Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

The kids got up at 4 this morning, found their Nerf guns that Santa left for them, and shot each other and their new Webkinz plush. Bagel fired the first shot, and the hallway quickly turned into a free-fire zone.

I got a Christmas present too. The CPSC issued some recommendations. First, they categorically declared all natural materials like wood, cotton, and wool to be lead-free in their natural state, so my friends who make plain wooden toys are now safe. Second, they declared that there will be a process to apply for an exemption if you can show scientific evidence that your materials are below the acceptable level of lead. This means that I will still have to get some testing done, but that XRF and component testing will likely prove acceptable, and based on it I can apply for an exemption from testing each dye lot of yarn. The CPSC now appears to be open to a component-based approach to testing. I don't know if my little protest contributed to this, since before they were insisting that Congress' intent was that each individual product be tested. Maybe Congress had a different intent, and our protest helped them realize that they needed to communicate that to the CPSC.

I found an environmental engineer/lawyer who does XRF testing cheap, and prepared a set of samples that I'll be sending off tomorrow. Getting my future back is the best Christmas present I've ever received.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Can't Do That

Bagel: "We're gonna have a Christmas sleepover in Princess' room!"

Me: "... with visions of sugarplums dancing through your heads."

Bagel: "I can't do that, I don't have a switch to do that."

Breakthroughs into major media

The L.A. Times and AP have picked up the CPSIA story. Let's see if this gets some public awareness of the issue!


Monday, December 22, 2008

Who Voted For The CPSIA

Here you can find out who were the 424 nitwits in the House who voted for the CPSIA. (The only one who voted against it was Ron Paul.) And here you can find the 89 idiots in the Senate who voted for it. (The 3 "no" votes were Coburn, DeMint, and Kyl. Obama was not present.)

Roused From My Slumber

I'm not sure how best to talk about this on my blog, so be patient with me. There's a reason I don't usually talk politics on here. Politics is polarizing and people tend to immediately classify any political discussion into "with my side" or "against my side". This, however, is a truly bipartisan issue. If there are "sides" to this, it's the people who pay attention vs. the people who don't pay attention.

First, for those for whom this is their introduction to the issue: In August, Congress passed a law called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, or CPSIA. You may remember the well-publicized toy recalls of toys made in China that had high levels of lead. Well, this was the law Congress passed in response to them. Now, it was already against the law for children's toys to have lead levels that high, but manufacturers were only required to recall their toys if lead levels were found to be too high in them. When you do a recall, though, you don't get back every single item; thus there are still some toys out there from these recalled batches, getting sold on eBay and in thrift stores, passed on to neighbors, etc. Most people don't check the recall notices because there are just too many; a tiny percentage of a huge volume is still a huge volume. Congress found this unacceptable so they passed the CPSIA with near unanimity in both House and Senate. What the CPSIA does is requires third-party lead testing before a product can be put on the market for use for children 12 and under. Any toy that hasn't been tested will be assumed to have lead in it, declared a "banned hazardous substance," and will be a felony to sell.

This sounds like a really good idea, until you take about 10 seconds to think about how it will work outside of Utopia, where happy elves manufacture lead-free toys in tidy workshops lit with a soft amber glow.

So what could go wrong with requiring proactive lead testing?

First, the deadline for lead testing (Feb. 10, 2009) applies retroactively to all goods in inventory. That means anything manufacturers have already sold has to be tested for lead or else it becomes a felony to sell it come February. Manufacturers have petitioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission to apply this only to goods manufactured after Feb. 10. Their request was denied; the law was clear.

Second, the testing has to be done on the item itself and paid for by the manufacturer of the item. So you can't, say, use lead-free wood and lead-free paint to make a lead-free toy duck. Well, you can; but you can't sell it unless you get it tested... for lead. And if you use the same materials to make a toy dinosaur too, you have to test the dinosaur separately. And if you make a toy duck with stripes, you have to test that separately too. The CPSC is thinking about allowing separate testing of each component, and maybe they'll get around to deciding it before the requirements are to be met, seeing as how their comment submission deadline is less than two weeks before Feb. 10.

