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“This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.” Will Rogers said it, and we’ve all felt that way on occasion. You must, at some point, have found yourself wondering if there wasn’t a provision somewhere in the Constitution entrusting somebody with the responsibility of taking the hammer away from the baby. In fact, there is not. The Framers did not provide for a constitutional au pair who would monitor the congresskinder while the rest of us were busy handling nongovernmental functions. The result is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell what’s straight news and what’s not anymore. The stuff Jon Stewart reports on “The Daily Show” and the stuff Jim Lehrer reports on PBS are pretty much indistinguishable. Let me try to illustrate this point, and also prove the truth of Will Rogers’ boast: “There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.” ONE ON THE ROAD According to Time magazine, the state of Montana has just passed legislation making it illegal to drink while driving. Yep. Just now. Takes effect in October. This year. It is 2005 and the Montana Legislature has just gotten around to saying you can no longer swill Wild Turkey while driving through a school zone in Bozeman. This may come as a shock to you if you live in a state where even driving after drinking is frowned upon. It might seem to you that screening out drinkers who are so blitzed they cannot even walk from the bar to their car is a good — if modest — start to eliminating DUI. So eliminating the possibility of going from a blood alcohol level of 0.00 to a blood alcohol level of 0.30 without ever letting go of the steering wheel might seem very reasonable. Montana only has about 900,000 people. And they’re spread out over a state larger than several of Jupiter’s moons — and with less paved highway than Ganymede or Callisto. So the Montana Legislature might have been putting this off until the statistical probability of two cars occupying the same square mile reached a higher level. That would be a legitimate legislative consideration, it seems to me. I mean, until we reach the point where the Thornton boy can drain a six-pack before he reaches the next ranch, thereby enabling him to hit something other than his own cattle, it’s not a pressing problem. Besides, they had to know they’d long since reached the point where everybody else would say, “What? You mean that’s been legal up to now? What are you, crazy?” That probably acts as something of a brake on the legislative process. And, of course, as the folks in Montana would probably point out, rushing into legislation often turns out badly. Consider the plight of the Brits. After years of lobbying by animal rights activists and others, Parliament last year outlawed the traditional English fox hunt, in which the hunters on horseback follow dogs chasing a fox until the dogs catch the fox and rip him limb from tree. Fox hunters responded this year by — what shall we call this? — amending the hunt so that instead of ending its life as exhausted kibble, the fox is now shot. “But,” according to The Week, “new research shows that up to half of the animals shot with guns are only wounded, not killed outright, and they die a slow and painful death.” Animal rights advocates are going back to Parliament in high dudgeon. The debate’s gonna start all over again. “Now see,” say the Montana people. “That’s what happens when you rush into something. Venery came to England with William the Conqueror. That means Parliament considered this issue for less than a thousand years; no wonder they got it wrong. Haste makes waste.” GREATER CAREER CHOICE? Or consider Germany — where they’re rethinking their legislative decision to legalize prostitution. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the idea two years ago, when Germany legalized prostitution, was to bring it under state control and to provide labor rights and health benefits to prostitutes. Seemed like a good notion at the time. But now they’re not so sure. Seems an out-of-work waitress was told this year that she was in danger of losing her unemployment benefits if she turned down a job . . . as a prostitute. Oops. Of course, the government is backpedaling furiously, insisting that no one is going to be forced into prostitution to obtain unemployment benefits, but as an employment lawyer pointed out, “The new regulations say that working in the sex industry is not immoral anymore, and so those jobs cannot be turned down without a risk to [unemployment] benefits.” This is problematic. The Monitor insists there are an estimated 400,000 prostitutes working in Germany, and they service about 1.2 million customers a day. So this is big business, and the various German municipalities are raking in a ton of euros taxing it. The city of Cologne makes 700,000 euros every month taxing its prostitutes. The good burghers of Cologne are going to have to put up with a lot more potholes if we can’t work out this little unemployment benefits snafu. FOR THE LOVE OF COWS Sweden’s frustration over similar problems with legalized prostitution caused it to re-criminalize the activity in 1998, roughly 30 years after legalizing it. But the government left bestiality legal. Honest. If I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’, folks: It is perfectly legal to have sex with a horse in Sweden. Or a pig or a duck or a — oh, hell, insert the perversion of your choice here. I’m sorry. I try to keep my mind open to the customs and values of others. I’m pretty sure that’s required by law in California. But I can’t claim much impartiality here. This one disturbs me. This makes it hard to get too worked up about anything the Montana Legislature has or hasn’t done. And it makes it difficult for me to deal with the eurosnobbery that seems to have flourished the last five years or so. I’m not sure how much moral high ground you can claim while you’re diddling a duck. According to The Week, the only limitation on such conduct in Sweden is that “the animal is not harmed.” Now, we could waste a lot of time debating the definition of “harm” as applied in these circumstances. Maybe I’m just squeamish, but I have difficulty believing there isn’t some harm, somewhere in the equation — whether it be human, animal, or societal — when this happens. But the Swedes obviously see it differently. So when Swedish veterinarians reported an increase in sexual abuse of animals, the Swedish government commissioned a study to see what was going on. Really. A commission. And they wrote a report. I find this whole thing completely baffling. I mean, how do you suppose they did this? You think they went door to door and just asked people if they’d been having sex with Bossy or Flicka, and if the answer was yes, they went out back to the barn and examined the animal? Or do you suppose vets were trained to call the commission whenever farmers attributed suspicious injuries to their cow having fallen down the stairs? Who gets appointed to a government commission investigating human/animal sex injuries? What kind of qualifications did the Swedish government look for in these appointments? Was the pay good? Is there prestige? Does serving on the commission go down as a “W” or an “L” on your permanent record? And, of course, the ultimate question: What on earth is wrong with these people? So you know what they decided? They decided they needed stronger laws to protect the animals. Apparently no one suggested an outright ban. You see what I mean about it being hard to tell the real news stories from the phony ones? And can you imagine what a field day Will Rogers would have with government studies like this one? So, Montana, I’m sorry. I spoke too soon. You’re looking pretty good to me right now. Have another beer. No, I’ll open it. You keep your eyes on the road.
William W. Bedsworth is an associate justice at the 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana, Calif. This article previously appeared in The Recorder, an ALM publication in San Francisco.

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