Remember this? "There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. ..."
Younger readers may not remember the opening to "The Outer Limits," a pretty good sci-fi rip-off of "The Twilight Zone" (and they may have only a fuzzy understanding that TVs used to have knobs to control the horizontal and vertical). But as they read the news these days, maybe they can find a new appreciation for the creepy feeling of powerlessness that opening once gave viewers.
For instance, California recently proposed revisions to its housing code that would require all new or remodeled homes to have a "programmable communicating thermostat." Equipped with special "nonremovable" FM radio receivers, these devices would allow state power authorities to set the temperature in your home as they see fit. Ostensibly to manage demand during "price events" and other "emergencies," you would basically cede control of your home's heating and air conditioning to the state (when and if state officials wanted to exercise it).
Taken by itself, this may not sound so scary - and indeed, California recently sent the thermostat proposal back for further study after some public criticism. But then again, as Gulliver learned, one Lilliputian is an intriguing freak. Two are kind of cool. But 10,000 teeny-weeny folk tying you down?
Of course, tying Americans down, limiting their options, foreclosing on any path not acceptable to today's social controllers of the right and the left is perhaps the defining spirit of our age.
In New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg has become a champion of a supposedly new "post-partisan" movement of for-your-own-good-government, trans fats are off the menu. Smoking has become the ceremony of heretics and outlaws. In 2006 alone, New York City banned - or attempted to ban - pit bulls; trans fats; aluminum baseball bats; the purchase of tobacco by 18- to 20-year-olds; foie gras; pedicabs in parks; new fast-food restaurants (but only in poor neighborhoods); lobbyists from the floor of council chambers; vehicles in Central and Prospect parks; cell phones in upscale restaurants; the sale of pork products made in a processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C.; mail-order pharmaceutical plans; candy-flavored cigarettes; the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus; and Wal-Mart.