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Jewish World Review July 5, 2005 / 28 Sivan 5765

Betsy Hart

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Amusement parks symbolic of American freedom | Yesterday I did what hundreds of millions of other Americans will do this year, largely in summer months: I took my four kids and two friends to one of those huge amusement parks. (We were there for my 9-year-old's birthday.)

The children absolutely loved the heart-stopping rides, the crummy (and incredibly expensive) junk food, and all the excitement.

I myself was, of course, vaguely miserable the entire time. The only reason I wasn't completely miserable is because the kids were having such a blast.

As a mother, the really big rides— the roller coasters — terrify me. I used to love those things when I was a kid — the scarier, the better. Then I got to the point where I would go on a ridiculously high, twisty roller coaster about every three years just to remind myself why I didn't do it more often. Now, if someone could magically promise me I'd permanently lose 5 pounds for just one coaster ride, I'd still say no.

But in spite of all that, I love roller coasters and theme parks. And it's not just because my kids love them. It's because they always remind me of how incredibly fortunate we are in the United States.

Permanent amusement parks are totally available to almost every class of Americans. Wow. The sheer amount of wealth and energy required to operate these things must be staggering. And it's for absolutely no other purpose than to "amuse" us. (I have to believe the "waste" drives some folks nuts.) Most amazingly, virtually every segment of America has the time and money to be so frivolously amused and enjoy expensive family fights over whether to go on the "scrambler" or the "zipper."

I mean, such amusement used to be the province of kings. Now, we consider it our "right." Each year, America's amusement parks attract 300 million visitors. At let's say about 30 bucks a pop for admission (I'm low-balling here, and forget what we're dishing out inside the parks) we're spending something like $9 billion dollars in the United States just to get into the places. Nine billion dollars — that's greater than the gross national product of all sorts of whole little countries.

I think it's great.

I'm not suggesting for a minute, by the way, that the fruit of such wealth is always good or that money always buys happiness. But it sure can buy choices and possibilities and unimagined opportunities.

Yes in some other countries people are hungry while we ride roller coasters (or don't, in my case.) I've heard folks in and outside of this country complain ad nauseam about our excesses — our big cars, big houses, and wasteful lifestyles — as if such things cause that hunger. I haven't heard them complain about roller coasters — yet.

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But in any event, I know that the fact that we have so many roller coasters (and the other "excesses" folks complain about) is just a symptom of the wealth of a free country that provides not only so much of the world's economic and disaster relief, but the technology and the very ideas that allow the rest of the world to enjoy some measure of a better life.

I mean, neither a cure for AIDS, nor the next ever cheaper-and-better computer, nor the latest agricultural advances are going to come from East Timor, Guam, or Sri Lanka, yet such countries directly benefit because America has the freedom to produce such things. And we are an example of how almost any country could produce such things if it's people and economy are truly free.

I may never ride a roller coaster again. I may dread the thought of tramping around an overpriced amusement park (though once I get there it's actually kind of a good time.) But I love that every time I walk into a theme park I'm reminded of how western civilization and free markets have brought the world from worrying about scratching out food in the ground to being able to spend time figuring out which "slurpee" stand to go to on the way to the latest, greatest, newest roller coaster. I love that we've created for so many today what our ancestors couldn't have dreamed about — the freedom to enjoy the fact that life can be breathtakingly, heartstoppingly, fun.

P.S. Last week I wrote about the most difficult and the most fought against experience of my life — the end of my 17-year marriage. The outpouring of care, support and kindness I received in e-mails and letters from my readers was nothing short of overwhelming. I read every single response. I thank you for them from the bottom of my heart.

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"It Takes a Parent : How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids — and What to Do About It"  

"Hart urges parents to focus...on instilling industry, frugality, sincerity and humility. She encourages parents to reclaim the word "no." Contrary to advice you may have received, you needn't give your child choices, or offer alternatives, or explain to little Suzie why she can't eat eight cookies right before bed-you're the parent, and sometimes you can just say no."

  —   Kirkus Reports

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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© 2005, Scripps Howard News Service