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Feb. 18, 2009

In one of those weird coincidences of history, like Harry Houdini dying on Halloween, we were reminded a few days ago, Feb. 12 to be exact, that both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were celebrating their 200th birthdays. What were the chances that two of the pivotal minds of the nineteenth century would have been born on the same day? Don’t get me started, or I will calculate the actual chances of that – it’s just an expression, OK?

February 18, 2009 
By Peter Sells

So, the men who have come to embody the concepts of
freedom and natural selection were time twins. Why is this relevant two
centuries later? Because, as the well-known Darwin Awards constantly remind us,
our society has granted us the freedom to select ourselves out of the gene pool
through bad decision making, misadventure, foolhardiness and outright

Just a few days earlier, more than 130 people had
to be rescued from an ice floe in
. Apparently, they had all stepped over a
large crack in the ice in order to get out to their preferred ice-fishing
locations and “suddenly, without warning” the crack let go. They were stranded
and, considering the dynamic waters of the
, they were in dire straits.

At this point I have to give you the disclaimer
that ice fishing is near the bottom of my to-do list, along with climbing
K2, entering a triathlon and
taking up chewing tobacco. Having said that, I am a firm believer in the
concept of one man’s meat being another man’s poison, so if you want to go out
on the ice when there are perfectly good fish for sale at Loblaw’s then you go
right ahead and enjoy yourself, have a laugh with your buddies. I guess the
whole experience boils down to getting some fun in for nothing and your fish
for free.

But it’s not free, is it? By one tally, the cost of
the rescue operation in
Ohio was more than $20,000. Whenever these things happen and rescuers are
placed unnecessarily in harm’s way, there is raised a school of thought that
the victims should be held accountable for the expense and risk to the
responding agencies. As a concept it is difficult to disagree with this
approach, but we live in a society of laws. Unless there is a bylaw or other
statute to allow for such accountability, and no criminal laws have been
broken, then there is nothing to do after the fact but pack up our gear and be
ready for the next call. Current policies in
Ottawa County, Ohio, are that a fisherman's
name is recorded the first time he's rescued. A second rescue places that
individual in an ice safety class, and only a third can result in civil action
and fines.  Without such policies we have
the freedom, due to the legacy of the Abe Lincolns of our past, to risk ice
floes, high altitude cerebral edema or the bends.


Of course, natural selection can step in from time
to time and skew the odds in favour of survival of the fittest, or, in this
case, the least careless. This is where the Darwin Awards come in. The problem
is that Darwin Awards make the assumption that those who die due to their own
misadventure have not already reproduced. So, since I’ve already had my quota
of kids, I’m headed out to the woods with some buddies, a case of beer and a
crossbow to play William Tell.

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