Third, the testing has to be done by an accredited third party lab. There are around 50 million children under 12 in the U.S. ... and 14 accredited labs. Plus, the testing costs A LOT. To test a simple pair of my handmade baby booties will cost me around $75. The required testing for a children's telescope, with all its parts, will cost upwards of $24,000.

Fourth, the law doesn't just apply to toys or imported items. It applies to EVERYTHING made for children 12 and under. It doesn't matter what it is, what it's made from, who makes it, or how hard it would be to get the lead out of it and into the child. Every item of clothing, every pacifier, every electronic device (although they only have to have the "accessible parts" lead-free), every dish, every shoe, every book, and every bead has to be certified lead-free. No more Swarovski crystal bracelets. No more beeswax-finished heirloom furniture. It doesn't matter if the children are likely to munch on it or not (e.g. paper clips in science experiment kits for children 8 and up). Even pianos and outdoor playground equipment are not exempt. And what's worse, even if you put a warning on it that says "Not For Children 12 and Under", the CPSC will still count it as a "children's product" if an average person might think children would be interested in it. So collectible plush and amigurumi dolls have to be tested for lead.

There's more, but you get the picture. Anything that's being handcrafted, made in small batches, or serves a niche market is going to find it not cost-effective to get the testing done. Thrift stores that resell children's goods will have to have a certificate of lead-free-ness from the items' manufacturers for products made years ago, or else face charges.* If they're honest, they'll either do the testing (and charge more to cover the costs) or go out of business. Existing toys will have to be taken off the shelves or sold at a steep discount to get them out of the stores by Feb. 10, when the law declares they are to be treated as a "banned hazardous substance". Imported toys from Europe, which already meet the EU's RoHS standard for lead content, will have to be re-tested for U.S. sale. Already lines of quality European toys are becoming unavailable.

Now, if you're a normal person who trusts their government, your immediate reaction is going to be "Wacky Hermit, you're overreacting. The government wouldn't do something that stupid. How could they write a law that would do all that? You must be misunderstanding it." Well, the fact is that the government DID it. Maybe they thought they were doing something different, because they didn't read the law before they voted for it. Maybe they'd sign the back of a yeti if they were told it was "for the children." Maybe they intended the law to only apply to large manufacturers, or to have some common sense written into it. But that wasn't the law they passed. THIS IS A FAIT ACCOMPLI. It's already law. It's been law for nearly half a year. And if you think I'm misunderstanding it, PLEASE click through to the links I've provided, especially the ones that link directly to the CPSC's own website.

Let's get one thing straight: this is NOT being opposed by mustachio-twirling tightwad manufacturers whose evil plans to dump vats of lead into the Children's Toy Factory have now been foiled. I have yet to hear of a manufacturer who expressed anything but a desire to keep children safe-- it does you no good to poison your customer base-- or was unwilling to go along with any testing regime whatsoever. They all agree with the goals; it's the means that are problematic.

On Feb. 10, 2009 (or before), the children's product industry will take an enormous hit. People will be put out of work. Products for children will become hard to find or will cost more. If you think saving GM is a good idea, maybe you could take a minute to help save an industry that's just as big... and isn't asking for a handout from the government.

What can you do? There's a whole list of suggestions here; I won't rehash them. But do SOMETHING. Write to your Congresspeople, if nothing else. But do it now. The uncertainty alone is already killing the industry. Many people are still holding out hope that Congress will realize their error and fix it before it's too late.

And now you may be asking, what have *I* done? Well, in addition to doing all of the above, I've gotten price quotes for testing, written to every blogger, local news station, and online magazine I can think of, and organized a mail-in protest. My protest is getting bigger and bigger and has even made the CPSIA Central page, where hopefully we'll pick up so many participants that the US Postal Service will have to back a truck up to Congressman Rush's office. I have never organized a protest before, even on issues I felt strongly about. That should tell you something about how important this is.

Folks, this is my livelihood we are talking about here. This is your children's clothing and playthings and furniture. This is YOUR pocketbook that will be affected. Please, do something!

