"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 18 January 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Law of the Jungle



Note to Texans: Quit reading and

get busy. You're running out of

time. On the agenda for Texas

state legislators this year are

laws that would criminalize

consensual sex between

teenagers, drop the permissible

decibel level for a gathering of

teens in a residential

neighborhood to 55 decibels,

forbid bartenders from serving more

than two drinks an hour to even

a sober adult, and prohibit

"simulated intercourse."


A new year means new legislative

sessions in statehouses across

the country, and as of yet, we

have found no way to prevent the

arrival of the new year. And so

the calendar turns, and the

people's representatives begin

filing in, abuzz with brave new

ideas. And it's a shame, too,

since so many state capitols are

really kind of peaceful and

pretty when they aren't full of

grandiloquent nincompoops.

There's a lot of marble hallways

and porticos, for instance.


Incidentally, for all the

wishful thinking about the

varsity team in the District of

Columbia putting all this talk

of sex behind them and getting

back down to the people's

business, the prevailing

attitude among the kids on the

jv (from where the varsity

players tend to come, of course)

is that sex is the nation's

business - teen, simulated, or



Need more proof? In addition to

their simulation-destimulation,

Texas lawmakers also aim to

close a loophole this year with

a proposed law that would forbid

prostitution "for a benefit."

Current law merely forbids

prostitution "for a fee."

Around-the-world for warm

regards to your mother,

permission to borrow my old

leather recliner for a couple

weeks, and three vaguely racist

knock-knock jokes? No longer.


But sex and its related vices of

drink and loud (or so-called

party) talk aren't the only

immoral acts of grave public

concern. There is also, of

course, the well-established

social threat of Negro music.

Texas lawmakers previously tried

to put a stop to all this gansta

rap business with a law that

would have withdrawn state

investment funds from record

companies that release albums

with dirty lyrics. You could

almost feel the entertainment

industry trembling. Alas, that

one was struck down as

unconstitutional, judicial code

for "oh, please." (Strangely

unreported in the state's

newspapers is the plan, led by

the Republican caucus in the

state Senate, to chant "knock

that goddamn windmill on its

ass" during legislative debate.)



Departing from the problem of

sex to tackle the problem of


have-sex-anymore, this year's

Texas legislature aims to create

a new law requiring its

constituents to wait at least

six months for a divorce to

become final. Of course,

California already has just such

a waiting period on the books -

trust us, we know. And of

course, this explains why

divorce is so rare in



There's a reason why legislators

get away with this kind of


we-reproduce-asexually behavior;

you may even have a few of the

species on your block.

Responding to the current flurry

of proposed government

interference in the private

lives of individuals, staunch

Texas conservatives said that it

all sounded pretty cool to them.

"I'm not a libertarian," the

president of the Texas Eagle

Forum told the Dallas Morning

News, "so I don't mind laws if

they're going to strengthen

families." The lowercase "l" in

"libertarian" makes that a

fascinatingly honest sentence,

you'll notice.


The director of the amusingly

named Texas Civil Rights

Project, on the other hand, went

ahead and said the obvious,

decrying the influence of

"strong fundamentalist

right-wing influences" in his

state. "One of the reasons we're

seeing these things," Jim

Harrington told the Morning

News, "is that it's easier to

campaign on these simplistic

notions than come up with real

solutions." One question: Isn't

that the state motto?


"Why not do something productive

other than standing on high and

making some proclamation?"

Harrington added. "What are you

going to do - put everyone in

jail?" Texas legislators

responded with a far-away look

in their eyes as they scratched

thoughtfully at their chins.


But not unusually, Texans have

some stiff competition for the

title of Silliest Legislature.

In California, former Gov. Pete

Wilson signed a modest 1,081

bills into law in time for the

new year - far short of the

1,386 he signed back in '92 but

still giving it the old college

try - before heading off to plan

his bid for president as a

limited-government fiscal

conservative. No doubt the

governor carefully studied each

of those laws before ushering

them onto the books.



Thanks to Wilson and the

lawmakers who sent the bills for

his John Hancock, relieved

Californians may now throw used

batteries in the trash without

facing prosecution. And you can

stop worrying about spam;

spammers are now required to

stop emailing you if you say so.

(Good thing all those spammers

live in California!) Another new

law requires spammers to label

dirty spam - ah, sex again - as

"ADV:ADLT" (for adult

advertisement) in the subject

line. The author of the law,

Sen. Debra Bowen, helpfully

explained to reporters that the

label would give email users

"who aren't technologically

savvy" a chance to delete

sex-themed messages without

downloading them. Hey, how about

a law permitting California

residents who aren't politically

savvy to delete stupid laws

without being subjected to them?


Best of all, though, children in

the Golden State can begin to

rest easy while daddy is busy

slashing mommy to death with

that really big kitchen knife.

State law now places new

restrictions on judges

considering custody requests. If

one parent is convicted of

murdering another parent, a

judge can no longer grant

custody of their children to the

murderer - unless he first gives

a written explanation of his

decision. But the fight

continues: Look for a new law

next year requiring that those

custody decisions be issued on a

good clean piece of paper.


"Also in California," reports

the Associated Press, "the

Highway Patrol will be allowed

to stop truckers who haul

kitchen grease to make sure they

really own the goop. Apparently

there's a market for the stuff

and it gets stolen regularly."

So let's see: You're a CHP

officer, patrolling a Los

Angeles freeway. You pull over a

truck that's full of kitchen

grease. The driver shows copies

of contracts with several

restaurants that sell their

grease to him. But he also has

some stolen grease on board. How

do you differentiate between the

stolen grease and the purchased

grease? The answer, we fear, is

practice, practice, practice.


But the fantasyland legislature

also took a few baby steps into

the cold light of reality,

repealing outdated laws that,

unlike the prohibition on

tossing batteries, used to mean

something. Now that World War II

is over - and kudos to state

lawmakers for noticing -

Californians no longer face

imprisonment for buying,

selling, or forging ration

checks. The repeal, Sen. Quentin

Kopp told the AP, was intended

to "eliminate excess verbiage to

offset all the excess verbiage

the Legislature adds each year."



Ah, the Esalen Legislature:

Hey, man, I'm cool with my own

hang-ups, dig? As long as you

can admit it, guys, you just go

on ahead and keep following your



And it goes on. "In Florida," we

learn from the AP, "couples who

don't agree to four hours of

marriage-preparation counseling

will have to wait three days to

tie the knot and pay US$88.50

for a marriage license instead

of $56 ... Massachusetts

residents will certainly know

something's changed in 1999,

when 'Say Hello to Someone in

Massachusetts' becomes the

official state polka ... (A new)

Florida measure ... requires pet

ferrets that bit someone to be

quarantined and tested for

rabies instead of being

automatically destroyed." It's a

better world already.


Curiously enough, though, one

state legislature seems to have

learned and grown during its

last session. In 1997, New York

lawmakers passed legislation

giving cats the same standing

under law as dogs, horses, and

cows; penalties for hit-and-run

incidents involving pretty

kitties soared 400 percent.


On the other hand, in 1998 the

New York legislature lowered the

tax on beer. So at least all

those unrestrained kitchen

grease thieves and sex

simulators will be able to

afford a drink, at least,

after they swarm

into the state and start taking

advantage of the system.

courtesy of Ambrose Beers