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Craig Zucker: What Happens When a Man Takes on the Feds (wsj.com)
107 points by fennecfoxen 1335 days ago | hide | past | web | 69 comments | favorite

Can I admit this? I used to admire this one aspect of the Federal government: The way they'd calmly and objectively state their case, without emotion, in indictments, in tax notices, in diplomatic letters. It was a model I strove to emulate in my correspondance in times of personal conflict.

No longer. They are increasingly vindictive and flighty.

Perhaps it was always this way, and we have the Internet to thank for giving us (as Paul Harvey would say) the rest of the story. At any rate, the loss of the calm, emotionless appeal indicates a loss of pack-leader, Alpha behavior, and among apes and most other orders of mammals, will lead directly to a loss of respect.

The product may well have been redesigned to been safer, that's beside the point.

The allegation of lack of process portrays the CPSC as unable to interact with manufacturers in a civil manner that addresses concerns constructively. If the US continues scaring off entrepreneurs, the US will be weaker, less competitive and more boring as a result of bad policies.

The larger concern is that US-based thought-leaders are leaving in droves (Woz, et al) as well as the thousand and change that queue up to relinquish their passports every year is swelling; this may be only the beginning of the flickering flame of American exceptionalism. [1]

PS: I also feel that fair reporting on this piece would give the CPSC the opportunity to comment and share its views, if even to say the token "no comment." (One side does not make a complete story.)

[1] How to relinquish citizenship http://travel.state.gov/law/citizenship/citizenship_776.html (8 U.S.C. 1481(a)(5), obviously be certain to secure other citizenship arrangements first)

Woz plans to become an Australian citizen, but he has said he is NOT going to give up US citizenship.

This is his side of the story. Some of it does seem shady on the side of CPSC, but my perspective is, Craig Zucker was making tons of money. Am I supposed to believe that the money he was making didn't override his better judgement at all?

Sounds like what happened at the end after his campaign failed was that instead of complying and executing the full recall, he terminated the company; taking all of the profits with him, and leaving the CPSC to clean up the mess while he laid on a beach somewhere. Now he's complaining that didn't pan out and he might have to give the money back.

What mess? The mess created by the Commission themselves? Why should he be on the hook for their highly-questionable actions?

Craig Zucker created a product that harmed upwards of 80 children. He created the mess, not the Commission. They were doing their job, which is to make sure that products sold in the US are safe for use.

Buckyballs were most definitely not safe, and should never have been marketed as toys for children.

If your kid is dumb enough to eat those little balls after being a toddler, or you as a parent are dumb enough to let your toddler play with them, well, that's on you.

>If your kid is dumb enough to eat those little balls after being a toddler,

Kids lack the knowledge and experience needed to make a proper decision here.

>or you as a parent are dumb enough to let your toddler play with them, well, that's on you.

Right, the things needed a label, not a ban from sale.

He claims in the article that they were specifically not marketed as toys for children, and went to great trouble to ensure his retailers didn't do it either.

Craig Zucker says a lot of things that don't correspond with reality. There's a reason that this interview is posted under the Opinion section of the WSJ and not the News section--factually, it wouldn't pass muster.

I saw Buckyballs when they were on sale in stores--at Brookstone and at the Discovery Store. (I own 2 sets, they are great office toys, especially if you have metal desks.) They were definitely marketed to children--they were in the children's toy section of both stores, sold alongside other children's toys. Indeed, up until a few months ago, they were even still on sale at the LA Natural History Museuem's gift shop...in the children's toy section. There was a child playing with Buckyballs on the in-store display. The "13+" warning, assuming it was actually on the box art, was in text small enough that it was not visible without the box right up to your face.

Meh. This is the attitude that has neutered our chemistry sets and fireworks ordinances. Too much nanny in this state for my taste.

Chemistry sets sold today are much better equipped and supplied than the ones sold when I was young, they simply cost more because they're no longer as popular.

Also, fireworks ordinances are not nanny state rules. They're fundamental safety regulations. Much of the West is subject to significantly elevated fire risks, due to a combination of ecology and a decade-long drought. I don't mean piddly little fires like you see in a bbq grill. I mean raging infernos hot and wild enough to burn an entire neighborhood to ash in under an hour.

