Jewish World Review Dec. 6, 2002 / 1 Teves, 5763

Barry Lank

Barry Lank
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Consumer Reports

Drunk youngins and other tales of today's toys | Need that perfect gift for your active 2-year-old this holiday season? Then check out the new toy I've invented - Li'l Microbrewer. Using only tap water and store-bought hops and barley, your child can learn the scientific wonders of fermentation, as well as bottling, business management and the near-lost art of rum-running.

Deplorable, you say? Believe me, it's not the worst toy on the market. Sure, Li'l Microbrewer might get your kids drunk, but only after they've worked ever so hard for it. This teaches them about initiative, and it's still safer than, for example, the cotton candy machine, distributed by Rose Art Industries.

A symbol of all that is good and fluffy and pink, the cotton candy machine tends to catch fire. Rose Art and the CPSC have received 225 reports of the machines overheating, and three reports of fire, including one that caused about $2,000 in property damage.

This is one of many toys about which the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is issuing warnings this holiday season - bright, magical items with happy names and jagged protrusions. Three main types of toys can kill your child:

The first, and most numerous, are the choking hazards. Consumer advocacy groups even have sent out warnings about Play Doh, the Hello Kitty 5-piece stamp set and Legos. Yep, Legos. All these toys have parts that are just big enough to block a child's windpipe.

But isn't that true of most toys?

For some reason, the National Association of State Public Interest Research Groups seems to think we can get around this problem by using hazard warning labels. But really, if parents are sensible enough to read labels, they're also sensible enough to realize that their child will try to swallow anything smaller than a carpeting warehouse. And if the child himself can read the label, he's old enough to go ahead and eat a Super Ball and see what happens.

The only safe approach is to find toys that have no small parts. There are only three: Zeppelins, summer-stock theater productions and strippers.

Plus, of course, Li'l Microbrewer, which contains no choking hazards - just a 20-quart brew pot, a food-grade plastic bucket and an airlock.

The next danger is toys that are toxic. This includes Sanrio pink glitter nail polish, which contains dibutyl phthalate. PIRG says this chemical has been linked to reproductive damage, eye and skin irritation and, get this, "mutations." With one set of shiny nails, your child can create a race of three-headed super-iguanas.

The third main danger is toys that are so loud they can damage your hearing. Though the National Academy of Pediatrics lists 85 decibels as the threshold for hearing loss, toys that exceed that are extremely common. This may surprise you, unless you have spent five minutes with any child at all ever in your life.

And it's not just the evil-sounding toys that cause problems. Sure, you don't expect anything pleasant from a toy called a laser rifle (manufactured by Agglo), which blares at 95 decibels. It can cause hearing loss after one to two hours of exposure, PIRG says.

But that noise is matched and even exceeded by the unbearable racket from the dreaded Puppy Phone (by Leap Frog) at 94 decibels; the thundering roar from the Electronic Nursery Rhyme Bus (Tek Nek Toys International, Inc.) at 97 decibels; and the inhuman devastation of the Growing Smart Lap Top Computer by Fisher-Price, at a whopping 100 decibels, just high enough to cause hearing loss after only two to 15 minutes.

This brings me back to Li'l Microbrewer, which makes no noise except the pleasant bubbling of malt sugar solution, and has no toxic ingredients that you don't manufacture yourself.

OK, so your kid will fall down drunk while finger-painting. But since we rely so faithfully on warning labels, we know that drinking beer is dangerous on only two occasions: when you're driving a car and when you're pregnant. If your toddler is pregnant and driving a car, you, my friend, have a whole other set of problems.

JWR contributor Barry Lank is an editorial writer and humor columnist based at the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, NJ. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Barry Lank