Iím trying real hard not to become a xenophobe.
The Presidentís helping. Itís difficult to develop an unhealthy fear of things foreign when things domestic are scaring the bejeezus out of you. So I guess I should be grateful to the present administration for that.
And to past administrations. One of the drawbacks of being a centrist is that youíre pretty much surrounded by things that convince you the world is going to hell in a handbasket. So I spend a lot of time griping about ďthe present administration.Ē In the immortal words of Gerry Rafferty, ďClowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am: stuck in the middle with you.Ē
Still, I can feel my grip on one-worldness slipping away. Itís becoming harder and harder for me to cling to the article of faith that the Small World ride at Disneyland is an accurate representation of the citizens of the world. The wooden midgets beside my boat at Disneyland all seem to be the same, but the ones collecting euros and suicide bombs in other parts of the world just may be . . . well . . .different than you and me.
I donít mean to make a competition out of mental instability. Thereís really nothing to be gained by trying to decide whether our American human cannonball family is crazier than the Norwegian officials who arranged hunting furloughs for lifers in Greenland. But I am concerned that more and more I seem to be deluged by things done by crazy foreigners and forwarded to me by less crazy locals.1 The latest is from MSNBC.
According to MSNBC, ďThe city of Rome has banned goldfish bowls, which animal rights activists say are cruel, and has made regular dog-walks mandatory in the Italian capital.Ē Iím sorry, but ledes2 like that make me expect not so much a news story as a punchline. I find myself listening for a rim-shot. Itís hard for me to take stories like this seriously.
But itís got a Reuters by-line on it, and MSNBC thinks enough of it to copyright the story, so itís apparently not a prank dreamed up by the Computer Club at Capistrano Valley High. I will grant to you that judging from MSNBCís programming Ė arenít they the ones who fill an hour of prime time with the crazy market analyst who shouts at callers and throws chairs around? Ė they have a pretty low bar for copyright protection, but this still seems to be a serious news story.
Apparently the Romans have concluded that since they have no hurricanes, weapons of mass destruction, foreign terrorists, or Supreme Court fiascos, theyíre in danger of losing traction as a major player on the world scene. I mean, Vercingetorix is dead, their Olympics were 45 years ago, and you can only do the Pope/chimney/smoke thing so many times before it gets old. Yeah, I know theyíre long on ruins, but soís Baghdad, and the tourists arenít exactly beating down the door there, either.
So the City Council decided to ďgo in another direction.Ē3 Following the lead4 of the northern Italian city of Turin, which I think has the distinction of being the only city in the world ever to have an American automobile named after it5, Rome has required that all dog owners ďregularly exercise their dogs.Ē
Can you imagine what a nightmare that will be to prosecute? Just what constitutes ďregularĒ exercise? My wife has a regular exercise schedule which comprises five times a week. My regular haircut appointment comes around monthly. I sit in my regular seat at Angels games twenty times a year. ďRegularĒ is a word that doesnít merely invite lawsuits, but prostrates itself in sackcloth and ashes and fairly begs for them.
The lawyers for the City of Turin saw this problem and advised the Torino council, when they passed their dog-walking law, that it had to be more specific. Unfortunately, they appear not to have advised their council the law had to be sane. Their law imposes a $598 fine (500 euros) if dog owners donít walk their dogs at least THREE TIMES A DAY!
Three times a day! Seven days a week! Six hundred dollars per violation! Do the math, here. Fidoís got a gun to your head. ďWalk me now or walk to work tomorrow, Ďcause youíre gonna have to hock the car to pay the fines.Ē
Iím sorry, folks. I love dogs. I really do. I think the existence of dogs is one of the better arguments for the existence of God. This is the first time in my life Iíve gone more than a couple of years without a dog, and itís only because my yard is about the size of second base. But Iíve never owned a dog I would walk three times a day.
Think about it. Up at six, walk the dog. Go to work. Come home, walk the dog. Eat, watch The News Hour6, walk the dog, go to bed. Youíd eventually die with great-looking legs, a happy dog, and no heirs.
Iím surprised the Chinese havenít thought about this: Forget about limiting offspring, just give every citizen a dog and make thrice-daily dog-walking mandatory. Malthus would be greatly reassured.
