The federal government spends a lot of time on labels.
Getting a federally authorized label for something requiring one costs a pretty good sum of money. You have to hire a Washington lawyer, hold hearings, publish it in the Federal Register and do everything but stand on your head.
I was packing up some stuff the other day and noticed the label on an insecticide designed to kill flying pests. It said it was a violation of federal law to use it for anything else.
What a shame. I was thinking about the prospects of using a little Raid or Hot Shot as hairspray or air freshener.
Does anyone actually look at this stuff?
For example, in 1965 we started requiring labels on cigarette packages. "Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health," was the first label. In 1969, we got a little more emphatic: "Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined That Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Your Health."
Then in 1984, the U.S. Congress, that brilliant organization, approved a nice selection of verbiage to decorate a cigarette pack. The government told us that cigarettes cause lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and may complicate pregnancy. They also informed us that quitting smoking will reduce serious risks to your health. And this important tidbit, that cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide. I'm sure this has kept many a smoker from lighting up.
My favorite government label is the one they place on mattresses and pillows. This one has that hard-line warning: "Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law."
I still have one of those tags dangling from my pillow. Every night before I go to sleep, I slide my hand inside the pillowcase and feel that it is still there.
I have this recurring dream that I remove it and wind up standing before Judge Rick Story, who is a federal judge and a friend of mine.
In my nightmarish dream, Judge Story, who is a very nice man, has become just the opposite. He has no sympathy for my decision to remove the pillow tag and sends me off to that prison in Colorado where they send people like the Unabomber.
The genesis of all government labels is Congress. I interview my congressman regularly and he's a nice guy. But there are other parts of the country that elected some people who are downright dangerous.
When you get elected to Congress they give you a nice little gold pin with an eagle on it. It's quite impressive and gains you access to the hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol.
But maybe we should require those same people who make us have goofy labels on pillows and bug spray to have a few labels of their own.
There are former members of Congress who should have had labels such as "Not safe around teenagers" and "Not safe in airport restrooms." Several current members could wear this one: "Bodily injury may occur if you get between this person and a TV camera."
Maybe the British have it right. They fly a special flag when the queen arrives at one of her residences. Maybe we should fly a certain flag when Congress is in session. Then we'll know we're all at risk.
Harris Blackwood is community editor of The Times. His columns appear Wednesdays and Sundays.