The two primary choices for minimizing with this type of risk are: (1) force people to move out of the areas at risk, or (2) prohibit high-risk activities (such as fireworks) in areas of heightened risk. Prohibiting fireworks in high-risk areas is by far the least restrictive option available.

Here's an image search:


As someone with two small kids, this is not the kind of packaging used for toys aimed at that age group.

I'm all for throwing the book at people who knowingly market things that appear to be safe in a particular sense but are not.

Buckyballs are obviously strong magnets that are small enough to swallow. Seeing the product or hearing a two sentence description is enough information for a parent to understand that it is not suitable for children who still regularly place toys and random objects in their mouths. Young children should also not be allowed to play with knives, household/automotive chemicals, cooking appliances and sources of electricity.

Yeah, it's so obvious that Buckyballs are dangerous compared to other small items that can be swallowed, that there are people in every HN or Slashdot discussion who fail to grasp it, including this one:

"A quick search of: kid swallow lego Returns about 1.9 million results on google, I'm guessing more kids swallow legos, where is the recall order there?"

"Unless you have a gastric bypass they should be attracted to each-other in the stomach, before going anywhere where you can squeeze stuff, well assuming they where eaten during the same time."

Edit - same in the Wall Street Journal comments section:

"Anyway, what's wrong with kids eating magnets? Wouldn't they be the same as eating BB's or ball bearings? If we banned everything that kids eat, we'd have to ban dirt because kids eat a lot of that too. "

"So any toy or object smaller than a human mouth must be banned because it might be ingested by a child? How about Legos? How about marbles? Do we get rid of coins?"

I will accept that the hazards may have been insufficiently obvious prior to the warning label that states exactly what might happen to a person who eats Buckyballs. I believe the warning labels on the packaging are sufficient to entirely shift responsibility for safe use of the product to the purchaser.

The general principle I'm advocating here is that product manufacturers should not be liable for injuries when the potential hazards are either self-evident to a reasonable adult[0] or clearly marked on the packaging. This might get a bit murky when a product is marketed to young children, but as far as I can tell, Buckyballs were definitely not marketed to age groups who were likely to eat them.

The article indicates that one of these kids ingested magnets which were used to decorate a wedding cake. It's just one example... but how can you possibly be held responsible for that?

And as pointed out below, these were never marketed as toys for children.

Well, I tried to have something about buckyball magnets in there when I submitted it, but apparently this title is so much more informative. Who knew?

Current HN policy seems to be that the title from the article itself should be used, no matter how generic and uninformative they are, and no matter how much more useful and descriptive the submitter's chosen title is. This used to not bug me, because I read via Google Reader, which kept the original title. Now I use Feedly, and it updates if the title changes, meaning I often see a title, make a mental note to read it later, and then when latter becomes now I don't see it anymore. Grrrr.

If I ever get around to blogging and write something that is likely to get submitted here, I'm going to give it a totally useless title like "As The Yaks Go, So Go The Wombats" [1] that the submitter will surely replace with something better, just to see if the HN mods would opt for the article title even when it is absolutely dreadful. :-)

[1] Does anyone know where the phrase "as the yaks go, so go the wombats" comes from? I used it exactly twice as a signature line on Usenet in the early or mid '80s, but do not remember where I got it. The only hits Google shows are a hit on my site and me asking a few years ago if anyone knew where it came from.

My solution to this is to have the title randomly permute for each user so no user sees the same title. That way there is no consistent title for the mods to set it to.

I'd like to see some blogger that's popular on HN start titling posts with non-sequiturs just to troll the absurd submission policy.

Or a title that changes per visitor... which could eventually even show optimized titles to the moderators' IPs or HN referrer-URLs?

It is of passing interest to me that this is the moderators' concern, rather than killing zero-day malware exploited site links. Wasn't it just a couple days ago that Google.ps had their dns hacked, and the link sat on HN for quite awhile at the top page?

Seems to me that someone powerful on the commission had a personal issue with the owner or the product itself.

Look for the parent whose child has swallowed one of these magnets and had surgery (or worse, had complications and died), then it all makes sense.

That doesn't make it right, of course...

Alcohol is dangerous, cars are dangerous, etc, etc...

This appears to be another double standard...

