Journalists are always on the lookout for what's called the man-bites-dog story, that is, a reversal of the ordinary order of things. Now, you're correct if you think this theme seems familiar because we also discussed the man-bites-dog concept in this space in the February issue. Back then, the subject was animals that got the upper hand—well, hoof, paw or claw, really—on humans who were hunting them.
I am compelled to revisit man-bites-dog now because on September 26, police in Pembroke, Ontario, arrested a man for biting a dog. An eyewitness summed up the scene thusly to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: “It was messed up.” Despite the man's apparently best efforts, the dog—a pit bull, no less—suffered only minor injuries.
When I last checked, both the man and the dog were in the custody of the relevant health care experts. In the unlikely event that the biter was found to be in full possession of his faculties, he could wind up in court on animal cruelty charges. While the innocent dog, as it were, walks.
Legal cases involving humans and animals have a long history. As was also mentioned in my earlier column, animals were routinely brought up on charges back in the Middle Ages—a concept prefaced by the line, “Sure, charging an animal with a crime seems loony now.” Nevertheless, in January 2009 police in Nigeria did hold a goat “on suspicion of attempted armed robbery,” according to a Reuters report.
The goat was ratted out to the police by people who said it was really a human “armed robber who had used black magic to transform himself into a goat to escape arrest after trying to steal a Mazda 323.” This therianthropy (hey, we're a science magazine) turned out not to be much of a plan, seeing as he/it wound up under arrest anyway.
If one reads between the lines of the published account, however, one suspects that the cops were really protecting the goat from some citizens who maintain a belief in witchcraft. As police spokesman Tunde Mohammed told Reuters, “We cannot confirm the story, but the goat is in our custody. We cannot base our information on something mystical. It is something that has to be proved scientifically, that a human being turned into a goat.”
Tunde Mohammed thus stands in shining contrast to one Paul Broun. Just one day after the Ontario dog biter made his case to receive free Canadian government mental health care, Broun, a medical doctor, also started foaming at the mouth. On September 27, Broun told the attendees of a sportsman's banquet at the Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell, Ga.: “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it's lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”
Broun also put forth the notion that Earth is 9,000 years old. But that is just silly—in the 1600s Bishop James Ussher figured out that Earth was created the night before October 23, 4004 B.C. None of this would be any of my possibly literally damned business if not for the fact that Broun serves in the U.S. Congress and sits on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology—where he presumably interprets climate data from ice core samples that date back more than 9,000 years as a trick by Satan. To which I would respond, well, how can you get ice from the pit of hell, huh? QED.
By the time you read this, the representative from Georgia will have been reelected to his seat, since he was running unopposed. I am confident Broun cannot be turned into a goat, but can he at least be moved to a committee where his antediluvian, ahem, views are less likely to impede progress? I tell you, this stuff makes me biting mad.
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN ONLINE
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This article was originally published with the title Tongue Twisters.