Politics: 20 January 2011

Abduction!

At around 6:00 this evening, I walked under Highway 101 in Santa Rosa, and I was treated to the following sight:

<%image(20110120-abductionSign.jpg|300|216|Child Abduction Sign)%>

The main thing to notice is the brightly displayed sign in the back. Because I have a terrible phone-camera, you can’t make out what it says, but you should be able to tell that it is one of those warning signs that they have on the highways to inform motorists of important information. For example, the sign could explain that there is an accident ahead and that drivers need to be cautious. It could say that, but it doesn’t. In general, such signs are only used for a single thing and that was the case this evening:

CHILD ABDUCTION
SIL TOY CORROLLA
CA LIC XABC123

That’s right: the sign was alerting us to the fact that some child had been kidnapped and it really pisses me off. “Why?” you ask. “Isn’t it important for people to be on the look-out for children who are kidnapped?” Yes and no. Yes, real kidnapping is a serious business that we should all work to stop. But this is never the case with these alerts. When Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped, there were several witnesses. It should surprise no one, however, that none of these witnesses had the ability to not only take note of the color, make, and model of the car, but also to read (And remember!) the complete license plate number. If these signs alerted us to such abductions, I would have no problem with them—but they never do.

What the signs do alert us to should be clear enough by the accuracy of the information provided. This “kidnapped” child was not only in a silver Toyota Corrolla, it was in one registered in the State of California with a license number XABC123! It certainly sounds as if whoever witnessed this kidnapping was quite the trained observer. But, of course, we know this isn’t the case. Most likely, there was no witness at all. The child was simply “kidnapped” by one of its parents—the one who doesn’t have legal custody of the child. That’s why we know exactly what car the child is in.

These signs that could be very useful to motorists in saving time and decreasing the risk of accidents, are used almost entirely to police custody battles that are part of contentious divorce proceedings. I am not suggesting that when a parent resorts to kidnapping his or her own child, it isn’t very upsetting for the child. I’m also not suggesting that some of these cases aren’t very serious. But these alerts only serve to distract drivers without making anyone safer. In almost all cases, the situation will resolve itself within days or even hours. Meanwhile, we move ever closer to a police state—making the idea that policing your fellow citizens is the way things ought to be—over the most minor of problems.

What is next?

DOUBLE PARKING
SIL TOY CORROLLA
CA LIC XABC123
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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “Politics: 20 January 2011

  1. I, to a certain point, agree with you. When Lee and I drove past one of the Amber alerts, Lee asked, "Do you think it’s a domestic situation?" We took it much less seriously than we would have if it had been something like the Duggard case. Of course, we don’t really know exactly why one parent may have been awarded custody over the other parent. The parent who ‘kidnapped’ the child might be extremely abusive. We just don’t know.

  2. I agree that it *could* be important; I just think that it almost never *is* important. What’s more, when you pass one of these signs, do you manage to memorize the license plate number displayed? My bet is that almost no one does. As a result, the authorities probably get many calls about perfectly innocent people who just happen to be driving in a silver Toyota Corrolla, or a silver Toyota anything, or a silver anything, or any Toyota or Datsun or Honda, or frankly, anything at all–up to, and including, a shading looking guy on a bicycle. Thus, police waste time chasing useless leads instead of just doing their jobs without the "help" of the general public.

    What’s more, a violent spouse is *far* more likely to harm the other spouse than the child. Yes, the child could really be in harm’s way in such a situation. But children are in harm’s way all the time. To take it to the simplest possible level, each day in the United States, at least one child is killed by being hit by a car. (That statistic is from http://www.walkinginfo.org/… combined with a little math.) Who mourns those children?

    The point is that the "CHILD ABDUCTION" signs are typical of our approach to any danger: do something that looks like we are doing something but is ineffective or worse. There are very real things that could be done (law changes) that would make pedestrians safer. But doing this would not be flashy, just successful. It is like after 9/11: instead of installing real doors into the cockpits of planes, we put gun-toting police on flights. The doors would have been simpler and more effective, but not as cool. So we get "flash and death" instead of "dull and life."

    There is another side to this. This is how politicians who represent the interest of a tiny minority of millionaires and billionaires manage to keep power: by making people worry about what doesn’t matter and ignore what does. So people vote for the death penalty, which has virtually no relevance to their lives, but they get legislation that raises their taxes and cuts programs they depend upon, while lowering the taxes and providing huge handouts to the super rich (http://www.franklycurious.c…). That is all encapsulated in "CHILD ABDUCTION" and that is why I hate those signs so much.

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