I don't know the particulars of the claims, but I do know that:

1 - the wsj is barely distinguishable from anti-government propaganda, so they're worthless: any claims they make need to be verified with first party sources before belief;

2 - this happened:

   Pediatric gastroenterology specialists responding to the survey reported 
   more than 80 children with magnet ingestion. Most patients required 
   endoscopy to remove the magnets or surgery to repair damage to the bowels. 
   Twenty-six children had bowel perforation; three needed major surgery to 
   remove a section of damaged intestine. [1]
[1] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120904100844.ht...

> I don't know the particulars of the claims...

You confess that you don't know anything about the subject at hand,

> but I do know that... the wsj is barely distinguishable from anti-government propaganda

but you're happy to throw around an ad hominem attack on the site that published the story.


ad hominem : rolleyes :

known liars make all their analyses useless: you can't tell what crucial facts they elided or what quotes they selectively quoted; it's worse than uninformative, because you have to question every fact presented and go dig, as I said, for a first-party source to verify.

Interestingly you just quoted the very definition of ad hominem. What someone tends to say makes no statement about their current argument. You can choose to dismiss them out of hand because they tend to lie, but to claim that what they are currently saying is false because they are liars is a fallacy.

Remember the boy who cried wolf? The take away from that story should be that every statement has to be evaluated in isolation.

> What someone tends to say makes no statement about their current argument.

Not so. If someone has lied in the past, that is evidence that their conscience permits them to lie, and so they are more likely to lie in the future.

> The take away from that story should be that every statement has to be evaluated in isolation.

Again no. The takeaway is that you should not lie, because if you do people will be less likely to believe you in the future.

> Not so. If someone has lied in the past

Fine. It makes no conclusive statement about their current argument. You still have to check it if you want to know if it's true or not.

> The takeaway is that you should not lie, because if you do people will be less likely to believe you in the future.

This is the over simplified view of the story. In my opinion, the subsequent attack on the village was 100% the fault of the others. The boy did his job and warned them of a wolf and they engaged in an ad hominem and dismissed his argument without even a cursory check. If they weren't willing or able to work with the boy then it's their fault again for giving him a job they didn't trust him to do.

You need to brush up on your Bayesian reasoning. In the story, the boy lies repeatedly before finally telling the truth once. If you do the math you will see that the villagers acted properly (or at least rationally). The Bayesian prior on P(wolf) is pretty small to begin with, and the posterior probability of P(wolf|boy-cries-wolf) gets smaller with every observation of ~wolf|boy-cries-wolf.

You are being distracted by the fact that the data comes from a boy rather than an impersonal predictor like, say, some astrological sign. Your Bayesian prior on P(X|someone-says-X) is high, and that is as it should be. Evolution sees to it that people are basically honest. But evolution produces a lot of variation, including pathologies like lying. You're failing to update your estimate of P(Y-is-a-pathological-liar|Y-lied).

It has nothing to do with Bayesian, we're talking logic here. An astrological sign would not fall under logic, but rather the domain of science where it can be demonstrated to have no predictive power. A human can decide to stop lying, a sign can't decide to suddenly have predictive scientific properties.

The village could certainly reason that the boy usually lied. But it is a fallacy to say "this argument is false because he is a liar". He might not be lying this time (indeed, the last time he was not). It would have been wise of them to get someone else to do the wolf watching, however, since they couldn't work with this boy.

> It has nothing to do with Bayesian, we're talking logic here.

You really don't understand this at all. There is no such thing as single Platonic "logic" independent of any qualifier. There are many different kinds of logic. There is propositional logic, first order logic, higher order logic(s), modal logics, extensional and intensional logics. Bayesian reasoning is a (particular kind of) logic. Specifically, it is a logic of probability, which is to say, the kind of logic that applies when you don't know for certain whether something is true of false. Which is to say, the only kind of logic that actually applies to real-world situations.

> A human can decide to stop lying,

Can they? All of them? Are you sure? There are humans who can't decide to (say) stop smoking, how can you be certain that there aren't humans who can't decide to stop lying?

> a sign can't decide to suddenly have predictive scientific properties.

Of course a sign can't "decide" anything because it doesn't have a brain, but that doesn't mean it couldn't suddenly start to have predictive power. You can't rule out the possibility that the laws of physics could change tomorrow on any logical basis. The best you can (logically) do is observe that there is a ton of EVIDENCE that thaw laws of physics don't change capriciously, and conclude that therefore the probability they will change tomorrow is low (and Bayes's theorem will tell you exactly how low if you want to crunch the numbers).

