All the laws in the world won’t stop bad behavior

Greg Bean


Memo to members of the New Jersey Assembly:

Your highly touted ban on talking on a cell phone while driving is a dismal failure, at least judging by the numbers of people I see happily flouting the law on my way to and from work every day. This morning, I actually saw a granny-aged, blue-haired woman driving, talking on her cell phone, and knitting at the same time. She didn’t look too worried about getting a ticket — and it appeared she was making a very nice sweater.

Additional memo to members of the New Jersey Assembly:

The bill Assemblymen Jon M. Bramnick and Gordon M. Johnson were talking up last week to pass a law encouraging “a campaign toward civility, kindness and respect to all” — a law to make New Jersey residents act nicer to each other — will have about as much chance of success as the cell phone ban.

After almost 30 years in the newspaper business, here’s one thing I’ve learned for sure.

Lawmakers can pass all the laws they want to justify their existence and paychecks, but unless those laws have the support of most of the people and law enforcement, they’re bound to fail in the long run. Think Prohibition.

The cell phone ban hasn’t been effective because most people don’t want it and the cops don’t particularly want to enforce it.

And if those Assembly members think people in this state are going to be nicer to each other just because it’s a law, well, all I can say is they’re taking heavy medication in Trenton, and it ain’t Advil.

We’re grumpy and often rude, and by golly we aim to stay that way, no matter what those lunkheads at the State House do to legislate otherwise. This is the state, after all, where some wags have suggested the middle finger be designated the state bird.

To see just how far this tendency to legislate behavior most people don’t want regulated can go awry, it’s interesting to take a look across the big pond at our British cousins, where a few years back their politicians passed a sweeping reform aimed at making everything termed “anti-social behavior” against the law.

Under the Anti-Social Behavior Order (Asbo), offenders are first given a warning, and then face fines, jail time and their names and photos in the media if they don’t mend their anti-social ways.

Under the act, almost anything but polite conversation is against the law. “Yobbish behavior,” for example, can earn you an Asbo, as can putting up graffiti. Also banned under Asbo are a host of other behaviors that are relatively minor, but make people’s lives miserable — putting up posters everywhere, selling hot dogs without the proper permits, selling and buying scalped tickets, being an intimidating youth practicing disruptive behavior in a “good behavior zone,” and owning a bridge where nesting or roosting birds are allowed to drop pigeon doody on unsuspecting passers-by.

Among other things, according to the BBC, Asbo orders have also been handed out:

• to a woman who answered the door in her underwear and was seen gardening in a revealing bikini;

• to a woman who had attempted suicide five times by jumping into rivers and canals. Under the Asbo order, she’s prohibited from doing anything more that could cause alarm or distress to the public;

• to a man whose noisy, verbal arguments with his wife disturbed the neighbors. Under the man’s Asbo ban, he’s prohibited from getting in any more shouting matches with his missus, using bad language or behaving offensively. A full hearing is scheduled for July;

• to a kid nicknamed “The Egg Man,” who threw eggs at people and places and was banned from doing so in the future. The kid was also banned from having fireworks;

• to a sheep that was eating flowers on graves at a cemetery in Scotland.

Needless to say, the Asbo act has met with very marginal success. In some areas, authorities have handed out lots and lots of Asbos; in others, nary a one.

Have they turned Britain into a kinder, gentler and more polite society?

“Absolutely not,” says a friend of mine who travels frequently and extensively in the United Kingdom. “To see how little effect they have on anti-social behavior, all you have to do is sit in the stands at any soccer match featuring Manchester United … rude and offensive behavior in its full, flowering glory.”

Do any people modify their behavior for fear of getting an Asbo?

“Of course not. A jerk is a jerk is a jerk, even if they’re drowned in Asbos.”

So who wants to keep this law in place, if it does so little good?

“The nags like it,” he said. “It makes them feel important.”

I ask you, does that sound familiar?

Hello, Trenton? Reality calling on line one.

Memo to the woman who phoned recently to complain there’s never any “good news” in the paper:

According to a report in Health Day News last week, scientists at Temple University are testing an experimental drug that seems to stop cancer cell division. The drug, ON0190, does something to bollix up cancer genes and keep the disease from spreading. When the cancer cells are blocked, they can’t divide and tumors die.

The Temple folk have tested the drug on 94 different human cancers so far, with very good success, and they’re conducting a clinical trial on up to 56 people with advanced and metastatic cancers. If it works, it could mean healthy lives for untold numbers of cancer patients in the future.

A potential cure for cancer — now that’s what I call GOOD news. And chances are — even though we didn’t break the story — you saw it first right here in this newspaper.

As Great-Aunt Verda used to say, Madam, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Gregory Bean is the executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers.