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Archive for the ‘Nanny State’ Category

The media watchdog group Parents Television Council has issued a report which states that sex and violence are on the rise during what is traditionally called the “Family Hour” on network television. 

The group studied 180 hours of original programming on six broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, MyNetworkTV and the CW) during three two-week ratings sweeps periods in 2006 and 2007. It found that instances of violence had increased 52.4% since a similar study in 2000-2001 and that sexual content had increased 22.1%.

The Parents Television Council is hoping that the FCC begins to regulate violence on television the way they already regulate “indecent content.”

The network response is that with the vastly increased number of options available to families, with so many more channels now available in the basic cable package, there is less need to provide that type of programming. 

 To be honest, I agree with the networks on this one.  One of the reasons the FCC had the authority to regulate television was a combination of two factors – 1. the finite number of frequencies used to transmit broadcast signals were publicly owned and 2. there was a scarcity of options in broadcast television.  To the extent that #2 becomes less of an issue, the authority of the FCC to regulate broadcasting should be diminished. 

What the regulate-television-on-behalf-of-families crowd seems not to be able to understand is that television is a value neutral tool.  Like the internet, it has nothing to say about what it is transmitting.  It is not a substitute for parenting in respect to instilling values and exposing kids to what’s out there in the world.  Developing technology that allows “parental controls” to prevent kids from watching whatever they want while the parents are not around is appropriate.  

But the world is a dangerous place sometimes.  And people have sex all the time (at least that’s what I hear…).  I’d like my television shows to have something thoughtful to say about reality.  It’s an art.  Sometimes good.  Sometimes very, very bad.  But it should be free to tell stories that are important and relevant to all of us, even if often it does not.   

Artificial restraints based on someone’s notion of “sensible family” programming simply isn’t the appropriate role for the government.  Especially if there is a vastly less intrusive way to accomplish what is purported to be the goals of the movement. 

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Looks like Governor (and Democratic Presidential Candidate) Bill Richardson is going through all the motions necessary to implement a state sponsored medical marijuana program without actually doing it. 

Gov. Bill Richardson ordered the state Health Department on Friday to resume planning of a medical marijuana program despite the agency’s worries about possible federal prosecution.

However, the governor stopped short of committing to implement a state-licensed production and distribution system for the drug if the potential for federal prosecution remains unchanged.

The department announced earlier this week that it would not implement the law’s provisions for the agency to oversee the production and distribution of marijuana to eligible patients. That decision came after Attorney General Gary King warned that the department and its employees could face federal prosecution for implementing the law, which took effect in July.

Even if Governor Richardson decided to implement the program he is planning, it seems like a smart move to keep that close to his chest for now.  He can control the story at this point and possibly put the Democratic congress and President Bush on the spot. 

Also Friday, Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate, sent a letter to President Bush urging the federal government to allow states like New Mexico to implement medical marijuana programs without fear of federal prosecution.

Such as exception would require Congress to approve legislation changing the law, Gallegos said.

Last month, the U.S. House rejected a proposal _ on a 165-262 vote _ that would have blocked the Justice Department from taking action against state medical marijuana programs, including New Mexico’s.

Personally, if a doctor wants to prescribe marijuana and a patient wants to take the prescription and states want to allow it, I’m not entirely sure why Bush believes he’s got anything to say about it. 

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An interesting passage in William Saletan’s otherwise ho-hum editorial on the anti-tobacco crusades:

Urine tests are a warning sign that the war on smoking is morphing into a war on nicotine. The latest target is snus, a tobacco product that delivers nicotine without smoke. Despite studies showing it’s far safer than cigarettes, most European countries allow smoking but prohibit snus. In the U.S., sponsors of legislation to regulate tobacco under the FDA are resisting amendments that would let companies tell consumers how much safer snus is. The president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids complains that snus will “increase the number of people who use tobacco,” letting “the big companies win no matter what tobacco products people use.” But the goal shouldn’t be to stamp out tobacco or make companies lose. The goal should be to save lives.

