Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE CONSENSUAL CRIMES
THE TITANIC LAWS: PUBLIC DRUNKENNESS,
LOITERING, VAGRANCY, SEAT BELTS, MOTORCYCLE HELMETS, PUBLIC
- IN THIS CHAPTER WE explore a variety of consensual crimes. Each one demonstrates yet again (a) the government does not trust its citizens to take care of themselves; (b) the moralists of our time don't believe in the ancient wisdom, "live and let live"; (c) if we put a bunch of lawyers together, call them "lawmakers," give them a hefty salary, and provide them with nearly unlimited power, they will make laws.
- I named this chapter "The Titanic Laws" not because these laws are so gargantuan (they are, in fact, only large in their pettiness). No, this chapter was named after an actual law, passed by the Congress of the United States after extended and expensive debate, and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on October 21, 1986just in time for Halloween.
- The Titanic Maritime Memorial Act of 1985 makes it illegal for any U.S. citizen to buy, sell, or own anything that went down with the Titanic. This flies in the face of international maritime salvage laws written long before the formation of the United States. The Titanic Maritime Memorial Act is yet another unnecessary hindrance to free enterprise and our rights as citizens to buy, sell, or own whatever we choose. The lawmakers wanted to allow the Titanic to rest "undisturbed" on the ocean floor and discourage salvage operations by eliminating the American market. I don't know about you, but ever since hearing about this law I have desperately wanted to own a piece of the Titanic. Call me a rebel without a pause, but anything will do: a rusty bolt, a broken tea cup, an ice cube.
- In order for such a nonsensical law to pass, the bill had to discuss such concepts as not disturbing the graves of those brave passengers who sank in mid-Atlantic in 1912. Well, a great many of the bodies were recovered and properly buried. The rest were eaten by fishes long ago. (Perhaps we should pass a law saying that no fishing can take place within 300 miles of the Titanic to make sure we don't eat any of those fish who might be descendants of fish who nibbled on one of those "brave" passengers.)
- Speaking of federal laws, death, and the ocean, did you know that "burial of cremated remains shall take place no closer than three nautical miles from land"? This is to make sure that the remains "will have minimal adverse environmental impact." And, did you know that you have to report all such burials "within 30 days to the (EPA) Regional Administrator of the Region from which the vessel carrying the remains departed"?
- When a body is cremated, it is exposed to 1800- to 2000-degree heat for 1 to 3 hours. Nothing is left but some brittle bones, which are ground upone's ashes are not really ashes; they are ground calciumand placed in a container. What remains is about two quarts of, well, remains.
|FRANKLIN PIERCE ADAMS|
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permits raw sewage, toxic waste, and poisons of various kinds (within certain limits) to be dumped into lakes, streams, and directly offshore. Outrageously sanitized calcium, however, must go outside the three-mile limit. One also wonders, "What does the Regional Administrator do with all those reports? What does he or she need them for? Is it possible that there could be so much ash dumping in a certain section of ocean outside the three-mile limit that the Regional Administrator would be forced to cordon off a segment of the ocean? Give people a job administrating, and they'll create things to administer.
- Granted, disturbing the "International Maritime Memorial to the men, women, and children who perished aboard" the Titanic (I was quoting from the law there) and dumping Uncle Nathan's ashes only 2 miles and not 3 miles from shore do not exactly fill the police blotters or jail cells, but let's consider a crime that does: public drunkenness. More than 6% of all arrests in 1994713,200were for public drunkenness. This is, simply, being drunk in publicnot operating a motor vehicle, trespassing, or disturbing the peace (they each have their own arrest categories). Public drunkenness is someone staggering down the street or leaning against the proverbial lamp post. Like loitering (another 128,400 arrests) or vagrancy (25,300 arrests), public drunkenness is generally considered one of those "discretionary laws": the police make the arrest or not based on their own discretion. Police are not supposed to arrest everyone who appears drunk in public (imagine the jail load on New Year's Eve if that were the case), but those who are, well . . . what?
- Here's the problem with discretionary laws: what are the criteria of discretion? Not having specific criteria allows law enforcement officers to write the law, try the case, and enforce it on the spot. Ultimately (and inevitably), this leads to a police state. To protect our freedom, we keep those who make the laws, those who arrest people for breaking the laws, and those who decide whether the suspects are guilty or not in three distinct groups. Any breach of that system invites trouble.
