Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Crime and Punishment - Whose is Which?

by Janis Patterson

The saddest crimes are not always fictional. Neither do they always involve gain or murder, or, if you want to be pedantic, an actual crime. Not all crimes break the law. Some crimes are the law and not even the most dedicated sleuth can set them aright.

Last year the Dallas City Council, acting against the will of the people, enacted a ban on single-use plastic bags which went into effect January 1. Pardon me, a ban on FREE plastic bags. You can still go to the store and get exactly the same bags you always did, but now you have to pay for them. The city gets about .03 for every plastic bag you get now. I think if a company or an individual enforced such a system it would sound very much like extortion.

The rationale was the money is to pay the cost of cleanup of plastic bags that are allowed to fly around. I live in a neighborhood where if I see a single loose plastic bag in a year it is something worth remarking on, but in the two weeks before the City Council vote unfettered plastic bags flew around like arctic snowflakes. And, like snowflakes in the spring, they vanished as soon as the vote was taken, not to be seen again.

The majority of Dallas citizens made their displeasure with such a scheme known, contacting their council members to protest and say that such an idea was unacceptable. Trying to respond to the will of the people some councilpersons suggested that since the majority of the problem was in a certain part of town, that this part of town be subject to the ban but that the areas without the problem be left unaffected. The resulting argument was laced with all kinds of unprintable epithets. Such a division, said the spearhead of the banning movement (a resident of that part of town and a person some think power-mad), would be unfair.

So does he think it is fair to deprive the citizens who have done nothing of their plastic bags unless they pay a bounty? But the city council, their eyes aglow at the thought of .03 or so a bag, apparently thinks so.

I dislike the label ‘single-use’; after having been used to bring home your shopping these bags are wonderful for damp kitchen garbage, for picking up while walking your dog, for wrapping your shoes to pack in a suitcase, to put your wet bathing suit in for the trip home, to use as a waste receptacle in your car… The number and ways of re-uses are limited only by one’s imagination. I also dislike the much-touted ‘multi-use’ bags; they are ugly, they get dirty and unsanitary very quickly and you must always remember to have some with you and to take them into the store. Plastic bags are so much easier and cleaner.

I also dislike injustice, and of being either deprived or charged all because of something I didn’t do. Being a cynic, I started stockpiling bags as soon as our state capital banned bags, knowing that the power-mad element of our own city government would inevitably flex their own muscles. As a more visible means of protest last month I also bought several thousand blank bags from a wholesaler to take whenever I go to the store. Yes, I had to pay for them, but not one penny for them will fall into the greedy hands of those who voted for the ban. Neither am I the only one to plan to do my future shopping in the suburb cities, therefore depriving Dallas of any sales tax I might owe. Just for the record, I also hate those speed bumps you find on far too many residential streets. They are supposed to be deterrents to speeders; I don’t speed, but even if I slow to a creeping roll I, my passengers, my cargo and my car are shaken and jolted. What government regards as ‘fair to all’ always seems to end up as ‘unfair to those who obey the law’ whether it be littering or speeding.

Perhaps this outrageous insult to the wishes of the citizenry is an object lesson in why people like mysteries. In most mysteries there is a definite crime that is viewed by all as a crime. In most mysteries there is a force (police, detective, amateur sleuth or whatever) who can right the wrong and set society aright again. The will and good of the people is respected and justice triumphs. Even in thrillers, one person – or at most a small group – can fight terrible odds for what is right and save the freedom of the country, the world, the universe, or whatever is at risk. Whether it is the murder of a single person in a country vicarage or the destruction of an entire world such a triumph of what is right and good gives the reader a sense of satisfaction, of order restored. All is set aright. Justice has prevailed.

At least we can still find such a hopeful resolution in fiction. In real life... the politicians win.


Jacqueline Seewald said...

I agree, fiction is infinitely more satisfying than reality.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

We use all our plastic bags for other uses. Good post, we're facing the same dilemma here in CA.

Shalanna said...

I know there was an agenda behind this beyond the "ecology" argument that they were using. We have always used the plastic grocery bags for the applications you listed, PLUS lining the wastepaper baskets next to my mother's bed and chair because she is liable to dump just about Anything into them, including unmentionable stuff. This way we can put the Stuff into the big garbage bags and pretend she doesn't do that. (LOL) I also used to recycle bags by taking them to that big bin in the WalMart store. I really don't think they are any less biodegradable (or more so) than the large black bags, which are probably next to go. At the same time, the city is doing nothing about fracking. Hmm.