June 2015 - Put Down That Fork and Step Away From the Plate

As near as I can tell, I am the only member of my political party. Like my theology, my politics has been assembled like a Chinese takeout order—by picking items I like from various parts of the menu without a whole lot of regard for whether they were designed to go together.

This probably had something to do with the fact I was rejected for a municipal court appointment by both parties. Jerry Brown thought I was way too conservative and George Deukmejian thought I was way too liberal. Governors tend to prefer nominees whose politics all come from the same store where they shop.

I, on the other hand, can’t ever find any stores that sell politics that fit me. I like what the Libertarians say about individual freedom, but I keep turning on the TV and seeing folks in Wyoming with rifles talking about killing federal agents if they try to interfere with their use of the “God-given range.” I like what the Republicans say about small government, but they always seem to choose spokespersons who sound greedy and mean. I like what the Democrats say about peace and undocumented residents, but I can’t figure out a peaceful solution for ISIS and I can’t even figure out how to feed and house the people we’ve already got.

This is disconcerting, but it actually works out okay in my day job. If your own sense of direction is full of contradictory signposts, it’s easier to be comfortable with the fact the law sometimes goes off in directions you weren’t anticipating.1

One of the areas in which it is hardest for me to grapple with this philosophical bouillabaisse is government regulation. Years ago I read a wonderful book called The Death of Common Sense. If I tell you the subtitle is How Law is Suffocating America, you can pretty much guess how author Philip K. Howard felt about government regulation.

And I was on board. I thought he made some great points and I was willing to man the ramparts with him.
Well . . . some of the ramparts.

That’s the problem with moderate politics. You’re never able to just wrap your arms around an idea and embrace it completely. A handshake, a warm smile, a congenial pat on the back is generally the best you can manage. 

“Mr. Howard, I am in complete agreement that Gazorninplat Gaming Systems should not have to replace its 47-inch railing with a new one—at considerable expense—because the regulation in question requires a 48-inch railing.  

“On the other hand, the railing borders a terrace on the 75th floor of a high-rise office building. I think they need a railing of some kind, and I’m not sure I’m unhappy enough about this ruling to be ready to throw a grenade into the offices of the government regulator who makes sure such things get done. I kinda think we need her.”

This whole line-drawing thing is tougher than it looks. You may recall a column I wrote about the Michigan State Police and the Colorado Department of Public Safety getting involved with talking urinal cakes. The idea was to prevent drunk driving by deploying urinal cakes that would convince men not to drive by sermonizing to them while they were standing at barroom urinals.2
It’s hard to imagine I could more fully live up to the running title of this column than that, but today I’m going to try. Today I’m going to address the other end of the alimentary canal.3

I have before me the Brookstone catalog ad for the HAPIfork. Here is what it says: “The faster you eat, the more you eat. So slow down with HAPIfork. It alerts you with vibration and LED lights when you’re eating too fast, and uses Bluetooth® to wirelessly upload your meal data to the free app.”
This is wrong. This is seriously wrong in so many ways.

I mean, forks should not vibrate and they certainly should not have LED lights. Unless they belonged to Liberace.

And they should not be hollering at me that I’m eating too fast. I have a wife and children for that.

But what I’m really concerned about is that I may be living in a country where the largesse is so completely out of control that we need vibration and LED lights to keep us from eating our steak and foie gras so fast that the heart attack occurs before we have a chance to look up the seven warning signs on the Internet again.  

Folks, we’re the biggest military power in the history of the planet. We have enough destructive power in underground silos to create several fireballs big enough to wipe out the planet and blind the aliens watching us from Zontar 7. In light of that, the thought that we are evolving 4 into a species so bereft of self-control that we are unable to stop eating ice cream without the aid of vibrating forks and flashing lights is unsettling.

But that’s long-term unsettling. I’m old. Old people don’t worry about long-term problems. You don’t believe me, spend five minutes listening to a member of Congress. 
No, I’m more concerned about short-term unsettling. I’m worried about that part of the ad that talks about wirelessly uploading my meal data via Bluetooth®.5
I’m not real crazy about the idea of “uploading my meal data” to anything but my mouth. My mouth needs to know what’s coming. If I prepare it for ice cream, and broccoli arrives instead, there’s going to be trouble.

But nobody else—certainly nobody who gets the information via Bluetooth®—has any need for that information. And, of course, if it enters the ozone-filled intertubes in which Bluetooth-blanking® stores its cloud of data, it enters the files of the NSA. At least that’s the way it was explained to me by the moot court contestants.6 

Why would anyone want this information? I don’t even want it. When April rolls around, I do not want to contemplate my eating record between November 21 (my birthday), Thanksgiving, December 4 (my wife’s birthday), and Christmas. I do not need an exact count on the cookies, cakes, candies, and deep-fried dead animals I ingested during that month. The rough approximation provided by my belt will do just fine, thank you very much.

The NSA assures us they don’t want our phone calls to outcall massage parlors or Cox customer service either, but they still hold on to them. So the fact I would love to destroy this information apparently diminishes not one iota the right of Bluetooth-for-crying-out-loud® and the NSA and North Korean hackers and probably dozens of smart eight-graders in Tustin from getting it.

“Hey, Bobby, look at this, the judge just broke his record for Birthday Cake at a Single Sitting. Alert the ambulance services.”

Somewhere in what used to be the Strategic Air Command hangars under Nebraska, there are going to be depositories of information about our eating habits—information collected when our HAPIforks used “Bluetooth®7 to wirelessly upload your meal data to the free app.” According to the nice Brookstone people, “HAPIfork is a major breakthrough for a country that’s hungry for healthier eating habits.”

To me it just looks like another chance to be confused about government regulation. 

(1) Although it’s still frustrating when it takes you somewhere you absolutely did not want to go.
(2) I had some fun with the idea, but I acknowledged that a good many men would probably realize they should not be driving if they thought the urinal cake was talking to them. That certainly seemed like a good thing. Again, I was unable to embrace either side of the controversy.
(3) I’m not especially well-versed in canal geography, so I’m not quite sure whether that would be Buffalo or Albany. You decide.
(4) That can’t be the right word here. Did Darwin predict when the evolutionary process would reverse?
(5) Really? I’ve gotta put that little ® up next to it every time I say Blue . . . every time I say their name? Really? Every time? Let’s go back to Gazorninplat Gaming Systems and their railing. I think I may want to reconsider my tolerance for government regulation.
(6) I think that’s the way they explained it. They were smart kids and seemed a little bemused when I asked whether a carburetor was involved in this process.
(7) Aaaaarrrrggggghhhhh!!!!

William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be contacted at william.bedsworth@jud.ca.gov.