I dunno. Iím not sure Iíd want to be a dog in Italy these days. According to animal rights groups, ďaround 150,000 pet dogs . . . are abandoned in Italy every year.Ē If they enforce these laws in Turin and Rome, that numberís gonna go way up. Italian dogs are gonna be more endangered than snail darters.
The fish thing, on the other hand is clearly a good idea. Banning goldfish bowls is something my mother would have voted for fifty years ago.
Every year our school would hold a carnival. The carnivals always had themes and names and special decorations, but they should have all been called The Festival of the Furshlugginer Fish.
We kids would empty our piggy banks and use our nickels and dimes7 to buy chances in various ring-toss, beanbag-toss, and ball-toss contests in which, if we were skillful enough8, we could win a goldfish.
I canít for the life of me remember why we wanted the goldfish. They were inedible, untalented, inarticulate, and boring. But at least they didnít have to be walked three times a day, and I can remember being desperate to win one. One year I won five and my mother threatened to resign from the PTA.
The result of all these fish-winning contests was a veritable bonanza for the local pet shop, which not only wrote off the fish donation to the school, but sold all our parents the bowls, fishfood, gravel, garnish and little plastic castles to swim through we all thought necessary to make the fishes a part of our families.
It never mattered. The fish invariably lasted about as long as the Miers nomination, but Iím sure it was good for the economy and the school budgets. We had new dodgeballs every year.
But now Roman scientists have determined that Ė so help me, Iím not making this up; Reuters and MSNBC may be, but Iím not Ė ďround bowls caused fish to go blind.Ē9 Iím not sure how this works but it kinda makes sense to me.10
I mean, think about it. You know how a fisheye lens distorts images? Now multiply that by the distortive effect of a round fishbowl. Now imagine how a catís face must look when viewed through those two prisms. If hysterical blindness didnít result from that, it would only be because the fish wasnít paying attention.
I think the Italians are onto something here,11 but I have to counsel caution, since Iíve been lied to before about what causes blindness.
Besides, Iím not exactly sure how youíd go about testing for fish blindness. You canít use an eye chart because as soon as you put it into the water, it would get all soggy and the letters would run. Suffice it to say, I never saw one of my fish bump into the side of the bowl and they seemed to find their food okay, so we may want to wait for replication of the Roman studies before we hand our fishbowls over to PETA.
Nonetheless, Iím concerned that all us kids may have been using dodgeballs purchased with blood money. I mean, who wants to whack Ricky Roleter with a dodgeball if the cost is large-scale fish blindness? Iím concerned that our tiny little moral compasses may not have been attuned to the pole of Carassius auratus.
And I applaud the Romans for raising my consciousness. Maybe I should just accept this as an example of what a legislative body can do if it can get past partisan infighting. Maybe overcoming petty interests of party and faction enables you not only to deal sensibly with fossil fuels, global warming, potholes and trash collection, but to find time for debate over dog-walking and fish myopia. Maybe I should wonder why my own city council hasnít taken steps to protect Pluto and Nemo.
Or maybe I should just wonder if xenophobia hasnít gotten a bad rap.
1 Although the ďless crazyĒ part is marginal. They are, after all, readers of this column. back
2 This word wasnít in my dictionary, and probably wonít be in yours. Looks like something out of Chaucer to me, but my editors assure me that is how we now refer to the ďlead sentenceĒ in a news story. back
3 I donít know that the City Council actually used this phrase, but itís one thatís become very popular amongst organizations doing crazy stuff for no good reason, so I thought they might like to avail themselves of it. back
4 This you can find in your dictionary, and the journalism types apparently donít care how I spell dancing terms. back
5 What? You donít remember the Ford Torino? back
6 Or the crazy guy on MSNBC. back
7 These are currency denominations unknown to modern children; if you tell this story to your child, just lie and say you used dollars. Otherwise, youíll end up in a conversation which can only lead to admitting that youíre saddling them with a national debt so huge that the only appropriate response is to kill you on the spot. You donít want that. back
8 Or completely unskillful, but lucky enough to be there on the last day when they were desperate to move fish. back
9 I assume they were Roman scientists, since Reuters indicates Rome is the only place on the whole, bloody planet to identify fishbowls as an ocular problem. back
10 A statement which can be applied to my understanding of almost any technology more complex than a doorknob. back
11 Words I havenít uttered since I discovered pesto. back