Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 3
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

    Irrelevant laws and spending

    I have a 14-year-old brother, and he likes to read books about the world’s dumbest criminals, or scariest haunted houses; non-narrative and pointless all. In fairness, I used to enjoy that type of thing: not the reading of it, but the ability to whip out random facts to impress and/or annoy the nearest adult. The only one I can remember now is this: in Oklahoma (or so I’d say), it is illegal for a babysitter to eat a cherry pie out of the refrigerator of the family for whom she’s babysitting.

    I have not been able to confirm that this is, or ever was, an actual law, and I’m betting it wasn’t, but according to Dumblaws.com (classy, I know) here are some things that are illegal in Oklahoma: wearing boots in bed, confining fish in fishbowls on public buses, and whaling. You know what this says about Oklahomans? They are very imaginative. They are so imaginative that not only did they find ways to go whaling in a landlocked state, but they also dreamed up so much destruction due to this whaling that they would not stop until it was outlawed.

    Fear not, our very own dear Washington state has its quirks, as well. Here, for instance, “the operation or maintenance of any X-ray, fluoroscopic, or other equipment or apparatus employing roentgen rays, in the fitting of shoes or other footwear or in the viewing of bones in the feet is prohibited” (RCW 70.98.170). This, at least, is a law truly for the public good. I can’t tell you how pesky it was batting off the shoe salesman constantly trying to X-ray my feet.

    At least these laws, while, yes, symbolizing a dubitable use of time on the part of our state representatives, are relatively harmless. There is not to my knowledge a training school for footwear outlet X-ray inspectors. There is, however, a startling amount of pork barrel politics going on at both the state and federal level, resulting in millions of dollars being thrown at projects of questionable worth and relevance.

    In 2002, Washington members of Congress snuck a provision into the 2003 Defense Appropriations bill requiring the U.S. Navy buy a ship it did not want from a Washington company for $4.5 million. That company, Guardian Marine International of Edmonds, later made significant campaign contributions to each of the members involved. Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) outlines many more items of spending; some have a much lower monetary value, some have one much higher.

    Perhaps the most infamous case of pork barrel spending comes to us from Ted Stevens, Republican Senator from Alaska, whose “Bridge to Nowhere” project (so called by a Ketchikan resident) would have lent $398 million to build a bridge to connect Ketchikan to the Ketchikan International Airport on Gravina Island. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Senate wanted to take the funds from the Ketchikan bridge project and put them toward relief in New Orleans. Sen. Stevens remarked on the Senate floor that if the bill passed, he would be “a wounded bull on the floor of this Senate.” He continued to say that “this is not the Senate I’ve devoted 37 years to,” a Senate where one can “take all the money from one state to solve the problem of another.”

    This, ultimately, is what irks me most about both silly laws and pork barrel spending: the perversion of priorities. It is not clear why it’s necessary to make whaling illegal in Oklahoma, and until a good reason becomes apparent, I wonder if legislators should be using their time on more important matters.

    Bridges are important…but so are people experiencing the harrowing effects of a poorly handled natural disaster; once again, it seems we have trouble recognizing what issues deserve our time and what issues don’t. Worse, such misuse of time reflects the single-minded mentality that says only my personal issue, only my company, only my state matters. And when our associations become broader, that flamboyant individualism ends up affecting more than just ourselves, our companies, our states. It affects the theories we use when going to war, not as individuals, but as a country. It affects the pervasiveness of materialism in our society and, increasingly, in others.

    When I was a child, I was constantly being told to be quiet by adults annoyed by my endless stream of random facts. They seemed pointless, irrelevant. It seems, now, that these adults should have paid more attention.

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