Likewise, there is a ton of EVIDENCE to support the theory that the boy in the story is a pathological liar who is not capable of deciding not to lie, or for whatever reason chooses to lie notwithstanding that he might have the ability not to. The only issue is how many lies it would take before one's estimate of the posterior probability of the boy telling the truth was indistinguishable from zero. This has to do with one's Bayesian prior on the probability of a particular random individual being a pathological liar, but that's beside the point. The point is that there is some finite number of lies after which the theory that what the boy says is in any way correlated with the truth (except by chance) is no longer logically tenable.

The WSJ's rep, last time I checked, was a solid newsroom, and a insane, frothing at the mouth editorial team, with a strict wall between the two.

Any evidence for the idea that the news section of the WSJ is corrupted so absolutely that they cannot be relied on in any story?

Unfortunately this is in the Opinion section which has been known to be reliably frothing at the mouth, anti-goverment, ayn randian propaganda machine.

Oh, that does make a very big difference.

I think it's trite to say 'ad hominem' in cases like this. Ad hominem refers to the quality of the reasoning.

Here, we depend on the WSJ for the facts as well. If they are an untrustworthy source, that's very relevant.

> you have to question every fact presented and go dig

Isn't that true of every assertion of "fact"? Perhaps it's because I'm British. Our press make no attempt to hide their political views.

re 2: So? Kids hurt themselves and swallow dumb things all the time. It's your job as a parent to keep those things away from them. It's not the government's job, and it's certainly not the manufacturer's job.

Proof by insistence? In a different time Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, and that book set the forces in motion that gave the country inspection of meat products and also the FDA. I do realize that there are problems with that public authority, nevermind that it is intentionally underfunded, but no public oversight of the food and drug supply would be even worse. We know that for a fact, because we have seen it.

That's regulation ensuring products are safe when used as intended, not regulation ensuring products can't be used unsafely. It's a key difference. The government should ensure bottled water is free from E. coli. It shouldn't ensure you can't drown in it.

- Their authority the problem. Increasingly authoritarian being the issue. - As they should be underfunded. Keeps their power in check.

> As they should be underfunded. Keeps their power in check.

No, changing laws keeps their power in check. Underfunding them simply makes them less effective and more arbitrary.

This is not a food or a drug.

2. The fact that this happened is in fact quite relevant to the product's regulation, but there are larger issues here about the way that the regulators actually interact with regulated entities (e.g. suits that a skeptic may worry are motivated by revenge, attempts to tear down the limited-liability structure underpinning the modern corporation's ability to interact effectively with the economy)

1. The WSJ, reporting on things which could affect Business in the general case, is opinionated, but - that notwithstanding - generally quite reliable, doubly so by news-organization standards. That's why they're still in business. That said, I am awed at some of the screed that makes it to their Review and Outlook opinion section (the pro-SOPA piece which was nearly slanderous in impugning the motives of the likes of Jimmy Wales comes to mind) and can express a modicum of sympathy.

In the meantime, while you're consulting the government agencies in question for your "first-party sources", here is some third-party coverage, which is also opinionated but does have more citations. http://www.wlf.org/upload/legalstudies/legalbackgrounder/08-...

A quick search of: kid swallow lego

Returns about 1.9 million results on google, I'm guessing more kids swallow legos, where is the recall order there?

Two things:

1) Lego bricks are targeted at a specific age group (there's a reason why Duplo blocks are larger, and thus, targeted at a younger age group)

2) Lego bricks aren't attracted to each other and burrow through soft tissue to meet. Buckyballs, made of rare earth magnets, are attracted to each other and can cause tissue damage if two or more are swallowed.

Granted, Lego bricks might cause irritation going through the digestive system, but not nearly cause the damage that rare earth magnets can.

2) Unless you have a gastric bypass they should be attracted to each-other in the stomach, before going anywhere where you can squeeze stuff, well assuming they where eaten during the same time.

Also I think the sharp edges are a thread, if they go trough wrong, I think there is a risk of it ripping apart the gut. BUT I'm not a doctor.

Of course there is the simple solution of not buying unsafe toys (or letting kids play unsupervised.)

