“It’s not a wash” (Brainwashing)

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Today we will examine a moral panic that peaked in the 1970s and 1980s. The terrifying tales centered on persons being brainwashed and led into cults, crime, or other undesirable destinations. Many times, those telling the tale were the same ones selling or touting the cure: Deprogramming.

The difference between influence and brainwashing is that the latter seeks to have the victims completely dedicate themselves to a cause or position that they previously had been ambiguous to or even opposed. Additionally, washing of the brain is forceful. Someone showing up at your front door to sell you rain gutter protection or asking you to sign a petition to bring back the high school marching band will take no for an answer. Someone intent on brainwashing will not and, in fact, will seek to control most aspects of your life.

Writing for Skeptoid, Dunning noted that even the Hare Krishnas fall short of brainwashing since they attempt influence, not intimidation. He explained, “They convince intelligent adults to shave their heads, wear robes, and forego worldly possessions. That’s pretty radical. And their recruitment methods are absolutely systematic. However, they generally don’t force this onto anyone, so it’s not brainwashing.”

By contrast, he continued, the Scientology organization Sea Org qualifies as brainwashing since it “is notorious for confining and isolating new members, imposing uniforms, and cutting off ties to family and friends. It is radical, systematic, and forced.” Other examples would include Patty Hearst and U.S. POWs during the Korean War.

So it has genuinely occurred, although as we will see shortly, its effects were short-lived. Moreover, most supposed brainwashings would more accurately be called instances of wayward or curious youth trying to find their way and place in the world. 

Questioning a tenet of one’s faith or political leanings that one has been imbued with is healthy and checking out new groups or beliefs is common. Even if one comes to embrace “the other side,” that is part of life’s journey and there is no need to be deprogrammed. In fact, attempting that on an adult who has made the choice may qualify as kidnapping and, ironically, as brainwashing.

According to Dunning, the concept of deprogramming was the brainchild of Ted Patrick, who claimed his son had been consumed by a cult, and Patrick was one of many deprogrammers who were convicted for their activities.

Beyond its often-illicit nature, deprogramming is likewise unnecessary. That’s because brainwashing’s impact on victims is temporary, if it exists at all.

Dunning noted that two experts who studied the U.S. POW brainwashing, psychiatrist Robert Lifton and psychologist Edgar Schein, found that most of the victims had merely gone through the motions of saying and doing what their tormenters wanted so as to avoid further torture. The few who came to believe in communism stopped doing so upon release. Similarly, many deprogramming subjects also just went through the motions and gave the desired responses so as to put an end to it.

In summary, brainwashing is nothing to worry about unless it is followed by a deprogramming. 

“Allergic to the truth” (Benadryl Challenge)

In August, an Oklahoma teen reportedly died of a Benadryl overdose, said to be the tragic result of a social media dare to get high by popping the allergy pills.

Did this happen and, if so, how widespread is the trend? Is this something we should be terrified of or is a more measure response justified?

According to Reason’s Scott Shackford, the Benadryl Challenge has elements of truth. Three Texan teens, being young and quarantined, did have an emergency room excursion after overdosing on the over-the-counter medication. The stupidly curious (or curiously stupid) trio were treated at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth. The facility claimed the idea came from a TikTok video whose producer promised that this misadventure would get users high and induce hallucinations. In another case, a 14-year-old girl was treated after popping one pill for each of her years on Earth. 

TikTok officials confirmed to the Fort Worth Star-Telegramthat the company had removed content for encouraging the practice.

Later that month, KFOR and the New York Post reported that 15-year-old Chloe Phillips had died, with a deleted Facebook post from her great aunt blaming the challenge.

However, the reports lack any attribution from medical professionals confirming that as the cause. Further, other than the one deleted post, there were no quotes from family members suggesting that’s why the girl died. KFOR did interview Scott Schaeffer, director of the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information, who explained how a Benadryl overdose can cause heart problems, seizures, and hallucinations. But there was nothing to tie that into the Phillips tragedy. Schaeffer later told Reason he had no reason to tie her death or any other to any Benadryl Challenge.

