Is Madison suffering from a smugness deficit? Does banning smoking no longer inflate its sense of moral superiority? Has railing against phosphorus lost its panache? Is it no longer enough to sport bumper stickers that proclaim, "My Other Car Is a Tibetan Yak?"
Or has Madison simply decided to move beyond satire?
The latest Madison idea: banning bottled water, or at least its sale at public events. To save the planet.
"There are huge impacts to using bottled water," warns Jon Stanbridge, chair of the city's Commission of Environmental Nannies and Nags.
Who knew that bottled water was evil? It doesn't rot your teeth, make you fat, cause heart disease, give you bad breath, or make your hair fall out.
But it comes in plastic bottles, and activists across the country have decided that Big Plastic is the latest Enemy of the People. Ann Arbor, Mich., and San Francisco have already beaten Madison to the punch by banning the sale of bottled water at public events. So the robe-and-sandal crowd is now working itself into a lather over this environmental menace.
Merely doing a better job of recycling is not enough. Stanbridge explains, in an Associated Press report, that the bottles "also pose environmental threats because of the energy and resources used to manufacture them."
Brilliant. By shifting the focus to the energy used to create the bottles, the nannies have opened vast new worlds of possibilities for environmental posturing. After all, just about everything takes "energy and resources" to make, so why stop with grocery store bags and water bottles?
Of course, none of this will make an iota of difference to the planetary ecosystem. But anytime the frisson of smugness starts to wear thin, Madison can now roll out jihads against everything from yogurt containers to Styrofoam and egg cartons. How about bans on straws, margarine tubs, shampoo bottles and shower curtains?
Still low on self-esteem? Why not a ban on milk cartons? Detergent bottles? Cans? The plastic packaging around meat? (And, while we're at it, why not ban meat?)
How about taking a stand against the environmental holocaust of microwavable packaging? The scourge of plastic forks and spoons? Vending machine cups? Vending machines themselves?
Still not convinced you've saved the earth? How about a ban on CDs and CD cases, plastic computer monitors, printers, keyboards? Plastic bumpers? Contact lenses? Silicon breast implants?
To save energy, of course. For the children. Because the planet is running a fever.
This is the same rationale behind the new federal ban on incandescent light bulbs and the looming mandate that we all buy compact fluorescent bulbs, because they use less energy and are therefore less evil. The only problem is that they contain environmentally unfriendly mercury.
So imagine this scenario:
Sometime in 2012, Madison resident Tofu Starshine and his partner Gaia Freshflower accidentally break one of their new compact fluorescent bulbs while rushing to get ready for a Save the Polar Bear rally.
Toxic mercury spills onto the floor.
They respond as instructed by quickly opening the window and leaving the room for 15 minutes, during which time it occurs to Tofu that the new light-bulb mandate might not be such a good idea for the environment or for energy conservation (since the window is open and the furnace is running). In fact, Gaia thinks, it may be the worst idea since the Patchouli Mandate of 2010.
But they'll be stuck with it.
Sound farfetched? It isn't. Last week, the state Legislature finally repealed the state's ban on heated sidewalks, stairs, entrances and pedestrian walkways. Wisconsin, it turned out, was the only state in the country with such a ban.
News reports say the bill was passed in the 1980s as a response to the energy crisis of the 1970s. And then it took government - responsive and nimble as always - more than 20 years to get this dumb law off the books.
If the ban on heated walkways did not make us a national leader in energy conservation, at least it made us a mecca for slip-and-fall cases. But, at one time, it seemed like a good idea to politicians who thought posing for environmental holy pictures was more important than a few decades of broken hips.
Eventually, common sense won out: This is Wisconsin. It's cold. We have ice. And the earth can handle a few buried coils.
If there are any supporters of the ban still around, they are keeping a low profile. Even in environmentally correct Madison, nobody wants to associated with an idea this dumb.
So here's a question to file away for future reference: Where will the bottled water banners will be in 20 years?