Dispatches > The Buzz

QuickTakes

Issue: "Illegal siblings project," Feb. 2, 2002

WACKY WARNINGS: "Caution-Risk of Fire." That warning on a fireplace log was a winner of the "Wacky Warning Label Contest" run by a group called Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch. The publicity stunt was set up to warn people about how litigation has created ridiculous instructions on consumer products. A box of birthday candles instructs users: "DO NOT use soft wax as ear plugs or for any other function that involves insertion into a body cavity." A camera advised: "When operating the selector dial with your eye to the viewfinder, care should be taken not to put your finger in your eye accidentally." The first-place winner was a CD player that warned users: "Do not use the Ultradisc2000 as a projectile in a catapult." FLAG FEVER BREAKING? Was all the post-9/11 patriotism just a fad? "Flag fever seems to be going the way of the Macarena," reports Orlando Sentinel reporter Jon Steinman. The red-white-and-blue regalia that decorated houses, cars, and businesses have gone away with America's Christmas decorations. The rush to display flags is over, Mr. Steinman writes about his tour of a suburb. "A drive a few months ago invariably felt something like a parade, with so many cars flying the national colors. No more. A drive is becoming just a drive again- though several drivers still display magnetic flags on the doors or rear decks of their cars." One reason for the flag's disappearance is wear and tear. Four months of public display can add plenty of wear and damage. That means the flags are ready for disposal. A BIGGER THREAT THAN BIG BUSINESS: Why do intellectuals regularly worry about big business but less so about big government? Pop historian Paul Johnson poses this question in a Forbes article, speaking specifically of Microsoft's ongoing antitrust woes. He says Americans have long believed in the "anti-size doctrine," that when institutions get too big, they threaten society. Crediting Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis as the belief's greatest expositor, Mr. Johnson noted American worries about the power of other giants like Standard Oil, A&P, and Ford. These fears have proven overwrought, since their dominance declined over time. On the other hand, a small business owner faces a far fairer fight against a big corporation than against the IRS. "Throughout the 20th century it proved relatively easy to curb the excesses of business, however big, and to eliminate the robber barons (if they ever really existed)," he writes, "but reducing the size of the state or even curbing its further expansion taxed the ingenuity and energy of all great democracies." Mr. Johnson pointed out a great irony: The same people who supported anti-trust legislation also backed massive federal expansion from Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Roosevelt and beyond. TRUE COLORS: A famous 9/11 picture of three firemen raising the U.S. flag over the rubble of the World Trade Center was supposed to be recreated as a 19-foot bronze statue-only with the men's races changed to make them a multiracial cast: one white, one black, and one Hispanic. Pundits and talk-show hosts went into a feeding frenzy over this and the project was dropped. Columnist John Leo pointed out that the debacle showed the bankruptcy of constant revisionism in the name of diversity. These are the tricks of totalitarians, he remarks, not free people. "By now most Americans are sick of the racialization of everything," he reports. "Here a powerful real-life image wasn't accepted as expressing national sentiments unless it was run through the ideological mill of one-from-each-column multiculturalism. If all three firemen in the photo had been black or Hispanic, would the picture have somehow failed to express the defiant patriotism of planting that flag in the rubble at a moment of such national shock? If not, then what sense would it have made to falsify the act because the men involved happened to be white?"

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