That leaves us with two instances in which a total of four youth sought medical treatment for an intentional overdose. None of them died. That has not stopped a moral panic from ensuing about a deadly trend, which by all available evidence, seems to be neither.

“Blown save” (Missing children)

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Each year about 800,000 US children are reported missing. Around 99.98 percent are found safe, ran away, or were taken by a noncustodial family member. About 200 are abducted by strangers. Zero are snatched by billionaire-funded satanic cannibals.

Nevertheless, QAnon and its allies interpret any missing child report to be evidence of another youngster being swallowed into a nightmarish black hole of blood-drinking, flesh-eating, and gang rape perpetrated by members of the Deep State, which once meant Hollywood and Democratic leaders, but now means anyone with whom the believer disagrees.

The panic is a continuation of a perpetual fretting which ignores that the 21st Century in the Western World is the safest ever time and place to be a child. But it adds the sinister twist which allows the proponent to congratulate themselves on rooting out an evil. The conspiracy theory is more than just paranoia and hysteria, it is also having deleterious effects on genuine attempts to #SaveTheChildren.

Any child abducted by a stranger is cause for utmost concern and all available resources should be utilized to get the victim home safely. But this is best done on a case-by-case basis, not through launching baseless assertions that the abducted are now part of a Soros-funded pedophile ring.

Meanwhile, those with such concerns do not extend their passion to combating poverty, funding inner city schools, or reversing policies that cage children and kill Tamir Rice.

They also seem OK with police on campus, which creates a literal school-to-prison pipeline where activities as innocuous as drinking soda in class and talking out of turn leave pre-teens jailed and with a lifetime criminal record. These grave overreactions disproportionately impact minority students.

Focusing in these issues is a much better use of time than promoting QAnon, Pizzagate, and Wayfair conspiracy theories, which hold that President Trump is waging a heroic and solitary battle against satanic child molesters permeating Hollywood,  Capitol Hill, Silicon Valley, and anyone else the proponent despises.

Believers are taking action in the form of vigilante attacks and they are also wasting valuable resources. Crusaders who have spent years working for organizations that fight human trafficking and child abuse have been inundated with theorists touting these absurd claims and demanding that they take action, or else.

One such worker, Brandy Zadrozny, detailed this is a piece for MSN and Rochelle Keyhan, the CEO of the anti-trafficking nonprofit Collective Liberty, has been bombarded with such messages.

Before QAnon adherents took over the #SaveTheChildren hashtag, they invented the conspiracy theory that the furniture site Wayfair was trafficking missing children, using a code whereby overpriced shelves and pillow were euphemisms for specific types of kids.

Collective Liberty, which was inundated with Wayfair tips, put out a statement explaining that the exorbitant prices were due to search engine optimization gone wrong, and not proof of a Satanic cabal. This was necessary because, as Keyhan explained, “The extreme volume of these contacts has made it more difficult for the trafficking hotline to provide support and attention to others who are in need of help.”

So when QAnon believers post their hashtags and urge action, they are, in fact, doing nothing to help #SaveTheChildren.

“Fright pattern” (Wind turbines)

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Birds often slam into buildings and powerlines but some people consider wind turbines an even more egregious threat, with their enormous blades whirring overhead.

However, these kill far less birds than almost any other contributor, and the strategic placement of wind farms can make the threat even less pronounced.  

Objections to wind turbines largely come from two groups: Well-meaning but misinformed bird lovers; and ill-meaning, informed fossil fuel fans who show an isolated, disingenuous interest in wildlife conservation in this one instance.

The key question is how many birds are being sliced and diced. Are we talking avian apocalypse or a much lower number that represents an infinitesimal fraction of feathered flyers we lose to buildings and power lines? Studies show it’s the latter, as wind turbines are responsible for the smallest number of bird deaths among all manmade causes.

There are about 50,000 wind turbines in the country and they cause an average of five annual bird deaths apiece, or a quarter of a million birds every year. The biggest killer of birds in the U.S. are members of the cat family, who take out a whopping 2.4 billion birds each year. Collisions with building windows cause the demise of another billion.

