An ominous precedent was set last week when the United States Senate voted 61-38 to approve the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act." The bill frames the harming of a fetus as an entirely separate crime from an attack on its mother; in doing so, it essentially defines "life" as beginning at conception.
Pro-choice advocates were quick to claim an implicit threat to Roe v. Wade. But what bothers us most about the bill is that it appears to directly contradict a T-shirt we once saw while on a fact-finding trip to the Altamonte Mall. That highly educational piece of apparel, we recall, definitively stated that "life begins at 40" (our emphasis). And when a government takes it upon itself to annul the teachings of the mall, that government has simply gone too far.
Little did we know that this is hardly the first time proposed legislation flew in the face of leisurewear wisdom. Through a smattering of research (and a little judicious tossing around of the Sunshine Law), we found the following, flagrant examples of bills that refuted the personal beliefs of human billboards everywhere. Some of these misguided measures even passed, which gives us all renewed reason to remain vigilant. As Austrian T-shirt magnate Herman Krafft once said, "When the Nazis came for my wardrobe, there was no one left to put up a fight."
The Untried Bedsprings Act -- This heavy-handed proposal, defeated in the Virginia legislature in 1998, would have imposed sweeping restrictions on the state's motels, vacation cabins and cruise lines. Operators found guilty of providing accommodations to unmarried couples would have faced mandatory seven-year prison sentences; as a further safeguard against illicit hanky-panky, any customers who made reservations under the name "Smith" would be placed on a statewide sex-offender list -- even those who were legitimately named Smith. Offenders' belongings were to be sold at auction, with the proceeds earmarked for a public-education drive that would have played up the state's high incidence of gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The bill was the pet project of social conservatives out to dispel the widely held belief that "Virginia is for lovers." Its blatant disregard of the right to privacy doomed the initiative from the start, but sponsors explained that they had been emboldened by New Jersey's success in passing the Truth in Tourism Act, which categorically decreed that nobody, but nobody, has a friend in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
The Sunshine Superman Act -- For proof that America's exploration of renewable energy sources will be a Trojan horse for old-money interests, look no further than the welcoming of this unabashed bit of corporate pandering into Texas law. With its adoption in 1999, representatives inexplicably kowtowed to the shameless thievery of balding oil-industry executives, who had sought tax incentives by claiming that their reflective crania qualified as solar panels for a sex machine.
The "You Bet Your Life" Bill -- The initial flap over Pete Rose's betting habits was the impetus for this short-lived Ohio folly, which would have applied antigambling statutes to informal, zero-gain wagers -- like the commonplace bet that age and treachery will always beat youth and skill.
Xtina's Law -- Introduced in New Hampshire in 2002, this one sailed to passage in a matter of months, carried aloft by parents' fears that an overload of MTV imagery was forcing their daughters to grow up too fast. Its central platform was an 11 p.m. curfew for all young women under the age of 18, but related provisions included a ban on the advertising of juvenile cosmetics, increased airtime for antismoking PSAs and a crackdown on street racing. The law was engineered to combat a dangerous ideology that had taken hold among the youth of the state, who in a landmark poll were found to believe that good girls go to heaven but bad girls go everywhere.
The 21st Century Schizoid Man Act -- A reaction to the popular slogan, "You're just jealous because the voices only talk to me," this failed federal proposal aimed to limit the legal avenues available to defendants in capital murder cases. Had it passed, criminal lawyers would have been unable to cite the prosecution's "jealousy" of their clients as grounds for a mistrial; further, the accused parties would have faced a heavy burden of proof when arguing that the demonic utterings of unseen muses were available only to them, and not to our nation's equally deserving bullpen of drifters, degenerates and suburban scoutmasters.
The Fishers of Men Act -- Passed in Kentucky in 1989 -- but just barely -- this initiative represented a minor triumph of religious doctrine over secular sportsmanship. Its only real accomplishment was to publicly deny the existence of an apocryphal "8th day" on which the Lord had purportedly created fishin'.
The Thin Air Bill -- One of the more odious successors to the USA PATRIOT Act would have classified airline passengers not only on the basis of national origin, but by their I.Q. Top thinkers would get to fly first class, while low-scoring "undesirables" would be turned away at the turnstile due to their perceived inability to think fast in emergency situations. "If idiots could fly, this place would be an airport," seethed opponent Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. -- ironically embracing the very mind-set he was trying to denounce.
The Pistol-Packin' Literalist Act -- One of the few repudiations of T-shirt philosophy we would have liked to see signed into law, this scrappy little Connecticut proposal challenged a basic tenet of the National Rifle Association. Under it, all weapons buyers would be required to specify: 1) an exact time and location for their guns to be pried from their cold dead hands; 2) how cold their hands might reasonably be at the time; and 3) approximately how many foot-pounds of pressure it might take to accomplish the task.
The "No Fat Chicks" Bill -- Defeated by the California legislature in 1978. Reasoning: Nobody likes fat chicks, so nobody needs a law to spell it out. T-shirt sales were allowed to continue, however, for fear of crippling the state economy.