Congress

Trivial Pursuit in Washington

Do we really need federal laws governing carry-on luggage, college football, and switchblades?

|

The Clinton administration was famous for obsessing about tiny, innocuous issues, like promoting school uniforms and opposing TV violence. But the era of trivial government came to an end on Sept. 11, 2001, when Americans got a reminder that their government has some truly vital duties and that it might be worthwhile to concentrate on them.

As far as I know, al-Qaida has yet to surrender, and a few other formidable problems have presented themselves since then. But having failed to solve the big, critical problems, our leaders are once again inclined to focus on inconsequential ones that happen to be none of their business.

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), for example, thinks it should be a violation of federal law to board an airliner with a bag that exceeds 22 inches by 18 inches by 10 inches. He wants his rule enforced by the same Transportation Security Administration agents who are supposed to protect us from the next Mohammad Atta.

You might think that if you invest vast amounts of money establishing and operating an airline, at great financial risk, you would be entitled to make your own choices on things like the color of planes and the rules for carry-ons. But one member of Congress wants to make sure he never has trouble squeezing his luggage into an overhead bin because someone else has taken up too much space.

That's not all. Lipinski once had to wait 50 minutes for a checked bag. So he thinks carriers should pay fines when they don't get suitcases to passengers immediately.

But why stop there? Why not mandate more legroom and bigger restrooms? Why not demand a free copy of Sports Illustrated or Cosmopolitan for every passenger? Why not require flight attendants to give each of us a teddy bear to clutch in case of turbulence?

Lipinski is not alone in dreaming up uses for the idle hands of Congress. In recent months, both the House and the Senate have taken a pause from addressing the $1.8 trillion budget deficit and preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons to ponder the atrocity known as the Bowl Championship Series, which uses polls and bowl games to determine the No. 1 college football team in the country.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a Texas A&M University graduate, thinks the BCS is "deeply flawed." But anyone who roots for the A&M football team (as I do) knows it makes the BCS look as perfect as a Mozart concerto. Why doesn't Barton hold hearings on why the Aggie defense couldn't stop a bathtub drain last year?

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), finds it incredible that the University of Utah wasn't invited to play for the national title last season despite going undefeated. But you know what? Even though Japan won the World Baseball Classic this year, it won't get to play in the World Series.

If Utah wants to go through a playoff, it is welcome to try to persuade other universities to join with it in repudiating the scandalous status quo. But if the other schools are content with the BCS, why should the desires of the Mountain West Conference trump those of the other conferences? Answer: because some members of Congress think the only preference that should count is theirs.

Then there is the Obama administration's plan to man our borders against the import of pocketknives that can be opened with only one hand. This builds on one of Washington's more ridiculous gestures, the 1958 federal law against switchblades—which drew attention not because they were more dangerous than other knives but because they were immortalized in movies about teenage hoodlums. This knife, declared a Senate committee, is "almost exclusively the weapon of the thug and the delinquent."

It was a silly idea at the time, and it doesn't make any more sense in an age where gangs have a penchant for settling disputes with a hail of bullets. But that doesn't stop administration officials from targeting even more knives to address "health and public safety concerns raised by such importations."

Are they serious? Do they really think that if you deprive a violent criminal of one sort of pocketknife, it will never occur to him to use a different and equally lethal pointed implement?

Maybe there are criminals out there who are really that stupid. If so, they missed their calling in government, where the mental deficiency would never be noticed.

COPYRIGHT 2009 CREATORS.COM

Advertisement

NEXT: Power Lines

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Thanks for mentioning something about Custom’s bullshit about knives.

  2. Why not require flight attendants to give each of us a teddy bear to clutch in case of turbulence?

    Why not give each of us a flight attendant to clutch?

  3. Do they really think that if you deprive a violent criminal of one sort of pocketknife, it will never occur to him to use a different and equally lethal pointed implement?

  4. “Do they really think that if you deprive a violent criminal of one sort of pocketknife, it will never occur to him to use a different and equally lethal pointed implement?”

    The Family Switchblade and Teddy Bear Act of 2009 will address this vital national interest.

  5. Bet you were expecting something else.

  6. Even many of our elected representatives in congress don’t seem to understand our republican structure and the limited role the Federal government is to have in our lives. What should I expect after a wholesale takeover of the educational establishment by the so called “progressives”, who see every human need and societal imperfection as an opportunity to get government involved in our lives. Supposedly educated people taking up the issues mentioned above (and many others) in the Federal govt is absurd on its face – we shouldn’t even have to discuss it, but here we are anyway.

  7. “Bet you were expecting something else.”

    Yeah, you got me. I was expecting something like the scene in the movie “Land of the Blind”. When emperor Maximilian II stabs his chief advisor to death with his other advisors pen. A movie every libertarian should see by the way.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_of_the_Blind

  8. “Do we really need federal laws governing carry-on luggage, college football, and switchblades?”

    Well, it depends on what the definition of “we” is. This sort of legislation is “almost exclusively the weapon of the thug and the delinquent.”

