You shake your head in sorrow, or you flip the channel to Letterman because you just can't take it any more. It's time to stop taking it, and start changing it. Where are the politicians? Where are the cops? Where are the task forces? Where are academic studies? Where are the editorials? Where's Don Shelby? Well, we're ending the silence. It's time for decent citizens from Minneapolis and across the nation to join a chorus in protest against the family!

          In Cambridge, Mass., 40-year-old Richard Rosenthal murdered his wife after she complained he burned her dinner. In Fort Lee, N.J., Barbara Clark, 29, hacked her husband to death and left him to rot for four days before the body was discovered. In Huntsville, Ala., Betty Wilson and Peggy Lowe, twins, hired a handyman to whack Wilson's husband. In the Bronx, Orlando and Sherain Bryant burned their 4-year-old daughter Shana to death--it took them several months. All of them are names ripped from this year's headlines, black, white, young, old, but with one thing in common: The victims all had family, and their families killed them.

          When it comes to families, the status quo is damned by its silence. Look at the measures taken to stop gang killings: There are gang task forces in every city and gang units in every police department across the country. Gangs are the target of significant pieces of legislation. But no one tries to stop the family from wrecking its violent vengeance on citizens, even though the problem of families is more widespread. The numbers tell the story: a City Pages online search of 136 U.S. newspapers found that since February 1, 1996, the media printed 700 stories about gang killings or trials of gang members. The number of stories printed about family killings or trials of family members totaled 2,827--more than four times the number related to gangs. Surely it's time to take drastic measures to break up the family before the family breaks up the country. We must declare war on the family! The following measures would make a good start:

          PREVENTION: By the time a married couple conceives, it may be too late to staunch the flow of innocent blood. Early intervention, before marriage takes place, is the key. But our law enforcement has its hands tied. In recent years the subpoena standards for wire taps and searches have loosened when it comes to drugs and gangs, and we've seen judges approve and police execute a growing number of wide phone taps and surprise searches in an effective crack down on crime. Let's use these tools where they will really do some good, and interrupt courtship before it's too late. A little surveillance of dating services, night clubs, and movie theaters would go a long way toward the preemptive break up of the family unit.

          PRE-TEXTUAL SEARCH AND SEIZURE: One advantage law enforcement possesses in the fight against families is the high visibility of the family unit. We must give our officers the chance to use this advantage! Pre-textual traffic stops (for example, stopping motorists who are young and black for minor offenses so that police can hopefully tag them with major offenses) have already proven effective in battling gangs and drugs. Let's put this tool to use against families: If an officer sees a car containing children, he should be able to stop it, and if it also contains the biological parent or parents of the children, he should be able to arrest them. In some cases, innocent adults might get arrested, but many lives will be saved in the process.

          PUBLIC INFORMATION: No one can deny that the family causes hundreds of thousands of needless deaths every year, and it makes sense to do what we can to crack down on families. But any attempt to police families is guaranteed to fail if we do not address the root causes. Men and women turn to each other for a variety of reasons: loneliness and despair brought on by the emptiness of the wider culture, or desperation at the lack of opportunities they see, or a lack of positive role models who are unmarried. Even the popular music and television programs that teens consume encourage love, fornication, and even marriage; they make the family seem "cool." A broad set of policies is needed to address these underlying causes of families. Pressure should be brought to bear on the mega-corporate entertainment industries to include programming that shows positive images of life outside marriage and illuminates the real dangers of the family. In our schools, our social service programs, and even our tax code we must seek out those reforms that offer disincentives for families and at the same time bolster our children's sense of autonomy and opportunity. Above all, we must strive to make this a nation of individuals, each one strong enough to resist the easy--but ultimately false--intimacy of the family unit. Our very lives may depend upon it.

--Joseph Hart


          Water got you down? Filling up two-thirds of your body, running rampant over three-quarters of the world, falling from the sky, rising from the earth, ruining your blue suede shoes? Are you mad as hell and you're not going to take it anymore? Then PETALS, the world's premiere catalog for plastic plants in acrylic water, is speaking your language.

          Or speaking some incredibly lifelike language of their own. The catalog teems with effusive synonyms for authentic: "Wonderfully realistic," "so realistic," "so-lifelike," "incredibly natural-looking," "so natural looking," "extremely natural-looking," "you'll marvel at its realistic appearance," "leaves so convincing you won't believe they can't turn brown," "natural dried-look," "'Fresh' from an English garden," "totally realistic and carefree," "that natural look you love so well," and "New and improved with even more lifelike fullness." What makes them so lifelike? Petals innovation in the artificial plant industry: poured vases of acrylic that looks like water--Water Illusions.

          Admittedly, the flowers in the catalog do look very real, and so does the water, but we wanted to make absolutely sure. We called the customer service people at Petals. Do they really look real? "Yes, definitely," said the customer service lady. "They look very, very real in person. They look so real, that people order them, and they look so real that they try to water them." While this doesn't speak well for Petals' customers', it certainly sounds convincing. But doesn't dust settle on the acrylic-aqua, ruining the effect? "Dust gets in everywhere," Petals admits, and recommends that every faux-flower owner purchase cans of their "ozone friendly Artificial Flower Kleaner," to spray away the dust. Can this be done inside? "No, we recommend that you use it outdoors, since it has a very strong odor."

          How realistically lifelike.

          "Mailorderous" is an occasional Public Domain feature by Dara Moskowitz reporting innovations from the world of direct mail catalogs. "Petals" can be reached at 1 Aqueduct Road, White Plains, NY 10606-1097, 1-800-920-6000, http://petals.com

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