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One of the great advantages of spending the first 15 years of my legal career as a prosecutor is that it resolved for me once and for all the question of whether there’s life on other planets. There is. I know this because I know, without a doubt, that humans simply cannot be as good as it gets. This conclusion is inescapable whether you believe in a deity or not. If you spend enough time in criminal courts, it becomes clear to you that even random chance wouldn’t waste its time with all the chemical and biological labor involved in cooking up intelligent life if the ultimate result was going to be stupid, felonious, hairless (relatively) bipeds. According to my Bible — which provides a stunningly conservative estimate of the time involved — God or random chance has invested several thousand years and six days in the manufacture of this planet and development of its cultures. Yet every day we devolve into a less-advanced life form. Either God’s taking another day of rest, or R.C. has come up snake eyes on 26 consecutive passes. So help me, if Charles Darwin had been a prosecutor, he would have rejected evolution out of hand. You spend a week preparing a felony trial calendar in a major metropolitan area, and the idea that life evolves into something better — or even more efficient — would never cross your mind again. Either that, or you’d conclude that the process peaked a few days before the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and we’ve been barreling downhill like a runaway Peterbilt ever since. The conclusion I’ve come up with is that this planet must have been one of the unsuccessful pilot projects. The really cool life forms developed by God and Gabriel and all the heavenly minions are out on some planet somewhere else being good and just and kind and not Googling Paris Hilton. I share all this with you now because I sense the opportunity to make a few converts to my way of thinking. (If you’ve ever read my stuff before, you can imagine how rare such an opportunity would be. Come to think of it, if you’ve read my stuff before, you’re probably struggling with whether the phrase “my way of thinking” assumes facts not in evidence. In either event, stop what you’re doing and get back to the tenuous thread of the main text before you lose it. Now.) Reuters has presented me with the kind of irrefutable evidence I never seemed to get when I was a prosecutor — a veritable smoking gun of evolutionary rebuttal. OPEN-TOE FETISH It says — and let’s face it, Reuters is not exactly known for its zany sense of humor so we can probably accept this at face value, if we can only figure out what that might be — it says, “The Dutch Labour Party wants to pass a law making unsolicited toe-licking an offence after police were unable to prosecute a would-be Casanova with a taste for female toes because he had committed no crime.” So help me, you could have thrown those 35 words into a hat, drawn them out at random, and come up with a sentence that made just as much sense. I know this because I did. I came up with: “committed prosecute a toe-licking unsolicited offence toes because an wants to a he crime The making Casanova party pass police female had no were for taste unable after a Dutch to with law would-be Labour.” This, to my mind, is as intelligible and believable as the Reuters sentence and, had it not been for a dubious 7.6 from the Russian judge, would have gotten a better score. Here’s what the Reuters sentence means. Women in Rotterdam were complaining that a man was sneaking up on them and licking their toes. Police arrested him, but had to let him go because, according to a police spokesman, “Licking a stranger’s toes is rather unusual but there is really nothing criminal about it.” So here we are, four years into the new millennium (or five, depending on which side of that inane debate you were on) and not only are we sneaking up on each other for nefarious toe-licking, but the parliament of one of our first world countries is pretzelizing itself, trying to figure out whether that should be a crime. You wanna make that pro-evolution argument to me now? You wanna quote Immanuel Kant and tell me man is “the last end of nature”? You think this is what Yahweh had in mind? I thought not. IT’S A PEDI-CRIME! “Peter van Heemst, a Labour member of parliament, asked Christian Democrat Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner . . . to explain why Dutch laws forbid littering but not uninvited toe-licking. He demanded an amendment prohibiting it.” According to Reuters, “A spokesman for Donner said the minister could not immediately comment.” This was only partially correct. What the spokesman wanted to say was, “The minister cannot comment until we revive him. He was so flabbergasted that anyone could ask such a moronic question that he fainted dead away. Give us a minute here.” Obviously, the answer to Mr. van Heemst’s question, which Justice Minister Donner decorously did not say out