Crunching these numbers, we find that the percentage killed by wind turbines is so microscopic that it could be rounded down to zero.

Of the relatively few killed by turbines, the vast majority are songbirds, which are experiencing no population issues. Of greater concern are raptors since they exist in smaller numbers, have much lower reproductive rates, and have flight patterns that make them more likely to be near wind turbines.

Wind farm operators can be slapped with heavy fines when their product kills a bird, although since it’s impractical to avoid all deaths, a limited number of the unintentional kills are legally permissible. Whether out of concern for wildlife or the ledger book, wind farm operators embrace technology aimed at avoiding these fatal encounters.

For example, most California Condors are tagged so that when one approaches a wind farm, the turbine detects a radio transmission, which shuts it down.

A similar system employs skyward cameras to keep a lookout for eagles, with a shutdown procedure in place if the birds are in jeopardy. Radar, light, sound, and thermal cameras are additional allies in this ornithological protection plan.

But – cliché alert – an ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure. The best idea is to placing wind farms away from bird migration routes and condor populations, and this trend has been embraced.

 

 

“Not cutting it” (Circumcision)

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Circumcision has endured because of tradition, not because of rationale nor medical benefit. Nor has it ever been successful as an anti-masturbatory measure, which is why it gained prominence in the West 150 years ago.

When a custom remains after its original intent has vanished, it has morphed into a ritual. And ritual is one of the kinder words to describe removing highly-innervated tissue from the most vulnerable members of our species, without any benefit in return. The relic rests in the same vein as coming-of-age rituals and other practices that involve cutting, slicing, burning, and flogging.

Furthermore, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, one in 500 boys experience acute complications from circumcision. Even a .2 percent risk is an acceptable amount when there is no chance of reward.

Still it endures because, to most Westerners, that’s the way it’s always been. But the appeal to tradition is a logical fallacy that, were it rigidly adhered to, would have us still with slavery and without women’s suffrage. 

Imagine if circumcision had never been practiced and someone proposed we begin fondling and mutilating the infant genitals. The collective response would be revulsion.  Yet the practice continues today because, well, just because.

Reasons include ensuring the infant conform to religious norms or so that they will look like their father. But faith should be a personal choice and if a father was missing three fingers, no one would suggest lopping off the digits to ensure familial uniformity. A third reason proponents give is because they think it looks unappealing. But that’s only because they are used to seeing circumcised penises.  Were every male intact, proponents would see circumcised members as the freaky outcasts. 

 

Parents deciding to circumcise their sons is distinct from having them vaccinated or given Vitamin K boosters, as these have identifiable benefits.

Chopping off someone else’s body part would mean prison time under any other circumstance, but exception made for the most vulnerable victim. In a depressing display of bipartisanship, the practice remains prevalent among persons of all political leanings.

Conservatives still go for the religion and tradition angles, which is to be expected. Harder to comprehend is the tepid response from liberals, who should be demanding bodily autonomy over the most defenseless of our species. It has been pointed out that  we should never make Junior hug an aunt just because she’s visiting for Christmas if the child doesn’t wish too. Yet, somehow this mindset does not extend to control over the most private part.

With no medical benefit, circumcision is a solution in need of a problem.  Proponents sometimes cite hygiene, but this is no more logical that lopping off our ears to prevent dirt from accumulating within.

One seemingly more valid reason is the chance of reducing HIV infection. But this is an untruth and based on studies that make such basic mistakes as assuming all transmission was due to heterosexual sex. Also, if the studies were correct, and the practice provided STD protection, there would be a wide difference in infection rates between the circumcised and intact.  

 

“Bounced Czech” (Absinthe)

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During my days in Germany, an acquaintance of mine would rave about absinthe, which he longed to imbibe on his upcoming visit to the neighboring Czech Republic. He would alternate between hushed and excited tones when speaking about the licorice-tasting libation and he was especially fascinated by its hallucinogenic qualities.

