March 7, 2014

Have Bazooka - will travel and the Common Good


For seven seasons from 1957 through 1963, actor Richard Boone played a gentleman gunslinger named Paladin in the CBS television, Have Gun—Will Travel.  The storyline involved Boone’s character, a highly educated and cultured mercenary whose residence was the Hotel Carlton in wild-west era San Francisco.  Paladin’s business card intimated that he had no qualms about using his Colt .45 revolver or his single action Marlin rifle for hire, wherever his career would take him.

While the specifics of Paladin’s occupation is slowly being forgotten, the title of the show, “Have Gun – Will Travel” has impacted pop culture as a phrase for the ages.  Over the past 50 years, the blank in “Have ____, Will Travel” has been filled by hundreds of different words playfully connoting an equal number of reasons why one’s services may be needed anywhere, anytime.

This theme, coupled with a common tendency to engage in “overkill” or use of excessive force or action to achieve a goal, naturally results in awkward phrasing during the legislative process.  For instance, when an existing law, or even the absence of a law, raises the ire of a constituent, sometimes legislators are called to address a concern.  A legislator will often respond by drafting a bill to create or amend a statute to correct the constituent’s perceived problem.

Thorough analysis is time consuming and frequently the language chosen by a legislator is not properly “vetted” and is introduced without the legislator being aware of unintended consequences.  I sometimes refer to this process using a bazooka to kill a gnat.  Others speak of this phenomenon as “Cracking pecans with a sledgehammer.” Most cultures and languages have similar idioms.  In China, the literal translation is “killing a chicken with a knife intended for a cow” and the Russian equivalent is “Shooting sparrows with cannon.”

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