Parenting Police and the Gorilla in the Room

English: Western Lowland Gorilla Gorilla goril...
English: Western Lowland Gorilla Gorilla at Cincinnati Zoo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Only bad parents lose track of their kids. Only the negligent, the unqualified, the  suspect arrive at the emergency room — or funeral home — with toddlers in tow. When something inexplicable and terrible happens to a child, it must be Mom and Dad’s fault. That would never happen to OUR kids because WE impart discipline and maintain vigilance, right?

Enter Harambe, the 400-pound gorilla killed by Cincinnati Zoo staff after a toddler escaped adult supervision, vaulted a railing and fell 15 feet into the great ape’s enclosure.

The ire of animal lovers focused on the killing is not unreasonable. Harambe clearly acted in a protective, rather than hostile, way toward the child. Zoo personnel over-reacted … but understandably so.  With a kid’s life seemingly at stake, the possibility of happy endings disappeared the instant the kid took his tumble.

Harambe is dead. The Cincinnati Zoo will survive a bad public relations week with its legal posterior probably fairly well covered. The kid is okay, treated and released. Nobody left to deal with but the parents.

As a father of three (25, 17 and 15) who have never fallen into a gorilla enclosure at the zoo, or for that matter broken so much as a finger, I guess I could play the parental moral superiority card here. But that would be wrong. There but for the grace of God go we all.

Per a Facebook witness account: “the mother was calling for her son. Actually, just prior to him going over, but she couldn’t see him crawling through the bushes! She said ‘He was right here! I took a pic and his hand was in my back pocket and then gone!'”

I’ve played the “put your hand in my pocket so we don’t lose each other” trick myself. What we have here is not negligence or poor parenting, but rather the terrifying “stuff happens” situations every mother and father sweats through night terrors over until the kids reach, oh, 40 years old or so.

As “free range parenting” writer Lenore Skenazy points out at Reason magazine, “smug and angry [are] a heady combination” for those of us who dodge the bullets of weird child injury.

Heady, but unjustified. Stuff DOES happen. We can’t bubble wrap our kids and store them in the closet for their first 18 years, and even if we could it would be a bad idea.

Mourn Harambe, but lay off the toddler’s parents.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


The Libertarian Party Prepares for Its Day in the Sun

Convention Hall at Orlando's Rosen Centre, before business Friday morning
Convention Hall at Orlando’s Rosen Centre, before business Friday morning

ORLANDO, FL — Orlando’s Rosen Centre may be the most press-heavy location on Earth this Memorial Day weekend. With a ratio of about one credentialed journalist for every five 2016 Libertarian National Convention delegates, it feels like the proverbial 15 minutes of fame are in reach not just for the Libertarian Party but for everyone in it. We’ve made the big-time … for the moment, anyway.

But it’s work. I’ve been here since Thursday and expect to remain until Monday, perhaps Tuesday. Every Libertarian National Convention feels like it ages me five years. This is my sixth.

If you’ve ever followed a national political convention on television or in print media’s color commentary, you might believe it’s a sort of patriotic vacation for the participants.  The pep rallies here are as red, white, blue and loud as any Republican or Democratic event. The days are fueled by Starbucks, the nights  by alcohol (among other substances) with parties running into the next night and even bleeding into morning business sessions.

But ultimately the thousand or so delegates from 49 states and the District of Columbia (yes, 49 — Oregon’s Libertarians chose not to send a delegation for reasons too complex to explain, leading to the convention’s first floor fight only moments after the opening gavel) are here to get things done. Aside from nominating presidential and vice-presidential candidates and electing new officers, they’ll spend hours revising and updating our party’s bylaws and platform. If that sounds boring, well, it can be. Thus the caffeine.

The reward? Satisfaction of a job well done, of course. Renewing friendships that span decades. The belief that we are offering America not just a choice, but a BETTER choice. Expecting that at some point our shout-outs for freedom will be heard instead of disappearing  silently into the vacuum of  America’s moribund political system.

By the time you read this column, we will have nominated our 2016 presidential slate. You may be surprised by the composition of that slate based on what you’ve heard on the news. Our conventions aren’t coronations and sometimes we surprise everyone, including ourselves.


Either way, I can confidently state that this election year, as usual, the Libertarian Party will offer America its best chance at national revival and a rebirth of freedom.  Not a tall order given the major parties’ likely slates, true.  Their bad luck is our — and your — good fortune. Pay attention. November is right around the corner.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


This Memorial Day, Remember the Victims of Democide

Skulls from Choeung Ek in Cambodia
Skulls from Choeung Ek in Cambodia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This weekend, Americans will seize the opportunity to sleep in an extra day, fire up the family grill, and maybe — probably not, but maybe — wheel out to a family cemetery, lay flowers on graves, and contemplate the memories of their beloved for a few minutes.

Veterans’ organizations will parade in celebration of their own fallen comrades with star-spangled patriotic spectacle, and families out shopping last-minute for brats, steaks and cold beer may encounter American Legionnaires taking donations for red paper poppies evoking the memory of World War One and Flanders Fields:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Once upon a time, Memorial Day — previously known as Decoration Day — was set aside as a day of remembrance for war dead. The holiday was established after the American Civil War, which counted 3% of the combined populations of the Union and the Confederacy as casualties.  8% of white males  of military age — 6% in the north and 18% in the south — died in the war.

I suppose there’s something to be said for the contraction of the holiday into just another weekend of shopping and recreation. War is horrible to contemplate and there’s a strong case for the proposition that  long weekends are really for the living.

But to be honest, I’d rather expand the holiday back to its original purpose — mourning and remembering all those killed in war and by state violence, not just those in uniform. And, furthermore, resolving to put a stop to the carnage.

The late and lamented Rudy Rummel, a professor at the University of Hawaii and the acknowledged expert on the phenomenon of “democide,” estimated that governments murdered more than 260 million human beings in the 20th century alone. That figure excludes — and is six times as large as — military casualties in the century’s wars.

As Americans, we’ve enjoyed a certain insulation from the horrors of war since the middle of the 20th century. We occasionally see a flag-draped coffin, or encounter an amputee on the street, but our concerns with, for example, terrorism, simply aren’t in the same league as the reasonable fears of those around the world living with American planes and drones constantly overhead or American troops on their streetcorners.

This Memorial Day, let’s set aside a moment to think about them.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.