By Tony Hooker
In 1890, a New Yorker named Eugene Schieffelin took his love for Shakespeare just a bit too far.
After reading the Bard’s “Henry VI”, he decided that he, mimicking the King’s antagonist, Hotspur, would release approximately 80 pairs of European Starlings into Central Park.
The birds, unlike those in the Shakespearean play, decided not to torment Henry by relentlessly saying the name Mortimer, but instead took their cue from Genesis and decided to be fruitful and multiply. To the point that there are an estimated 200 million of the nasty birds now inhabiting the US, pushing native species to the brink of extinction with their voracious appetites and prolific breeding habits.
When India was under British rule, there was great concern about the number of poisonous Cobras on the loose in the country. The Brits decided that the best way to alleviate the problem was to offer a bounty to the native Indians for each Cobra that was brought to it. At first, the process was a huge success, with many Cobras meeting their untimely demise for the monetary reward. Of course, as is always the case, enterprising citizens found a way to take advantage of the situation and began to breed the poisonous serpents for the bounty. Upon being apprised of this practice, the Brits decided to end the bounty program and the Snake wranglers, finding that there was no money in it, released millions of the hooded Ophidians back into the wild, thus resulting in a net gain of Cobras, rather than eradicating them as planned. This abysmal failure was so complete that anything in the world of economics and politics that whose outcome is the opposite of the intended outcome is referred to as “the Cobra Effect”.
In reading social media posts for the last few days, it’s apparent that a cobra effect of sorts has been taking place this Independence Day weekend. Folks from all corners have reported that private fireworks displays have been taking place in their ‘hoods. Faced with the cancellation of public fireworks displays, there have been many, many groups here in the river city and everywhere else apparently, who have gathered in large groups to view private fireworks displays. So rather than having a controlled display where folks could watch from the comfort and confinement of their vehicles, they instead chose to watch in close proximity with others.
Of course, here in Illinois, it’s illegal to put on such displays, but every state that surrounds us welcomes our money and taxes as thousands of folks make their annual sojourn to stock up on, to paraphrase the words of the noted 20th century philosopher Joe Dirt, whistling bungholes, spleen splitters, whisker biscuits, honkey lighters, husker doos, husker don’ts, cherry bombs, nipsy daisers, with or without the scooter stick, and whistling kitty chasers?
Perhaps this year, with all of its cancellations, is an anomaly, and there won’t be as many private fireworks displays in years to come. Or perhaps it’s the new normal, and we can all expect to hear the bombs bursting in air in greater numbers from this point forward. Unintended consequences, indeed.