You might think, but no, they might not necessarily attract each other in the stomach. An ex-girlfriend's kid ate two magnets (http://boston.conman.org/2006/01/12.1) and they ended up separating, then attracting each other in different parts of the body (http://boston.conman.org/2006/01/20.1).

The stomach wall is a possible point of damage as well, with its many soft tissue folds...

Linked report is cool, but a rough skimming doesn't peg it at 80 kids for this product, just these small neodymium magnets in general.

I don't know Zucker's current relationship with former CEO of Buckyballs Jake Bronstein (they may be hiding him becaus of his bad PR, see below), but from the VM in this video the company didn't necessarily represent the most stable kind of businesspeople... and incidentally they made huge blusterings as to their lawyering.


Home of the brave, land of the free

So what happens when they come for your Legos?

Bottom line: Nanny State = Risk averse Entrepreneur = Risk Taker

To me the issue here isn't the safety issue, which I think is legit. It's the way the government seems to be behaving. The product is dead, company out of business. Let it go.

In the EU we laugh every day when we unpack a product. Why? They are shipped in plastic bags suitable for international usage. And each bag has printed on it on or more:

"This is not a toy." "Keep away from children." "Do not reuse bag." "Immediately dispose of this bag."

So each time we receive a product, we chuckle at the US, because they need to be told this. (Obviously the people don't need it, but your legal system requires it.)

> In the EU we laugh every day when we unpack a product.

And you should. The U.S. system is ruled by the fear of -- not harm to consumers -- but lawsuits.

> "This is not a toy." "Keep away from children." "Do not reuse bag." "Immediately dispose of this bag."

The purpose of those warnings is to guard against predatory lawyers. The risk to consumers is only a smokescreen.

Here's a story from the U.S.: A robber was escaping the police by sprinting across a rooftop. He stepped onto a painted-over glass skylight, fell through, and was injured. He successfully sued the building's owners for painting over the skylight. True story.

> Obviously the people don't need it, but your legal system requires it.

Exactly right. But the legal system isn't about protecting consumers, it's about defending against liability lawyers.

Do you know where the court judgement can be found? It's likely "Bodine v. Enterprise High School", but all I can find are people commenting about the case, and they aren't all consistent.

For example, according to most accounts, the robber was not being chased by the police but instead was trying to steal a (or several) light fixture(s), and the police weren't involved until after the thief fell.

Actually, researching further, it doesn't seem that there is a court judgement. It looks like the suit was settled out of court, so it's "successful" only in the sense that the plaintiff received money, and not in the sense of being awarded that money.

So, I'm not sure what lesson there is from that case. Can you elaborate? After all, no matter how many labels there might be, anyone can file a lawsuit.

Also, that court case was during the 1980s, and deals with specifics of California law which have since changed. How does this 30 year old non-case affect business decisions now?

> the robber was not being chased by the police

I didn't say that. I said he was escaping the police, which he surely was.

> so it's "successful" only in the sense that the plaintiff received money ...

That was true because of the threat of a court proceeding, in the context of a very litigous society. The thief wasn't a formal plaintiff, just an actual one. The money settlement was less than what would have resulted from a court proceeding, both parties knew this but accepted it for different reasons.

> So, I'm not sure what lesson there is from that case. Can you elaborate?

Certainly. A thief was injured while committing a crime. He sued the people he was robbing and won. It's hard to make it more dramatic than a bare recitation of the facts provides.

> How does this 30 year old non-case affect business decisions now?

* The fact that it was settled out of court doesn't mean there was no case. If that had been true, there wouldn't have been a settlement.

* The litigous environment to which this case history refers has gotten worse, not better.

The police were not involved until after the plaintiff fell through the skylight. The plaintiff was unable to move. How is this "escaping the police" in any sense of the phrase?

As to "He sued the people he was robbing and won", this is a blunt view of the world that should not be used as the sole basis for deciding culpability.

Consider "I was going 10 mph over the 55 mph speed limit when the engine of my car caught fire. I sued the car company because of their faulty engine design. We were able to show that several other cars of the same model also caught fire at 65 mph, and the company knew about them, but the company hadn't done anything about it. I sued, but because I was breaking the law when it happened, I got nothing."

In your view, is that appropriate?

