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as seen on phillyBurbs.com

Legislating stupidity
Pa. leaders deserve an award for trying to prove Darwin right.

There ought to be a law that stupid people should be allowed to kill themselves publicly for educational purposes and to benefit the species.

Not to mention, my own personal amusement.

Apparently Gov. Ed Rendell and the state Legislature agree. After all, it will soon be legal once again for Pennsylvania motorcyclists to ride around at high speed in heavy traffic without a helmet.

BORN TO BE WILD, within reason. You wouldn't catch Jack riding without a helmet or running with an ax or striking a car with a golf club. Oh.

The state Senate approved a bill repealing most of the 35-year-old helmet law last week, 29-20. The way to keep motorcyclists safe "isn't by having a helmet on your head, it's by having knowledge in your head," said its author, Sen. John Wozniak (D-Cambria County) argued. Rendell has vowed to sign it, once it clears the house.

Way to set an example for the kiddies to follow, folks.

Thankfully, it's still illegal for kids (12 and under) to pedal bicycles on non-congested sidewalks without protective headgear.

I hate to burst the bubble of jubilant biker brethren, who lobbied hard for the change and can't wait to feel the wind in their receding hairlines again. But Rendell should renege and not sign the helmet law amendment.

It's either that or we'll soon need additional PennDOT workers and EMTs to scrape biker brains off the blacktop.

For their service to humanity, I nominated Rendell, Wozniak and other Senators for a special honor at one of my favorite Web sites - DarwinAwards.com.

Charles Darwin was no dummy. But awards are being given out in his name to people who are.

In case you're unfamiliar with this site, it bestows belated awards upon people who are killed in ways so stupid that they did us all a favor by dying before they had a chance to reproduce.

The change in the helmet law is certain to add to its body count. The Darwin Award moderators agree, but say you won't qualify for their prestigious post-humous honor until someone actually gets killed. "Dave, please keep us informed of any potential DA (Darwin Award) candidates arising from this bill," one moderator wrote back.

While we wait for the first moron to drop, Governor, may I suggest you spend the time lifting the 2001 law making it a third-degree misdemeanor to give tattoos or body piercings to minors without Mommy or Daddy's permission?

Isn't that unfair to children of divorced parents? If one agrees and the other doesn't, what's a judge to do?

This is what Pa. legislators apparently feared might happen in 2001 if babysitters got bored.

And what exactly is the point, in that same law, about banning facial tattoos for everyone, even adults?

I actually met a guy once with a parrot tattooed on his forehead. He wasn't a Pirate or a Jimmy Buffett fan. He was a bartender at one of my favorite college watering holes (McGlinchey's in Philadelphia). He said he got drunk one night with buddies and woke up the next day with it.

It was a great lesson to me about whom you should and shouldn't drink with.

I agree that it should be illegal to tattoo someone against their will, or who is visibly intoxicated. But if I want a "This space for rent" sign on my scalp, am over 18, legally sane and can afford it, who's to say it's not right?

Why, that's a violation of my first amendment right to freedom of speech, isn't it? Call me Ishmael, but wouldn't that mean Queequeg, a character in Moby Dick, wouldn't be able to come of age here?

Come to think of it, even though I'm well past 21, why do I still have to go to a distributor to pick up a case of beer, rather than a bar, in Pennsylvania?

Dis-trib-u-tor. That's Pennsylvanian for a case of beer. Mmmm, beer.

State law says a bar owner can only sell me two six packs, even if I'm too stupid/lazy/busy to buy in bulk during the distributor's normal business hours. What about folks who work second shift? Don't they have a God/state-given right to get blotto after work too?

Finally, your honors, to celebrate these new found freedoms I'd like your permission to celebrate the Fourth of July in the traditional American manner - by blowing stuff up!

Without juxtaposable thumbs, apes can't light firecrackers in the wild. State law puts Pennsylvanians in the same plight.

Unfortunately, that darn law on the books since 1939 prevents anyone in the state from selling me a firecracker, let alone an M-80. I can't even hop down south to buy them, because transporting fireworks within Pennsylvania is illegal and so is selling them to residents of Pennsylvania without special permits.

Heck, only some sparklers are legal around here.

There was one attempt to amend the law last legislative session. In Senate Bill 1015, three senators thought it a good idea to allow the sale of fireworks in Pennsylvania so long as they were used only from July 1 to July 7 and from December 25 to January 2.

Unfortunately, the bill died in committee and has yet to be reintroduced. Sure, repealing that 64-year-old law may mean a few injuries. But it should be done.

Just like with the helmet law, firecrackers don't kill people, stupidity does.

Dave Ralis' Pave The Grass column appears on Mondays. You can send him an e-mail at  or call him at 215-269-5051. To read his previous columns, click here.

June 23, 2003