August 30, 2006

Breakin’ The Law, Breakin’ The Law

Filed under: analog — mhoye @ 1:32 pm

I came across this list of 700 things Mr. Welch can no longer do during an RPG this morning, a great derivative of the 213 Things Skippy Is No Longer Allowed To Do In The U.S. Army, and it reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to write up for a while now.

Periodically, in waiting room coffee-table books or forwarded to you by those friends you haven’t correctly conditioned to not send you crap, you see lists of dumb or bizzare laws. You’ve seen them, I’m sure; they make the rounds among internet’s infirm and easily amused periodically, like influenza, and they say things like “In Arkansas, it’s illegal to ride your mule backwards while eating an ice-cream cone.” There’s no way to know if they’re even real, of course – there’s never any case numbers or specific citations on them so where, and really why, would you even bother to look them up?

But even if I’m willing to suspend that particular piece of disbelief, I still find that sort of thing disappointing. Not because it aspires to anything, but because it reads to me like a list of missed opportunities. I mean, I live in a fairly tolerant society, and laws take substantial time and effort to create. But despite that, somebody did something that was so egregious that it required the elected officials in their region to pass a law banning it, or banning some behaviour that led up to it. Something involving a mule, an ice-cream cone, and backing up.

Who is this rogue mule-driving ice-cream eater? What has he done to arouse the irritation of the city council, or the state? That’s a story, there. In the right hands, maybe even a good one. Instead, though, it’s some comic laundry list. One line item, check here if funny, and we’re off to the next topic.

My bias, of course, is misleading. There’s lots of places in the world where it’s trivially simple to get shortsighted, arbitrary and capricious laws passed, and no shortage of people in power willing to be just that shortsighted, arbitrary and capricious. Even so, assuming there’s any grain of truth to these things at all, there’s got to be some kind of decent anecdote to claims like “In Tulsa, Oklahoma, it is against the law to open a soda bottle without the supervision of a licensed engineer”, or “in Atlanta, it is illegal to tie your giraffe to a telephone pole.”

There’s got to be a few good Darwin Award candidates in there somewhere. And that’s what I think I’m missing; either some bizzare story of a common product misused to horrible consequence or something hilarious and macabre involving an escaped giraffe and a high-tension wire.

Anyway, if you see such a book, please direct me to it. And if you were looking for an idea for a book, there you go!


  1. I think a lot of these laws come from overly broad classifications, taken out of context. For example, in Urbana, IL where I am located now, it is purportedly illegal to have unlicensed monsters. In fact, there is a statute that says that carnival displays, including freaks of nature and monsters, are classified as entertainment, and must be licensed if displayed for commercial gain.


    Comment by Nikita — August 30, 2006 @ 1:47 pm

  2. I know, and it makes me sad that most of them are that sort of fish story. It also makes me kind of sad that there’s not a bunch of serious looking men in a dimly-lit chamber somewhere discussing the ramifications of monster-licensing or infrastructural impacts of giraffe-electrocution-prevention.

    A more entertaining world than this would certainly contain those things.

    Comment by Mike Hoye — August 31, 2006 @ 10:32 am

  3. No one may catch fish with his bare hands in Kansas.

    This one is almost certainly a law against noodling, either because the catfish are endangered or because too many people got their finger bitten off.

    Comment by Mike Richters — August 31, 2006 @ 10:51 am

  4. I had no idea that catfish got that big. Holy crap.

    Comment by Mike Hoye — August 31, 2006 @ 10:56 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress