March 17, 2008
Putting the Wolf on Trial
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
(Note: I am deeply indebted to two of our regular bloggers who sent these items. You know who you are, and thanks.)
There have been a number of books published recently on the apparent American changeover from reason and knowledge to superstition, gut feelings, ignorance, and reality TV. We will get back to this in a minute, but now, let us go to medieval Europe, where a man-eating wolf was captured after scarfing down more Germans than he was allotted. Rather than simply bashing the beast in the head, the outraged burgomeisters dressed it as a man, cut off its snout, sat it in court, tried it, and convicted it of eating people, for which it was judicially put to death. That, they believed, would send a real message to any wolf with man-eating inclination.
Now we return to the 21st century, when the people who are allegedly running things and cannot control them are also turning to superstition to solve their problems. First on our list is the Penn Manor (PA) School District, which gave two days' detention to a student who wore a T-shirt with the image of a military sidearm and text authorizing the wearer to hunt terrorists. The kid was first asked to turn the t-shirt inside-out; when he refused, they threw the book at him.
Memo to the Penn Manor School District: A t-shirt is only a t-shirt. No one has ever been hurt by a T-shirt. No one has ever been provoked to violence by a t-shirt. Nothing is helped by banning dopey t-shirts or penalizing their wearers. (I have, however, seen major damage done in gym by rattail towels.)
Second on our list is the California legislature, which was sold a bill of goods on the wonders of microstamping technology and ballistic imaging and enacted both into law. (I'm sure you know what these alleged wonders are, and what they are supposed to be able to do.) In any event, the two procedures have been discredited by the California Department of Justice, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Maryland State Police Department. Maryland and New York have had these systems in place for nearly ten years and neither has produced a single arrest or prosecution.
But it's high tech, so it must work. The Germans who tried the wolf would understand completely.