Alas, his trip was cut short, as he failed to procure a passport and was turned back at the border. In another misfortune, he later earned a lifetime ban from the local opera house for his drunken vomiting in the aisles.

I’m unsure if the long-sought absinthe was his drink of choice that night, but if so, it would have added to the list of legendary stories associated with the liquor.

One of those myths is its supposed place of origin. Despite my crony’s explanation, it is not a product of the Czech Republic, but rather of Switzerland. The Czech fallacy formed when unscrupulous and/or opportunistic merchants swindled tourists by fraudulently stamping “absinthe” on bottles containing all manner of greenish-bluish liquids following the Velvet Revolution.

There are many other misnomers, such that it leads to insanity, hallucinations, convulsions, and even death. Artists and writers like Van Gogh and Hemingway insisted it gave them more creativity. Despite being slurped by these icons, absinthe was largely associated with society’s dregs. Western Europeans considered wine and beer to be high society drinks brimming with healthful benefits. Meanwhile, absinthe was considered detrimental and the domain of the lower classes, the crack of alcoholic drinks. Its surly reputation, combined with the prohibitionist movement, led to it be being banned in several countries.

Detractors equated its consumption with subsequent criminal acts and it was blamed for juvenile delinquency and the general loosening of morals.

Especially impactful were the murders committed by Jean Lanfray, who slew three of his family members after gulping two absinthe shots. Prudence and rationality were victims of post hoc reasoning and a hysterical populace, and legal proscription of absinthe ensued.

Lanfray was an extreme alcoholic who drank primarily wine, and he had consumed liters of the stuff the day of the murders, along with cognac and brandy. Yet somehow two absinthe shots took all the blame.

At the forefront of this moral panic was worry over thujone, which is derived from the grande wormwood, an absinthe ingredient. Detractors castigated thunjone as being responsible for deleterious effects.

But this would only have been possible if a drinker ingested it at far higher quantities and concentrations than anyone ever has. Even then, the effect likely would have been limited to convulsions. For, despite the hype, absinthe has never contained hallucinogens or opiates.

With a schlock tactic that that portended the U.S. drug war, French psychiatrist Valentin Magnan plied animals with an essential oil of wormwood, causing the literal and figurative guinea pigs to suffer seizures.

However, the oil contained a much more concentrated dose than what an absinthe drinker would ever consume. The victim animals received an exponentially larger amount, and horrified audience members demanded that the drink be outlawed. But they failed to eliminate it entirely and seven decades later, drunken opera buffs were still seeking it.

“Bird drain” (Avian apocalypse)

 

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A study of North American bird populations appearing in the journal Science this fall set off alarms about an impending avian apocalypse. But while most of the numbers in the study were strictly correct, mitigating factors make the likely scenario far less chilling.

Cornell conservation scientist Ken Rosenberg led the study, which found that since 1970, the North American bird population has declined by nearly 30 percent, a net loss of around 3 billion feathered flyers.

While the numbers were concerning, Slate’s Michael Schulson talked with experts who analyzed the statistics and found them to reveal a less dire situation than what the media had portrayed.

Writing for Dynamic Ecology, University of Maine ecologist Brian McGill expressed general approval of the article and its findings, but still doubted if the numbers warranted the anxious response. McGill noted that many of the vanishing birds belong to species not native to North America. This is especially important, McGill said, since, “land managers and conservation agencies have spent a lot of money to drive down or eliminate invasive species.” In other words, the numbers suggest that conservation efforts are working, not that birds are declining at an unsettling rate.

McGill also pointed out that species which prefer farmland once had their numbers artificially boosted by the clearing of forests and the destruction of prairie land. Hence, the decline is likely a return to a safe, thriving level, not a harbinger of doom.

Additionally, McGill writes that the species that account for the majority of the dip are among the most abundant bird species in North America. While the numbers are a cause for concern, they don’t necessarily suggest an ongoing extinction event.

