Nanny Nation - Garbage Police!

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Thu, 08/07/2008 - 6:28pm.
Seattle - Here on the West Coast, we sort our garbage — or else. We rummage through our food scraps, just ahead of the worms. We take our little canvas bags to the grocery store lest we get caught with the embarrassment of a dreaded paper-or-plastic denouement, and the scorn of neighbors.

If we smoke cigarettes, we do it in the alley — huddled with the other losers. We’ve banned junk food from our school vending machines and soon — in 32 square miles of Los Angeles where a moratorium on new fast food restaurants will be in place — it will be treated like tobacco: the cheeseburger as death-wich.

We do this because we’re so-o-o-o virtuous, and our self-regard is tied to the size of our curbside proclamations. Mostly, we do it for others — the poor, the fat, the ill-informed. Of course, we would never smoke, or get caught finger-licking the extra-crispy runoff from KFC, or tossing a foil wrap in the trash.

Nearly every week brings news of another act of forced high-mindedness. Last week it was San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom with a plan to start inspecting people’s garbage, on the lookout to find someone who may have let a banana peel slip into the trash. Before that it was Seattle, which will soon charge people 20 cents a bag in the grocery checkout line.

It’s not just us Left Coasters. New York has begun enforcing an ordinance that requires fast-food chains to post the caloric content of food on menus — in type as big as the menu item itself. How enticing: a fistful of calories on a bed of cholesterol, to go. Chicago, that city of deep-dish pizza and tailgate brats, has just been named the most meddlesome and restrictive in the country by the libertarian magazine Reason. Red states are more restrictive on sex and liquor; blue state prohibitionists tend to aim at garbage and tobacco. But as Reason noted, “Chicago gets moral prudery and public health fanaticism — the worst of both worlds.”

Seattle was only number two. We’ll show them in my fair city, once we have to start sorting our food scraps next year. And, playing catch-up, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels tried to ban lap dancers from moving within four feet of their customers, unleashing police with tape measures. The voters, mercifully, turned him down.

In Portland, Ore., which has somehow escaped excess civic nosiness, strip clubs proliferate in family-friendly neighborhoods, as commonplace as a burger hut. What’s more, you can drink and gamble in the clubs. The city is said to have more strip clubs per capita than any other in the country — including Las Vegas — in part because of Oregon’s liberal free speech provisions in the state constitution.And yet, the city, has low crime, uber-fit citizens, and it’s clean. They do it all by example, not mayoral fiat.

At a time when so many people are losing homes and jobs, and making tough decisions about whether to fill a gas tank or pay health insurance, city governments should avoid counting calories and dispatching garbage police.

Government should empower us — to use the word so favored by activists. Make sure our food is safe. When products kill, make companies pay. Show us the way to a cleaner garbage stream. Lead by example.

But then, leave us alone. These dictates and fines and inspectors — they only undermine larger efforts and encourage ridicule. Conservative talk radio on the West Coast would have to go silent without the fodder of strong-armed earnestness from city halls in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle this summer.

San Francisco already has one of the highest recycling rates in the country. Do they really need city inspectors out poking through the trash can? Besides, if you make a fruit forbidden, it only becomes more enticing. After Oakland schools banned junk food from vending machines, I went there to have a look at lunch hour. Lo and behold, students walked more than half-a-mile — a sprint, almost — to make it to the nearest mini-mart for their sugar highs and empty calories. At least the ban encouraged exercise.

If blades of grass or apple cores find their way into my garbage, I’m in trouble. But, ever thoughtful, Seattle officials have given me a way out. It’s now legal for city residents to own pygmy goats, which — we are told — can be used to process yard waste in an eco-friendly way.

August 7, 2008 - source NY Times

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Thu, 08/07/2008 - 6:28pm.