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Sex, etc. and the City

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I'm not a big fan of the nanny society's limits on freedom, except when I am. That's the dilemma for me, and for everyone. Reason magazine recently ranked "the worst nanny cities in America" by assessing their laws regulating sex, tobacco, alcohol, guns, driving, drugs, gambling and food. Whether these things are good, bad or no one's business is clearly up to the beholder.

Liberal hangouts -- Seattle, Los Angeles, Austin -- swoop down on tobacco but look the other way on marijuana. For example, Washington state bans smoking not only in public places but within 25 feet of its doors and even closed windows. Thus, in parts of Seattle, the Reason article said, "smokers literally have to stand in the middle of the street to comply with the law."

The opposite happens in conservative parts of the country. Nashville, Indianapolis, Memphis and Jacksonville go easy on tobacco but not on pot. Houston and El Paso are tough on both smoking and marijuana, but guns are another matter.

Lax gun laws predominate in the South and Southwest, especially in Texas. The coasts tend to be far stricter on guns and more relaxed about sex.

Like many, I'm for freedom up to a point. Smoking and drinking are fine with me -- as long as I'm not forced to breathe the smoke or share the road with drunks. Adult entertainment and prostitution are acceptable as long as they're discreet.

Reason takes issue with traffic cameras that catch speeders and runners of red lights. Not I. The cameras don't catch anything that a police officer placed at the corner wouldn't.

The Washington, D.C., law that barred residents from keeping guns in the home -- overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court -- was extreme. People should have a right to defend themselves in their own homes. But I want restrictions on who may own what kind of gun and where it may be taken. I'd prefer that man shouting to himself in the subway not have a Glock.

It will shock many to learn that the "worst" nanny city is Chicago. Once a brawling town of taverns, Chicago now has many "dry" districts, and there's a ban on serving alcohol at all-nude strip clubs. Until recently, Chicago restaurants couldn't serve foie gras -- a liver pate deemed cruel because it comes from force-fed geese.

Not surprisingly, the "freest" city is Las Vegas, followed by Miami and Denver. Vegas poses few restrictions on alcohol and may eventually legalize prostitution. Gambling is obviously no problem.

Some differences seem odd. Philadelphia is stern on alcohol and nearby Baltimore not at all. The Midwest cities of Cleveland, Columbus and Detroit all tend to be in the middle of the pack for most vices, the exception being alcohol, where they're quite strict.

Consistency would be appreciated. Indianapolis seems to have an issue with the low-stakes gambling that is tradition in some black neighborhoods, but not with the state-sponsored lottery, off-track betting and other legalized betting. Then there's the Los Angeles law that forbids smoking in municipal parks except on city-owned golf courses.

San Francisco is downright welcoming for marijuana and lax on alcohol and sex. But it mandates the size of a pet's water bowl and requires psychics to get a license.

Denver may be among the least restrictive, but there are moves afoot to curtail freedom, according to Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi. He cites proposals for a "hate hotline" that would allow people to "snitch" on neighbors over a tasteless joke and legislation to regulate house sizes.

What do I think about that? Down with the hate hotline, but regulate house sizes? Sounds like a great idea.

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