The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Panopticon Sing Along

The San Mateo City Council demonstrates its nervous horror at the idea of human freedom:

Karaoke ban hits sour note
By Matthai Chakko Kuruvila
Mercury News

Steven Lin hoped his San Mateo karaoke restaurant would be a private haven, a place where people could unwind.

Modeled in part after karaoke clubs in Asia, Lin's restaurant would have secluded rooms where awkward crooners would have to be embarrassed only in front of their friends or families.

But when the San Mateo City Council voted last week to temporarily ban such rooms, fearing they could be venues for prostitution, drug use and underage drinking, it set off a very public brouhaha among some Bay Area Asian leaders and observers around the world.

The ban ``is based on anecdotal stories and stereotypes that are not true,'' said Albert Lee, co-president of the Silicon Valley chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans. The group held its annual Christmas party in a private room at a karaoke restaurant, where Lee's 7-year-old daughter sometimes took the microphone.

I don't even know what anecdotal stories and stereotypes the City Council is thinking of! Asians are stereotyped as many things, but drunks are not among them. And who believes that karaoke is a seedy swamp of prostitution and heroin addiction?

"Come sing Greatest Love of All! Love you long time!"


San Mateo police officers say the ban is not about culture, but about doing their job.

Private rooms would make it impossible for police to monitor the sale of liquor, as they are required to do, said Lt. Barbara Hammerman.


Really? What about restaurants with private dining rooms? Don't they sell liquor? How can the police even function knowing that there is a closed door behind which someone might be drinking a cocktail?

I had a friend over at my house last night. I served him a glass of wine, and didn't check his ID! Shall I be required to install a glass front to my living room, with a spotlight trained on it?

The city council and police are using incredibly sloppy definitions and reasoning. A "private" karaoke room is not "private" in the same way that my living room is "private". It's simply open to a select group of customers. If police can monitor liquor sales in an open karaoke establishment without a search warrant, they can inspect a "closed" room as well.

Does the San Mateo city council think that whenever a restaurant closes for a private function, it is trying to evade liquor laws?

Update: My wife Sherry was reading this last night and said: "Hey, Albert Lee is my former boss!"



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