- As it is, the public drunkenness, loitering, and vagrancy laws can be used as excuses by unethical law enforcement officers to arrest people they happen not to like. "I smell alcohol on your breath. I'm taking you in for public drunkenness." You won't be convicted, generally, but a night in jail is punishment enough. Sue the officer for false arrest? Right. That means hiring a lawyer. Out of the jail cell and into the fire.
- Please keep in mind that if public drunkenness, loitering, or vagrancy become trespassing, disturbing the peace, vandalism, or obstructing traffic, then arrests are in order. Yes, it may be uncomfortable seeing drunks, loiterers, and vagrants staggering, loitering, and being vague on public streets, but that's the price we pay for keeping them public streets and not "Official Police Property."
- Seat belt laws and helmet laws are perfect examples of the government's not trusting us to make our own decisions about our own lives. Butwith seat belt laws in particularthere's a lot more than mere paternalism in the works. Here politics, power, and simple greed enter trap door, center. This from Consumer Reports, April 1993:
The single most significant safety improvement is the air bag, an improvement that auto manufacturers fought every step of the way.
The first air-bag regulations were promulgated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 1970. But when auto makers complained that air bags were too expensive, the Nixon administration quashed the rule.
An air bag standard was reissued in 1977, under Jimmy Carter, but was revoked again, in 1981, when the Reagan Administration caved in to auto makers' complaints.
After the Supreme Court ruled that the Administration unlawfully rescinded the rule, a new air-bag standard was issued in 1984. But the auto makers again succeeded in watering it down, so that it required only "passive restraints." Those could be air bags or "automatic" safety belts, or a combinationat the carmaker's discretion.
- This is where the seat belt laws came from. The federal government forced states to enact mandatory seat belt laws. (If the states wanted to continue receiving federal highway funding, they had to pass seat-belt laws.) Yes, this was a major intrusion on the rights of driversespecially drivers who believed they were safer without seat belts. (A minority, but certainly entitled to risk their own lives on their opinion.) The reason for these seat belt laws is that Detroit did not want to include the air bagswhich automatically protect the driver and passenger better than seat belts doand the Nixon and Reagan administrations cooperated with the major-political-campaign-donor auto makers.
- Instead of telling the American public the truth, however, Detroit and the federal regulators regaled us with one story after another about how many lives would be saved, how many injuries prevented, and how kind the federal government was to force the states to enact seat belt laws. However, to continue from the Consumer Reports article:
A driver's-side air bag increases the driver's chance of surviving a crash by 29 percent. That's on top of the margin afforded by wearing lap-and-shoulder belts. Had all cars on the road in 1971 been equipped with a driver's-side air bag, some 4,000 people killed that year would have survived.
- That's 100,000 people over the past twenty-five yearswithout the mandatory seat belt law. So, really: does the federal government care about us? Not unless we're a major lobby. What's especially galling is the sanctimonious attitude with which the government takes away our personal freedoms and convinces us it's for our own good, while, in reality, the government is allowing people to die unnecessarily every day because it caved in to political and economic pressure from a powerful lobby. To quote again from Consumer Reports:
Now that safety has become a major selling point, no carmaker wants to mention that air-bag technology was developed in Detroit more than 20 years ago and left unexploited for nearly as long. Neither do the ads touting safety mention the years of delay and lives lost through auto maker opposition.
- And through inappropriate government action.
- Laws that require motorcycle riders to wear helmets were passed not due to the lobbying of the motorcycle industry (no motorcycle air bag has yet been perfected), but due to a general public dislike (shared by many law enforcement officers) of motorcyclists. It's not the argument, "Helmet laws will save motorcyclists' lives," that convinces people to favor such laws, but the argument, "People are more severely injured in motorcycle accidents if they aren't wearing a helmet, so insurance rates and the potential financial burdens to society go up." No one seems to worry much about the "cost to society" of cigarettes, alcohol, prescription drugs, or any of the other lethal legal activities. Motorcyclists opposed to helmets claim their vision, hearing, and the mobility of their head are impaired by the helmet; therefore, they feel they are more likely to get into an accident. Further, they claim, if you're going to be killed in a motorcycle accident, you're going to be killed: helmets probably won't help that much. According to the General Accounting Office, of the more than 3,000 motorcycle deaths in the United States in 1990, 45% of the riders were wearing helmets.