University of Minnesota conservation biologist Todd Arnold agreed. “If you take away the 40 biggest decliners from the data set, then what’s left behind is hundreds of birds, some of which are declining, some of which are increasing,” he said. “But, on average, the increases outweigh the declines.”

Manu Saunders, a postdoctoral researcher who studies ecology and insect populations, is an even stronger critic of the Creeping Cataclysm narrative bandied by the press. Some graphics released as part of the study would seem to suggest panic was the correct response. One such chart showed a population line plunging nearly to the x-axis, seemingly suggesting an impending extinction. Yet this eventuality is not supported by the study’s data set and does reflect the paper’s claims.

The stage for this ornithological overreaction may have been set by a previously-released and equally incorrect study that portended doom for insect populations.

McGill worries this Chicken Little approach might cause the public to place less trust in scientific reports and to ignore their suggestions to modify behavior. Even though the scientists made measured claims and  the media sounded the false alarm, people are doubtful to remember that when the bird die-off fails to materialize. Instead, the public may misattribute the panic to the scientists and give less credence to future studies.

“Missing the target” (Human trafficking hysteria)

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Law enforcement agencies will occasionally trumpet that they have conducted a sting or undercover operation that has resulted in the arrest of dozens of human traffickers and rescued hundreds of trafficking victims. This leaves people breathlessly wondering, if all this has taken place in one city over a few months, how widespread must this tragedy be?

But when journalists have the time and wherewithal to follow up and break down the specifics of each arrest, it turns out the actual number of traffickers apprehended and victims saved is almost always zero.

The law enforcement agencies arrive at their greatly exaggerated numbers by intentionally conflating all sex work with kidnapping and rape. A man and woman who use an app to arrange a clandestine for-money hook-up that involves no one else would be touted by police as human trafficking. No distinction is made between traffickers and masseuses, or between victims and found runaways.

Police round up the usual suspects and put another notch in their shining knight belts, regardless of what really happened.

In Reason, libertarian-minded John Stossel wrote about one of the more well-known instances of this grandstanding, when Florida police charged New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft with soliciting prostitution. The media praised this rescue of sex slaves, but all involved women were willing participants. And far from being rescued (not that they needed to be), they were instead jailed and entered into the criminal justice system.

These are the results of the latest moral panic, in line with witches in Puritan America, Communism in the 1950s, and Satanism in the 1980s. Rep. Ann Wagner screeched on the Congressional floor, “300,000 American children are at risk,” a typically hyperbolic and evidence-free number bandied about my anxious believers.

Wagner got this number from a study that has been disavowed by its lead author. Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown told Stossel that if trafficking was that prevalent, “Cops would be able to find this all the time and wouldn’t have to go through these elaborate stings.”

Another unsubstantiated number comes from Ashton Kutcher, who told Congress about an app that has “identified over 6,000 trafficking victims this year.”

Yet Brown noted, “If Ashton Kutcher is finding all those victims, he’s not turning them over to police.” This is similar to claims 30 years ago that thousands of children were being raped or murdered by Satanic cults, yet no one making these assertions was able to offer the name of a victim, perpetrator, or location. The only exceptions were a couple of instances in which the allegations were false, ruining innocent lives.

These alarmist attitudes are especially impacting the hospitality industry, where hotel employees are encouraged to be unpaid law enforcement deputies. They are trained to remember long lists of innocuous activities, descriptions, and distinctions, and to consider them evidence of human trafficking.

Examples include: Having lingerie, condoms, an alcohol stash, lots of cash, or multiple phones and computers; declining housekeeping service; leaving minors in the room; infrequently leaving the hotel; using more toiletries and towels than most guests; or a prolonged stay with few possessions. Even wearing hats and sunglasses or being seen with a toy is considered evidence that the person is holding children captive and supplying them to lowlifes for the most malevolent purposes.

Because of all this, Brown has trouble containing her glee that police are starting to pay for their panicky pronouncements. There have been so many announcements making such grandiose claims that recipients of these messages have begun to suspect trafficking from the most benign activities. They then waste police time by reporting this, or worse for the cops, turn into an agitated activist whose social media campaign berates the cops for failing so stop the peddling of our children.