Well, I’d say that the goal “to save lives” goes a little far, as well (at least insofar as it’s done not by preventing nonsmokers’ exposure to smoking but by criminalizing smokers themselves), but whatever. You get Saletan’s drift. The anti-smoking crusade is not just about protecting innocent third parties from the potential dangers of second-hand smoke, or even “protecting” those poor smokers from themselves. It’s about the complete eradication of tobacco use and sale. Not that this observation is anything new, obviously, but it’s just nice when anti-smoking people come right out and say it (much like when anti-choice fundies let it slip that their motives are less about Loving the Embryos!!!!!!! and more about preventing The Sex).

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After banning the use of the word nigger last month, elected officials in NYC are now suggesting banning use of the word bitch as well. Because if people can’t say racist or sexist words, the sentiments behind these words will cease to exist, obviously.

While the bill also bans the slang word “ho,” the b-word appears to have acquired more shades of meaning among various groups, ranging from a term of camaraderie to, in a gerund form, an expression of emphatic approval. Ms. Mealy acknowledged that the measure was unenforceable, but she argued that it would carry symbolic power against the pejorative uses of the word.

The rest of the article focuses a lot of folks who insist the word shouldn’t be banned because it can be a term of endearment or used in non-negative ways. I like that the conventional reasoning against banning the word seems to be based on its linguistic versatility rather than on the fact that it’s downright loony to ban a fucking word.

Anyway, I’m with Sharon here:

The English language is quite durable and can handle its misuse, even when such misuse is designed to hurt or threaten others.

I don’t like the idea of giving words so much power that they need to be regulated. And in the case of the N-word, society has changed enough that, in my lifetime, that word has a level of offensiveness that’s higher than even the F-word. It seems to me that society has done the best job ostracizing that word and that we don’t need legislation.

Edit: When I first read the article, I thought that some of the council members’ quotes alluded to some pretty heavy underlying racial anxieties/fears or just outright racism, what with the several mentions about how this legislation was designed to combat use of the word bitch by hip-hip artists and rappers. These were just vague thoughts, though, that I was too lazy to flesh out in posting. Luckily, Amanda does the good thinking, as always, so we don’t have to:

The dreaded “rappers” have been brought into the debate, which is basically a badly concealed code word for “young black men” at this point, who are presumably the only people who’ve ever called anyone a “bitch.” “Bitch” and “ho”, being popular in a form of music where a solid majority of the artists are black, are wrong, but “cunt”, which is the favorite word of Bill O’Reilly fans when they’re writing me, somehow passed the notice of the council. To make the irony even deeper, they’ve also gone after the word “nigger”, because it’s all over the place in rap music, too. I’m getting the impression they’re trying to ban hip-hop word by word. The sound of scratching records is an assault on my womanhood, I say, and that should help the process along.

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A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that terminally ill patients whose only chance of survival lies in investigational medicines should, essentially, suck it up and wait it out ’til the FDA rules that the drugs are 100 percent without risk.

That makes sense. I mean, if terminally ill patients take some drug without the FDA’s permission, it could be dangerous. They could die. Oh, wait …

Two judges dissented, pointing out the injustice of this situation:

The two dissenters said the ruling ignored the Constitution’s protection for individuals and their right to life, and instead bowed to “a dangerous brand of paternalism” that put the government’s interest first.

The majority, however, says people don’t have the right to “assume risk” that may save their lives unless a regulatory body says they can:

Judge Thomas B. Griffith, writing for the majority, said a right to experimental drugs was not deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition. Judge Griffith said the right of self-defense “cannot justify creating a constitutional right to assume any level of risk without regard to the scientific and medical judgment expressed through the clinical testing process.”

Sorry you’re dying, but we have rules and procedures, mind you This is no time for attempts at self-preservation, we have a bureaucracy to run here!

