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Protecting the stupid from themselves

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Since 1985, the Darwin Awards have been doled out based on criteria from author Wendy Northcutt. The awards seek to point out astonishing levels of stupidity that render individuals sterile or deceased when previously they were mature and capable of sound judgement. Two recent news items have produced two strong award contenders -- although only one of these were made eligible by their circumstances -- and reignited debate surrounding if laws should be formulated to protect the stupid.

Sixty-six-year-old Norman Buwalda was killed at his Southwold, Ontario home Sunday. The culprit? Buwalda's pet Siberian tiger, which mauled him at feeding time. Shockingly, this isn't the first time that Buwalda's tiger has attacked -- a 2004 mauling of a 10-year-old boy ignited a legal dispute that almost forced Buwalda to remove all exotic cats from his property, including two lions and a cougar. Buwalda spent two years in court, ultimately overturning the town's bylaw on keeping exotic animals.

The irony of a man who fought to keep his cats being killed by a tiger aside, the prospect of a 66-year-old man keeping lions and cougars in an enclosure beside his residential home seems like a fabulously awful idea. Many municipalities across North America have strict laws regarding licensing and leashing of dogs and cats, even though the concerns are more about about convenience and sanitation than safety. When large predatory cats are involved, the danger posed makes legislation much more important -- even if the number of animals kept by civilians is ridiculously low.

A more shocking news item regards the sexual assault of a Casper, Wyoming woman. The woman's ex-boyfriend, Jebidiah James Stipe, allegedly posed as the woman on social networking site Craigslist and solicited individuals to enact a rape fantasy. The ad was pulled within two days, but not before Ty Oliver McDowell saw the ad and began an e-mail exchange, thinking he was communicating with the woman in question, to arrange an encounter. A week later, McDowell broke into the woman's home, tied her up and raped her. Both men are facing criminal charges in connection.

It's difficult to tell whose actions were more to blame for the rape. Granted, Stipe allegedly posing as his ex to facilitate such an act is reprehensible. If the authorities are to be believed, he described the humiliation and level of violence to be enacted and then cajoled a complete stranger into committing it. However, in this day and age, McDowell actually took someone's story at face value? On the Internet, of all places? As the old saying goes: half of the Internet is guys and the other half is guys pretending to be girls.

The incident has authorities, once again, questioning what to do about Craigslist. The website has been accused, at various times, of facilitating prostitution and other criminal behaviour. Last June, a North Carolina man was charged after using the website to arrange his unwitting wife's rape. That incident occurred just months after Craigslist sex ads led to robberies and a murder in Massachusetts.

North Americans are seemingly united in their desire to be left alone to their own devices. Laws restricting freedom of expression, association and belief are limited, with the idea being that stupid ideas and behaviours will be unpopular enough to not need legislation and that only common criminal activities need to be prohibited. Despite the apparent unwillingness of governments to regulate the Internet or forbid residential home-owners from keeping large predatory animals, a certain amount of responsibility should be exercised to protect citizens from their own stupidity -- whether it be believing that your pet tiger isn't dangerous or that you're acting out the rape fantasy of a complete stranger.

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