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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

FOLLOW MY LOGIC

I’ll bet the cops knew what they would find when they spotted a subtly rocking car with steamed up windows parked on a side street in The Hague, Belgium. Simple logic told them that inside would be a naked man engaged in coitus with a naked woman. And indeed, that was what they found in the car: and if the man was 58 years old while the woman was just 19, that still did not seem to violate their expectations. There is no accounting for taste, as they say. And even when the 19 year old woman insisted that she was not a prostitute but a volunteer participant, the police officers might have been dubious but they could hardly have been flummoxed. However, when the man was asked to explain why he was engaged in the act of sex with a woman on a public street they were simply flabbergasted. The couple was, explained the man, engaged in trials of several erectile dysfunction pills. This was an original and perfectly logical explanation, which left the police discombobulated, flabbergasted, thunderstruck and bowled over. It would require hours of investigation to verify or disprove. So they simply arrested him for possession of the small amount of marijuana found in his car, and let it go at that.
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Logic is deceptively subjective and has not always been a favored tactic for problem solving. You can see its growing popularity in the September 1726 case of 25 year old Mary Toft. The married mother of three summoned Dr. John Howard, one of the new obstetricians, complaining of abdominal pains. And there, in the doctor’s presence, she gave “birth” to a dead, skinned rabbit. Over the next few days Mary “birthed” several more ex-bunnies. Dr. Howard’s enthusiastic reports drew the attention of the King’s own Doctor, Nathanael St. Andre. He claimed he could feel the “critters” jumping around in her womb, and did not seem bothered by not feeling the little cottontails being killed and skinned in there. All told Mary produced 17 “praeter-natural rabbits” – certainly an improvement on pulling one out of her hat – and for a couple of months she was the rage of official London. And then Sir Richard Manningham, a member of the Royal College of Physicans, suggested that science might benefit from an examination of Mary’s uterus, and Mary immediately confessed. Her husband had been supplying her with the rabbits, and whole thing had been a scam to make money. Mary spent four months in prison and Doctors Howard and St. Andre were forced to retire. A poem, entitled “The Doctor’s in Labor”, appeared: “Poor Mary Toft in ignorance was bred, and ne’er once betrayed a deep designing head, Ne’er seemed cut out for plots, yet never did wife, like her impose so grosely on man midwife. Who scorning Reason, Common Sense and nature, plac’ed all their faith in such a stupid creature.” A century later a book about Mary’s rabbit babies was a best seller, bound, of course, in rabbit skin. Logic had finally won the day…sort of. It would be two hundred years later when theatre historian and critic and early environmentalists Joseph Wood Krutch would observe that, “Logic is the art of going wrong with confidence.”
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In the small city of Hassleholm, Sweden, population of 48,000, logic has run up against gender bias. The city council wanted to know why all pedestrian crossing signs displayed a male figure, known in Sweden as “Mr. Walk Man”, so they designed their own female pedestrian signs, featuring “Fru Gaman”. But the Swedish National Roads Administration (the “Vagyerket”) rejected the new sign as confusing. The politically correct crowd in Hassleholm is now threatening to sue in defense of their logic over the logic of the Vagyerket. But clarity in signage is important, as any advertising copywriter can tell you. As an example there is the clear message in the new French ad campaign to increase student housing. Currently there are only 100,000 dormitory rooms nationwide available for the 200,000 French college students. The campaign was created and funded by the national student union, UNEF, and the poster shows a young couple having sex on a bed, sandwiched between desperately sleeping parents. The government praised the campaign as creative but promised to increase student housing only when the funds are available. And it is hard to argue with that logic, too. But if I am any judge of college students and the French, the French college students will find a reason to argue the point.
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See if you can follow the logic in this conundrum facing police in the Dominican Republic. Just after 5 am the police were called to an unnamed hotel in the resort city of Cabarete by staff. A guest, 33 year old Alan Reed, a citizen of Great Britain who was on the last night of a two week holiday, had been discovered by his fiancée, 21 year old Ellie Rothery, lying semiconscious on their bed, his shorts soaked in blood. At a private medical clinic doctors found some scratches on Alan’s back, two deep gashes across his penis and his left testicle had been almost completely removed. Mr. Reed told police “The whole thing is just one big blank”, but insisted he wasn’t drunk. Alan said the last thing he remembered was being alone in a restaurant, and then he had a cloudy memory of waking up on the beach. He had no idea of how he then journeyed the three miles back to his hotel.
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Ms. Rothery said the couple had been out the previous evening to a restaurant with a friend. After the meal she said she had accompanied the friend to a taxi stand and when she returned to their table Mr. Reed had disappeared. She searched for him in the town and on the beach for two hours before returning to their hotel room where she found him in their bed in a pool of blood. According to Inspector Contreras, of the National Police, although they are investigating this as an assault, it is an unusual event for the Dominican Republic. And because Alan still had his wallet, money and credit cards and enjoys diving and rock climbing (“Alan is very adventurous and sporty, more so than Ellie,” according to his intended mother-in-law), Inspector Contreras suggested that his injuries may have been caused by a fall on rocks or local coral outcrops. He then added that several suspects have already been arrested. I am open to suggestions on the logical explanation for this one.
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It seems logical that Patty Cooper, confined to a wheel chair for the last four years by brittle bone disorder, should seek the assistance of a service animal to help her, share her life and her two bedroom apartment. But it also seems logical that Patty’s landlord, the non-profit Central Vermont Community Land Trust, should refuse to allow Patty’s helper of choice, named Earl (short for “Early to Bed”), to share her apartment, because even though Earl is barely 32 inches tall and weighs only 100 pounds, Earl is a horse -a miniature “tobiano pinto” in fact - with a horse’s eating and toilet habits.
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The Trust says they would welcome service dogs and even service monkeys in their other units, but a service horse seems a little too much like a farm animal for an apartment complex. They are concerned about the volume of oats and hay a horse requires, and the likelihood the storage of such would attract vermin. And they remain dubious the horse can be “house trained”, and even if he is, does Patty have a “pooper scooper” big enough to clean up his outside poo? Patty contends that Earl can do things for her that a dog cannot, such as pull her wheel chair around town, and he’s been trained to ride on the bus. And horses live a lot longer than dogs. Patty argues that she and Earl have already made real sacrifices to fit into the human society. Earl has recently been gelded. Would the officials for the Community Land Trust do the same, or at least meet her halfway? Patty says, “I’m confident it’s all going to work out.”
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Well, I’m not. This is actually the convergence of a perfect storm. Patty just bought the horse and the CVCLT just took over the apartment building, which is not to say the previous management company had agreed to accept Earl, but nobody seems interested in a compromise at the moment, which means that nobody is willing to see anyone else’s logic. And there is logic to that position, too. So Patty is suing. And, as we all know, a lawsuit is the pursuit of logic by other means.
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