Brown cited an example from Glendale, Wis., where locals chided police for failing to put an end to “girls as young as 12 being snatched up from two local malls and sold into prostitution rings.” The person starting this campaign said a Milwaukee Police Department detective had told her that two Glendale malls were regularly used to traffic people.

This was followed with calls to keep girls and young women locked up at home and to engage in vigilantism: “If you shop in or frequent these areas keep your eyes open, you could make a huge difference.”

Yet no arrest records or information from the suspected trafficking center’s public affairs departments yielded one piece of evidence to support the claims. Like all good moral panics, this resulted not in relief, but in charges of denial and cover-up.

One commenter was somewhat placated, but warned, “It could happen here. Scary.” Yes, and NASA may somehow have missed a meteor that will wipe out two-thirds of the planet’s population later today. But stewing about such matters is neither reasonable nor a prudent use of emotions and resources.

Another commenter was less generous and declared, “Just because there have been no reports of this sort of thing does not mean it is not happening.” One went further still and insisted, “It IS happening and turning a blind eye does not save these young women.”

Any posters who sided with the police (and reality) were chastised for being naïve or were even called traffickers.

These reactions happen, Brown said, because, “When confronted with credible evidence that contradicts our understanding of a situation, we tend to double-down on our erroneous belief and seek ways to discredit the information or the messenger.”

The mall cases featured generic terminology, but sometimes reports of supposed trafficking feature names and specific actions undertaken – though the proof remains nonexistent.

According to Oklahoma media outlet KFOR, a woman named Amanda Kalidy said she was at Target with her 4-year-old daughter. While there, a girl about 9 years old asked Kalidy’s child multiple times for candy. Nearby, there was the most frightening creature imaginable: An unknown male. Kalidy concluded that this man was using the 9-year-old as bait to lure the preschooler into a child sex trafficking ring.

The usual panicked responses ensued, and it’s doubtful many of the posters were assuaged by an Oklahoma official telling KFOR that when trafficking does occur, the victims are usually drawn into the web by an acquaintance over time. They are not snatched from their mother at a retailer in broad daylight.

The Wisconsin and Oklahoma cases are just two examples of concerned citizenry responding to officials hyperventilating about human trafficking. The results have been dire warnings about Hobby Lobby abductions, Zip ties or shirts tied to side-view mirrors to distract victims, or white vans with external locks (used by contractors to keep their tools safe). Or there are horror stories about someone accepting a stranger’s Friend request, then having their child abducted at school later that day by their new-found Friend, who gleaned the school’s location from the person’s profile.

Most of these are anonymous, undocumented examples but sometimes a person like Kalidy will post that their child was targeted, and this is shared ad infinitum. In a typical tale, a panicked mother writes that she encountered a man found four times in same aisle as her and again at the checkout stand, and this can only mean he was there on a kidnapping mission. Of course, these supposed abduction attempts never result in an actual abduction or even attempt. And in the cases from the above paragraph, no victims are ever named.

Rather than being the end of it, this is all treated by believers as evidence of how efficient traffickers are, meaning we should be exhibiting even higher level of panic.

“Back in my daze” (Youth bashing)

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Back in my day, we didn’t need social media to ostentatiously announce the shortcomings of these dadgum young’uns.

Nor did anyone decades, centuries, or even millennia ago. Adults have been ruminating about the current generation’s faults from Socrates to Weird Al. This would suggest that the stereotype is inaccurate. Each succeeding generation getting worse for 3,000 years would leave societies and cultures in ruins. Instead, humanity has consistently experienced a general uptick in the quality of life, education, medicine, housing, transportation, food, and innovation.

In order to reconcile this contradiction, University of California-Santa Barbara psychology professors John Protzko and Jonathan Schooler led a team that conducted five studies to assess people’s tendency to believe that kids these days are deficient, relative to those of previous generations, especially their own, or from generations they hold in high regard.

