Today's Rhymes With Orange touches off all sorts of reflections on parenting, starting with the sensible theory that people who make air quotes should not be permitted to reproduce in the first place.
Beyond that, though, not only should any child old enough to be in school be capable of starting an orange, but the idea that missing one day's snack fruit would bring on scurvy is right in line with the level of danger with which over-parenting parents are obsessed.
Which is both the funny part of this strip and the not-at-all funny part.
Over-protective parents have been with us forever, but they used to be considered eccentric and kind of silly. An infant might sensibly be tied to its mother's apron strings, but this little buckaroo was out working cattle at the age of seven.
When we were not much older than that, we used to go down to the gravel pit and cut thumb-width saplings with our jackknives, sharpen the heavier end and use them as spears, throwing them at imaginary beasts and villains, most often as they snuck up behind our friends so we had to shout "Look out!" and make that last-second, close-call throw.
It was a game we never played in Keith Eastman's backyard, because his mother would come out and make us stop.
There were a lot of games we never played in Keith Eastman's backyard. We liked his mom: She was pretty and she often had cookies, but she never let Keith do anything even moderately fun.
But here's the thing: I wonder how many eight and nine year olds today are allowed to even have jackknives in the first place?
Are they dangerous? Well, they're knives, so, yeah. We'd get a nick on the thumb and it would hurt and we'd learn to handle them a little more carefully.
But they weren't freaking light sabers ferchrissake. We weren't gonna snick off each other's heads with them.
Anyway, we'd probably get arrested for having them at all in these more cautious times.
Which brings up this question: When, first of all, did paranoid, over-protective mothers go from something more sensible people chuckled over to being the models of good parenting?
And when did all this concern suddenly become everybody else's business as well?
Which is to say, every school administrator, every local cop, once had to deal with the worried moms and dads and you had to be polite and reassuring and promise to take care of things and then you would pour a cup of coffee and say to a co-worker, "Guess who was in to see me again?" and you'd both chuckle.
Ditto with the neighborhood busy-body. Our neighbors knew who we were, and we knew that, if we wanted to smoke cigarettes, we'd better duck into the woods, because if we were seen doing it, a phone call would follow.
But the one who called about everything we did was considered a pest, and, as annoying as our parents found her gossiping and interference, there were still repercussions from the old tattle-tale, and we avoided doing anything anywhere near her place.
Now she's become an unregistered branch of law enforcement.
Which brings us, as I'm sure you suspected it would, to those kids in Maryland whose parents have been charged with neglect for letting them leave their yard.
It's not the perfect case: As that article notes, Maryland law does not allow a child under 8 to be under the care of someone under 13, and I'm not prepared to go to the barricades for letting a 10-year-old watch over a 6-year-old, though it was common enough in our neighborhood.
But who is going to defend taking the kids into police custody and holding them incommunicado for three hours before putting the family through several more hours of investigation and interrogation?
Well, I know who: The vultures who profit from the infinitesimally small number of genuine tragedies that have befallen youngsters, with TV shows exploiting the sorrow, with sales of fingerprinting and DNA kits to local groups for "keeping our children safe" and with trainings to take the place of simply telling kids not to talk to strangers.
We blame 9/11 for a lot of the police-state atmosphere under which we live, but there was a major Stranger Danger industry going more than a decade before that.
Their heartless exploitation of fear and tragedy has created a world where it seems perfectly reasonable to put our toddlers' fingerprints into a massive data base, and where it seems perfectly reasonable for small children to be taken into custody and held for hours.
And where a cartoonist has to really plumb the depths of absurdity to come up with a fear irrational enough that some parent isn't actually out there protecting her child against it.
I hope, anyway.
Best of the occasion
Brewster Rockit wins.
Dogs of C-Kennel brings up a question: If you tell someone you've memorized pi to some huge number of decimal places, how many numbers do you have to reel off accurately before you can just start spouting random digits?
For that matter, if someone makes that claim and starts demonstrating it, I'll bet you could just wait a little while and then yell, "AH-HA! You said '6-4-3'! It's '6-3-4'!"
Or at least you could have done that before smartphones. Now they'd look it up and it would be even more tedious.
Better just punch'em.
But, first, make sure Keith Eastman's mom isn't gonna see you do it.
Weirdest Juxtaposition of the Day Ever
Michael Cavna asked several political cartoonists to comment on Garry Trudeau's speech on the Charlie Hebdo affair, which was discussed here earlier.
I'm not going to rehash it myself, but their opinions are definitely worth a look.
Now here's Stephen King's scariest story
Well, to Miss Gulch and Mrs. Eastman, anyway.
It reminded me of all my pals when we were that age. I guess growing up in the Adirondacks and growing up in Maine weren't that different.