Consider "That night I shoplifted a pack of gum from the store. While still in the parking lot, I fell into an open manhole. The store had left it open for a week, without any signs or barriers, and the outside lights weren't turned on. I hit my head and was in a coma for 10 days. They refused to accept any liability, because it was part of my crime of stealing the gum."

In your view, is that appropriate?

In both hypotheticals, the lawbreaker "was injured while committing a crime", so I assume the answer to both questions is "yes."

I disagree. The commission of a crime should not automatically revalue one's life and health to $0.

In addition, how much proof does there need to be to establish that someone has committed a crime, before the owner's immunity kicks in? Does the person need only to be accused of a crime, or does a full criminal conviction need to take place first?

Do you really want there to be more criminal cases in order to reduce the number of (rare) civil cases? Or do you really want the property owners to make arbitrary claims, for the purpose of avoiding liability?

"The litigous environment to which this case history refers has gotten worse, not better."

I regard that is a statement of opinion not based in fact. For example, California Civil Code Section 847 ( http://law.onecle.com/california/civil/847.html ), which was passed after the above lawsuit, says:

> An owner, including, but not limited to, a public entity, as defined in Section 811.2 of the Government Code, of any estate or any other interest in real property, whether possessory or nonpossessory, shall not be liable to any person for any injury or death that occurs upon that property during the course of or after the commission of any of the felonies set forth in subdivision (b) by the injured or deceased person.

Isn't that exactly what you want for this sort of case? If not, what should the law be?

> The police were not involved until after the plaintiff fell through the skylight.

The plaintiff was committing a crime. He needed to elude the police. When he fell, he was located where he was in order to avoid observation and arrest.

> I disagree. The commission of a crime should not automatically revalue one's life and health to $0.

Now that you're making my arguments for me, I think we're done here.

What I ask for is primary information. Everything I've found has been secondary or tertiary.

You write 'He needed to elude the police.' According to sources I read, he fell through the roof, his friends broke into the gym to help him, he was breathing but unconscious, his friends called the fire department, and the police arrived soon after.

Since you say that he was "eluding the police" or "escaping the police", and the information I have found says that the police were not involved until after fire/rescue arrived, I assume that you have better information about the case than I have been able to find.

(Or do you mean that all criminals elude the police until they are caught? If so, then your use of "elude" and "escaping" is atypical and confusing, and has almost no real meaning.)

"Now that you're making my arguments for me"

I have no idea of what you are talking about. I don't understand your argument enough to make it or counter it. Your statements are vague enough that I can't make sense of them, and when I ask for clarification and details, you make an uninterpretable reply.

I can only conclude that you don't care to understand and discuss the topic. Instead, you seem to repeat worn-down anecdotes about this case which have been repeated for 30+ years. Since then, California law was changed for the express reason to make it harder for criminals to make these sorts of legal claims.

Were those changes not enough? And if not, why not? What would the law need to be in order for you to be happy?

> Since you say that he was "eluding the police" or "escaping the police", and the information I have found says that the police were not involved until after fire/rescue arrived, I assume that you have better information about the case than I have been able to find.

You're conveniently overlooking the fact that he was on the roof, a pointless activity were it not for his desire to avoid detection.

Does a person proactively make choices to avoid cancer even when no cancer is present? Yes or no?

In the account I read, he was on the roof because he wanted to steal a light fixture which was on the roof. Previously that evening they had tried, and failed, to steal a floodlight from the school’s tennis courts. There was nothing about the man trying specifically to avoid detection any more than any other criminal would not want to be caught. Certainly the police were not at the school.

This leads me to believe we are not talking about the same incident. I quickly found several cases where someone fell through a skylight. For recent examples:

- "A 17-year-old teenager “clowning around” on the roof of Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School fell through a skylight Sunday night, police said." http://www.nj.com/monmouth/index.ssf/2013/07/teen_hospitaliz...

- "A teenage boy suffered heavy bleeding injuries Friday night after falling 15 feet through a glass skylight on the roof of a Mill Valley funeral facility, a fire official said." http://www.marinij.com/ci_23653365/boy-injured-fall-through-...

- "A teen was seriously hurt Monday after falling through a skylight at Taylor Middle School" http://www.koat.com/news/new-mexico/albuquerque/Teen-falls-t...