The studies measured three traits and found that U.S. adults believe today’s youth are indeed in decline. Researchers found the subjects were more likely to hold this position if they were good at a specific trait they were questioned about. For instance, authoritarian types strongly feel youth are less respectful of their elders than in years past, intelligent people especially think today’s youth are less brilliant than they were before, and well-read people think young folks enjoy picking up a book (or Kindle) less than they did.

The attitudes toward children’s intelligence is telling because intelligence has risen fairly steadily over the years and centuries. Still, intelligent people believed that children today were becoming less so. Adding authoritarianism to the mix showed this characteristic to be unrelated to person’s beliefs about children’s intelligence. This is further evidence that the Kids These Days Effect primarily afflicts those who are proficient in a certain area themselves. Put another way, there were kids in your day who were just as disrespectful, dumb, and lazy as the current crop you are criticizing. But selective memory and a tendency to generalize the current generation but not one’s own leads to a skewed perspective. And again, this is only true if the subject exceled in that area themselves.

Also a factor is people’s tendency to romanticize the past and think of it as the good ol’ days. They envision the 1950s as the days of Leave it to Beaver instead of as a time of entrenched segregation, and the 1870s as the time of Tom Sawyer instead of the era of Native American genocide.

“Smoke signaling” (Vaping deaths)

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The latest moral panic centers on a mysterious lung ailment seen amongst e-cigarette users. In the U.S., there have been about 150 persons hospitalized in recent months with perplexing lung ailments, all of which seem to cropping up after the patients vaped.

But all evidence suggests the cause is dangerous ingredients in black market vaping devices, not with over-the-counter e-cigarettes. According to Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “In every case where a product has been identified, the culprit was not vaping, but vaping illicit THC oil.” That means forbidding the currently-legal products will serve to exacerbate the problem.

Still, continuing the great American tradition of overreacting that we saw with comic books, rockabilly, and video games, we now have an outfit billing itself as Parents Against Vaping. One of its releases shrieked, “Our kids should not be guinea pigs for the JUUL experiment!”

No, they shouldn’t be, nor should adults be subjected to indirect harm from overzealous lawmakers. Consider one of the more severe cases, in which a Wisconsin man is laying in a medically-induced coma. He reached this unfortunate state of affairs by vaping with cartridges containing cannabis which he had purchased from an unlicensed, unscrupulous dealer. Not coincidentally, Wisconsin has some of the country’s most restrictive cannabis policies. In America’s Dairyland and states with similar stances, consumers wishing to vape with a dash of added THC are limited to illicit products that have never been tested for safety and for which the correct dosage is unknown.

Contrast that with legal products. Writing for the Foundation for Economic Education, Ross Marchand notes that “e-cigarettes, when legally manufactured, are 95 percent safer than ordinary cigarettes and are nearly twice as effective for quitting smoking as nicotine taxes or gum.”

Staying in the upper Midwest, Michigan, Gov. Grethen Whitmer stoked the manufactroversy by unilaterally imposing a statewide ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.

Without citing a source to support her accusations, the governor chided companies for “selling vaping products using candy flavors to hook children on nicotine.” Wittmer claims there has been an uptick in e-cigarette usage by minors. But selling or providing these products to children is already a crime, so if anything, what is needed is more stringent enforcement of existing laws.

Still, the governor touted her desire to protect public health and announced she wants to shield the young from these terrible tasty temptations. But in so doing, she hampers the adults who switched to vaping as a means of ingesting a much less hazardous source of nicotine. Many of those attempting to break the habit have cited flavor variety as a vital tool to help the process.

Moreover, this is not a public health issue. That term should be reserved for the likes of vaccinations, fluoridated water, and clean air initiatives. One person permanently extinguishing e-cigarettes or even 10,000 persons doing so does not impact public health, as only the persons involved are benefited by the cessation.

And again, flavored e-cigarettes were already off-limits to the young. Hence, the governor’s decision does nothing to protect children, imposes dictates on those who are not children, and snuffs out not just e-cigarettes, but an industry that was helping its customers break an addictive and dangerous habit.