Eroding: The Little Things

Two recent articles have really struck a chord with me.  Both articles feature actual or proposed government regulations that, while they may be done with the best of intentions, erode the basic liberties and choices that people should be allowed to make.

The topics are extremely mundane (volume of your music and bike riding), but that makes them even more compelling.  While the United States Supreme Court has agreed to take on the issue of local gun control laws, the smaller issues are things that happen daily in the lives of millions.

First, an article from Businessweek about the European Union proposing a built-in default maximum volume to digital media players.

As part of the proposals, MP3 players and cell phones with music players will be sold with a ‘default’ setting that restricts noise levels. Brussels says no maximum limit is on the cards, but reckons 80 decibels — roughly the noise of a busy street — are a safe level. (Users can increase the volume by changing gadgets’ settings).

While users are able to change the settings to increase beyond this volume, the implementation of the ability to do this is left up to the manufacturers of the particular device.  Not only does this increase the cost of digital media players in the EU (and likely worldwide) but it puts an additional strain on users, many of whom will not be able to change the volume and enjoy their digital media as they see fit.

This issue is a physical manifestation of the recent Digital Rights Management (DRM) debates that have been splashed across news pages of late.  In my opinion, if you purchase a piece of digital media (be it a song, a movie, etc.) you should be able to use it as you see fit.  For example, if you purchase a song, you should be able to listen to it on all of your devices, set it as a ringtone, convert it to another format, etc.  In the EU, you won’t even be able to listen to that song as loud as you’d like, unless you jump through some settings hoops.

The second article hits a little closer to home.  In a school district near Albany, NY, students are not allowed to walk or ride their bikes to school.

The biking debate started last spring, when school district officials told Kaddo Marino that Adam was violating school rules by biking to class. Walking to the school also is not permitted.

Kaddo Marino challenged the policy and asked the school board to change it. The district charged a committee to review the rule, which was instituted in 1994.

At the start of school in September, Kaddo Marino thought that she had a nonverbal agreement with school officials to allow her son to ride his bike until a new policy was resolved. But on the night before classes started, school authorities called parents to say that walking and biking to school would not be tolerated.

When the pair stuck with their plan, they were met by school administrators and a state trooper, who emphasized that biking was prohibited, Kaddo Marino said.

A state trooper?  Isn’t that a bit overkill?  Don’t state troopers have better things to do in New York?

If you read the article, you’ll see that the mom rides her bike to and from the school with her 12 year-old child.

These sort of regulations, while they may be done in the interest of the saftey of the children, are becoming more and more common around the United States.

In Michigan, a woman was recently told that she can no longer watch the neighborhood kids at her home after school without becoming a licensed child care facility.

When the United States is faced with healthcare and financial crises beyond anything we’ve faced in recent memory, are fighting two wars in two different countries, and are struggling to maintain those ideals which we all hold dear, a little bit of parenting should be the last thing the authorities are worried about.

If more parents rode their bikes with their kids, if more stable, safe, neighborhood homes were open to children, America would be a better place.

I plan to do my part when I get the chance.


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