- But safety is not the issue: personal choice is. The motorcycle rider who is more seriously injured or even killed because he or she is not wearing a helmet hurts himself or herself only. If insurance companies and states want to require special insurance coverage for those who choose to ride without helmets, that's fine: those who take risks should see to it that they are not a financial burden on society. Health insurance companies that offer better rates to nonsmokers are, in effect, charging smokers higher rates. That's fair. Charging motorcyclists a premium to not wear a helmet is also fair. Insisting that a cyclist wear a helmet or else is not fair.
- People obviously don't want helmet laws. In 1967, the federal government issued another of its financial ultimatums: if a state didn't enact a helmet law, it ran the risk of losing highway funding. By 1975, all but three states (as diverse as California, Illinois, and Utah) had complied (succumbed?). In 1976, when Congress rescinded the ruling, twenty-nine states repealed their laws. Now the federal government is back with a let's-do-helmet-laws-again attitude.
- Allow me for a moment to view with the cold eye of an insurance actuary a motorcyclist's potential for hurting others. A motorcyclist involved in a serious accident becomes a projectile: the rider's motorcycle stops, the rider does not, and we have a human rocket flying through space. If this human rocket hits something or someone, the human rocket is more dangerous wearing a heavy, hard helmet than not. To reduce potential injury to nonconsenting others, then, the law should prohibit motorcycle helmets. Okay. Enough actuarial thinking. Let's return to the question: "Why helmet laws?"
- When the California helmet law was passed in 1991(*FN), the California Highway Patrol "lobbied heavily," according to the Los Angeles Times, for the law's passage. Why? What possible business is it of the California Highway Patrol to force its concept of personal safety on motorcycle riders? Wouldn't the California Highway Patrol's precious lobbying time be better spent getting more highway patrol officers, better equipment, or making sure Ted Turner doesn't colorize old episodes of Highway Patrol? Yes, it may be that the Highway Patrol thought it was saving lives, or could it beas some pro-choice motorcycle helmetists claimthat the Highway Patrol wanted to separate the "bad" cyclists from the "good" cyclists? (The "bad" cyclists don't want to wear motorcycle helmets; the "good" cyclists may or may not want to, but will because "it's the law.") Now the Highway Patrol knows a "bad" cyclist on sight: no helmet.
[*FN Yes, as soon as most of the other states repealed their laws, California had to get one. The Marine Corps motto is Semper fidelis, always faithful. The California motto is Semper differens, always different. By the way, do you know what George Washington's family motto was? Exitus acta probat: the end justifies the means. Really.
There's also the matter of fines: a first offense is $100, second offense $200, third offense $250. With enough offenses, "bad" motorcycle riders will lose their licenses. If they ride anyway, they'll go to jail. Just where "bad" motorcycle riders belong. In the first year of California's helmet law, close to $1 million worth of tickets were written. If enough laws like this are enacted on relatively powerless, marginally unpopular groups, the rich, powerful people won't have to pay any tax at all. (Do they anyway?) Well, before I get too cynical about this one, let's move on to a much more exciting topic: public nudity.
By public nudity, I'm not referring to flashers or other aggressive, pseudo-sexual behavior. I'm referring to people who want certain beaches set aside on which clothing is optional. Frankly, I don't think nudity in public should be a major concern for the same reason I don't think we need to concern ourselves about people wearing fried eggs on their foreheads or people heavily rouging their nostrils and skipping down the street singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." I mean, how many people actually want to do it?
- Even if something is illegal, if people really want to do it, a certain number of them do it. How many people have you actually seen shopping nude in the supermarket? How many people have confessed to you how satisfying it was to walk in the nude amongst the nude paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? In the many lists of "secret fantasies" I have read, "walking around Sears Roebuck nude"or doing anything else nude that didn't involve Tom Cruise or Sharon Stonedid not make the list.
- The laws against nudity make no sense. The idea that Jerry Falwell can go topless while Cindy Crawford cannot is an absolute affront to logic, common sense, and the 5,000-year human struggle for aesthetic taste. The reason that women should wear more clothing than men goes back to the old possession concept: "This is my property," sayeth the man, "and you can't even look at it." In the 1890s, for a woman to show an ankle in public was scandalous. By 1910, it was the calf. By the 1920s, it was the knees. By the 1950s, two-piece bathing suits were all the rage (and scandal). Today, in England, women appear topless regularly in magazines, newspapers, and even on television. It's been going on for years. England has not exactly fallen into complete moral collapse because of it.