loud, is, “Because nobody ever dreamed we’d need a law like that, you twit! We knew we needed littering laws because we could see people driving down the street tossing their McDonald’s wrappers out the window. But — until now — none of us ever dreamed there were people crawling up to strangers and licking their toes! At least no one in my party ever dreamed that was going on. Did your party know about it?” Obviously, there is still some decorum left in some major governmental bodies. “Shove it” and “Go [commit an anatomically impossible act]” — both of which I would offer as American government’s contributions to my extraterrestrial-life-must-exist-because-evolution-is-clearly-a-crock argument — have apparently not yet entered the lexicon of Dutch government. But toe-licking may. DIGITAL ASSAULT? At least it may once they figure out what to call it. The first problem confronting the Dutch legislature — other, that is, than reviving the justice minister — is that they have to come up with a name for the new crime. “Toe-licking” betrays how petty and trivial it really is. That won’t do. If it’s gonna be a crime, it should sound like something serious and bad. Since American courts no longer use the infamous “crime against nature,” that’s available, but the rhetorical Grand Guignol so beloved by Americans is not really in keeping with the Dutch character. We need one of those wonderful sesquipedalians that people who sprechen Deutsche are justifiably famous for — you know, the 26-letter, nine-syllable word that applies to “washing your face while eating pudding on a Tuesday.” Something like Trockenbeerenauslese (sweet wine) or Gepäckaufbewahrungsschein (which means luggage claim check, but sounds like something you wouldn’t want to admit to, doesn’t it?). Unfortunately, the Dutch don’t speak Deutsche. They speak Dutch. Deutsche, it turns out, is German. This, of course, makes no sense at all. Clearly, the Dutch should speak Deutsche and the Germans should speak . . . Germansche. That is how a truly evolved species would do things. But we aren’t, so they don’t. The Dutch parliament will probably come up with some really pedestrian construction which translates out to “illegal toe-licking,” and which — obviously — no one in the Netherlands will take seriously. I mean, let’s not forget that the Dutch have gone several hundred years without feeling any compulsion to deal with prostitution or drugs; how likely are they to devote a major portion of their gross national energy to stamping out — so to speak — toe-licking? Here’s how David Downie in Salon.com described Dutch drug laws: “Use is not a crime but possession of any drugs, hard or soft, is. More ambiguity: Possession of small quantities for personal use is generally tolerated, unless the user is a repeat offender or a troublemaker. In any event, all illicit drugs, no matter how small the quantity, found during police searches of persons or places are systematically confiscated. . . . Importing, exporting, selling, trafficking, manufacturing or growing any illicit drugs is also a crime subject to fines and/or imprisonment.” However you feel about the merits of that policy, trying to sort it out is a train wreck in a blizzard. WATCH YOUR STEP So imagine the task of some poor legislative aide, who comes in one day and finds that it is her task to draft the new — urgent — anti-toe-licking statute so as to fit into this tradition of legislative swamp-frolicking. This will be a pretty good indicator that her career is not on a fast track and it may be time to update the résumé again. But in the short term, she’ll just have to swallow hard and do it. This will be the legislative equivalent of the Augean stables. There’s just all kinds of . . . excrement she’ll have to shovel. Even after she comes up with a name for the crime, she has to ask herself what its peripheries are going to be: Are we going to prohibit it entirely, or merely in public? Does it matter whether the licker and the lickee are of different genders? Will we allow people to consent to this or bar it absolutely? Will we allow children to consent to it? What will be the age of consent for toe-licking? This is the problem with the legislative branch: Elections are great fun, but then you have to do the actual job of legislating, which is just a tremendous pain in the . . . Gepäckaufbewahrungsschein. Which is why I’m going to limit myself to the judicial and metaphysical branches of government. Yeah, I know there’s no metaphysical branch of government. Yet. But I figure all I gotta do is send this column to Gov. Schwarzenegger and he’s gonna want me to move to Sacramento and start one. It’s the only way we can be ready when the aliens arrive. William W. Bedsworth is an associate justice at the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana, Calif. He can be reached at [email protected]. This article previously appeared in The Recorder , the ALM newspaper published in San Francisco.

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