Ask Not How Many Mosquitoes Your Country Can Kill for You...

Now more than ever, Americans are being asked to pitch in and do their part to help their country. In the past that could be as simple as picking up litter. Or as complicated as trying to cast a correct vote in Palm Beach County, Florida. But these days we have to do more. Like buy a new car to show those nasty old terrorists it's business as usual in the U.S. or join the new volunteer civil defense service President Bush proposed last week.

This feeling of renewed civic duty isn't confined to the U.S., it's happening all around the globe. Of course in other countries people are being asked to help their government in different ways. In Nova Iguacu, Brazil for example, the townspeople are being recruited to help rid the city of rats by driving out the politicians and lawyers. Just kidding. About the lawyers, anyway. (Not really, but I have to say that because I may need one of them to defend me against lawsuits filed by politicians who read this.)

It seems that over the past year eight people have died in Nova Iguacu from Leptospirosis, a disease they caught from the politicians and lawyers. I mean, from the rats. That's why the city is asking citizens to catch rats. But apparently civic pride and being able to put "Pied Piper" under your name on a business card isn't enough motivation so the city is offering five reals -- or about $2.00 - -for every kilogram of dead rat turned in. Since rats can weigh over a pound, that's not a bad way to make a living. Plus if you're good at it you could end up starring in the Animal Planet's new upcoming show, The Rat Hunter.

Meanwhile in the Lomellina valley, which is south of Milan, Italy, they came up with another way to get the citizenry to help rid them of pests -- they held a contest. A mosquito-killing contest. Entrants were only allowed to wear a bathing suit and socks, which had less to do with giving the mosquitoes more bare skin to land on than it did knowing the fashionistas in Milan would be mumbling into their macchiatos over the faux pas. After all, this was in August, and everyone knows you don't wear socks with bathing suits after Memorial Day.

Each contestant had five minutes in which to kill as many mosquitoes as possible using only their bare hands. The winner received six piglets. Second place walked away with two ostriches. And third place was awarded 500 eggs. As if the prospect of being known as the Italian King of Swat for the rest of their life wasn't reward enough.

Back in the U.S., California Assemblyman Joe Simitian recently called on his constituents to do his job for him. I mean, help him out. He held his own contest, this one called "There Ought To Be A Law", in which he asked people in his district to suggest new legislation. Right, as if any politician worth his PAC donations has ever been at a loss to come up with New! and Improved! laws to make our lives more, uh, pleasant.

Simitian says he's going to take the winning idea and claim it as his own. Just kidding. Actually he's going to submit it to the state legislature. If they don't laugh, then he'll claim it as his own. The person who submitted the winning idea will get to testify on behalf of the bill at a hearing, have lunch with Simitian, and receive a flag which flew over the Capitol. No piglets. No ostriches. And no eggs. They won't even get paid five reals per pound. And worst of all, they won't be allowed to wear just a bathing suit and socks when they testify, even though this is California. Although the contest ended on Oct. 15 they have yet to chose a winner. Sadly I missed the deadline so I couldn't suggest the surefire winning entry: a law banning silly contests by lawmakers.

In England they're not confining their requests for help to their country, they're reaching out to the whole world. They're trying to determine if the Queen's wrist-pivoting wave is actually an obscure Middle English obscene gesture. Just kidding. Actually they're looking for the world's funniest joke. And yes, I realize that wasn't it.

Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at Hertfordshire University who thinks it's funny that he's spending the school's money on this project, is asking people to go to a website ( and submit what they think is the funniest joke. Visitors to the site will vote for their favorites, then a professional comic will record the winner. The scientists will play the tape for various volunteers, making them listen to it over and over until they beg to watch reruns of My Mother The Car. Kidding again. Actually they'll have to beg to see reruns of Manimal.

No matter how you look at it, it's important to do your civic duty. While it's true that joining a new civil defense corps may not be as much fun as killing rats, swatting mosquitoes, or bombarding an English shrink with e-mails containing every lame joke that was forwarded to you during the past two years, it's a start. At least it's not a law. Yet.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email:

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