- "Police identified 15-year-old Kimberley Ferris as the teen who died Tuesday after falling through a Dakota Middle School skylight" http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/police-identify-teen-who-di...

These reasons for being on a roof seem to be even more pointless than stealing a floodlight, and yet they were on the roof, and were not trying to escape or evade the police.

I tentatively conclude that you really don't know the details and have been passing along stories you heard. As with any friend-of-a-friend stories, these are liable to be very different than what actually happened. I similarly conclude that you believe in the truthiness of your account, even if the truth is somewhere else. However, the laws have changed since Bodine v. Enterprise High School was filed, while beliefs based on echos of that case are stuck in the Reagen era.

I don't understand your cancer reference. The answer is "yes" for some people, "no" for others, and "irrelevant" for still others. Some people actively pursue cigarette smoking, with its increased chance of cancer. Others choose diets which they think will help prevent cancer. Still others know nothing about cancer, or let it be in God's or Fate's hands.

I own several sets of buckyballs and did quite a bit of research on the issue when it was being litigated. I have no opinions on the CPUC's later personal litigations but I would like to note that the Buckyball corporation did a wonderful job fanning unfair populist outrage against the CPUC and that the story is significantly more complicated.

I have no dog in this fight but in the interest of fairness, here are points presented from the other side:

* The risk from buckyballs is highly non-obvious and hard to intuit. I, personally, did not perceive the risk until I read about it. Most items should not be swallowed because they're a choking hazard, they have sharp edges or they contain toxic chemicals. Buckballs are small spheres of stainless steel which present none of those risks. Instead, the risk is if two balls attract each other through layers of your intestine, eventually causing gangrene and sepsis. That's not something I had ever thought about when playing with them.

* The severity of harm was far greater than other swallowing hazards. Treatment for people who improperly swallowed buckyballs involved major surgery and the removal of sections of their intestines. This is orders of magnitudes more severe than most swallowing related injuries, something which also does not fit most people's naive threat models.

* Injury happens days after the event, making cause and effect hard to pin down. The usual response to a child swallowing something improper is to monitor closely for 6 - 24 hours and only seek medical attention if something untoward is happening. Because buckyball injuries occur days after the event, it's hard to pin a stomachache problem on Thursday with swallowing on Monday and treat it with the severity it deserves.

* The design of the toy makes it intrinsically impossible to keep the warnings intact with use. It doesn't matter how dire the warnings may be on an attached sheet of paper because the toy could be sold, given away or played with second hand and there was no way to guarantee transmission that information to the 2nd party. With larger toys, the CPUC could have mandated that warnings be injection moulded into the plastic for example but there was no such recourse with buckyballs.

* There's a finite number of compelling uses of buckyballs and one of them was to make fake studs by attaching them together through a thin fold of skin. On the face, there are only 4 places where this is possible: The earlobe, the nasal cavity, the lip fold and the tongue. 3 of the 4 places allow for a swallowing hazard and magnets are very easy to make fall apart with just the wrong nudge. This greatly increased the likelihood that this toy would be swallowed compared to similar toys.

* Swallowing a single buckyball is harmless, potentially giving people a false sense of security after accidentally swallowing one and having nothing bad happen. This would make them subsequently less careful in the future.

I'm pretty libertarian but I can certainly see the CPUC's rationale in banning these things. Yes, they're incredibly fun to play with and I still tinker with them to this day but the safety risks shouldn't be trivialized either.

Isn't the real story here the CPUC's attempt to breach the veil of corporate limited liability?

As far as I'm aware, it's always been possible to breach the veil of corporate limited liability under certain circumstances precisely because of people doing what Craig Zucker did: earning money in a way that incurs huge liabilities or potential liabilities, for example by selling a popular but unsafe product, then transferring all the corporation's money to themselves in an attempt to avoid paying for those liabilities.

IANAL, but there's a large of law regarding when this can be done. The WSJ's treatment ignored this. They treated the issue as one dimensional, turning only on whether the statute allowed personal liability.


Stainless steel is mostly nonmagnetic. The whole point of these toys is that they're made of very strong neodymium rare-earth magnets.

I bought some, saw the warnings and have been very careful with them. The question is whether not doing so is a case of Darwin's Law or where down the line careless people will mistake them for other kinds of material, and ingest them. Unlikely, but then people and children do stupid things with stuff they find.

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