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Do not eat

Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.

“Howard! Stop!” cried Amy Handleman.

Howard Bashford halted, like a kid playing freeze tag, in the act of tearing open a small white packet over his coffee cup.

“That’s not sweetener,” said Amy. “Look at it.”

Howard held the packet at eye level and read the printing on it: “Do not eat.”

“Well, I’ll be darned,” said Howard. “But I wasn’t going to eat it anyway. I was going to put it in my coffee and drink it.”

“Same difference,” said Amy. “That’s a packet of desiccant – probably silica gel. Manufacturers stick those little envelopes into packaging to keep products dry – you know, like electronics.”

“Oh,” said Howard. “I wondered what a packet of sweetener was doing in the box with my new camera.”

“You need to be more careful,” said Amy. “Silica gel itself isn’t dangerous, but some formulations can include poisonous substances that would make you pretty sick.”

“Thanks,” said Howard. “This is the second time this week somebody has kept me from ingesting something I shouldn’t.

“A few days ago, Jill Poke was helping me paint my apartment. A nice off-white, you know, called ‘cafe au lait.’ In fact, it looked so much like cafe au lait, that I dipped a spoon into it and was about to take a taste, when Jill yelled at me just like you did.

“She pointed out that the small print on the paint can include a warning: ‘Do not take internally.’ But who reads that stuff?”

“Well, we all ought to read it,” said Amy firmly. “Warnings are printed on products to keep us from hurting ourselves, and they’re all written by lawyers and government bureaucrats. Everybody knows lawyers and government bureaucrats are the smartest people in the country, so we should do as they say.”

“I suppose that’s true,” said Howard, taking a sip of his unsweetened coffee. “Come to think of it, just last week, I almost put a plastic dry cleaner’s bag over my head. If it hadn’t been for the warning printed on it, I probably would have suffocated.

“You know, I think warnings should be required on even more things.”

“Like what?” asked Amy.

“You know, things politicians say,” replied Howard. “They spout a lot of dangerous stuff. Just this year, President Obama said we have to keep spending money the nation doesn’t have, to keep the economic recovery going. All kinds of legislators have said we can’t afford not to spend money on things we can’t afford. And Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said if Congress doesn’t raise the limit on the national debt, the world was going to come to an end.”

“How could you put a warning label on things politicians say?” asked Amy.

“You could put it in the ‘crawl’ at the bottom of your TV screen, or put it just before any story with a Washington, D.C., dateline,” said Howard.

“OK,” said Amy. “Let’s suppose you could get the media to go along with your idea. Wouldn’t there have to be a whole lot of different warnings to fit different circumstances? It could get too complicated to work.”

“Oh, no,” replied Howard. “One simple warning message would cover everything.”

“All right, smarty,” said Amy. “What would it say?”

And Howard answered, “Do not swallow.”

The Department of Homeland Security has a little program called “Secure Communities,” under which the fingerprints of arrestees are checked against a national data base to see if the bearer of said prints is in the country legally.

“Horrors!” said San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano. “This could lead to the deportation of some of my constituents!”

Hence, he submitted Assembly Bill 1081 with the goal of wrapping local jurisdictions’ participation in the program in so much red tape as to make it unworkable.

The bill already has cleared one committee. Expect it to make it over the rest of the hurdles in the Democrat-dominated Legislature.