wasting “discus” years ago is beyond my understanding. Think how community beautification might have prospered by having all that male energy employed behind push-brooms or lawn-mowers. Who has this much spare time? As my grandpa used to say, “There oughtta be a law…”

These missed opportunities are regrettable, of course, but as grandma used to say, it’s never too late to fix a mistake. Perhaps a city council or state legislature will still act to halt the damage of these destructive products. However that might play out, numerous other opportunities exist for governmental bodies to pass bold, corrective bans. We examine a few of these in the following paragraphs.

Ball Games. Baseball and football are terribly dangerous games that should have been outlawed long ago. Every year 100,000 high school boys suffer injuries playing football, including a half-dozen deaths. Even professionals die because of injuries, heat prostration or other conditions caused by the physical stress of the game. If football were a food, the FDA would have banned it long ago. Indeed, there was a serious attempt to ban the game, a century ago, when movements to ban things were taking serious root. President Theodore Roosevelt saved football by convening a commission of officials from Harvard, Yale and other influential colleges to make the game less dangerous. In 1906 the forward pass was legalized and the flying wedge and other dangerous formations were banned. Baseball does not involve deliberate physical violence, but it does involve throwing a hard ball near or at another player at speeds approaching 100 mph. Injuries – sometimes serious – are inevitable. At the very least, baseball should eliminate the pitcher and convert entirely to a T-ball format for all teams under age 16.

Cars. In the USA the automobile has been responsible for over 1 million deaths, tens of millions of injuries, and probably trillions of dollars in property damage over the last century. It is a man-made plague on society. Climate-science guru Al Gore also says the internal combustion engine is warming the earth by emitting carbon dioxide. If we don’t quit, the oceans will rise to flood most of coastal lands, and the atmosphere will get so hot that we’ll all roast. [1] Besides all that, the car encourages people to travel instead of staying near the places where they were born. Old fuddy-duddies like me frown on that. It gives people big ideas – makes them think they can do anything. (I ask you: who is the better for that?)

Most Electronic Devices. In my day, every new electronic device that came out was (properly) denounced as a “tool of the Devil.” Didn’t do any good, of course, but at least things were correctly labeled. Before electricity, people went to bed when it got dark. (In places like Alaska that meant they stayed in bed most of the winter, which helped increase the population.) After the light bulb was invented, people started staying up until all hours, causing the population to fall off – except in places where they didn’t have electric lights, like the Middle East, China and Africa. Visionaries like Al Gore have tried to balance things by getting the incandescent bulb banned, but much more work remains. Devices like the cell phone, the DVD player, and the PC should certainly be banned for the aggravation, complexity and perversity they add to life. Electronics also promote moral turpitude by increasing the incidence of swearing among frustrated males. (My old dad referred to it as “calling things by their true Anglo-Saxon names.”) Whatever you call it, it can’t be good for the tender ears of “the children.”

Most of the above is tongue-in-cheek, of course. But the reference to the incandescent light-bulb is not. You won’t be able to buy one after 2012. The Congress banned it because of global-warming concerns. GW has now been shown to be bogus, but the legislation remains in place. From now on, we’ll have to buy Al Gore’s curlicue fluorescent bulbs at greatly increased prices. Unfortunately, they contain mercury, so they’ll have to be disposed of as a dangerous substance. If you break one, it could cost $1000 or more to clean up the hazardous waste. Getting this nonsense repealed would be a good start on rolling back the runaway movement to ban things. Maybe it can happen in the new political climate. I hope so.

As my pop liked to say, “…this isn’t really funny enough to laugh at, but we’re too big to cry.” Is this why we elect people to office? Are we really so witless and incompetent that we must pay councils and whole congresses to decide whether our children should receive toys in their lunch bags at a fast-food restaurant? Must games, foods, and modern conveniences be banned because busybodies decide these things are not good for us? Hopefully not, but hope alone won’t be enough to stop this runaway train of “good intentions.” It’s going to take some real work. (I’ll be there in a minute. I need a drink first. Maybe a smoke, too. Or a @#$&>* cheesburger!!!)

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[1] See “The Earth on Fire” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXrc1XZayp4