* UPDATE: There's a report here suggesting thrift stores may be exempt, but given the wording of the law and the CPSC General Counsel opinions, I don't see how they would manage that. Even if it's legal for them to sell used toys, it would only take one person buying a leaded toy to sue a thrift store to put them all out of business, so I imagine many of them will no longer sell toys (at least) as a precautionary measure.

MORE UPDATE: How could I snub Kathleen after all the hard work she's done putting together the CPSIA War Room! That's The Place To Go for manufacturers and others who have a direct concern with the CPSIA.

UPDATE THE THIRD: Senator Leahy, at least, gets it!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pondering a Bacon Christmas... on the first night of Hanukkah

Perhaps some of my neighbors have noticed that I'm not exactly like the other women in Utah. For example:
  • I don't get all hot and fluttery at the thought of a pasty teenage vampire.
  • I can't get green jello to set.
  • I don't scrapbook.
  • I don't wear a CTR ring, or for that matter any CTR jewelry at all. (Now that I think about it, I don't wear that much jewelry anyway. But if I did, it wouldn't say "CTR".)
  • I don't read Gerald Lund novels.
  • I don't like to sit down and dish with my friends about the latest Gerald Lund or Stephenie Meyer novel.
  • In fact I don't read very many novels at all. I'm currently reading The Forgotten Man: A New History of The Great Depression by Amity Shlaes. Yeah, that one goes over like a lead balloon at any book club. And it has the added bonus of making me extremely bored to be talking about my latest book conquest to anyone who doesn't understand economics (including our bishop's wife who has a degree in economics).
  • I don't bake fifteen dozen homemade cookies, put four of them on a plate, and take them to my neighbor's house who has five kids.
This last one, though, may have to change this year, since I had an absolutely brilliant idea.

There are a lot of recipes out there for treats made with bacon. Bacon candy, bacon fudge, even bacon rice krispie treats. Everybody likes bacon, and everybody likes treats, so why wouldn't everybody like bacon treats? We could put them on festive paper plates, tag them with "We were just "bacon" something up for you! Love, the Hermit family" and take them around the neighborhood to all our friends! I ran it past FH and his response was "Bacon... hell yeah! Let's do it!"

OK, I have to confess, I really do get a rise out of the idea of shocking and horrifying my strait-laced Molly Mormon and Peter Priesthood neighbors with something that has absolutely no moral controversy but is nevertheless outside of their cultural repertoire. I like the idea that I'm pushing them to consider how much of what they think is moral or religious is actually cultural and unique to Utah's predominantly LDS conclaves. And of course those among our friends that don't need a push would really get a kick out of trying something new.

Oh, and while we're all thinking about bacon, Happy Hannukah!

Friday, December 19, 2008

New PBS Kids Programming

We don't have cable, so the only thing my kids really watch on TV is PBS Kids programming. Knuckles especially loves shows like Word World, where all the objects are made out of the letters that form their name.

My older kids pointed out that strangely enough, all the animals in this program talk, except for the dog. Why not the dog? What did the dog to do deserve this kind of treatment?

They have several reading programs including Princess' favorite "Word Girl" (vocabulary building), a math program (Cyber Chase) that has it's "Lookit me ma, I'm aligned with the NCTM Standards" moments but is otherwise good, and now a science program called "Sid The Science Kid." But they don't have any programs about punctuation. So I propose that they create one.

We can call it "Punctuation Pals" or something similar, and the characters can be lovable anthropomorphic punctuation marks with adorable names. Questy the Question Mark can speak only in questions to his friends Yowza the Exclamation Point, Semy the Semicolon, Red the Comma, Menstree the Period and Sigmoid the Colon. Together they can give a trophy to the Apostrophe for his proper use, fight the evil fraternal twins Sentence Fragment and Run-On, and generally exemplify the cooperative problem solving characteristic of every PBS Kids show.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Should I Be A Twit?

I've been hearing a lot about how everybody loves this newfangled intertube thingy called "Twitter". Evidently it's some thing where everybody sends each other lots of text messages about all the quotidian things they're doing. People on Etsy are even promoting their shops by being on Twitter.