But perhaps I’m making this out to be more clear-cut than it is. The group filed the suit under a 5th Amendment claim, saying that not allowing patients these drugs deprived them their right to life. Perhaps the judges were not so much ruling on whether or not dying patients should be allowed to take test drugs but whether or not they have a constitutional right to do so. One of the judges in the majority noted that this is perhaps a matter better left to Congress than the courts. If these judges in the majority are truly constitutional purists, so be it. I think there are major merits to originalist interpretations. But as one of the dissenters notes:

“In the end, it is startling,” Rogers wrote, that the Constitution has been read to include unnamed “fundamental rights” to marry, to control a child’s education, to have sex in private and to have an abortion, “but the right to save one’s life is left out.”

The group who brought the suit, the Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs, said they’ll appeal to the Supreme Court.

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Sitting in a bar the other night, drinking $3 martinis by myself because I had nothing better to do, I was reading the spring issue of Regulation magazine, because I thought that would be less awkward than reading a book.

There was a great article in which Gio Batta Gori debunks the “science” behind secondhand smoke reports, frequently relied upon to push smoking bans across the country.

The plain truth is that no credible measure of ETS exposure has ever been possible.

The Surgeon General’s latest report on environmental tobacco smoke (a summary of previous studies) assesses the risk of contracting lung cancer after being exposed to ETS is 1.21. “Such a precise assessment of risk,” the article claims, “… must fulfill some careful, analytical requirements.” In other words, one would expect some sort of scientific process to have been put to use, representative sample sizes, accurate measurements, precise data collection, control groups, etc, to be able to report such precise results.

In reality, though, the studies mostly rely on potentially biased self-reporting of elderly men and women, asking them to recall vague instances of ETS exposure throughout their lifetime:

…The studies asked 60-70 year-old self-declared nonsmokers to recall how many cigarettes, cigars, or pipes might have been smoked in their presence during lifetime since early childhood, how thick the smoke might have been in the rooms, were the windows open, and similar vagaries. The resulting answers – usually elicited in a few minutes as part of an interview, a phone survey, or by proxy recalls provided by relatives of deceased persons – are then recorded as precise numerical measures of lifetime exposures, as if the digits recorded were error- and bias-free.

The article goes on to claim issues of publication bias, that only studies supporting increased risk of lung cancer from ETS exposure actually get published. Apparently, though, there are almost as many studies claiming decreased risk of cancer and most studies actually claim no change in risk at all.

The antismoking crusaders avoid all confrontations about the accuracy of their reports, claiming it it is all for the greater good, the “higher goal of abolishing cigarettes and tobacco.”

Even “a leading intellect of the campaign against ETS” could not offer anything to the UK House of Lords.

Sir Richard offered his personal belief that “I think there has got to be some risk” for which he admitted not having any testable evidence.

And so it seems that all of the smoking bans across the country – New York City, the entire state of Ohio, etc – that claim to be based on overwhelming evidence that secondhand smoke causes cancer are really just one more attempt by the paternalist government of the day to dictate what we as citizens do in our personal lives, what business owners can allow in their establishments, all for some “greater good” that may or may not even exist.

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My super hero name would have something to do with protecting inanimate objects from being banned. I am protector of all things loose, digusting, and uncared for. So when I read about a V-Chip for a cell phone, it looked like I was going to have to get back in to fighting shape.

Here’s a bit from Slash Dot on a V-Chip for everything.

“The Senate Commerce Committee has stepped in and approved a legislation asking the Federal Communications Commission to ‘oversee the development of a super V-chip that could screen content on everything from cell phones to the Internet.’ Since the content viewed by children is no longer restricted to TV or radio Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., the sponsor of the Child Safe Viewing Act, feels that the new law is necessary. ‘The bill requires the FCC to review, within one year of enactment, technology that can help parents manage the vast volume of video and other content on television or the Internet. Under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, TV makers are required to embed the V-chip within televisions to allow parents to block content according to a rating system.'”

I read about this early this week from a daily trade e-newsletter I subscribe to. I meant to post it early, just to gage what the consensus is. When are we protecting youth and when we are going to far? What is too far?

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