- Other than a spate of streaking in the early 1970s (which was more about playful shock than nudity), the only real social nudity we've been confronted with in our country is at beaches. Some people like more of their fun exposed to the sun than others. The police in Pinellas County, Florida, began locking up nudists who frequented an isolated beach. "Come on, deputies," Don Addis chided them in the St. Petersburg Times, "If that's all you've got to do with your time, go join a Big Brother program or something." Mr. Addis continued,
A member of the sheriff's marine unit, it says here, came jogging along the beach posing as an average, everyday gawker then pulled a badge. That undercover technique will have to do for now, until the rubber naked-person suits arrive.
At first the deputies approached the beach from the open sea in their official boats in hopes of catching skinny-baskers unaware. I wonder how long it took them to figure out why that wasn't working. (You'd think they would have learned something from the Normandy invasion. By the time the Allied forces came ashore, the Germans all had their clothes on.)
Meanwhile, down at the Addis-Holtz Behavioral Research Institute and Sub Shop, laboratory rats are being used extensively in the study of nudity, with the aim of helping humans afflicted with the dread condition. One group of rats was dressed in tiny little polyester suits, complete with shirts, ties, hats, two-tone wingtip shoes, socks and colorfully patterned boxer undershorts. Another group of rats was left unclothed.
It was found that the rats without clothes mated more readily than those trussed up to the incisors in off-the-rack ratwear. Conclusion: Nudity causes lust in rats.
The findings have been challenged in some scientific circles on the grounds that researchers failed to take into account the possible effects of (1) embarrassment on the part of rats whose undershorts had trombones printed on them, (2) fear of criticism from Mr. Blackwell and (3) chafing.
- With 2,000 beaches closed in 1992 due to unacceptable levels of water pollution, don't we have more important things to concern ourselves with than whether or not some mammals are exposing their mammary glands on beaches?
- "And what about the children?" some ask. In 1920, it was considered scandalous for a man to appear in any public arena other than prize-fighting (with its all-male audience) with his shirt off. Children raised not seeing men with their shirts off were naturally a bit giggly and curious as the first daring shirtless men began appearing on beaches, in magazines, and in movies. Today, because it's what children are raised with, no one thinks of a topless male as a threat to the morality of children. After a similar period with topless women (or even fully nude adults), the children will adjust (a lot faster than their parents, probably), life will go on, and police can go catch real criminals. Remember: children are born naked. They seem to like nothing better than getting naked. It's adults who teach them what parts of their bodies are and are not shameful to expose. A child has no natural guilt about this at all.
- The most publicized nudity case of the past several years is the man who padded around the University of California, Berkeley, campus wearing sandals, a bookbag, and nothing else. This went on for months; his fanny appeared in every publication but Christian World (where it might have appeared: I must admit I'm not a regular reader), and the campus did not seem to either disintegrate or lose its academic credentialsalthough it did lose a bit of its radical chic when it finally banned nude students.
|H. L. MENCKEN|
- Okay, so you think women's clothing is important. You think it should be worn. Well, some men would agree with you: they love wearing women's clothing. While some men want to come out of the closet, other men want to go into the closet: Madonna's.
- Now why on earth should transvestism be illegal? As a Frenchman accurately observed in the 1930s, "Mae West is the greatest female impersonator in the world!" Somehow in this country, as long as a female impersonator has been a female, it's been okay: Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, Zsa Zsa Gabor.(*FN) Just as Charlie Chaplin used to refer to his Tramp character as "the little fellow," so Bette Midler referred to her outrageous stage persona when honoring a male female impersonator who impersonated her: "He did a better Bette than I."
[*FN Paul Krassner wrote in The Realist that gays were planning to boycott Zsa Zsa Gabor because she'd made some derogatory comments about lesbians, but the gays couldn't figure out what to boycott.]
- The closest we've come to accepting a male female impersonator is Liberace. Of course, it's hard to tell exactly what he was impersonating. Was he impersonating a Rockette? A Las Vegas showgirl? Wayne Newton? A piano player? Whatever it was, it made him famous, rich ("I cried all the way to the bank"), and adored.