I'm never one to turn down an opportunity to promote my business, but I'm not sure about this Twitter thing. For one, nobody seems to have any good explanation why I should do it, other than "Twitter rocks!" For another, I have enough trouble navigating the social universe in real life; I don't have time to worry about Twitter etiquette. I'm finding Facebook plenty overwhelming, thank you very much. Finally, I have trouble comprehending why any sane person would want to know what I'm doing. Heck, I don't even want to know what I'm doing. It would be very, very boring: "Sonshine's having another meltdown because he can't work on Princess' Christmas present right now." "Bagel ate Knuckles' lollipop and now Knuckles is throwing stuff." "I'm nine months behind on my accounting now." "Sonshine's having another meltdown, this time over not being allowed a snack half an hour before dinner." "Bagel's melting down because of Sonshine's screaming." "Guess what? Another meltdown." "I'm running late, again." "I burned the dinner." "Another day that ends with only two things crossed off a to-do list the length of a football field."

There. If you would even think about wanting me on Twitter, just copy and paste that every frickin' day, because all the days around here are the same.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

First they came for the carbon, but I said nothing...

... now they've come for the lead.

When are they going to learn that if it's on the Periodic Table Of The Elements, it can't be removed by legislation? High School chemistry teachers should make sure their students know that.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Federalist Paper Of The Day

Federalist #15:
Do we owe debts to foreigners and to our own citizens contracted in a time of imminent peril for the preservation of our political existence? These remain without any proper or satisfactory provision for their discharge... Is public credit an indispensable resource in time of public danger? We seem to have abandoned its cause as desperate and irretrievable. Is commerce of importance to national wealth? Ours is at the lowest point of declension. Is respectability in the eyes of foreign powers a safeguard against foreign encroachments? The imbecility of our government even forbids them to treat with us. Our ambassadors abroad are the mere pageants of mimic sovereignty. Is a violent and unnatural decrease in the value of land a symptom of national distress? The price of improved land in most parts of the country is much lower than can be accounted for by the quantity of waste land at market, and can only be fully explained by that want of private and public confidence, which are so alarmingly prevalent among all ranks, and which have a direct tendency to depreciate property of every kind. Is private credit the friend and patron of industry? That most useful kind which relates to borrowing and lending is reduced within the narrowest limits, and this still more from an opinion of insecurity than from the scarcity of money. To shorten an enumeration of particulars which can afford neither pleasure nor instruction, it may in general be demanded, what indication is there of national disorder, poverty, and insignificance that could befall a community so peculiarly blessed with natural advantages as we are, which does not form a part of the dark catalogue of our public misfortunes?

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

(Yes, it's taken me that long to get from #10 to #15, but I've also been reading my scriptures on mp3.)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Yeah, THAT'LL Work...

I haven't blogged about the Utah Legislature in a long time, more for lack of time than lack of material. But this one just begs to be blogged:

Sen. Chris Buttars wants Utah's Legislature to declare its opposition to the "war on Christmas."

The West Jordan Republican is sponsoring a resolution encouraging retailers to embrace Christmas in their promotions rather than the generic "holidays."

"It would encourage the use of 'Merry Christmas,'" Buttars said of the non-binding statement that is still being drafted. "I'm sick of the Christmas wars -- we're a Christian nation and ought to use the word."

All together now: You. Can't. Fight. A. Culture. War. With. Legislation... You. Fight. A. Culture War. With. CULTURE.

Go right ahead and say "Merry Christmas." It's a free country. Nobody's stopping you. If you happen to say it to the one person in 1000 who finds it offensive and says so to your face, gently and kindly reply "I'm sorry you're offended that I would like you to have a great day on the 25th of December." What are they going to do, sue you? I mean, I can see how you might be cautious if this were Canada, but this is still America and last time I checked the Bill of Rights, we still had freedom of speech.

Don't be a wuss and then complain that you're oppressed by your wussiness. You're not being frickin' Sir Thomas More by going around saying "Merry Christmas" to all those irascible infidels you imagine are out there. If there are any out there, you empower them by your fear; and if there aren't any, you're fecklessly throwing away control over your words.

Full disclosure: I say "Happy Holidays" because it's shorter than "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" and around this time of year I'm liable to forget which of those holidays are upcoming and which are past.