Frank Rich has a thought-provoking and highly perceptive column today, using the Colorado balloon hoax incident as a metaphor for our own media-hyped economic bubble, and its eventual crash to the ground.
Next to the other hoaxes and fantasies that have been abetted by the news media in recent years, both the “balloon boy” and Chamber of Commerce ruses are benign. The Colorado balloon may have led to the rerouting of flights and the wasteful deployment of law enforcement resources. But at least it didn’t lead the country into fiasco the way George W. Bush’s flyboy spectacle on an aircraft carrier helped beguile most of the Beltway press and too much of the public into believing that the mission had been accomplished in Iraq. The Chamber of Commerce stunt was a blip of a business news hoax next to the constant parade of carnival barkers who flogged empty stocks on cable during the speculative Wall Street orgies of the dot-com and housing booms.As Rich points out, Richard Henne is more likely to spend time behind bars for his hoax, than the "reckless gamblers at the top of Citigroup and A.I.G." will for theirs.
As a society we always tend to chase the bright shiny object rather than focus on the real problems. We prosecute children for "sexting" and ignore the underlying dangers of unprotected sex among teenagers. We arrest people for being nude in their own homes, yet we regulate and protect the pornography industry. We round up women for baring their breasts in coffee shops and charge them with prostitution, when it is actually men who buy and sell women as products. We arrest parents, charge them with child pornography, and take away their children over innocent vacation photos, while the true child pornographers still exploit and ruin young lives.
The balloon whipping across the Colorado sky was a distraction from the realities on the ground, a hypnotic spinning object which transfixed the country for an afternoon. It was simple to understand, gripping in its one dramatic belief, that there was a little boy inside and he was in almost certain fatal danger.
At the same time we were focused on the hoax, an average of 5 children under the age of 14 died in automobile accidents, and 504 were injured. In Miami, drowning has claimed the lives of 200 children since 2007. 5 children die from abuse each day.
And 45,000 people in America die each year because they have no health insurance.
Instead of solving the hard problems, we go after the easy. The alleged boy in the balloon was someone we could save with helicopters and emergency vehicles. When it turned out to be a hoax, we could show outrage, charge the parents with fraud, saddle them with millions of dollars in expenses for the rescue effort, and take their kids away for their own welfare.
And then we'll all feel better because justice was done.
It's like the Roman Polanski case. Even though he spent 42 days in custody 30 years ago, voluntarily deported himself, made financial restitution, has been forgiven by his victim, and will be forever known as a child rapist, we want to punish him even more, spending perhaps millions of dollars extraditing him, putting him on trial, and throwing him in jail.
One would think that police and government officials would better serve their community by working to rid Los Angeles of the term "Gang Capital of the Nation", a city which has a homicide rate of 9.6 (per 100,000 population), a forcible rape rate of 18.9, robbery 310.2, assault 302.4, and burglary 464.5.
But those problems are hard. Holding up Polanski as a law enforcement trophy will make everyone feel better, and will get lots of media attention as the "shiny balloon du jour."
To relate this to nudism and naturism, it was the NAC which did the hard thing when it came to the San Onofre beach case. When confronted with the California Department of Parks and Recreation's decision to ban nude sunbathing at that location, the NAC first tried negotiation, and when that failed, went to court.
AANR, on the other hand, decided instead to look at the shiny balloon in the sky, claiming "victory" by waving about a letter from the DPR which promised some sort of compromise.
Just like British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain waved his "Munich Agreement" with Adolf Hitler and declared "peace for our time", when he opted for the shiny balloon instead of a real solution to the difficult problems of the day.
Appeasement, compromise, negotiation are all viable options to consider if one is bargaining from a position of strength. When an entity like the California Department of Parks and Recreation holds all the cards, including the courts, law enforcement officials and the entire state government, there is no negotiating. They do what they want. The only alternative is to fight.
Nudists and naturists are staggeringly weak when it comes to political power. In the case of San Onofre, when complaints about sexual activity began to rise, the DPR officials opted for the shiny balloon tactic by blaming the naturists instead of working to solve the root cause of the problem. When AANR refused to unite with the NAC in fighting at San Onofre, it cut whatever political power existed in half.
As long as nudists and naturists remain divided, hiding inside locked gates and drawn drapes, we will continue to be one of society's shiny balloons, something people will point to as the cause of many difficult problems, from child pornography to displays of public sexuality. The nude guy is always the first to be tased.