Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Bob Barr Article

Big Brother endorses these playthings
by Bob Barr
special to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Wednesday, March 05, 2008 at 9:00 AM

Two years ago in this column, I lamented the fact that toy manufacturers were cashing in on society's headlong rush toward constant and ubiquitous surveillance.

I highlighted a Lego construction set that included, as part of a police 18-wheeler, a surveillance and monitoring unit. I also noted a plastic "play set," manufactured and marketed by Playmobil, depicting a police officer wanding a civilian figure as pretend belongings go through a pretend X-ray machine. This trend toward "play" search and surveillance has continued, and now includes a functioning toy metal detector.

Wizard Industries Inc. recently heralded the latest children's toy �- as an "educational aid" �- designed expressly to make surveillance security "fun." The company's press release announcing its "Scan-It Toy X-Ray Machine" reveals much about the direction in which our society is moving.

The company takes great pains to explain that the functioning kiddie metal-detecting machine is not the product of some impersonal research department but rather the product of the imaginative mind of a "mother of three" �- Kathy Arena. It seems Arena was going though what apparently was a not-so-happy divorce several years ago that required her and her children to pass through security checkpoints at the courthouse. We learn that they were "intimidated" by the courthouse security.

The fear of the courthouse security scanner apparently rested heavy on Rena's psyche after the divorce. This intrepid divorcee decided the best way to meet the challenge presented by the distress was to invent a toy to teach other children that transiting a security checkpoint can be fun. Untold numbers of children yet unborn could easily avoid similar trauma by having their parents or guardians shell out $59.95 for a toy metal-detecting machine, and then practice the drill of being subjected to government searches in the comfortable surroundings of their own playroom.

Apparently Arena is quite a philosopher. The description of her epiphany from trembling at the sight of a security checkpoint to embracing such intrusive devices, notes that she realized that knowledge dispels ignorance, which in turn reduces fear. Thus, in a flash of brilliance that would make Plato sit up and take notice, Arena concluded that fear of having the government invade one's personal privacy was simply the result of ignorance. Arena and Wizard Industries may be on to something here that could make them rich, and at the same time tear down the wall of fear and distrust that has infected our view of certain ongoing government activities. The Wizard-Arena team could develop and market a whole series of post-9/11 toys:

> A miniature waterboarding play set, designed to teach kids that pouring water down someone's nose while he's strapped to a table is not "torture," but actually fun.

> Decks of playing cards to teach youngsters how to recognize "enemy combatants" and deny them their civil liberties, a process that also can be loads of fun.

> Make-believe surveillance devices to intercept and record phone calls and e-mail messages for no reason at all, just like their government does.

> Pretend national identification cards that must be shown if their playmates wish to visit their homes for sleep-overs, just like their parents will have to show when the Real ID Act goes into full force and effect.

> Self-sticking, fake radio frequency identification chips just like the ones the government is putting in passports and other items.

When I was a kid, my favorite toys were a football, a Davy Crockett coonskin cap, and a Red Ryder BB gun. How times have changed.

> Former congressman and U.S. attorney Bob Barr practices law in Atlanta. Web site: www.bobbarr.org.
> Original source: http://www.bobbarr.org/default.asp?pt=newsdescr&RI=928

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