- Liberace followed Quentin Crisp's advice, detailed in Quentin's book, How to Become a Virgin: if what you're doing causes people to cross the street to avoid you, confess every detail of what you're doing on television. This is the act of national cleansing. All your sins are forgiven. You become a virgin again. More importantly, you become a celebrity virgin. People will now cross the streetat great peril to their livesin order to shake your hand and say, "I saw you last night on the telly!"
- While Quentin never hovered over audiences at Caesar's Palace suspended by piano wire (the best use of a piano part Liberace made in his entire career), Quentin made his daringand personally more dangerousstatement that if boys will be girls, well, c'est la vie. In the 1930s in England, he wore make-up, scarves, and reddened his hair with henna. He was beaten up fairly regularly for his independence, but he persisted.
- His flamboyance also made him highly unemployable, so he took a job as a nude model for state-run art schools. His manner of dress did not concern them, for obvious reasons. As all models worked for the government, the title of Quentin's autobiography is
- The Naked Civil Servant. When the rationing at the beginning of World War II was announced, he went out and bought two pounds of henna.
- Sting immortalized Quentin Crisp's courage to be himself against the most impossible odds in his song, "Englishman In New York."
Takes more than combat gear to make a man,
Takes more than a license for a gun.
Confront your enemies, avoid them when you can
A gentleman will walk but never run
If "manners maketh man" as someone said,
Then he's the hero of the day.
It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile:
Be yourself no matter what they say.
- In his liner notes for his album, . . . Nothing Like the Sun, Sting explains,
- I wrote "Englishman In New York" for a friend of mine who moved from London to New York in his early seventies to a small rented apartment in the Bowery at a time in his life when most people have settled down forever. He once told me over dinner that he looked forward to receiving his naturalization papers so that he could commit a crime and not be deported. "What kind of crime?" I asked anxiously. "Oh, something glamorous, non-violent, with a dash of style" he replied. "Crime is so rarely glamorous these days."
- "To me," Quentin said, "a movie star has to be something you couldn't have invented for yourself if you sat up all night." He speaks of Evita Pern with only half-veiled envy:
The crowning moment of her entire career was when she stood up in her box in the opera house in Buenos Aires and made a speech. She lifted her hands to the crowd, and as she did so, with a sound like railway trucks in a siding, the diamond bracelets slid down from her wrists. When the expensive clatter had died away, her speech began, "We, the shirtless . . .!"
You may not believe in Mrs. Pern, but the Argentinians did. So much so that when she died they petitioned the Pope to make her a saint. His Holiness declined; but if he'd consented, what a triumph for style that would have been! A double fox stole, ankle-strap shoes, and eternal life. Nobody's ever had that.
- Of course, most transvestites are not as flamboyant as Evita. Chuck Shepherd, John J. Kohut, and Roland Sweet, in their More News of the Weird, report,
In 1989 jazz musician Billy Tipton died of a bleeding ulcer, leaving an ex-wife and three adopted sons. While the funeral director was preparing the body for burial, he discovered the 74-year-old saxophonist-pianist was really a woman. "He'll always be Dad," said one of Tipton's boys.
First Inaugural Address
- Contrary to popular misbelief, a good number of transvestitesboth male and femaleare also heterosexual. Just because they want to get dressed up like the opposite sex does not necessarily mean they want to go to bed with the same sex. Some have successful heterosexual marriages and enjoy the most delightful shopping expeditions with their spouses. It must be reminiscent of the scene on an episode of Soap in which the Billy Crystal character is discovered by his mother in one of her dresses. "What are you doing wearing my dress?" she yells, taking a hard look at him. She takes a closer look. "Oh! You wear it with a belt."
- Laws against transvestism, obviously, spring from the hatred of women: "Why would a man want to get dressed up like a woman?" The fear of homosexuality that grew out of that same irrational disgust has kept the laws against cross-dressing on the books: "normal" heterosexual men don't want to be "tricked" into falling for a "woman" who's really a man. What a waste of testosterone! And what an embarrassment. Who wants to feel like the Charles Durning character in Tootsie? Falling for Dustin Hoffman in drag. How demeaning. And then he winds up your son-in-law no less! No, there's gotta be a law against this.
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Copyright © 1996 Peter McWilliams & Prelude Press