Nanny-State Absurdity of the Week

We thought we’d have to search far and wide this week to find something more ridiculous than the Maryland county government that fined a group of kids $500 for running an unlicensed lemonade stand. (They were raising money for pediatric cancer research.) But three times zones away, big-city lawmakers could soon demonstrate to thousands of children at once just how stupid some grown-ups can be. Sounding like animal-rights extremists, the  San Francisco city government now wants to ban the sale of—wait for it—goldfish.

Haven’t America’s animal-rights loonies taken enough fun out of life already? When the Weekly World News, better known for breaking news about supposed Elvis and UFO sightings, reports on a story and it doesn’t seem out of place, it’s usually a good sign that someone is playing a practical joke.

But San Francisco’s Animal Control & Welfare Commission isn’t laughing. Just 11 months ago the Commission recommended a citywide ban on the sale of practically all pets. And now the other flipper is dropping.

At the time, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) CEO Wayne Pacelle was lukewarm to the idea, telling the Los Angeles Times that San Franciscans might find an incremental approach easier to swallow than such a broad move.

I think the best thing would be to start with [banning] the sale of dogs and cats from these pet stores. I think [with a ban affecting more species] you attract a set of additional opponents that sink an otherwise achievable goal.

It now appears Pacelle has his wish. First it’s the goldfish. And then what—hamsters? Turtles? Parakeets? (We’ll leave frogs out of it for now, although a certain parable about boiling water does leap to mind.)

Silly initiatives like this don’t happen by themselves: They require a push from activist groups. HSUS and other animal-rights organizations agitate constantly for just this sort of ordinance, as a baby step toward control over the way humans interact with animals. Self-styled nutrition gurus organize similar pushes for government intrusion into our diets—“for our own good,” of course. And environmental groups spend tens of millions of dollars every year lobbying their way to new roadblocks on food technologies that could make our food supply safer, more abundant, and healthier to eat.

And why not? They’ve spent decades perfecting the twin arts of the swindle and the legislative arm-twist. As long as well-meaning Americans keep funding them, they shouldn’t be surprised when Twinkie-taxes, onerous warning labels, zoning restrictions, salt-starved meals—and, yes, even bans on goldfish—are among the results.

If you think telling grade-schoolers they can’t raise money for charity with a lemonade stand is silly, you’re absolutely right. And if you believe telling inner-city kids they can’t have guppies falls in the same class of foolish, remember that this idiotic idea came from some of the same animal rights activists who are trying to nudge us all toward vegetarianism.

“Crazy is as crazy does,” Forrest Gump famously said. “Mama always said you can’t outgrow crazy.”