  9. How about….oh hell, why even bother? The nonsense speaks for itself.

  10. How about….oh hell, why even bother? The nonsense speaks for itself.

    It does indeed. While I don’t disagree with anything about the article in particular, I wondered how many people, like me, opened Reason early this Monday morning, looked at the first posted article, and thought, “Grump. Why’d it have to be Chapman?”

  11. My Leatherman multi-tool has two knives on it. One is straight, the other serrated. Each can be opened one-handed. Anything can be used as a weapon under the right conditions. A properly trained person needs no weapons at all.

    I’m frankly surprised that after seeing “The Dark Knight,” nobody tried banning pencils.

  12. Even many of our elected representatives in congress don’t seem to understand our republican structure and the limited role the Federal government is to have in our lives.

    More importantly, many of our fellow citizens in America don’t seem to understand our republican structure and the limited role the Federal government is to have in our lives.

    Can you imagine how different, for example, our presidential elections would be if people only voted for candidates based on their stances on issues for which they are actually responsible on a day-to-day basis? Instead, presidents run on issues that will be decided by congress people. Diplomatic relations with Iran, stances on our military presence in Afghanistan were much more determinative of what effect Obama/McCain would have on our national political mien than stances on healthcare or card check–but what did many people vote on? The healthcare bullshit. Sure, those positions may forecast whether a veto is impending, but otherwise tell us nothing about what we can expect from their administration–particularly when they are all too willing to camouflage their actual stances on issues.

    I’m not sure, however, whether to blame our collective civic educations, the way media covers primaries and elections, or some more insidious attempt on the behalf of elected officials to confuse their responsibilities to the extent that no one really knows how to hold them accountable.

  13. Goddamit, I am going to go broke buying shit before this bunch of clowns outlaws it.

    First, it was an M1A (try finding one of those for list price). Now, its a decent folding blade knife.

  14. perhaps we should just ban all pointy objects and any object that could be sharpened to a point. this would prevent accidents in the home (a leading cause of death) and prevent violence (another leading cause of death).
    unfortunately i can see a future where people are paper-cut to death and then we’ll have to ban manila (filipino american) envelopes.

  15. There is also Senator Herb Kohl from my state of Wisconsin who wants Congress to look into why it costs so much to send text messages that are more the number allowed on your cell plan. This from a guy who hasn’t done anything in the years since he bought his Senate seat.

  16. So, someone fill me in if I am missing anything here. As far as I can tell, switchblades are banned because people saw them being used in West Side Story and thought that they looked scary. Is that really it?

  17. Zeb, I heard it was due to patent infringement on the switchcomb.

  18. So, someone fill me in if I am missing anything here. As far as I can tell, switchblades are banned because people saw them being used in West Side Story and thought that they looked scary. Is that really it?

    Nope. It was Blackboard Jungle.

    Related news: England has developed an anti-stab knife.

  19. One-handed knives are pretty ubiquitous among police, military, and EMS.

    They’ll take my Spyderco when they pry it from my cold dead hands.

    Or when I have to put it in my checked luggage and some TSA goon steals it from me.

  20. And here we all thought socialists opposed cutthroat competition.

  21. And while they’re at it they need to decree that the number of hot dogs in a package must match the number of buns in a package. Enough of this 10 and 8 nonsense.

  22. You can make any folding knife into a one-hand-opening knife. Just attach something to the back of the blade to give your fingers purchase. I did. Carried it for years; very useful tool. Until I fixed it, I was always winding up with what I wanted to cut in one hand and a closed knife in the other.

    Something like that was why they used to issue switchblades to boatswain’s mates. Real switchblades (with orange handles).

  23. PLEASE stop giving these people ideas!

  24. I’m not a big college football fan (I’ll occasionally watch USC vs. UCLA games) but I think Reason might be mistaken on the whole BCS issue.

    The playoff system isn’t perfect, but it’s the kind of record based competition that’s not unlike the free market. That a fluke team with 10 wins might potentially upset a perennial powerhouse only adds to the intrigue. You basically control your own destiny.

    The BCS is determined in a rather beauracratic manner. The computer formula (the strength of competition always struck me as somewhat arbitrary) has been crticized forever. I think BCS opponents have a point when they charge that BCS tends to favor traditinal powerhouse conferences and contenders.

  25. Hey Steve,
    Good article. It almost seems that congress serves our nation better when it is not in session. They just can’t stop coming up with things to legislate. If Utah wants to change the BCS then they need to change it from within the governance of the NCAA. By the way, go Baylor beat A&M!

  26. http://gunsandknivestakelives.com/

    We’re behind the curve, apparently.

  27. “And while they’re at it they need to decree that the number of hot dogs in a package must match the number of buns in a package. Enough of this 10 and 8 nonsense.”

    Hebrew National hot dogs come seven to the pack. Do the math on that one.

    Damn tasty, though.

  28. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets…in order to really get the Books of the Bible, you have to cultivate such a mindset, it’s literally a labyrinth, that’s no joke

  29. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane.

  30. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.