The Nation's Pulse

Fault Lines of Freedom

More than an earthquake struck Los Angeles yesterday.

By 7.30.08

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You know me, I like playing with words. I compose little gags and occasionally sell one to the Reader's Digest or someplace. Like this one I just wrote: a young man starting college in zoology but anxious to pay his own way applies for a job at the local zoo. They cannot pay cash but because of overbreeding in their gnu population, they will cull the herd, saving the sturdiest and letting the employees eat the rest. "Mom," he says. "I love my job. I'll earn some thin gnu every day."

Or this one: an attorney advised his client to choose a jury trial, because it only takes one dissenter to achieve a hung jury. "Great," he says. "I'll avoid a hanging judge and hope for a judging hang."

So when I heard yesterday on the radio about "five point fork wake" in Los Angeles, I had scary visions of a large pointy farm implement prodding me out of a deep sleep. Eventually it sank in that the announcer had actually said that a five-point-four quake had rattled that great city of angels and dodgers. To a child I would have to explain that 5.4 was a measurement of force on a scale delineated by a chap named Richter. Not to be confused with the "rictus kale," a type of cabbage that makes me grimace when it appears in a salad.

Yet the story from L.A. that aroused the greater tremor was the one about the fast food ban in poor neighborhoods. Huh? Yes, indeed. The City Council had pushed this bill through committee and yesterday brought its final passage in a unanimous vote. The law creates a moratorium for an initial period of one year during which no new establishments may be opened for the sale of greasy, high-fat food. There is a tendency for the less moneyed to consume the most superfatted fare, with predictable results such as wattles and waddles. By slowing the fast food traffic, the city government hopes to unclog some of those metropolitan arteries.

Yes, this is a new form of redlining, but apparently using the waistline to cross the borderline.

At moments like this, people who believe that constitutional government is the foundation of our nation experience culture shock. It seems absurd even to be debating the merits of such a statute. Unless the obesity "crisis" has reached proportions that call for instituting martial law and suspending habeas corpus, there is no conceivable theory by which a government has the power to a) prohibit fast food restaurants anywhere, b) prohibit any kind of restaurant in a particular zoned-for-business neighborhood, or even c) determine a category of food as being officially "not good for you."

The particular legislation will either succeed or fail to be enforced and will either fail or succeed to make a difference in the habits of individual citizens. More important to public policy and political science is the arrogation of volition. The sheer gall of believing that elected officials are better equipped to make private life choices. The staggering effrontery of coercing such choices. And the stupendous audacity of employing the law as a vehicle to implement such coercion.

Perhaps it is time for folks like you and me to throw in the towel and pick up the handkerchief. Let us suggest more laws in this spirit. People waiting for public buses may no longer read Archie comics, only War and Peace. Movie theaters in low-income areas may no longer show Kung Fu, only Bambi. Longshoremen may no longer marry women with tattoos, only librarians. Construction crews after work may no longer guzzle beer, only Pinot Grigio. If those pigs can play Pygmalion, if those burghers can ban the burgers, if those flies can ban fries, why can't gentlemen cultivate gentility?

A quake does not begin to describe how this shakes the foundations of our social structure. People sitting in councils looking at neighborhoods...looking down at the residents...looking at restaurants...looking down at the ingredients... looking at the laws...looking down at constitutions...help! All this leaves me in great trepidation; the aftershock may be even worse. No voice rose in protest and the empire of grease has lost without the other side even bothering to use a Trojan horse. The agenda is no longer hidden, because they do not think it is stoppable: it ain't overt until it's overt.

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About the Author

Jay D. Homnick, commentator and humorist, is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator.